Category Archives: Smart Technology

Plotting the Future of the Smart Home

The smart home is gaining momentum across Europe, but there’s still much to do. That’s why the work of the Smart Homes & Buildings Association (SH&BA) is so important. We provide a place for business to showcase their systems, devices, products and services, and a much-needed forum for all smart home stakeholders to share their experiences and discuss ways to overcome the hurdles facing us.

At the heart of these challenges lies interoperability, which to an extent is still proving a stubborn barrier to the kind of integrated smart home experience we all want to see.

A unified experience
At our fourth bi-annual retail and manufacturer panel meeting recently, stakeholders from across the smart home landscape converged on the offices of Avensys, where we were shown around the IoT specialist’s impressive facilities. The firm’s several showrooms, open to all members of the public, really demonstrate the potential in the smart home to change the way we live. The largest space combines kitchen, living-room, bathroom, dining-room and second living-room, each showing off different technologies but giving a sense of a unified smart home.

We agreed that a model which works together efficiently holds most potential for the mass market, rather than the kind of plug-and-play mix of individual products which meet very specific needs but can fail to resonate overall.

However, the problem still remains that many products don’t talk to each other, making the unified smart home experience a pipe dream for most consumers.

Starting from scratch
One cause for optimism for the future comes from the new build space. Mark Swift, founder of Home Hub installations, told us his firm has gone from cabling two houses per month to 200, and is about to sign a deal for 14,000 houses in the next year. Many of these are integrating the open SmartThings platform, promising a unified experience for the buildings once completed.

Partnerships are of course key to driving this vision of the integrated smart home. On a bigger scale, Amazon’s recent tie-up with Lennar Homes, the second largest housebuilder in the US, also offers grounds for optimism. We also heard how the IET is currently producing guidance for electricians on smart home installation, which will help drive progress in this space.

Looking ahead
While interoperability is a big success factor for the smart home, there are others. Consumers also need to trust in the retailers and brands they’re investing in, and be assured that the tech they buy will last long into the future. As an industry, we also need to ensure that consumers are informed about the potential cyber-related risks associated with the smart home and how to manage them. SH&BA produced guidance around this in November 2015 and we’re looking to the industry to get proactive in this area.

Helping us to shape the future of the smart home going forward will be a new SH&BA initiative: the Smart Home Young Leaders’ Forum. This cross-industry group will seek to better understand the different ways that young professionals under 35 years of age who work in the smart home industry are engaging with technology in order to help companies transition from old to new smart home technologies. We’re looking forward to seeing what it can achieve, because the smart home will only succeed if we continue to build out these networks, partnerships and interconnections. The first meeting of the Young Leaders’ Forum will take place at IFA in Berlin on 3rd September at 4pm. All details can be found in the link to the event – To find out more click SH&BA YOUNG LEADERS’ FORUM @ IFA – REGISTRATION LINK

by AS

 

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Filed under Connectivity, Market Analysis, Smart Home, Smart Technology, Uncategorized

Wi-Fi Mesh Systems Start to Find their Feet in the Corporate Market

At CONTEXT we’ve seen consumer awareness of smart home products across Europe slowly start to take off over the past 18 months. That’s why the launch into the market of Wi-Fi Mesh systems last year seemed like a smart move, designed as they are to enhance Wi-Fi coverage for internet-connected gadgets around the home.

However, this hasn’t quite proven to be the case. It’s not the consumer but the corporate space which appears to be showing most interest. Continue reading

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Filed under Connectivity, IT Distribution, Market Analysis, Smart Home, Smart Technology, Uncategorized

Smartphones and Beyond: The Best of Mobile World Congress 2018

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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Filed under Connectivity, Home automation, IoT, Market Analysis, Mobile technology, Smart Home, Smart Technology, virtual reality, Wearables

Half a Century of Technology Innovation: What’s New for CES 2018?

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.

AI everywhere

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.

by AS

 

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Tech Predictions 2018

Every year, our analyst teams come together to identify technology trends they see emerging in the coming 12 months. This is a collection of these across a number of different markets.

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PCs
PC sales across Europe are expected to benefit from a return to growth of commercial PCs, driven by faster upgrades to Windows 10 machines across the region and the replacement of an ageing PC base in some countries. PC refreshes will drive growing sales of thin and light ultramobile notebook and hybrid devices, but will also benefit deskbound systems, as a large proportion of commercially installed machines continue to be of this type. Even in 2017, the shift in business desktop sales towards small space-saving form factors presented a growth opportunity, and this is expected to be ongoing in 2018.

Consumer sales are likely to remain challenged as users increasingly hold on to their traditional PCs for a longer period and rely on smartphones for many of their day-to-day tasks. However, sub-segments of this market – including gaming PCs, high-end notebooks and ultramobile devices such as convertible laptops – are expected to continue to grow. While these currently make up a small part of the overall market, they present strong opportunities for revenue and margin growth.

Enterprise Technology
In 2018, cloudification will speed up greatly as services such as IAAS (infrastructure as a service), PAAS (platform as a service) and SAAS (software as a service) are increasingly adopted across the Enterprise sector.

An early consequence, one that has already begun, is a complete redefinition of the traditional market segmentation into server, storage and networking products. As convergence and scalability become increasingly important, enterprise systems will continue their migration from in-house systems to data centres.

Another consequence is the complete change in how products are paid for. In the past, clients purchased individual products with a one-off payment, whereas they are increasingly paying a monthly subscription for cloud licences with, in some cases, the hardware included “for free”.

The huge and increasing success of cloud providers such as Amazon Web services has left us with no doubt about the future of the IT business environment: it is already clear that, within a few years, most processing power (and, as a result, most hardware) will have left the office and migrated entirely to data centres.

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Displays
Desktop monitor sales in 2018 are expected to be slower than this year, following PC-demand trends. On the positive side, however, business-targeted monitor sales may benefit from the PC refresh that is expected in the commercial space. Moreover, the rise of esports will continue to drive revenues, especially those from consumer-targeted high-end monitors. The gaming market serves a still-nascent industry, which has significant room to grow and provides a variety of revenue streams. Therefore, more monitor vendors will shift towards this market and offer a larger number of premium models. Increased demand for specialised features like 4K/UHD resolution, higher refresh rates, wide colour gamut and alternative form factors such as large ultra-wide or curved monitors, will increase average sale prices (ASPs) and margin opportunities.

Digital signage will remain a key driver for large-format displays (LFD). Standalone LCD displays will continue to hold the largest market share; however, videowalls and the direct-view LED technology currently used in various public outdoor applications will start to challenge their position. LFD vendors will direct their focus towards other emerging and untapped areas such as industrial manufacturing and BFSI*, and continue to compete in already thriving markets including the retail space – where LFDs enhance customer experience – as well as the education and corporate arenas. Increased competition between vendors and a greater variety of LFDs will result in more affordable pricing and continue to spur volume sales.
*banking, financial services and insurance

Imaging
Printer hardware sales are expected to contract overall although, due to the ongoing shift towards multifunction and colour devices, some segments are expected to grow in 2018 including multifunction colour laser printers and, at a slower pace, high-capacity business inkjets.

Consolidation in the market and the transition towards a contractual business model continues, so unified platforms, security, digitisation, customisation and automation of those processes via services and solutions hold plenty of opportunities for vendors and their business partners to grow by adding value for their customers and increasing their productivity and efficiency.

In 2017, we’ve seen most vendors refresh their product portfolios and introduce even more reliable, secure devices that use various new technologies and offer lower cost of ownership and higher print speeds. Vendors continue to increase their focus on engaging with channel partners to target SMBs. HP’s acquisition of Samsung’s printing business is now complete and the company has started shipping its new A3 products. It is expected that sales of these will accelerate and increase competition in the A3 copier market – a space to watch in 2018.

3D Printing
Industrial space
HP will lead the way in seeing if industrial 3D printing of plastics can turn the same corner as metal 3D printing: away from being used just for prototyping and into manufacturing. HP is also to introduce a new technology in 2018 through which it will begin to set its sights on metal 3D printing.

As the other new kid on the block, the very visible and recognisable brand GE continues to gain share and will help push 3D printing even more into the mainstream and grow the market. GE acquired two of the top companies making industrial metal 3D printers last year and will carry on championing the technology internally as well as sell their printers to others. Their use of metal 3D Printing to make real jet engine parts continues to be the “poster child” demonstrating how 3D printing can disrupt supply chains and the $12T global manufacturing market. In 2018, they will push the boundaries further in aerospace as well as in the automotive and healthcare industries.

After seeing fewer printers ship worldwide each year for the last few years, the industrial side of the market will move back into growth thanks to new technologies (such as from Carbon) and big brands (HP, GE, Deloitte, etc.).

During 2018, we will see the emergence of a new class of low-end industrial metal 3D printing machines. While these are, of course, not for the masses (“low-end” in this context still means ~$150k), this new class includes $1M machines that will allow more companies to experiment with 3D printing in ways that were previously out of reach for most of them.

Desktop space
While they have not yet become a “consumer” good, desktop 3D printers have continued the unfettered growth in shipments that has been seen since the market began – it is projected to reach +39% by the end of 2017 and to continue into next year. Familiar brands, such as Kodak and Polaroid, will come to market in some regions, but this side of the market will continue to be dominated by companies like Monoprice, XYZprinting, Ultimaker and Formlabs that have a strong presence in 3D printing but are mostly unknown outside the sector.

This class of products has traditionally been defined simply as printers selling below $5K. However, growth in this sector means further refinement and stratification is needed to follow the market and the $2,500 barrier is now used to define this low end. In 2017, a new professional space emerged containing products in the $2,500 to $20,000 range (consisting of both higher-end desktop 3D printers and lower-end industrial printers). During the first half of 2017, this class grew by 64% and strong growth is also projected for 2018.

Virtual Reality & Gaming
Gaming looks to continue its healthy growth next year, with help from spectator-friendly formats such as streaming and esports – both of which provide sponsorship opportunities –gaining mind share among younger tech-savvy consumers. The recent upset over microtransactions, brought to a head by EA’s mis-steps on Star Wars Battlefront II, are symptomatic of gamers’ growing unrest about business practices they perceive as predatory, so expect rebalancing in 2018. This is unlikely to significantly depress profits but may, in the long term, lead to a healthier gaming ecosystem.

The push for 4K gaming consoles is likely to encourage an increased focus on the same potential in gaming desktop PCs, driving both display and GPU sales. Meanwhile, the recent surprise collaboration between Intel and AMD to produce integrated chips with high-end graphics capabilities feeds well into the already growing gaming laptop market, so expect the emergence of more thin, light and powerful laptops targeted at gamers.

On the VR front, 2017 ends with many new contenders entering the market and established brands teasing new hardware and this means 2018 will be a year of fragmentation for VR in the west. Whether any of these will catch the attention of the mainstream will depend on various factors, although Oculus’s imminent, lower-priced, Go is likely to be a firm favourite. As prices for high-end headsets fall and more big budget games are released, gamers are finding it increasingly easy to justify VR purchases. With luck, this will fuel a virtuous circle for both consumers and content producers.

Also, expect to see a steady flow of interesting bespoke enterprise VR applications next year, but don’t hold your breath for a single stand-out business headset or killer application – unless Magic Leap’s mysterious headset manages to make it to market and live up to the promises and hype.

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Retail
Mobility will continue to gain importance and be a key success factor for retailers. Current estimates indicate that more than 50% of purchases involve the customer using a mobile phone for search, research or purchase. With online activity continuing to rise, retailers must optimise their websites for mobile in order to engage consumers early and often in their purchase journey.

Consumer expectations for omnichannel options continue to rise. The fastest-growing retail option is click to purchase and collect in store. Click and collect now accounts for more than 30% of sales in many stores, and is rising across retail in Europe. A critical success factor is the accuracy and efficiency of the collection process, with more stores having dedicated collection areas. More retailers will also collaborate with distributors for drop shipments in order to extend product range, and enable fulfilment to travel the last mile to the customer’s door.

Retailers are making up for declining unit volume sales through selling more premium devices: gaming PCs, 2-in-1 notebooks and ultramobile notebooks. A key to selling a premium mix is leveraging stores to create an experience consumers cannot get online. Successful retailers are moving beyond products and selling a larger, more profitable market basket by focusing on solutions and services that are not available online.

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Smart Home Summit: Assessing the Routes to Market

Was the panel I was on a fix?

  • Tripling smart home revenues from John Lewis partners, according to Katrina Mills, Audio & Connected Home buyer, and the continued investment in dedicated smart home areas, growing to 5 stores by the end of October
  • Doubling revenues at Lightwave, with acceleration driven by the introduction of voice control in the Echo, and with the latest range of Homekit-enabled products, announced by Andrew Pearson, CEO, about to be launched in Apple stores from 3rd October
  • 500,000 Hive thermostats forecast to be sold in 2017, doubling the installed base to one million in the course of this year, and a new range of innovative customer focused solutions announced by Jo Cox, Commercial Director of Centrica
  • O2 steadily growing its pilot stores, with plans to sell smart home in all stores, as presented by Richard Porter, head of smart home products

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What to expect in IFA 2017?

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.

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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.

by AS

 

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