The world’s biggest mobile technology event was upon us again this week. Over 100,000 tecchies descended on Barcelona this week to showcase the latest and greatest smart devices and network technologies that is Mobile World Congress (MWC). Despite reports of an overall global decline in sales at the end of last year, just one look at the show this year will tell you that consumers’ love affair with their smartphones is far from over. However, MWC is increasingly also about showcasing other kinds of connected devices and technology platforms. Continue reading
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Next week, nearly 4,000 of the world’s biggest technology companies will converge on Las Vegas for the annual CES show. Now in its 51st year, the Consumer Electronics Show has seen its pulling power reduced in recent years as big vendors like Google, Apple and Samsung save major announcements for their own events. But it’s still likely to attract something like 170,000 visitors, and is widely seen as a key platform for showcasing new tech products and prototypes that will set the tone for the year ahead.
Here’s a quick rundown of some of the biggest trends to watch out for this year.
TVs: time for 8K
The past year has seen 4K and HDR TVs made widely available, with prices dropping lower all the time. This paves the way for some potentially big 8K announcements this year, with LG already claiming that it will be showing off a new 88-inch set. It will feature a 7680×4320 pixel display a massive 16 times better than the resolution of a standard HD set.
Other technology innovations in the TV space we may see more of are: local dimming features to boost picture quality; lower-priced OLED screens; improved voice control and streaming app support; and potentially some OLED-rivalling Micro LED technology from Samsung.
The smart home gets smarter
TVs comprise just one small part of an increasingly large smart home market, with voice-powered AI assistants from the big hitters like Amazon, Google and Apple increasingly positioned as the glue that holds everything together. Expect a slew of announcements detailing support for Alexa, Google Assistant and Apple’s HomeKit protocol in products as varied as smart clocks, speakers and even video door entry systems. Alexa seems to have the lead at the moment, but Apple is catching up fast thanks to new partnerships, while Google is said to be planning a major presence at the show, having booked out eight hospitality suites.
Keeping it real: VR/AR
Virtual reality might have garnered most of the headlines in recent years, thanks to a slew of eye-catching headsets, but its near neighbour augmented reality (AR) is likely to make a splash at CES 2018. In fact, there’s now a dedicated AR “Marketplace” in one of the Convention Centre halls — proof if any were needed that it’s a technology to watch this year.
Expect to see announcements from the likes of Carl Zeiss, Occipital, Kinmo, Kodak, Royole, Sony, and Netflix, as well as chip giant Qualcomm, which has been building out partnerships with some high-profile headset names such as the Oculus Go. Magic Leap is also a name to watch in the AR space and could well be showing off its new Lightwear headset.
Also with its own dedicated Marketplace arena, AI will see its profile raised further at this year’s CES with a deluge of new products, from connected cars to voice-activated smart home assistants. Honda will feature the tech in its new 3E Robotics Concept at the show with a range of products designed to advance mobility and make people’s lives better.
Named by Accenture as a top-five trend to watch at CES 2018, AI will feature in a range of announcements from other big names including Chinese search giant Baidu, which will show off its autonomous driving platform Apollo and “conversational AI” platform DuerOS.
CES and MWC may attract the bigger crowds early in the year, but for many, the original and best consumer electronics show remains IFA. The Internationale Funkausstellung Berlin – to give it its full name – has been around for nearly a century, but it can barely have witnessed technological change on quite this scale before. This year VR headsets vied for attention with the usual smartphones, gaming devices, and laptops.
But perhaps the biggest buzz could be found around the smart home, in the proliferation of connected appliances and voice assistant technology, as well as a new agreement behind the scenes designed to drive forward a global market said to be worth over $14bn.
As usual, all the major consumer brands were represented this year, from Samsung and Huawei to Sony, Asus, Acer, Panasonic and many more. Smartphone fans were treated to a first look at LG’s high-end V30 device, while Sony unveiled three new models: the Xperia X71, X71 Compact and XA1 Plus. As far as laptops, the Asus 2-in- 1 ZenBook Flip 14, Lenovo’s Yoga 920 ultra-thin notebook, and Acer’s “slimmest ever all-in- on desktop” the Aspire S24 all caught the eye.
VR fans were treated to a major announcement: the introduction of Microsoft’s Windows Mixed Reality headsets, with partners Acer, Asus, Dell, Lenovo and others all showing off their wares. Elsewhere there were new smart watches from Samsung, plenty to keep gaming fans interested, and even new 360-degree digital cameras from Acer.
But it was in the smart home that arguably the most eye-catching kit could be found, as the battle for consumer hearts and minds really begins to heat up. There were plenty of connected appliances on show, from a new Nest thermostat and Hive smart security camera to the Miele Dialog Oven and even a smart floor cleaner from Neato Botvac.
But notably it was in the virtual assistant space that vendors really vied for consumers’ attention, which isn’t surprising given that these platforms will increasingly sit at the centre of the smart home.
That’s why we saw Amazon’s Alexa, Microsoft’s Cortana, Google’s Voice Assistant and Samsung’s Bixby, built into an increasingly wide range of products on show at IFA. Lenovo’s Alexa-powered Home Assistant for the Tab 4 offers an Echo Show experience for a much smaller price tag, for example. There’s also been signs that some players are prepared to work together: Amazon and Microsoft announced that their voice assistants would integrate to allow users to access Windows and Office through Alexa and Amazon sites via Cortana.
Driving smart home success
Behind the scenes was perhaps where the most significant event at IFA 2017 took place, with the signing of a major agreement between three smart home associations in the UK, Germany and France.
The UK’s Smart Homes & Buildings Association (SH&BA), Germany’s SmartHome Initiative Deutschland e.V. (SHD) and the Fédération Française de Domotique (FFD) represent over 600 OEMs, retailers, distributors, ISVs, integrators, telcos, and energy suppliers. Under the terms of the new agreement, they’ll form a European committee to better coordinate joint activities.
As Global MD for CONTEXT and Chair of the SH&BA, I believe the deal will help the organisations share key knowledge, develop common standards and drive sales. As smart home technologies become increasingly important to us all, that’s great news for the industry, and ultimately consumers.
For growth in the tech industry it’s all about Internet of Things and of course the Internet of Playthings – this year’s IFA will be an exciting place to witness this. The pre-show announcements point to make or break smart watches from Fitbit, new wearables from Samsung, a new connected toothbrush from Philips, a “behemoth” gaming machine from Acer, and new mixed-reality headsets from Microsoft.
The agenda of the various conference programmes, shows that IFA, just like its sister shows CES and MWC, give most airtime to the new, and hardly any to how technology companies can optimise the vast but legacy categories such as PC’s, printers and displays. So, for example, the keynotes will focus on digital health (Philips & Fitbit), “building the possible” (Microsoft – could this be related to their mixed reality offering?) and an intriguing topic of mobile and AI from Huawei – are they launching their own Siri/Cortana competitive offering? The IFA+ summit is focused on IOT, wearables, integrating tech in smart home, and the latest on immersive computing. It’s all about the next level – nothing stands still, although there is a timeless element about the IFA show, with its long history stretching back to 1925.
As you wander around the 155,000 square metres of space, and get to meet the 1,805 exhibitors, do not forget to put the innovation areas on your itinerary.
Here are two of them: in hall 6.2 there are 78 companies presenting smart home offerings – covering security, lighting, home automation, cloud platforms and gateways. Look especially for the advances in voice control and the linking of smart home solutions to this technology, which is less than one year old in Europe and has already made an enormous difference to the smart home market. Then, not far away, there is hall 26 – this is the innovation pavilion where IFA Next is housed (it used to be known as IFA Tec Watch). Here you will find start-ups and all those next generation products, the ones to watch.
In pavilion 26, there is also another smart home area, with another 10 vendors, and associations, which is also not to be missed. And especially at 4pm on 4th September, when three smart home associations – the Smart Homes & Buildings Association (UK), Fédération Française de Domotique (France), and Smart Home Initiative (Germany), will sign an international cooperation agreement working together to build the category across Europe. CONTEXT is associated with all three associations, having been a force in bringing them together, and already collaborated on a number of pan-European projects.
Lastly, and not least, CONTEXT is looking forward to hosting its annual IFA dinner with clients and partners – the opportunity to hear the latest CONTEXT research on Smart Home and Immersive technology, will be delivered in a delightful Berlin venue, providing a great opportunity to relax, meet up and network.
Last month, the BBC announced that it would be showing live eSports on BBC Three. The UK is not known for having a strong presence in the eSports world, but will this be a turning point, inspiring a new generation of competitive gamers? Continue reading
With unrivalled insight into the Western Europe ICT supply chain, CONTEXT has been following with interest the evolution of the PC and mobile computing market. In many ways, Q2 saw a continuation of trends, with PC volume sales continuing to fall and consumer tablet demand remaining weak as buyers divert their spending to smartphones.
However, as always, there were some interesting caveats behind the headline statistics, not least the impressive performance of the new iPad launched in March.
Tablets and detachables
It’s true that overall consumer tablet demand remained weak during the second quarter. Shoppers continued to shift their budgets to other technologies that have come to represent the content consumption devices of choice in this market segment. Larger screened smartphones in particular have become popular for activities like writing emails and using apps as they’re always on and close-at-hand for consumers.
However, year-on-year volume decline was softened somewhat thanks to the launch in March of Apple’s seventh generation iPad. The 9.7in tablet is more powerful than the iPad Air 2 but also heavier and lacking several of the latter’s features such as a Smart Connector, and fully laminated, anti-reflective screen. However, its relatively low-price tag seems to have attracted consumers in large numbers and it sold well in Q2.
This is not unusual for Apple products, which often see strong initial sales. But if consumers continue to flock to the model, it would seem to suggest there’s a need for a high-quality iPad option with a price point more in line with current market trends.
Elsewhere, business detachables continued to grow year-on-year in Q2, dominated by Apple and Microsoft products but with Lenovo making impressive inroads. New products such as Apple’s iPad Pro with a 10.5in screen and Microsoft’s fifth generation Surface Pro helped drive this growth. Business detachables still aren’t selling in huge volumes, but it was one of the few segments to post growth in the quarter.
PC Average Selling Prices continue to rise
On the face of it, the PC market overall saw a bigger than expected drop of -15% year-on-year in terms of volume sales. However, there’s more to this trend than meets the eye. For one, Q2 2017 had fewer trading days than the same period last year and some April sales had been brought forward to March in anticipation of rising prices.
Despite weak demand in some segments, the quarter fared better from a revenue perspective, down just -2% year-on-year as average selling prices (ASPs) continued to rise. The growth in ASPs year-on-year continues to be driven by a blend of currency, component costs and a richer product mix; with the shift to high-end models a welcome continued trend.
Weaker-than-expected sell-through meant that inventory levels are a bit higher than desired, but not worryingly so. It’s likely that the “back-to-school” period will be used to get rid of extra stock, driving a reduction in pricing quarter-on-quarter.
Becky Connolly is an A-Level student who is doing work experience at CONTEXT. Given the recent survey results showing the passion of 18-24 year-olds for Smart Home products, we asked her to give her perspective on technology as a member of Generation Z.
Having come to my work experience at CONTEXT, I joined armed with nerves, excitement and my Mac. That’s right, I’m part of the BYOD generation (Bring Your Own Device), where we bring our beloved laptops, phones and tablets in fear of the unknown technology that may be lying ahead of us. Our Generation is famous for its insatiable appetite for the latest and greatest technology- the most popular connotations of Generation Z being a square-eyed teenager (often looking like a zombie) completely fixated by their devices; be it phone, laptop or television screen. But how does our perspective differ to that of older people, including millennials?
Importance of technology
Technology has captivated our lives. I use technology in any way possible which will enhance features of my life in a few types and swipes which nowadays is becoming easier and easier.
Technology is not only used for social media, despite the heavy connotations (having said that, I am an avid Snapchat user). A large influence of technology is instilled in us from childhood, via the use of technology in classrooms; seeing as 77% of teachers use it for instruction as 81% of teachers believe that it can enrich classroom learning. Having adapted to technology through my education I have become not only more adept to technology but dependent on it for my studies; apps such as Quizlet and SimpleMind contained the sources of my revision for eight out of my ten GCSE subjects. Needless to say, technology was VERY important to me during this course.
An environment that appeals to younger generations
As the technology world blossoms, develops and shuttles into full speed, so do the minds of Generation Z. The answer is this; to attract the younger generation, the workplaces have to advance much further in an attempt to keep up with technology. If you have “dinosaur” computers which are inexplicably slow and missing out on features which are now just the “basics” paired with caveman wifi, the appeal (no matter how cool the job) will be gone, for example- if I were offered two jobs (and I liked both) and in one office there were state-of-the-art Macs and iPads dotted around everywhere, and the other used the same technology that Shakespeare used to write Macbeth, let’s just say I’d go for the former- wouldn’t you?
Furthermore, if your job entails a flair of creativity that initially could not be expressed through technology but now can be, it is essential for the young, talented recruits to have access to the advanced technology so that they can use it and develop their skills to the highest standard. Using the latest technology would also enable flexibility of the workplace. Technology-based work ensures that one can access their work in the office, at home or even abroad. This creates a sense of continuity for the worker and the company and assures that work is accessible from anywhere.
Technology investments worth making
Alongside many people of Generation Z, my prize possession is my phone; this is not uncommon, seeing as 88% of teenagers own phones, and 84% of them are smartphones. This shows that teenagers are willing to invest more in their technology for the better features. Right now, the favoured model is an iPhone; their perfect compatibility for the demands of Generation Z including social media, video streaming and education means that the price of £599 is often met and in high demand. It seems extortionate, but their dependability, fast-response and daily use make them a more worthy investment than a holiday, which would only last a few days.
As far as hopes are concerned, one cannot even begin to hope or imagine how far technology will develop over the years; if somebody told me that I’d be buying my latte via my thumbprint a few years ago… let’s just say technology is astonishing, awe-inspiring and unimaginable, really.