It’s safe to say that along with revolutionising our day-to-day lives with Microsoft Office, Charles Simonyi has earned our attention for his perspectives, both technical and human. He asked Don Hoyt Gorman not to get him started on the subject of audio-visual interfaces. But when you’re speaking with one of the most accomplished software engineers on earth about what he likes and dislikes in the marketplace of yacht equipment, it would be remiss in one’s duty to readers to not, well, get him started. As a pioneer of the digital revolution of the workplace, academia and virtually every other facet of modern communication having been head of the application software group at Microsoft that built the Office suite of products, Simonyi had a few things to say.

Don’t get me started on A/V. It’s a complete disaster and it’s really a shame that the hi-fi industry is so pathetic.

Let me take the simplest device: a clock radio. I challenge you to go to a hotel room and set your clock radio. Usually the time is wrong, because not even the personnel know how to set the time. And then every once in a while it starts blaring. And there’s no way to stop it, especially if the plug is behind your bed. There’s no obvious button – there’s always a hundred buttons, and it’s true that some combination of those buttons will do some of what you want – but not in a hundred years are you going to find it. I mean, the number of button combinations is …

Imagine if computers had the same interface as these idiotic machines we’re creating. The whole revolution in offices and paperwork and email and Microsoft Office wouldn’t have happened. Nobody would be able to use it. The hi-fi is barely useable, considering that it’s a hundred times simpler than a computer. On a radio, all you want to do is listen, check the current time, set an alarm, adjust the volume and sometimes change the station. That’s it! But no matter what, the interface is so horribly designed that nobody gets any of these done.

M/Y Skat in St Barths

The only things that happen with those enormously complex remote controls for TVs and audio systems are the most basic functions, because no one understands how to do anything more complex. It’s horrible. When people have five remotes on their table and none of them are labelled, all of them are different and all of them have a hundred buttons, it’s terrifying. People say you should use a programmable remote, but that doesn’t work for everything. The moment you swap out a component, you have to call up the A/V expert. Don’t get me started.

"When Skat was newly built, of course we had the most up-to-date system, yet it didn’t work seamlessly, and it cost a small fortune. Like all other superyachts, a surprising percentage of the cost has to do with A/V equipment."
- Charles Simonyi

Soon, there will be nothing like TV anymore, there will only be displays, and all the media will be on the computer and you just go to the computer and select what you want to see, click on it and watch. I think we are two or three years away from a complete digital takeover and then all of these idiots will go out of business, which will be none too soon.

The issue for superyacht owners is that if you’re willing to spend a lot of money on it, then you’ll be able to solve a very specific problem for a short period of time. When Skat was newly built, of course we had the most up-to-date system, yet it didn’t work seamlessly, and it cost a small fortune. Like all other superyachts, a surprising percentage of the cost has to do with A/V equipment.

M/Y Skat

Then there is the cost of the cabling, which is amazing … and for what? If it is for future proofing, it hasn’t been successful. Every control station has to have a separate cable to it. All these pieces of A/V equipment and control panels and sensors should obviously be on a network: there should be one cable running through – or maybe two if you want to be redundant – and stations can just join that single Ethernet wire. But that’s impossible because of the lack of standardisation and protocols at the moment.

The way it has to go is that every single electronic item aboard has an IP address. Address is the first thing, the second thing is that the displays should be connected to all the other devices and be able to display information easily, regardless of whether it’s the clock, the weather, the internet, the movie you’re watching, the security cameras, a Skype call, whatever.

We’re really happy with Skat though. She’s provided us a huge amount of freedom and some truly wonderful experiences. We don’t have any realistic plans for a new boat, but one can always dream!

To read the full article in issue 9 of The Superyacht Owner, click here.