Switched On: Connecting mobile, mantle and metal objects (Part 2)

Ross Rubin contributes Switched On, a column about consumer technology.

The last Switched On discussed Always Innovating's Touch Book, one of the new hardware products introduced at this month's DEMO conference and an entrant in the netbook category that trades compatibility for stamina by using an ARM processor instead of an Intel one.

Like the Touch Book, the Avaak Vue personal video network will be offered for $299 when it debuts later this year (in a kit that includes two cameras and a base station) and has no apparent service fees -- at least not yet. Also, like the Touch Book, the Vue boasts outstanding battery life – so impressive, in fact, that the company claims its battery-powered video cameras should last a year under "normal usage" – the cameras use power only when they are being accessed remotely. This on-demand power consumption combined with a low-power mesh network enable Vue video cameras to be mounted practically anywhere and, like the Touch Book, Vue cameras take advantage of magnets, which is how they are affixed to and positioned around their small domed mounts.

The result is a networked camera system that is almost completely wire-free save for the base station's connection to a home router and a power cable. However, unlike the Touch Book, which supports many open standards including Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and an array of USB ports (including two internal ports), the proprietary mesh network that links the video cameras is Vue's secret sauce.
The Vue system is also not without precedent as a digital surveillance product trying to get around the wiring problem. The WiLife Lukwerks system, which Switched On discussed back in November of 2006 and is now owned by Logitech, used the HomePlug standard to send monitored video to a PC running its Windows application, but having the power connection double as the network connection still wasn't as convenient a solution as wireless. It's starter kit was also $299 but add-on cameras cost significantly more.

With its proprietary mesh networking, lack of server administration, ease of adding new devices, and fresh take on what has in the past been the province of custom installers, Vue does an even better job of living up to the "Sonos of surveillance" label I originally gave to Lukwerks. There's one significant difference, though. Whereas Sonos replicated or improved upon the analog experience of multi-room music at a fraction of the cost to purchase and install. In contrast, the Avaak system focuses on checking in versus keeping a video record of constant surveillance for catching culprits in the act. Perhaps seeking to turn around a potential liability and drive differentiation, Avaak is encouraging beta testers of its system to propose alternative uses for the Vue system.

The Touch Smart netbook embraces open standards and the Avaak Vue leverages proprietary closed networking; the two products will face different challenges in their markets. The Touch Book taps into an ultraportable category that is building some mainstream momentum and will have to leverage its long battery life and unique design to compete for its slice of the pie against the giants of the PC world. The Vue system, on the other hand, enters a greenfield market that has not meaningfully cracked the mainstream yet. Avaak faces more of a burden in building awareness, but has a rare opportunity to break open a category.

Ross Rubin is director of industry analysis for consumer technology at market research and analysis firm The NPD Group. Views expressed in Switched On are his own