The world’s biggest mobile technology event was upon us again this week. Over 100,000 tecchies descended on Barcelona this week to showcase the latest and greatest smart devices and network technologies that is Mobile World Congress (MWC). Despite reports of an overall global decline in sales at the end of last year, just one look at the show this year will tell you that consumers’ love affair with their smartphones is far from over. However, MWC is increasingly also about showcasing other kinds of connected devices and technology platforms. Continue reading
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Next week, nearly 4,000 of the world’s biggest technology companies will converge on Las Vegas for the annual CES show. Now in its 51st year, the Consumer Electronics Show has seen its pulling power reduced in recent years as big vendors like Google, Apple and Samsung save major announcements for their own events. But it’s still likely to attract something like 170,000 visitors, and is widely seen as a key platform for showcasing new tech products and prototypes that will set the tone for the year ahead.
Here’s a quick rundown of some of the biggest trends to watch out for this year.
TVs: time for 8K
The past year has seen 4K and HDR TVs made widely available, with prices dropping lower all the time. This paves the way for some potentially big 8K announcements this year, with LG already claiming that it will be showing off a new 88-inch set. It will feature a 7680×4320 pixel display a massive 16 times better than the resolution of a standard HD set.
Other technology innovations in the TV space we may see more of are: local dimming features to boost picture quality; lower-priced OLED screens; improved voice control and streaming app support; and potentially some OLED-rivalling Micro LED technology from Samsung.
The smart home gets smarter
TVs comprise just one small part of an increasingly large smart home market, with voice-powered AI assistants from the big hitters like Amazon, Google and Apple increasingly positioned as the glue that holds everything together. Expect a slew of announcements detailing support for Alexa, Google Assistant and Apple’s HomeKit protocol in products as varied as smart clocks, speakers and even video door entry systems. Alexa seems to have the lead at the moment, but Apple is catching up fast thanks to new partnerships, while Google is said to be planning a major presence at the show, having booked out eight hospitality suites.
Keeping it real: VR/AR
Virtual reality might have garnered most of the headlines in recent years, thanks to a slew of eye-catching headsets, but its near neighbour augmented reality (AR) is likely to make a splash at CES 2018. In fact, there’s now a dedicated AR “Marketplace” in one of the Convention Centre halls — proof if any were needed that it’s a technology to watch this year.
Expect to see announcements from the likes of Carl Zeiss, Occipital, Kinmo, Kodak, Royole, Sony, and Netflix, as well as chip giant Qualcomm, which has been building out partnerships with some high-profile headset names such as the Oculus Go. Magic Leap is also a name to watch in the AR space and could well be showing off its new Lightwear headset.
Also with its own dedicated Marketplace arena, AI will see its profile raised further at this year’s CES with a deluge of new products, from connected cars to voice-activated smart home assistants. Honda will feature the tech in its new 3E Robotics Concept at the show with a range of products designed to advance mobility and make people’s lives better.
Named by Accenture as a top-five trend to watch at CES 2018, AI will feature in a range of announcements from other big names including Chinese search giant Baidu, which will show off its autonomous driving platform Apollo and “conversational AI” platform DuerOS.
At one of Vastari’s Frieze breakfast briefings last week, the panel of leading art world figures discussing the “The Evolving Gallery” seemed almost entirely in agreement that virtual and augmented reality is going to play an enormous role in the future of art.
For the gallery, VR is both a tool and a new platform, enabling them to reach a much wider audience than might be able to visit any given location in person. Beyond the simple novelty of an exciting new technology, parallels with social media’s unexpected prevalence were drawn and VR and AR are seen as a way to fundamentally redefine the relationship between exhibitions and the public. Both Facebook and Snap have announced plans to augment the world with digital public artworks viewable through their respective apps, while DSLcollection has partnered with Ikonospace to curate and market their exhibition in virtual reality in ways not previously possible.
For the artist, VR is particularly exciting as a medium newly open for exploration. It isn’t limited merely to the art programs like Tilt Brush, Medium, Blocks or Quill passed down from on high by tech giants like Google or Facebook, although these tools are themselves immensely popular with artists. Those with more ambition and technical knowledge such as the infamous Android Jones are creating their own tools with a specific aesthetic quality in mind. In the case of his latest work, Microdose, it is the tool itself which almost becomes the work, blurring the line between creator and spectator.
In theatre too, there is a trend towards immersive experiences, of which virtual and augmented reality may well play a part. While some traditionalists will scorn the invasion of new technologies into their craft, there is no doubt that there is significant overlap in the skills required to develop narrative experiences in virtual reality and on stage, which has always had to use creative approaches to direct the audiences attention. As such it may be that “theatre in VR”, such as the National Theatre’s Draw me close turns out to be far more successful than attempts to shoehorn VR into theatre.
While not every artistic endeavour in VR will suit all tastes, and some are very rudimentary in their execution, this is fundamentally a rare new medium for expression, the rules for which have not been written yet. As with the early days of cinema, artists will be instrumental in exploring the language and capabilities of immersive technologies, setting the ground for commercial applications as the industry matures.
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.
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.