Category Archives: virtual reality

Peddle Faster to Fly Your Unicorn: Could VSports Cause Unintentional Fitness?

In three decades of video gaming there have been some very odd on-screen instructions. The Grand Theft Auto series introduced a controversial healing mechanic, and in PS3’s 2010 title Heavy Rain players were encouraged to “press x to Jason [sic]”, however being instructed to pedal in order to start your unicorn must now be a close contender. It’s also fair to say that very few eSports or sit-down video games will draw much more than nervous perspiration, or perhaps the dreaded Nintendo Thumb some of us used to suffer when attempting to finish seemingly impossible titles like Battletoads (which if played with two players was actually impossible). The Nintendo Wii was the first mass-market gaming platform to show the potential for video games to help users truly exercise, and the motion controllers and uses beyond sedentary gaming were a major selling-point over seemingly superior competing products. The majority of users eventually grew to see the Wii Fit as a novelty workout video with interaction, and slowly consoles were retired in garages, ignored and eventually abandoned like so many gym memberships. Few of those Wii Fit owners have looked back since.blog1

As the VR industry has grown over the last two years a new form of exercise has emerged – Vsports. In this instance, the user is immersed in a 360 degree 3D world, transforming a session on an exercise machine into a totally different experience. Often complaints of reluctant joggers is that running through the streets of Balham is hardly exciting, and thudding on a treadmill whilst watching Simon Cowell’s latest autotuned starlet in the gym is drastically worse. What about running along the banks of the River Tiber whilst chasing rogue legionnaires, or indeed, flying a pedal-powered unicorn? The latter has been made possible by VirZOOM, a company so sure of its product that they are targeting their marketing directly at lapsed gym bunnies. My own aversion to jogging is the lack of competition and the abstract nature of lonely cardio exercise, however a gameplay element and opponents, both virtual and real, will push me the extra mile. Interestingly, in a 2016 CONTEXT survey of EU consumers, sport was the gaming category which excited them the most for VR, with 1 in 5 respondents expressing an interest; this could now mean sport in a very physically-active sense.

For those of us in the ICT industry who have been lucky enough to try VSports at events such as CES, general consensus is that this could be a big category for VR, both at home and in larger installations. As an analyst, I am frequently asked where the opportunities for VR lie for the channel, and VSports offer both a B2B and consumer market. Health technology is persistently strong in terms of sales, and the industry is accustomed to disruptive technology and wearables. Moreover, gyms have long been a customer of AV installers and resellers: almost all gyms contain dozens of TVs and LFDs. The sanitary aspect of VR headsets has not been missed by start-ups, with companies such as VR Cover popping up to sell washable VR peripherals.

Perhaps the most interesting example of the convergence of games, VR, and VSports is the phenomenon of accidental exercise. My own serendipitous encounter with VSport was whilst playing Knockout League on the Oculus Rift/Touch recently. After over an hour of shadow boxing I removed my headset to discover the sort of sweat I’d expect after a 5km run. I’m not the only industry professional to accidentally work out during a normal gaming session: Job Stauffer, Telltale’s head of creative communications recently announced that he’d lost over 50lb playing a VR game, in this case Sandboxing. For those of you in the channel who have routes to the healthcare verticals and are also lucky enough to be distributors or resellers of one of the high-end VR HMDs, my advice is to start some serious conversations about the new categories of VR Fitness Devices and Accessories.

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by JW

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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

2016 was always going to be the year of democratised VR, not mass adoption

Estimating shipments of products in new areas of IT is a bit like being the only lighthouse in view above banks of thick fog. It’s the only light you can see, so you’ve nothing to lose heading for it. We’ve been there with pocket PCs, Smartphones and Tablets. And while the fog has cleared for these products, the true state of the market for the much anticipated Virtual Reality headsets is still shrouded in mist.

At CONTEXT, as part of the work with our VR Research Group made up of major PC, HMD, and software vendors, our first predictions estimating the total number of VR headsets shipped in 2016 are conservative compared to some estimations from this time last year. If the basic HMDs are included, the lowest possible total global shipped units start at 8.5m, with true figures probably being closer to 12m+ once the plethora of minor Chinese brands are included. Theo Valich of global consortium VR First commented: “While we are seeing that the adoption of VR is waiting on content, the growth of VR in the emerging markets in Asia-Pacific is not being properly covered. The number of VR start-ups on both the hardware and software side is almost exponential.” The shipped units for the high-end headsets such as the HTC Vive, PSVR, and Oculus Rift CV1 are <15% of the total market, but to get a true picture of what has happened in 2016 and will develop in 2017, it is important that all types of headsets are included.

There are many factors to be considered when attempting to get a handle on the true state of the VR headset market. For a start, 2016 was never going to be about mass adoption for companies such as HTC and Oculus and here are several reasons why: in terms of the headsets designed for use with a PC, a very powerful machine is required and that rules out all but the most dedicated gamers and developers. Awareness of the category is only just starting to become widespread, and even for those with the required hardware, there is a lack of major hit AAA titles to drive sales.

In a recent survey, CONTEXT showed that only 10.5% of members of the general public in the EU had heard anything significant about VR, compared to 79.9% of gamers, with 26.5% of people having not heard anything at all. The issue facing the VR industry right now is that there is a transformative effect of trying it out that needs to happen; simply describing the experience is akin to attempting to explain the taste of Cola to a Martian. As a result, even the cheaper headsets – and yes, we are including the Google Cardboard – can make a profound impact on consumers. In 2016 anyone with a Smart Phone was able to experience VR for the first time, and thanks to Google and others there is a wealth of apps to demonstrate what VR can do. In the early stages of VR, such products are vital to raise awareness. Taking the analogy to the extreme, why would anyone spend $1000 on a sound system when they’ve never heard music on a transistor radio?

In summary, CONTEXT expect VR headset shipments to increase in 2017 for all types of VR headsets, with new industry verticals opening up. We’re seeing more and more VR technologies going through the ICT sales channels into a huge variety of sectors, including healthcare, education, elderly care, military, as well as major public entertainments. With current VR price points, the democratisation – and therefore unit shipments – can only increase, and all types of headsets will continue play a significant role, not just premium products.

by JW

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Tech Predictions: 2017

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In 2017 European PC sales in the business segment are likely to benefit from a gradual pick up of Windows 10 refreshes. In Western Europe in particular, the commercial PC segment is expected to also benefit from the need for enterprise mobility solutions which will be a co-driver in sales of both notebooks and mobile 2-in-1 products.

The consumer PC segment is expected to remain more challenged across Western Europe. There is a possibility that component shortages, which impacted product availability in 2H 2016, will lead to price increases in the first half of 2017which could affect demand. However, on a positive note, the market is likely to benefit from continuing high demand for gaming PCs. While this segment remains small in terms of volume, new technologies – including virtual reality – will also drive growth that will have a positive effect on revenue and margins.

From a wider, macroeconomic perspective, PC sales in a number of EMEA countries are likely to continue to be affected by uncertainties including currency fluctuations and political instability.
Marie-Christine Pygott, Senior Analyst, PCs

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View on Apple
Although you never know what Apple will pull out of the hat when launching new products, the last few years have been quite staid. The last “new” new Apple product was the Watch: but this was heavily trailered so, when it finally arrived, it wasn’t a surprise. We have waited in vain over the years for an Apple TV, and recently yawned when the new MacBook’s Touchbar was announced. In 2017 we have the prospect of yet another phone, the iPhone 8, and not much else.

Except, after much speculation, Apple has acknowledged for the first time that it is investing in autonomous car technology. In a letter to US transport regulators, Apple said the company was “excited about the potential of automated systems in many areas, including transportation”. Apple was first rumoured to be working on an autonomous vehicle in early 2015, when reports suggested that the company already had 600 employees working on an electric car design. Later that year, more rumours suggested that the company hoped to launch an electric car to the public by 2019.

So maybe Apple can surprise us next year. The race for electric vehicles is hotting up, and with the word being that Apple has been in talks to buy luxury-supercar maker McLaren, we may just see a prototype iCar roll onto the stage in 2017 after hearing those words, “one more thing”.
Jeremy Davies, CEO & Co-founder

Enterprise
CONTEXT will be closely tracking the evolution of storage systems and converged architecture: as cloud-managed wireless network service companies slowly but surely replace in-house wireless LAN appliances, we expect continued strong growth on these two fronts. Companies to watch: Cisco Meraki, Open-Mesh, Zebra (part of Extreme Networks), Ruckus.

Sales of solid-state drives (SSDs) have increased throughout 2016 and, for the first time, surpassed those of hard disk drives. As the price of SSDs fall and their capacity increases, 2017 will see this trend continue. In 2014, we predicted that 90% of storage components would be SSDs by 2020, and the industry is well on track to achieve this.
Gurvan Meyer, Senior Research Analyst, Enterprise Team

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Displays
Large Format Display sales in 2017 are expected to continue to grow strongly with demand being driven by the education and corporate sectors. For AV providers, the corporate business market continues to be a huge growth opportunity, with a big shift towards interactive products for meetings rooms, as corporates increasingly collaborate over multiple sites, with numerous remote attendees.  The education market is also expected to be a key driver of growth in the LFD segment with educational institutions increasingly adopting display solutions to change and enhance the ways they communicate with students, staff and visitors.
Lachlan Welsh, Senior Analyst, Displays

Imaging
Printer hardware sales will continue to contract overall, though some segments are expected to register growth in 2017, such as business inkjets with higher end products due to be released in 2017 to compete with laser devices. The shift from hardware to contract sales continues, therefore, the importance of partnerships and focus on channel partners will prevail. HP’s acquisition of Samsung printer business is expected to complete in the second half of 2017, as companies join their efforts aiming to disrupt the A3 copier market business.
Zivile Brazdziunaite, Senior Market Analyst, Imaging

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3D Printing
2017 will continue to see the two sides of 3D printing – the personal/desktop side (those under $5,000) and the industrial/professional side – evolve separately.  Desktop 3D printers will become even more affordable (some already cost as little as $300!) while the some of the world’s biggest brands will increase their presence in the Industrial/Professional market where technology will continue to advance and improve.

Desktop market leader XYZprinting has already expanded its brick-and-mortar retail presence – at Best Buy, Toys-R-Us, and Barnes and Noble in the US, and Darty, Dixons and Media Saturn in Europe – and it is expected to continue with aggressive price points in to promote further retail expansion around the globe. Next year will see HP fully enter the 3D printing world with the first shipments of their professional Multi-Jet Fusion 3D Printers, and a new business is to emerge from GE after their acquisition of two of the top five metal 3D printing companies in 2016.  HP and others will champion a change of focus in the plastics 3D printing market from rapid prototyping to mid-range production.
Chris Connery, Vice President Global Analysis and Research

VR & Gaming
The world of eSports will continue to grow in both popularity and recognition, as a movie is planned starring Will Ferrell on the burgeoning phenomenon. Vendors and retailers will pay more attention to PC gaming as the category offers them the chance to make up for losses in a sector which has been declining in the last few years. High average selling prices for gaming products, excellent attach rates and margins for gaming accessories, and the availability of unsecured consumer borrowing will be major drivers. Virtual reality will also continue to grow in the consumer space, although still at a modest pace. However we expect to see more HMDs going into the B2B and corporate reseller channels for which products such as the Hololens are a gift.
Jonathan Wagstaff, Country Manager UK & Ireland

Smart Home – Battle of the Giants
Back in October 2015 we predicted that new forms of control for smart home devices would stimulate growth in the market. We highlighted three: voice activation, gesture recognition and mind control. The first two are already here: voice control has exploded since Amazon launched the Echo in 2016 and 5 million devices have already been sold. We predict that this trend will grow quickly in 2017 with the Amazon Echo continuing to sell and the launch of Google Home in 2017. Google will apply a massive marketing budget – in the US they are already paying for end-of-gondola slots for Google Home devices.

With this in mind, we see four, and potentially five, giants battling for the smart home in 2017: Amazon, Google, Apple (with Homekit), Samsung (with Smart Things) and Microsoft. The ace up their sleeve for Amazon is entertainment (access to Prime Music), for Google it is search, for Apple and Samsung it is interoperability (potentially using the TV), and for Microsoft it is building out from the PC. We are optimistic that consumers will benefit: with a more coherent offer, small start-ups will no longer be able to create proprietary systems and existing systems will make themselves linkable to the big five in order to survive. It is too early to place bets on a winner, but Amazon has rapidly taken advantage of being first-mover. Gesture control will grow and develop in 2017, but mind control will need to wait for another year!
Adam Simon, Head of Retail

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Eagle Flight Over Paris

On November 29th, CONTEXT hosted a special VR breakfast in cooperation with Exertis France, AMD, MSI, Oculus, and Ubisoft in the Musée de l’Armée in les Invalides in Paris. Retailers, distributors and vendors gathered for the morning to hear the results of the latest CONTEXT European VR survey.

The VR survey was designed by members of the CONTEXT Virtual Reality Research group which includes companies such as Exertis, AMD, Oculus, John Lewis, Dell, CONTEXT, Retail Week and the University of Reading.  The research highlighted the expectations of European consumers towards VR and the potential barriers to purchase of VR products. It also showed in which channel the consumer were expecting to find VR products and how much they were ready to spend. The survey gave to the various industry players a clear understanding of what concerns they should address and what they should communicate in order to allow the technology to gain greater penetration of the market. A representative of FNAC, Laura Gaztambide, eCommerce Coordinator of Video Gaming, shared FNAC’s own experience on VR products and future plans to develop this market further.

Prior to hearing the results of the VR research, attendees watched a briefing on the European gaming market presented by Jonathan Wagstaff, UK & Ireland country manager at CONTEXT, and a detailed presentation on Ancient Rome made by university professor Matthew Nicholls who has made a full virtual reconstruction of the Eternal City, the outcome of 8 years of work. This helped the attendees to assess the educational potential and usage that VR is opening up.

Guests also had a chance to try Ubisoft’s Eagle Flight VR game flying over a virtual Paris, and were welcomed by a kind note of support for the VR industry from President Francois Hollande who was proceeding to an Army review in the Invalides on the same morning.

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by SA

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High Street Retail: Down but not out

At first glance, the ONS retail statistics for August painted a rosy picture of the UK retail industry. Headline figures, such as the volume and value of sales increasing 6.2% and 4.1% respectively year-on-year, suggest that there is much cause for celebration for retailers across the country. Dig a little deeper behind these figures, however, and the picture starts to look a little less pretty – especially for the high street.

So where do these positive figures come from? Food stores were actually the main drivers of growth, whereas the outlook for household goods was particularly worrisome. Year-on-year, the volume of goods purchased in-store contracted for the first time since May 2014.

Turning stores into destinations
The key challenge for high street retailers, and electrical retailers in particular, is pulling customers back into stores and encouraging them to spend. In order to do so, we expect to see companies take the initiative and begin offering consumers something that they are not able to get from online shopping: an experience.

Bricks-and-mortar stores offer retailers the opportunity to showcase their products in key ways which online cannot replicate, be it through demonstrations, experiential activities, or simply giving the consumer the chance to get their hands on the product. For example, John Lewis has recently dedicated 1,000 square feet of prime retail space in their Oxford Street branch to the smart home category. This is a long-term investment in an emerging product range, which has driven an increase in sales, and, importantly, increased the percentage of sales in store.

New technologies such as Virtual Reality present a significant opportunity for retailers to turn their shops into destinations. Take the example of AT&T in the US, which launched a Virtual Reality cruise experience across 133 of its stores using Samsung Gear VR. In the UK, EE recently partnered with BT Sport to allow football fans to watch football matches through VR headsets at four of their stores across London. Stunts like this give consumers a reason to visit the high street.

The future role of the high street
Turning high street stores into hubs of activity and showrooms for new products will drive footfall and in turn, sales. Apple’s model may prove a blueprint: it’s no coincidence that Apple’s stellar sales run parallel to bustling Apple Stores where users can try out new products.

For retailers considering abandoning the high street and going online-only, it’s worth noting that a visible high street presence can also drive online sales: when John Lewis opened a department store in Chester, for example, sales in the region climbed 30%. This also might explain why Amazon has started to rollout physical bookstores in the US; at the very least, it reveals the importance of an omnichannel approach to retail.

Omnichannel goes beyond offering the consumer multiple channels to purchase, instead focusing on the importance of delivering a seamless experience across online and in-store. Viewed in this context, a physical presence in the high street offers a vital touch-point for consumers to try products before they buy, regardless of whether that purchase happens in-store or online.

Bricks-and-mortar shops are the most personal point of connection between retailer and consumer – so, far from disappearing, we hope they will play an even greater role in driving brand loyalty and sales across channels in the future. Retailers should begin to take advantage of the unique, experiential opportunities offered by physical stores, viewing them as just one component part of a broader omnichannel strategy, where customer experience is key.

by AS

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Allez Les Bleus in Tech Retail!

Last week at Paris Retail Week I met a number of French people who all repeated the same mantra to me – you are so innovative in retail in the UK. Well sacré bleu this is French negativism at its worst. The reality is the French are darned good at inventing new retail concepts – the hypermarket was an invention by Carrefour in the 60’s; international food retail was pioneered by Carrefour and Auchan in the 1970’s and 80’s; recently Auchan piloted the shop and collect drive-in format which was taken forward by Leclerc. And if you look at the area of retail which really interests us, a trip around Paris should remind any Brit that French creativity is not to be ignored in tech retail, and particularly connected objects.

Here is what I saw on the Paris Retail tour and in a visit yesterday to some additional stores:

  • the new Orange store in the Champs Elysees – you walk into a store with VR demonstrations on Samsung Gear headsets happening as you walk in (or at least you did last week, this week they were sadly missing) – this is a tech destination showing off smart home, health, connected car, fun gadgets, and a workspace for repair. The layout is airy and modern, the displays very Apple. My only disappointment was that the “coach” experience did not work as it should and I was left to wander round by myself. This concept store being rolled out all over Europe is part of an omnichannel strategy linking the on and offline journey of the customer. 8/10
  • Fnac Connect is on the Champs Elysees and has a small selection of connected objects and a large space dedicated to mobile phones. There is little visibility of store staff and it has not moved on since it was introduced nearly two years ago. But it is there and is being invested in as new stores are being rolled out over France in the Connect format. Inside the main Fnac store on the lower ground floor was excitement – the first display of Oculus headsets, on sale only in Fnac stores. I was underwhelmed as they were piled high next to a similar pile of HTC Vive. This is the biggest opportunity for tech retail to bring in the crowds as the Orange store has proven with the Samsung Gear and as clearly highlighted in our consumer survey on VR 7/10
  • Darty – I went to the Beaugrenelle store as I had read that it was a concept store for them. It has a dynamic welcome with a connected back to school campaign, and had a very full offer of connected objects ranged over multiple gondolas and displays. There is no doubt that Darty means business with connected objects. But what is still missing is the engagement with shoppers. What does it all mean? You are left to work it out for yourself. 7/10
  • Boulanger’s flagship store in Opera was our last visit and was a true delight. The welcome was a huge smile from the security guard – very un-Parisian. The prominent space on arrival is the collection point for the click and collect goods. Evidently this is a new generation omnichannel store. The gondolas were beautiful, airy and the signage was clear. The connected objects range was not as great as Darty but the store makes you want to shop and find someone to explain. Even as we left, the cashiers smiled at us. Boulanger has brought the warmth of the North of France to Paris and that is an unforgettable plus 9/10

On this visit I did not go to Lick, another specialist store for connected objects which we have covered previously in our Paris visits. The news is that Lick is extending its reach through a recent link-up with BHV to bring the flair of connected objects to this rather old-fashioned department store. I also saw the flagship Publicis store on the Champs Elysées which has introduced a connected objects offering (placed between champagne and wine on one side, and perfume on the other). I am not sure that they will get much traction from this as the selection of products was small and eclectic, but the overall conclusion is that the French are experimenting with tech retail, and for that I give Paris 10/10 – allez les bleus!

 

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