Think of the Media Phone as a Home “Command Center”

OEMs and service providers should take a close look at the opportunity presented by the media phone.

By Nagesh Puppala, Intel, and Frank Shen, American Portwell

Among the most frequently used features of the cell phone, home phone, TV, and PC lies a tremendous opportunity for original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). They have the opportunity to consolidate the applications that we use most often into a single device. This device could deliver services as varied as scheduling and e-mail, voice calling and voicemail, multimedia entertainment, photos, traffic and weather, Internet access and web browsing, home-security surveillance, baby monitoring, home utility management, and video conferencing. This opportunity also presents a chance to revive the ailing voice-services industry through the delivery of a new type of device.

Picture something a bit smaller than a laptop with a touchscreen interface and cordless handset. This device is small enough to sit comfortably on the kitchen counter or on top of a desk or table. It’s as passive as a traditional phone, emitting no heat or noise. Now, imagine that this same device is always “on,” ever ready to deliver the latest traffic and weather information, help find restaurants or movie listings, alert the user when the baby is crying or someone is at the front door, play MP3 songs, or even display a favorite recipe. Yet it also works like a plain old telephone, delivering landline voice quality from a cordless handset.

At Intel, we call this device the “media phone”. Think of it as a “command center” for the home, providing immediate access to the most popular and frequently used applications that are currently scattered among several different devices. It all can be packaged in a way that’s fun and easy to use—so easy that even parents and grandparents can figure it out.

A Remedy For An Ailing Industry

It’s no secret that the voice industry is suffering. Increasing competition and customer churn are eating away at profits. In addition, service providers are being forced to acknowledge that traditional voice service has become a commodity. With their existing service packages, providers can offer consumers little reason to stay loyal—especially now that voice-over-IP (VoIP) and cellular proliferation make voice calling easier than ever. In addition, number portability makes it a cinch to switch carriers.

These trends are accelerating, leading to market-share erosion and lower profits. A number of customers are even beginning to dump their landlines altogether. Instead, these consumers are relying on an Internet connection and cell service for all of their communications needs. Providers know that they need new ideas and services soon to stave off further decline.

Change The Device, Change The Game

The media phone has the potential to radically change the entire telephony experience. It’s “another” screen for the home that will complement—not replace—the television, cell phone, and personal computer. With always-on presence in the middle of the kitchen counter, it will serve an audience that’s hungry for digital interaction and endless information.

In this environment, the 7 to 10 inch display provides a perfect vehicle for delivering new value-added services and revenue- generating advertising. Services and advertising can even be localized—not just by state or region, but by town or even neighborhood. By integrating geographic information from wireless service, for example, media phones can deliver such location-specific applications as community-rated directory assistance and “find-my-family.” Such subscriber-specific packages will enable providers to distinguish themselves among a sea of competitors—value added indeed.

A Ready-Made Customer Base

Existing broadband and VoIP subscribers are the most likely customers for the introduction of media phones. These customer segments are by no means small. By the end of 2007, there were close to 300 million broadband and 80 million VoIP subscribers worldwide. These groups are expected to grow to over 500 and 200 million subscribers, respectively, by 2011.¹

Once media phones enter production and service providers begin offering packages for these devices, consumers are expected to adopt these devices quickly. “In-Stat forecasts that by 2013, over 48 million consumer media phones and nearly 10 million business media phones will ship annually.”² Other potential subscriber markets may be enabled through new usage models that can be supported with media phones including:

  • Hospitality: Deploy a specialized interface that allows hotel guests to access services like concierge, restaurant reservations, local attractions, movie listings with trailers, directory services, room service, or general information.
  • Video Calls: Easily attach a camera, headset, and microphone.
  • Home Automation: Control home systems (e.g., sprinklers, thermostat, and lights) using a wireless connection.
  • Home Security: Easily attach wireless security cameras to create a surveillance system.
  • Telecare: Link patient sensors and monitoring equipment to health response centers.

Figure 1: Prototype boards are available from Portwell for developing media phones for commercial resale. This example is the Portwell PEB-9732 design.

Intel Offers A Media-Phone Blueprint

OEMs can build their own versions of a media phone quickly and easily using either the Intel® Atom™ processor media-phone reference design or one of the commercially available Intel® architecture- based media-phone systems (see Figure 1). These readily available designs enable OEMs to quickly deliver flexible solutions that are easily adaptable to meet the needs of their customers. OEMs also can use the blueprints to deliver customized solutions that support a family of products. Each product’s price and performance will be optimized for the types of services provided by the OEMs.

Figure 2: The Intel® Media Phone Reference Design, which is based on the Intel® Atom® processor and Intel® System Controller Hub (SCH) US15W, was developed in collaboration with Portwell.

Intel’s reference design (see Figure 2), uses the Intel Atom processor and Intel® System Controller Hub (SCH) US15W for remarkable performance and graphics capabilities at very low power. The design, which was developed in collaboration with Portwell, specifies a board that’s dense, fanless, and reliable. It therefore enables a media phone that’s sleek and ergonomic. Intel also offers a compelling roadmap of low-power processors that will help to make the platform even more competitive in the future. By using Intel® processors, OEMs can take advantage of innovations in the PC software and hardware ecosystem to deliver devices that provide high utility to consumers.

The Phone Is Fun Again

OEMs and service providers should take a close look at the opportunity presented by the media phone. It offers a convenient and natural way for everybody to get the information that they need without waiting to boot up the PC. In the global push to conserve energy and save money, it also provides a means to help consumers be more efficient by better managing systems and utilities. Finally, the media phone gives providers a much-needed vehicle for the delivery of new, localized services that will encourage customers to stay loyal.

Media phones bring together a variety of rich Internet applications, traditional telephony service, and local personalmanagement tools in a unique, easy, and fun-to-use device. Who would have thought the phone would be fun again?

References: ¹Market research sources: Multimedia Intelligence 12/2007 and Infonetics Research. ²In-Stat In-Depth Analysis: The Media Phone Has Arrived, 02/2009.

Nagesh Puppala is a segment marketing manager with the Intel® Embedded and Communications Group (ECG). Puppala holds an MBA from New York University, a masters in computer science from the New Jersey Institute of Technology, and a bachelors degree in mechanical engineering from Osmania University, India.



Frank Shen is the product marketing director at American Portwell Technology, where he is responsible for product management and new market development. Shen has over 15 years of product marketing experience in the embedded computing, industrial computing, and touch-panel industries. He holds a masters degree in electrical engineering from the University of Southern California.