Since Steve Jobs’s passing last October, Apple’s future has been a topic of fierce speculation. Can the company keep churning out disruptive products without its visionary frontman? That question is still up in the air, but the recent release of Nest, the game-changing home thermostat developed by Apple alum Tony Fadell, set some minds at ease. As former Apple employees begin to branch off to form their own companies, we should see rivulets of innovation in other consumer tech categories.
At last week’s CES, for instance, another former Apple heavy unveiled a new product: an all-in-one home-theater system called Unity. Developed by Todd Beauchamp (who, until last April, ran Apple’s Audio Lab) and Mike Fidler (a former Sony engineering exec) the product solves what he believes is the main obstacle to buying such equipment: the complicated setup that often requires professional AV backup. Unity, by contrast, integrates the soundbar, subwoofer, and BluRay player into one unit, which connects to your flatscreen via a single cable, making it possible to go from box to play in about 15 minutes.
“Just to give you a little background, there are 35 million TVs sold in 2011,” Beauchamp says. “Right now, the catch rate to audio-- someone buying an audio system at the exact same time as a TV purchase is only 5%. So when we looked at the market, we found that what people were ultimately looking for is a product that sounds really good, it’s gotta be really, really easy to set up, and have the fewest number of wires possible,” Beauchamp says. In collaboration with the L.A.-based design firm RKS, he and his team at In2Technologies, came up with a novel I-shaped configuration, which allows for a thin soundbar but a bigger speaker--and therefore richer acoustics--than the typical home theater in a box. “The difference is that we have down-firing mid-base in an area where your eye doesn’t lock, so we can fit very large speakers in there. That blends to the subwoofer, so the whole dynamic range of the system is drastically improved. But we still keep a thin aesthetic appeal where your eye locks onto.”
Beauchamp also hopes to capture a group of female consumers who consider installing audio equipment a daunting task. “It can be the best-sounding thing on the planet, but if it’s not simple to use, then it doesn’t really matter,” he says. At a projected price point of $1,000 the system is spendy (another potential consumer deterrent), but Beauchamp asserts that the sound quality is comparable to systems that retail for four times that.
So will Unity transform how we watch movies as Apple changed the way we buy and listen to music and Nest promises to revolutionize home thermostats? No. But it does help extend the legacy of one of Jobs’s major insights--that tech, in its myriad forms, should be friendly and inviting to users across the gender and age spectrum.