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Orange targets home applications with new mobile-to-TV gadgets and services

Peter Sayer | Oct. 3, 2014
Homepoint houses a Qi wireless charging pad for compatible smartphones, and two USB ports each capable of delivering 1.5 amps, enough to power a tablet.

Mobile payments; home automation; health tracking; Bluetooth LE beacons; ubiquitous media streaming, and inevitably, one last surprise: In true Apple style, the product presentation was packed.

But this wasn't Apple: Its back-to-school extravaganza has come and gone. The star of this show was Orange, the French network operator.

Everyone knows you shouldn't make Apple-to-Orange comparisons, but CEO Stéphane Richard was clearly playing up the similarities at the Palais de Chaillot theater in Paris on Thursday. In business casual attire, with just five giant video screens for company on stage, he spent nearly an hour hyping the products and services the company will offer businesses and consumers over the next year.

The hardware highlight of the show was Homepoint. About the size of a couple of stacked CD boxes, this squat black square houses a Qi wireless charging pad for compatible smartphones, and two USB ports each capable of delivering 1.5 amps, enough to power a tablet. There's also an SD Card slot from which media can be streamed to screens around the home, and a Bluetooth connection that can pair with up to four devices to stream audio from them to a hi-fi through the 3.5mm audio jack.

The Homepoint also has a button for initiating WPS (Wi-Fi Protected Setup) secure Wi-Fi connections for visitors, who can then access the Internet but not content on the home network. Homepoint will go on sale in November for under €80 (US$100), Richard said, but it's hard to say who will pay for its curious mishmash of features.

The emphasis on streaming media continued with Project Polaris, which will allow users of Orange's video on demand, streaming TV, music and gaming services to begin watching or playing on, say, the TV, hit pause, and then resume where they left off on their phone, tablet or PC. "It's a common interface for all screens," and will be available by year-end, said Richard.

As if that weren't enough to watch, Netflix will be available through Orange's set-top box in France from November, Richard said. The company is playing catch-up with its smaller rival, Bouygues Telecom, which introduced Netflix to its subscribers last month.

With its home automation and monitoring service, Homelive, Orange is following in the footsteps of another rival, SFR, which upgraded its Homebox range in May. There's a fundamental difference between the two, according to an Orange employee demonstrating the products: "Our offering is open, and SFR's is proprietary. That means we can offer the best connected objects at any given time." Orange will launch its €9.99/month service on Oct. 23, with smoke detectors, motion detectors, weather stations, power controllers and other devices from partners including Philips, Netatmo and Fibaro.


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