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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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.
The buzz on arrival at CES Unveiled, a pre-CES event aimed at journalists and analysts, was the new OLED Lenovo laptop, a first in the PC and displays industry. The screen resolution was so beautiful that I fear that people will spend their time looking at it rather than working. That was almost the only old tech company out of the 180 exhibitors.
The prize in the smart home and wearables arena goes to French Tech – maybe they negotiated a good block deal with CES or else there is something to be watched for in the buzz of activity in what the French call “The Hexagon”. Here they are:
- Withings, an established player, has launched a new temporal smart thermometer with 16 sensors.
- Mother, which caught the imagination in CES 2014 with its array of sensors for tracking activity in the home, has come of age with Silver Mother, essentially the same hardware, but with clever marketing targeting the care of elderly relatives.
- A new start-up called Hydrao has launched a smart showerhead and related app which allows you to track your usage of water in the shower – the colour on the showerhead changes at preset levels and an app gives you warning – teenagers beware!
- Ubiant, a start-up, has won a prize for its energy saving product “Luminion”
- Bee-Wi, with its Bluetooth range of products has launched a watering system which was sprinkling inquisitive people pressing the right buttons on the stand; and also a smart oil diffuser which smelt pleasant and contrasted nicely with the foodie smells of the free buffet being served opposite
- SevenHugs, named touchingly after the embrace the founders of the company give to their 7 children every night – the family is alive and well in France – have launched the first contextual remote control, designed to make objects in the home easily controllable from one device
- But the prize for innovation goes to Qarnot, a start-up, which has invented a computer serving as a heater, in an ecologically friendly way of using the heat which would have been generated and lost in a data centre. Its clients know that instead of having banks of computers in a data centre, they are sitting in people’s houses. The device can also be used to charge your smartphone and can be used as a hub for smart home products
There is a UK tech as well. A company called Smarter has developed a nice range of products, some already well-established in UK retail, that make your fridge smart, detect noises in the kitchen (eg the washing machine has come to the end of a cycle) and weigh products in the fridge to let you know if you have run out – all at an attractive price point of under £100.
I end day 1 with Lowe’s, the only retailer to be present at CES Unveiled. Lowe’s has led the way in the US in smart home with its Iris range, and announced today that it is moving into professional monitoring. With a partner it will operate a service of emergency response to alarms for fire, carbon monoxide, and intrusion in return for a monthly fee. This is the way that Dixons Carphone in the UK has said that they are going, and the latest CONTEXT Smart Home Survey (to be published on Thursday 7th January at our Retail CEO breakfast in CES) shows that there is an appetite in Europe for similar services.
We’re a nation obsessed by smartphones, with 71 per cent of us owning at least one of these indispensable devices. So it will come as no surprise that our research shows that one of the most important factors when it comes to driving smart home adoption is how easy it is to control from our smartphones.
But as the sector develops, we must consider whether we want to use our smartphone to switch off the lights or turn on the TV. Consumers will crave a more natural and intuitive interface, and here we explore three ways the smartphone could be knocked off its throne as default remote of the connected home.
- Voice control
Speaking to inanimate objects might seem like an odd concept now, but in a few years the entire smart home could be running on voice biometrics. Online retail giant Amazon has put a lot of effort into its Amazon Echo: a speaker that you can ask about to play music, give you a morning traffic update, or even tell you the latest football score. Other smart products, such as Samsung Smart TVs now have voice recognition built in too. Yes, you can ask it to change channel and turn the volume up and down without touching the remote control, but it also builds a personal profile of you and every member of your family. It will learn what programmes you watch regularly so as soon as you ask it to ‘play the latest England game’, it knows you mean you want to see the latest goal from Sterling not the cricket or rugby.
- Actions and gestures
If the thought of having to ask your coffee machine to start brewing in the morning is too much to face, why not set it off with a simple smile? Intel’s RealSense 3D camera recognises hand and head movements, and even facial expressions. It’s currently targeted at video gamers who can control the on-screen action with their hand rather than the control pad. But it’s soon expected to become more common in our everyday lives with thermostats, TVs, or laptops that you control with a swipe of the hand, a nod of the head, or even a wink or smile.
- Mind control
It sounds like science-fiction but your thoughts alone could control the smart home of the future. The connected home will be full of devices able to monitor particular signals in your brain and see what you want to do before you’ve even had the chance to act upon it yourself. Incredibly, it’s already being developed, and in Eda Akman Aydin’s study at Gaza University all participants were able to learn to control a phone, light, TV and heater just by picking up signals from their brain activity. The technology might be slow to respond at the moment, but it’s a promising start. With our research showing that most European consumers expect to have a smart home in three or more years’ time, there’s still time for cutting edge tech like this to develop and grow.
Above all, what these three interfaces offer consumers is ease of use and what could be simpler than a few words, a gesture or even a thought? Retailers know that convenience wins over consumers and with such straightforward systems the question isn’t if the smartphone will be replaced in the smart home, but when.
 From Google Consumer Barometer 2015
I remember buying my first mobile phone under contract, upgrading from a pay-as-you-go. It was big moment: I would be able to use my phone without worrying about how far my £10 top-up would take me. I would use my phone more than I ever did before.
The question was: what handset would I go for? When I walked into the phone shop one handset immediately caught my attention: the recently launched Motorola SLVR RED. In addition to its redness, for every handset bought £10 would go to a fund to help eliminate AIDS in Africa. By purchasing the phone two things would happen:
- I would contribute to a good cause at pretty much no additional cost to me (though I am pretty sure I paid for it as part of the handset price)
- I would make a statement every time I used my phone: I have a red phone and I am sure you want one too!
Making a phone call or sending an SMS would not go unnoticed. Given the variety of [phone] colours available back then, one would blend in anywhere with a black or grey phone. I would definitely stand out with my new red phone.
Nowadays, phone manufacturers have embraced colour for their handset as a marketing tool and the variety of colours available is impressive. I was recently looking at some of the CONTEXT data and, across all manufacturers, there are over 250 colours. These could obviously be grouped into the main standard colours, but this shows how colour is used to market to the end user.
Colour is now more than ever in fashion, although black, white and grey/silver phones remain top sellers. For those who have not made the jump to a coloured phone, there is always the option of a coloured case. And, by the way, my current phone is grey and has a grey case: I’ve finished the time of wanting to make a statement.
There is more than colour to phones now: screen size, variety of apps, being able to make wireless payments amongst others.
by Theo Gibbons, Product Manager for Wearables
Following last week’s post, we continue to look at the differences between the Apple Watch and the Microsoft Band, and consider what these mean for their future in the world of wearables.
Are you app-y yet?
Both Apple and Microsoft have made sure to pitch their products at the sports crowd, crucial given that fitness fanatics still drive most of the demand for wearables. A broader, less niche consumer base however is the real prize: there are only so many people who care to capture the minutiae of their fitness routine.
But here’s the thing, ten times more sensors won’t necessarily make a wearable ten times more useful. A smorgasbord of intuitive and appealing apps however will bring us closer to a compelling case for wearables take up. And this is where Apple has a decisive advantage. Benefiting from the power to define the very ecosystem within which wearables operate, as well as the legacy of an active app market, it is putting out a product heavy on specs and features – all told, a promising environment for the development of Apple Watch specific apps.
By contrast, Microsoft is operating in a world that isn’t of their making. Indeed, the smartphone (tethered hub of choice for wearables of all sorts) OS market has been completely cornered by iOS and Android. All is not lost however. Making a virtue out of necessity, Microsoft has emphasised the Band’s OS cross-compatibility, and has released SDK’s (software development kits) for both iOS and Android. Given the Band’s varied and powerful sensors, new apps could very well differentiate it from the standard fitness trackers on the market.
So who will take the crown in the wearables world?
Microsoft is playing it safe, directly catering to an existing health and fitness consumer base with a powerful product at a very reasonable price-point (£169.99), all without attempting to reinvent itself as a tech/fashion company. It’s logical, it’s sensible, but it certainly isn’t radical. This is why all eyes are currently on Apple, who is expected to do for wearables what they did for the MP3 player, the smartphone, and the tablet: to bring them into the mainstream.
It is of course far too early to predict the success of the Watch, but if Apple succeeds in building a reasonably large initial user base for its first generation product, and entices enough app developers to bolster its value proposition, we could very well witness the shift in consumer consciousness from ‘nice-to-have-but-not-really-necessary’ to ‘must-have-wearable-essential’.
by Marie Christine, Senior Analyst
With around 90,000 visitors, almost 2,000 exhibitors and large sums of money spent on shiny stands, gadgets and demos, another Mobile World Congress (MWC) came to an end last week. This year, we saw big releases from the likes of HTC, Microsoft and Samsung to name just a few, with the latter revealing two new flagship devices.
In addition to these, smart wearables were of course all the rage at this year’s event with new fitness trackers, smartbands and smartwatches revealed and wrist technology stealing the show from smartphones.
LG for example, demoed its luxury wristwatch, the Watch Urbane LTE which comes with its own SIM card and allows users to make calls, receive emails and search the web from their wrist without any connectivity to a mobile handset.
But, it wasn’t all smartphones and wearables at MWC this year. Smart cars, homes, offices and travel were just some of the main themes in addition to plenty of new gadgets on display including:
- Bluesmart: a connected carry-on bag which not only weighs itself but tells you its weight via an app. It also comes with a SIM card so you can trace it on a map if and when you happen to lose it.
- Panasonic Nubo: the first 4G-connected home surveillance camera that allows you to monitor your home and property without the need for a Wi-Fi connection.
- Oral-B SmartSeries: The new Oral-B app for its SmartSeries Bluetooth-connected toothbrushes delivers real-time brushing instructions as well as a series of ‘journeys’ such as Fresh Breath, Plaque Fighter, Whitening, Gum Health etc.
- AT&T Digital Life & Drive: AT&T’s digital life and drive platforms now work together which means you can use your car’s voice control to issue commands to devices at home such as unlock your doors and turn on the lights before you actually get home.
- LG Magic Mirror: Snow White style, this mirror uses an Android app that analyses your complexion and gives you a diagnosis of the condition of your skin.
These are just some of the releases. We look forward to seeing what 2016 brings us, particularly in relation to how some of the predicted trends at the event develop over the coming months.