Category Archives: Smart Technology

CeBIT 2017 Points the Way to VR and Smart Device Growth

With 200,000 participants flocking to Hanover this year, the week-long CeBIT show can be an intimidating prospect. Over 3,000 exhibitors set up shop at the world’s biggest technology expo. And while this is not a show for big name product launches, it still provides a very useful snapshot of what’s hot in the tech industry from one year to the next.

This year, as we predicted, there was plenty of buzz around smart devices, the Internet of Things and Virtual Reality (VR)/ Augmented Reality (AR). These, after all, will be the technologies that in years to come delight consumers and power the next generation of European businesses.

VR/AR catches the eye
CeBIT 2017 had a bigger focus on VR/AR than ever before, highlighting the growing maturity of this burgeoning technology. If you were in any doubt of the scale of interest in this space, half of Hall 17 – one of the show’s aircraft hangar-sized expo spaces – was devoted entirely to firms exhibiting VR-related tech. As we predicted at the end of 2016, gaming will continue to drive forward interest in VR on the consumer side. But, as evidenced by its exposure at the business-centric CeBIT show, more and more companies are exploring corporate applications.

Examples included the “Virtofy” VR presentation system, which offers companies an opportunity to demo products and showcase projects to prospective clients/customers. Another interesting use case developed by engineers at the Zwickau University of Applied Sciences incorporates integrated data goggles into the helmets worn by steel workers – designed to flash up safety warnings and the like.

In Hall 2 Intel, in cooperation with Microsoft, presented the dataflow the companies expect in the near future. Based on the BMW i8, Intel presented with the Microsoft AR Hololens how cameras and sensors scan the environment of a future car in order to drive autonomously. Intel predicts that approximately 4000 GB of data will be tracked, processed and uploaded from cars in the future, which creates brand new business scenarios in this market.

IoT everywhere
As we mentioned in December, the Smart Home market is really heating up, with Apple, Google, Amazon, Samsung and Microsoft set to battle it out for hearts and minds in 2017 and beyond. True to form, the Internet of Things formed a major part of CeBIT 2017, with over 270 exhibitors from 29 countries participating. The IoT also had its own spin-off summit at the conference – a first for the organisers and again illustrative of the growing interest in smart products.

The IoT, of course, extends far beyond the smart home. In fact, attendees were treated to demos of everything from smart shirts and dog collars from Telefonica Deutschland, to Toshiba’s industrial applications for the energy sector.

Drones are taking off
The smart device revolution also increasingly extends up into the sky. As evidenced by the buzz at CeBIT, drones are fast carving out an IoT niche of their own. A large outdoor area sponsored by Intel drew many of the crowds, with much attention drawn to the bright orange H520 hexacopter from Chinese firm Yuneec. When combined with an on-board camera and Intel RealSense tech, it’s able to detect movements and distances like the human eye – enabling it to avoid obstacles in flight.

The Drone Park even drew the interest of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

by AD

 

 

 

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Filed under Connectivity, gaming, Home automation, IoT, Mobile technology, Retail, Smart Home, Smart Technology, virtual reality, Wearables

How PC Gaming Is Driving AI, Cars, and the UK Treasury’s Technology Policy

At CES 2017 back in January, Jen-Hsun Huang, CEO of Nvidia announced that “GPU-powered deep learning is driving the ability for computers to perceive the world… But one day, AI researchers met the GPU and the big bang of AI occurred.” Up until more recently, when most ICT analysts thought of Nvidia, the first thing to come to mind would have been gaming, and for a good reason. The core of Nvidia’s business is still PC Gaming where they continue to dominate the GFX hardware market. Jen-Hsun went on to explain that the “GPU had the benefit of being fuelled by the largest entertainment industry in the world, video games.” Indeed, PC gaming is one of the most processing-intensive activities a PC can be asked to perform, and that industry has gone from strength to strength over the past few years. Jen-Hsun was right to tout the success of PC gaming: CONTEXT’s data shows that sales of high-end VR-ready PCs shot up 1057% in terms of revenue y/y for the top 6 EU economies in Q4 2016, and figures from the Entertainment Retailers Association put gaming as contributing more to the UK economy in 2016 than either music or video sales at £2.96bn.

Several thousand miles away from Sin City, the importance of AI and driverless cars was being carefully noted by strategists and civil servants in Whitehall, culminating in the most recent budget announcement. The British government has promised £270m in funding for disruptive technologies such as driverless cars, AI, and robotics. Given the current hard-Brexit policies being pursued by Teresa May’s administration they are wise to support such green shoots; CONTEXT’s figures for professional GPUs back both this decision and Jen-Hsun’s assertion. Screen Shot 2017-03-16 at 13.21.25Sales of professional GPUs in the UK reversed a previous decline in Q3 2016, with Nvidia’s own Quadro series of GFX cards enjoying +25% y/y growth in revenue. More and more GPUs are being purchased to power deep learning and AI for large datacentres, rather than in their more traditional roles for 3D modelling and computer aided design.

It’s not uncommon for devices to be developed with one purpose in mind then being very successfully appropriated for another. Even Atari’s failed Jaguar gaming console ended up being cannibalised and used in dental equipment. The GPU is also the critical lynchpin of another emerging technology: Virtual Reality. In one profound statement, Jen-Hsun declared that “…all gaming was Virtual Reality,” and in many cases this rings true where a player inhabits a virtual world. It might not seem immediately obvious, but components built for PC gaming now power both AI and VR. As a result Nvidia’s share price has soared in recent months, finishing 2016 +224% up from the previous year, and promising to continue to rise as their partnerships and new ventures bear fruit, with professional visualization growing +11%, datacentre at +144% and automotive up +52% for Q4 2016.

This success eventually caused Nvidia’s shares to drop in February when the Q4 results were released as investors weighed up the risks of long-term returns (as driverless cars are still many years away from being commonplace), versus selling stock at an apex. To some extent, the UK government is taking a gamble on driverless cars becoming the norm, and this might reflect the modest £270 sum compared with much higher investment promised by other governments. Academic commentators have also welcomed this news due to the environmental benefits promised by AI-driven vehicles. The immediate future of AI and its importance to the UK economy is very encouraging, but much like Brexit, the longer-term outlook is beyond the most complex algorithm to accurately portend.

by JW

 

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Filed under Big data, Connectivity, gaming, IoT, Mobile technology, Smart Technology

Reflections on DISTREE EMEA 2017

When the IT channel gathers in Monaco for DISTREE in February it is always good to get some winter sunshine, not just from the balmy Cote d’Azur weather, but also the opportunity to meet up with panellists, clients and new tech companies.

This year there was a strong distributor focus, and the keynote, delivered by Chris Petersen , our strategic partner, was a look at what distributors need to do to benefit from the omnichannel revolution. Chris challenged the audience provocatively with a tombstone showing that on 14th February 2017, traditional retail died. What is the significance of this date? It was on this day that Warren Buffett, the legendary investor, sold almost all of his WalMart stocks. The WalMart stock has been languishing for years now, as the company is incapable of catching up with Amazon on ecommerce. Their total of $13bn online sales is equivalent to the growth which Amazon puts on every year.

Chris elaborated on 5 areas where distributors can contribute. Here are two key ones:

  • The last mile represents 40% of costs – how can distributors help with logistics support such as drop shipment, and inventory management.
  • The long tail is the chosen strategy of ecommerce and particularly online marketplaces, which are big competition for distributors. What can distributors do to help retailers increase the breadth and depth of categories which they hold.

In addition, CONTEXT had a workshop slot, and presented a deep dive on three emerging technology areas – Smart Home, VR and PC Gaming. There is a thirst for understanding all these areas, as evidenced by the full house of those attending the talk. Of all of them, the theme which cropped up throughout the three days was PC Gaming. In the CONTEXT presentation there was a very visual presentation of the need for deep analysis in this area, with a slide showing two Asus models. One was a Republic of Gaming model, evidently a gaming machine.

adamdistree

Adam Simon, Global MD – Retail, CONTEXT

The other was a “business” laptop, but when you dig into the specifications you can see that it is also gaming capable. The channel needs to understand the total market if it is to develop the gaming category, and that is where the CONTEXT categorisation is very useful.

Finally, we were asked to take part in a panel on Brexit. All 4 UK participants had been pro-Remain and are all now pragmatic if concerned about the future. We are delighted to see additional investments recently announced by tech companies in the UK, and look for an interesting competition between the hardware strong France and the software strong UK.

by AS

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Filed under Connectivity, Home automation, omnichannel, Retail, Retail in CONTEXT, Smart Home, Smart Technology

Smart Home survey Latam unveiled

CONTEXT recently expanded its smart-home survey coverage to Latam and Howard Davies, our CEO, presented the results at the recent GTDC conference in Miami.

This category is still in its infancy in Latam but, since things are now moving in the US and the UK, accelerated by the arrival of voice control with Amazon Echo and Google Home, we are keen to establish a baseline.

Here are some interesting findings from the survey:

  • Timescales given in response to the question, “When do you envisage you will have a smart home?” are shortest in Mexico. Brazil and Argentina are next, and Chile is some way behind.
  • It is open season on smart home for the channels – none has established themselves as the natural go-to place: in two countries (Brazil and Argentina) online retailing leads, in two others (Chile and Mexico) DIY is in front. Specialist technology retailers lag throughout Latam, which is surprising.
  • Awareness of voice control is high, in particular Apple Siri. This makes these countries fertile ground for the launch of Amazon Alexa and Google Home although, at the moment, people prefer to use smartphones to access smart home. We think this will change when they see the ease of access voice control provides.
  • Thermostats, lightbulbs, smart plugs, smart doorbells and locks, and smart cameras are the products people are most aware of. Lightbulbs and plugs are the entry products, the ones people are going to buy (intention to purchase > 4%). Smart doorbells and smart sound systems cross this threshold too.
  • Interestingly, leading reasons for purchase differ by country – security in Brazil and Chile, automation and making life easier in Mexico, lowering energy costs in Argentina. “Because it’s just cool,” scores very highly in Chile and Argentina – is this coming from tech lovers, early adopters, or just people for whom image is important?
  • Lack of understanding of benefits and lack of knowledge of products are key barriers, and this is unsurprising. But the strong vote for products that work together should be a call to action for the industry. The importance of integrated offerings is supported by the number of people who say that they don’t understand how the smart home concept fits together. The manufacturer or retailer who really communicates and delivers this will be in a strong position.
  • People are more concerned about the physical risks of owning a smart home product than the cyber risks. Product malfunction is the top risk in all countries.
  • The only country where retailers are doing a reasonable job of explaining smart home is Mexico.
  • There is a three horse race for the hub – Amazon Echo leads in Brazil, Google Home in Chile and Apple Homekit in Mexico. In Argentina, Amazon Echo and Google Home are neck and neck.

Smart Home in 2017 is going to be a battle of the giants! For more information, please click here!

by AS

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Filed under Connectivity, Home automation, Smart Home, Smart Technology

Latin American Consumers Ready for Smart Home

Over three quarters of consumers surveyed in Latin America’s leading economies say they want to know more about Smart Home products, according to CONTEXT’s new survey. With no one retailer dominating the Smart Home market in the countries surveyed, this potential demand for the new global wave in technology products and services presents significant opportunities for the IT channel in Latin America.

Carried out in January 2017, the CONTEXT Survey was announced at the Global Technology Distribution Council Latin American IT Distribution Summit in Miami, USA, and covered 2,000 consumers in Brazil, Mexico, Argentina and Chile.

The general picture for Smart Homes in these countries with a combined GDP of $USD4.4TN is good, with an encouraging level of awareness. However, it is clear that this awareness is not rooted in a deep understanding of the concept. This is partly down to limited exposure to Smart Home products or ideas, with very few people seeing or hearing things about Smart Home on a regular basis.

Such limited exposure is hardly surprising, given that no one channel is doing a good job of explaining or showcasing the concept. Where people have picked up on Smart Home, it tends to be from online sites – both retailers’ and manufacturers’ – rather than from in-person contact via things like store displays. This limits the degree to which consumers can interact and engage with Smart Home products.

As well as highlighting the opportunities, the CONTEXT Survey found that worries surrounding the idea of the Smart Home are prevalent, with 9 out of 10 people having at least one concern. Some of these are serious, including views that products may malfunction, causing harm or damage to the home. Privacy concerns and a fear of identity theft are also high on the list of worries.

When asked what user scenarios were encouraging them to buy Smart Home products, the top three responses were “arriving home”, “waking up”, and “advanced security”. In terms of the Smart Home hubs people would be most likely to trust, the Survey found that while there are variations across different countries, Apple, Amazon and Google dominate. Amazon has a clear lead in Brazil, while Apple leads in Mexico and Chile. Google is in the lead in Argentina.

In summary, despite the lack of deep knowledge and the barriers this creates, the good news is that across all countries there is an appetite to learn more. This is especially in terms of how they can save money, and how they can make home living more enjoyable, easier and better.

by JD

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Is Black Friday dead? A US perspective

Guest blog by Chris Petersen, CEO of IMS, Inc.

Is Black Friday dead, or just rapidly waning? Data indicates the demise of the premier kickoff to holiday shopping in the US. It’s not just about the economy and consumer confidence, although those are key factors. The retail phenomena unfolding right now is about universal changes in consumer behaviour, regardless of socio-economic status.

Black Friday has declined in US retail … will the same trend happen in Europe?
In the not too distant past, stores were the premier focal point of holiday shopping. Black Friday was an event created by bricks and mortar retailers to entice consumers to come shopping on the Friday after US Thanksgiving, which always falls on the 4th Thursday of November. Since many US customers take off from work on Black Friday, it became the quintessential retailer marketing event to lure shoppers to the stores with “best deals” of the season. The theory was that if shoppers came early to find a deal, they would come back to stores for the rest of their shopping.

Not surprising, the UK and other European retailers adopted Black Friday as a promotional event to kick off the holiday selling season and draw traffic to stores. CONTEXT’s analysis of distribution trends in 2015 was very predictive for UK retail sales spiking for Black Friday. Will the trend continue in 2016?

Black “Friday” — death by a thousand clicks
Increasingly retail stores have been jumping the gun on Black Friday by offering Black Friday sales before the actual Friday. The result in the US is that there is no longer a singular event. Black Friday has suffered scope creep, and it literally has become a “Black Week” of promotions and deals.

More importantly, consumers don’t see Black Friday as just “stores” any more. Amazon and other online retailers have creatively capitalised on “Black Friday” by offering daily online deals across an entire week, or more. This has created a new trend for “Cyber Monday” which is the first Monday after the traditional Black Friday. In the US, workplace productivity actually drops on Cyber Monday as people at work scramble to get better deals on stuff they didn’t buy or couldn’t get on Black Friday. Cyber Monday is projected to be the single largest volume day of the entire holiday shopping season.

Did the same trend happen in the UK and other countries? Compared to the US, the UK has a higher % of sales occurring online, especially for technology. Many of the UK promotional ads in 2016 now in fact show the Black 5 days of deals: Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Cyber Monday.

The net result is that today’s consumer is an empowered consumer. They are not bound by place or time of event. This translates into a much diminished effect of single retailer store events like Black Friday.

Large retailers have privately confided that Black Friday needed to “die”. The traditional approach of cramming all deals into a single day dramatically lowers prices and margin. It would be healthier for both if retailers and consumers could evaluate offers and spread shopping over a period of time. In fact, that is how today’s omnichannel shoppers are already behaving – shopping multiple days in multiple ways.

So what happened in the UK for 2016?
Were Black Friday sales up again this year? Or, did consumers shift more of their shopping purchases to Cyber Monday? How much of their Christmas budget have they spent? The final store sales numbers won’t be tallied for a couple of weeks.

However, CONTEXT is conducting consumer pulse survey right now. We are asking consumers when they shopped, and how much they purchased on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. It will be interesting to see how much they expect yet to spend in the rest of holiday season.

 

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Filed under IoT, IT Distribution, Market Analysis, Mobile technology, PCs, Retail, Retail in CONTEXT, Smart Technology, Tablet PCs

Google and Amazon lay the foundations for a virtual assistant to run our homes

The dream of the smart home always seems just out of reach. Everyone knows how it should work. You buy a new connected device, plug it in, and it instantly syncs with all your other devices. Of course the reality is often markedly different—one poor man spent 11 hours trying to make a cup of tea with his new kettle. This is not an isolated experience as many tech reviewers and consumers have documented their own valiant battles to control their devices.

The root cause of the frustration stems from the multitude of technology standards, but Google and Amazon are both making great strides trying to address it. They have realised that convenience is the key to making the category a success. And what could be more convenient than telling someone, or in this case something, to do a job for you? The Amazon Echo, newly available in the UK, has won over industry experts for its ability to search online for information, and control the home’s connected devices using simple voice commands. But it is Google Home that has many in the industry excited.

Google has always been a data company, with a mission to organize the world’s information. If you have a Gmail account, it’s been reading your emails for years. If you use any of its services such as Android, Chrome, Maps or Search it knows pretty much everything about your habits. A few years ago, it launched Google Now that aimed to map out your life as a personal concierge you could speak to. With Google Home, this goes one step further.

Advances in Artificial Intelligence mean that you can now converse with Google Home. After you ask it what’s on at the cinema, you can then ask it to filter by age-certification or genre, and then to book tickets. It will wake you up and give you a morning briefing based on the papers you read. It will alert you to any delays on your commute, and remind you about appointments. Plus, it can connect to your smart home devices—though not as many as the Amazon Echo—and operate them all by voice. Initial reviews have been very positive, and while there are discussions to be had about privacy and security, the promise is there for all to see.

We surveyed 2,500 European consumers about their hopes for the smart home, and only three per cent thought they needed a hub to control all their devices. But it’s looking more likely that a device like the Echo or Home will be the gateway to your home’s other devices, with users enticed by the ability to search and manage other aspects of their lives.

The price points are within consumer expectations, though they do not leave much room for purchase of additional smart home products. Thirty per cent said they’d pay up to £150 for smart home devices over the next year, exactly the price of the Echo, with Google Home set to retail in the U.S. at $129. Fifty per cent would pay more than £150, meaning these devices are accessible, and could well act as the catalyst for people to buy more smart home devices. Indeed, Google is pushing its Nest thermostats and IP cameras anew on the back of the Home launch.

By choosing voice as the input method, Amazon and Google have removed the cumbersome user-experience of finding the relevant app on your smartphone for the lights, and then navigating to another app for speaks. It is choice that could usher in mainstream acceptance for having a virtual assistant in our homes.

by AS

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