Category Archives: Wearables

A Glimpse at Emerging Technologies in 2016

The brand landscape of 3D Printing will continue to change in 2016
In 2016 the influence of major IT brands will be seen in the high end of the 3D printing market even if these companies are not yet shipping products. While most revenues in the 3D printing space come from the industrial and professional high end of the market where brands such as HP, Canon, Ricoh, Toshiba Machines and others will enter, the landscape of the nascent desktop/personal 3D printer space is set to change as well. No major IT company has announced any great plans to enter this side of the market in the near future, but at CES 2016 we did see the likes of the licensing company Polaroid toss its name into the ring and others are expected to follow.

The desktop/personal 3D printer market is still regionally fragmented and start-ups can quickly gain share by way of crowd sourced efforts. A global market leader has yet to emerge but XYZprinting currently carries that banner, having taken it away from the previous poster-child MakerBot (now owned by Stratasys). In the near future, it seems, both sides of the 3D printing industry are set for brand shake-ups.

The Internet of Things – we need some education about benefits
For the last few years, people have been predicting that the following year will herald the big take-off of the Internet of Things (IoT), particularly in the home environment. However, 2016 will be a year of steady progress, rather than ‘the year’ for IoT as many are forecasting.

What we’ll see is more jostling between vendors as tech firms try to firm up their foothold in the developing market. They will do this primarily with single-use devices – smart lights, IP cameras, sound systems and thermostats. No one ecosystem will emerge as dominant yet, although Samsung SmartThings, Google Nest, Apple Homekit, AllSeen Alliance, Amazon Echo and others will all try in 2016.

Ultimately, until product standards improve, prices fall, and there is a greater level of education about the benefits of the IoT, it won’t hit the mainstream. Our recent smart home survey supports this: a whopping 63% of Europeans do not yet understand the smart home concept, while over a third (37%) fail to see the benefits of smart home products.

..and steady progress in wearables
Even if there truly were such a thing as the year of anything, 2016 would not be it for wearables. There will be no killer app, no single added software functionality that will redeem its hardware host. Apple Pay? Come on! People are simply not that inconvenienced by classic card usage – especially now most of us have contactless cards. And this reflects a larger problem for tech companies trying to carve out a space in the emerging consumer IoT: there simply aren’t that many problems left to be solved.

Of course companies will continue to successfully build solutions for the myriad minor ‘challenges’ we face day to day, like wielding out wallets or getting up to turn the lights off, but no single solution will lead to anything like the stratospheric rise of the smartphone. Rather, we can expect to see a more gradual uptake over the next few years as wearables increasingly integrate with the rest of the consumer IOT and find ever more small ‘wins’ for their owners, eventually building up to a compelling purchase proposition.

Virtual reality – substance over hype
2016 is going to be the year that retail VR products start rolling into the market but they won’t snowball. At CES, Oculus announced the launch date and price for the first retail version of their headset and accessories at £500 which looks quite high. For those of us who have been waiting almost their entire life for truly immersive gaming – ever since the rise and fall of the risible Virtual Boy – the next three months should be enough time to save up. However the vast majority of consumers, who have not yet been able to experience sitting in the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon and reaching out to stroke Chewie’s mane, will see the technology as a luxurious curiosity.

Oculus and other manufacturers are looking to the product life cycles of other emergent technologies which often started off expensive before coming down in price as they became more mainstream. Oculus CEO Palmer Luckey recently spoke out in defence of their pricing, stating that they didn’t want to compromise on quality in the first-generation of headsets. It looks like the lessons of Virtual Boy have been learned: substance is more important than hype.

by AS, TG, JW & CC

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Filed under 3D Printing, Connectivity, IoT, Smart Home, Wearables

Is it worth going to CES?

One of the favourite topics of Europeans at CES is to ask why we all fly 6,000 miles to Las Vegas, when we could see each other more locally if we wanted.

I have been to all the major global tech shows except Computex – I am a little like George the hypochondriac from the book “Three Men in a boat” who suffered from every malady except housemaid’s knee. I have to say that CES is in a class of its own. Its alchemy is a combination of the numbers of people – 170,000 this year, a record, the proximity to Silicon Valley, the razzamatazz of Vegas, and the amazing organisation such as getting 5,000 people to snake their way up the Venetian Hotel for a talk.

This year my highlights were the keynotes – we were literally gasping during Brian Krzanich’s speech as he made us soar with drones, jive to virtual instruments and run with interactive sports and performance tracking devices. In Reed Hastings’s talk, CEO and co-founder of Netflix, we lived the entertainment revolution, as he announced that, during his talk, the Netflix service had been opened in 130 new countries. I was there on this day, I will be able to tell my grandchildren when they ask what television was. 2 years ago it was the unforgettable speech of John Chambers, then CEO of Cisco, in which he awakened me and many others to the immensity of the IoT Revolution.

Beyond that there are the stands and the endless walking. CES is hard work. I did an average of 15,000 steps (nearly 8 miles) per day and 5 times my norm. I visited the large stands in the Convention Centre and saw the latest generation of TV screens with amazing displays, the hordes of people queuing to try on the VR devices, and the evolution of technology in the LG Smart Home and Panasonic Smart Town. But it was Hall G which blew my mind, with hundreds of start-ups in the Eureka Park. I hadn’t left myself enough time to do justice to all the companies that were there. Fortunately I had been at CES Unveiled, a press and analyst event on the Monday night where a mere 180 companies had been on show. French Tech was present in force with a packet of start-ups – 66 in total or a quarter of those in Eureka Park, and their Finance Minister was present too – Emmanuel Macron. No sign of George Osborne or Brit tech on anything like the same scale.

In CES we had many one-on-one meetings taking the opportunity to see our clients’ stands. We also held a Retail CEO breakfast for our clients with Hans Carpels, President of Euronics, giving a masterly overview of his plans for 2016 and the state of European TCG Retail. It helped us keep our feet on the ground and remember that we make our money when these technology products are sold – and this year CONTEXT provided a 2016 outlook for two emerging technologies– 3D Printing and Smart Home. CES Breakfast 2016

CES is where you get to see people and technology all in one place, and, in the end, we do not forget that this is why we come 6,000 miles.

by AS

 

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Filed under 3D Printing, Home automation, Retail in CONTEXT, Smart Home, Smart Technology, Wearables

Intel makes landgrab for wearables and gaming but cedes space to Qualcomm in the smart home

Intel has the power to make us dream – there were truly gasps in the packed audience when Brian Krzanich CEO of Intel presented their new offerings based round gaming, health & wellness and creativity. We saw the Yuneec Typhoon H drone dodge cactuses and bushes in the Mexican desert, we jived inside to the sounds of Ar Rahman playing virtual instruments and updating his hit song Jai Ho (from Slumdog Millionaire) with the latest Intel technology, we watched 3 times IronMan champion Craig Alexander use his interactive sports and performance tracking device – he spoke to it and it responded intelligently – as an aside, why oh why can’t they sort out the voice interaction in Cortana? At the end we literally soared with a maestro performance of Beethoven’s 5th symphony lit up by a mass of drones flying in formation, breaking the Guinness book of records for the most drones controlled by one person. Watch out for it when it comes out on You Tube.

And then there is smart home which was not mentioned at all in the keynote. That was left to Qualcomm who announced at their media only press conference (yes I am griping however nicely they pushed back the industry analysts) the introduction of a Smart Home Reference Platform. It is according to their press release, “based upon the versatile Qualcomm® Snapdragon™ 212 processor, that is designed to provide computing, voice recognition, audio, display, camera, connectivity, and control capabilities for home control hubs and smart speakers, extending to home appliances and multimedia devices as use cases evolve.”

The choice being made by Intel appears to be driven by the value that they can get from their silicon in devices which will be expensive and highly valued by end users – drones, advanced health devices, sporting equipment, segways, robots. There is not the same intrinsic value in the more modest household sensors which form the backbone of the smart home. Smart home only ticks two of the three big trends in computing cited by Brian Krzanich:

  • Everything is becoming smart and connected – yes
  • Sensification of computing – bringing depth and new perspective to the computing experience – no this is not a key priority for smart home
  • Computing as the “extension of you”. A big yes.

What was missing was Intel dreaming about how to make the house an extension of you. The top use case which has come out from both Smart Home surveys conducted by CONTEXT in August 2015 and December 2015 is that when I arrive home, the house is ready for me. The second is advanced security in the home and the third is a coordinated going to bed function. Imagine an Intel keynote where Mr Krzanich had showed technology where I walk into the home and talk to it, and it responds. That is the future and I suspect that others such as Qualcomm are developing the technology which will underpin that.

The results of CONTEXT’s 2nd Smart Home Survey will be previewed at the Retail CEO Breakfast at CES on 7th January. 2,500 consumers have been surveyed in France, Germany, UK and for the first time, Spain and Italy. The CONTEXT forecast for 3D printer activity in 2016 will also be presented.

CONTEXT is delighted to welcome Hans Carpels, President of Euronics, the 3rd largest ICT Retailer in the world, and Stéphane Bohbot, CEO of the innovative Lick stores based in Paris, as keynote speakers talking at the breakfast on new frontiers for ICT Retail in 2016.

by AS

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Do we need a giant iPad?

‘Larger devices such as laptops much be switched off and safely stowed…’ said the safety announcement as I typed away.

Scanning the aisles, the flight attendant stopped next to my seat.

“Excuse me sir”, he said with a weary sigh, looking at me reproachfully in a “why can’t these passengers do what they’re told” way.

“Can you put that laptop away until we’re airborne, please.”

I smiled.

“That’s not a laptop,” I said, sensing victory, but trying not to sound smug. I waited, and then added, slowly and carefully, savouring the words:

“It’s an iPad.”

The attendant narrowed his eyes, and as he paused I pressed home my advantage.

“And it’s the big one.. the new iPad Pro.”

The flight attendant took a closer look, saw the familiar iOS icons, and – either baffled or impressed – decided not to argue, and moved on down the aircraft.

And that’s the thing about Apple’s new iPad Pro – it’s huge.

Its not that much narrower all around than my MacBook Pro 15″. In fact, it’s the size of two normal iPads stuck together side by side.

But seeing the new iPad Pro in pictures and on your computer is nothing compared to opening the big white box it comes in and pulling out the huge 12 inches by 8.68 inches wide slab of screen. It takes a few minutes to adjust the senses, especially when you’ve been used to playing with the drop dead gorgeous and right-sized iPad Air.

Set up is typically Apple-easy, and once it fires up, you can really experience the size. Everything is scaled up. The icons seem to jump out of the screen. And the screen is truly amazing. With the brightness turned up and a high resolution picture on display, the colours dazzle, resolution is pin sharp and it seems like you’re looking into the depths of a 3D image.

I’d read a review comparing the speed of the iPad Pro with a MacBook Air, but wasn’t prepared for the difference between my iPad Air and the Pro. The pro flies.

Boot up is notably fast. Response is instantaneous. Screens come and go so smooth and fast it’s like being in a race and always being beaten to second place. I’ve not run any tests, but the screen on the iPad Pro seems to respond even more quickly than my MacBook Pro 15’ Retina display. No shadow effect either but that’s another story.

But why a giant iPad? Yes, it’s a lovely device and beautifully crafted. But where does it fit? There’s little doubt that Microsoft’s Surface Pro has a lot to do with it, that businesses – according to CONTEXT numbers – like the idea of a high-powered laptop/tablet hybrid. Apple’s push into business needs this product, and even Apple CEO Tim Cook himself says the iPad Pro will replace laptops.

I can see why. The combination of touch and keyboard is liberating. The Apple keypad works, in fact better than the Clamcase Pro I have on the Air. The connector is brilliant and takes all the problems out of detachable keyboards. To me it feels natural, typing away and then darting to and from the screen to touch a spelling correction here, copy and paste there, while casually scrolling around.

But… I’m hesitating. My MacBook Pro is a pocket rocket, yet even though I’m loath to give up all that power and storage, I’ll give it a go. I’ll leave the MacBook at home, and do the office thing with the iPad Pro. I know travelling works because I do it with the iPad Air all the time. Plus nearly everything I need to access is on the Cloud.

What could go wrong?

This is going to be fun.

by JD

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The future of the Smart Home is wearable

Smart watches are getting smarter. A second-generation swathe on display at IFA last month gracefully made the point. Swankily strapped, slimmed down and circular, they are starting to look less and less like their geeky forebears, and more like something I might wear one day. This of course is aided by slowly but surely lengthening battery lives and an increasingly diversified set of offerings and prices.

However, aesthetics, price and endurance – no matter how improved – will mean little to me and millions of other consumers until the IoT potential of smart watches is truly unlocked.

Devices and technologies exhibited at IFA didn’t disappoint on this front either. Walking into the LG Smart Home demonstration, our hostess brought her futuristic abode to life by informing her LG Watch Urbane that she was “coming home” which put on the lights, air con and speakers. “Going out” brought the house to a standstill again. Meanwhile, Withings demonstrated the integration of its Home IP Camera with the Apple Watch that allows you to track your household activities from your wrist.

Both of these use-case scenarios hint at the broader potential of smart watches – as the ideal nexus between the smart home and the smart person.

Although the smartphone has been touted as the hub of choice in an increasingly connected world, a case can be made for the smart watch as an ideal mediator in its own right; always body-borne, voice-command ready and motion-detection capable, the smart watch is potentially a much more intuitive and natural way to interact with the smart home.

No surprise then that in our Smart Home Survey, smart watch owners were the most likely to buy a smart home product in the near future – not just a reflection of their early adopter status, but also of the growing recognition that their existing purchases have more value integrated into their own Internet of Things (IoT).

Indeed, in the world of IoT, each individual object’s utility is a function of the network effects between dozens of other interacting things. Smart-home appliances will have more value thanks to the context provided by smart watches – and vice versa. Such a convergence will enable an ever-smarter smart home that pre-empts the needs of its occupants rather than passively responding to their commands.

This theme was highlighted in our very own CONTEXT Retail CEO Breakfast at IFA, where David Bailey, VP of Global Retail Development at SmartThings, argued that it is key to communicate not just what consumers can “do with” the new technology but, more importantly, what the technology can “do for” them.

by TG

 

 

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Filed under Connectivity, Home automation, IoT, Mobile technology, Retail in CONTEXT, Smart Home, Smart Technology, Wearables

Apple Watch – flop or not?

When Apple announced the Watch, commentators were quick to claim that it would help bring wearables out from geek obscurity and into the light of the mass-market. Just like Apple had reinvented smartphones, mp3 players and tablets, so too would the smart watch be re=imagined for the likes of you, your grandmother, and me.

Several months on however, the vacuum generated by Apple’s reticence to release actual sales figures has opened up a speculative space: is it (and by extension the Smart Watches category as a whole) a flop or not?

A flurry of sensationalist articles pointing to a supposed 90% plunge in US Apple Watch sales certainly steer one towards the flop end of the spectrum. Slice Intelligence, the source of these figures, accompanied these claims with some dramatic looking figures.

The question is, how many early adopters can there be? Those keen enough to buy into the first-gen Watch iteration would likely have rushed to adorn their wrists as soon as it came on the market, leaving only a few keen stragglers, and a greater mass of as of yet unconvinced customers, many of whom are waiting for a second generation no doubt.

What’s more, any ‘disappointing’ sales figures still effectively trounce the Smart Watch competition, capturing the lion’s share of the market in the space of just a few months. Reading between the lines of Apple’s recently published quarterly results, it appears that the Watch is already a billion-dollar business.

Clearly, any flop related commentary is not quite justified. Neither is it possible to speak of an inevitable success however. A whole suite of first-gen issues need to be ironed out before the Watch is quite ready for breakout success. Too much currently rests on marketing nous and brand loyalty, leaving many (including the Watch owners I have spoken to) unconvinced as to its actual use value.

So neither flop nor outright triumph, but most definitely a propitious start, most definitely a space to watch.

by TG

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Like Apples and Androids 

Did you hear? The internet was abuzz earlier this month with suggestions that Google might be making its Android Wear OS – on which most Smart Watches are currently run – compatible with Apple’s iOS.

For lack of any further leaks, the web has fallen silent on the topic, pundits awaiting an update at Google’s upcoming I/O developer conference no doubt. Not that a Google confirmation would guarantee anything, Apple still have the right, and perhaps the will, to stop them in their tracks.

Why? Well, for one, allowing Android Wear powered Smart Watches into its world could very well steal the thunder from its recently released offering. Oh, and there is clause 3.1 in Apple’s App Developer guidelines: “Apps or metadata that mentions the name of any other mobile platform will be rejected”… hmmm, Android Wear…

So we will have to wait and see about that. But here’s why I’m hoping Apple will say YES. Firstly, it would be an unambiguous show of confidence in the merits of their own product: able to fend for itself without the need for a protectionist walled garden. Secondly, the added competition would incentivise Apple to stay ahead of the game, and release that all-important much improved second-gen Apple Watch I’m holding out for…

Finally, and most importantly, it would be consistent with the contemporary zeitgeist. At a time when we are starting to talk of a truly interconnected world – meshing together inanimate objects on individual, domestic, and city wide scales – incompatibilities between competing hardware/software solutions are starting to appear ever more anachronistic: the Internet-of-Apple-Things is not quite the same as the IoT.

Of course, there is no telling for certain that Google will make their play in any case, and as we have seen, there are very good reasons why Apple might turn them down even if they do so. But one can always hope. After all, times they are a changing. Indeed, who would have thought way back when that Microsoft would one day come to flaunt how nicely its hardware plays with Apple software? So who will win at wearables?

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