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
Tag Archives: VR
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.
One of the biggest stories for VR in 2017 has been the significant reduction in price for VR headsets. Possibly spurred on by Microsoft’s Windows Mixed Reality headsets attempt to undercut the Rift, Oculus dropped the price of its headset with touch controllers from $600 to $400 for its “Summer of Rift” campaign. This is much closer to the initial price point that Oculus’s founder Palmer Luckey suggested the commercial headset would retail for and results so far indicate that units have been flying as a result. With CONTEXT’s 2017 VR Research Group survey indicating that the cost of the headset is still a major deterrent for 45.4% of respondents, 38.1% of gamers would spend $400 or more on a VR headset, compared to only 11% willing to spend over $600.
The other major barriers with regards to cost are those associated with buying a PC powerful enough to run VR games to an acceptable level. Road To VR reports that Wallmart will be selling a comfortably “VR Ready” HP Pavilion Power Desktop with GTX 1060 graphics card for $500 as a part of their Black Friday promotions. For the first time it will be possible to buy a fully VR capable solution with PC and headset for under $1,000 which is considered a sweet spot for gamers and a long way below the $2,500 figure widely acknowledges to be the minimum investment for VR only a couple of short years ago.
On the console front as well, a PS4 and PSVR was available for $200 from selected retailers on Black Friday, down from $399 normally. Combined with a strong line up of PSVR exclusives, this may enable Sony to maintain or even grow their already substantial lead in the high-end tethered VR headset market.
The question remains as to whether these price drops will be enough to drive mass adoption in Q4. While it is likely that the install base will benefit dramatically from falling prices, which will be encouraging to developers and others with a stake in the industry, there are still a few barriers to VR hitting its inflection point.
Interest in VR among non gamers is growing, but not nearly as quickly as some had hoped. While there are undoubtedly many uses for VR both seriously and as a general entertainment medium, it is clearly gamers who show the strongest interest in the technology for now. Only 4.8% of UK gamers think VR is a gimmick compared to 30.2% of non-gamers (down from 48.3% last year) suggesting that this demographic will be the easiest to target in the short term.
Still, while the potential for gaming in VR is widely acknowledged, many gamers are still waiting for the technology to improve. 61.9% would like to see higher resolution headsets, 74.5% would like to see “better quality content overall” and 51.3% said “one really exciting big budget game” would increase their interest in buying a VR headset.
Will Q4 see the stars align for VR to start seeing significant market penetration and finally create the virtuous cycle required to fuel this exciting new industry? Only time will tell, but here at CONTEXT, we’ll be watching the data come through with bated breath for the first signs of that mythical inflection point.
By Chris Petersen and Adam Simon
One of the most misunderstood and missed dynamics of retail today is the critical importance of “content”. Historically, mass marketing drove content creation. Brands provided “air cover content” for launching products and educating customers. Content was the “stuff” of ads, marketing and promotions. So what changed?
Digital transformation created many new points of access for customers. Customers are now free to interact directly with brands, retailers and between each other. More than 75% of today’s customers begin their journey online. “Digital Content” has become “King” as the point of entry. Consequently, one of the single greatest opportunities in today’s retail ecosystem is to curate the “rich content” that engages customers early, often, and even after the sale.
Why content matters even more in today’s retail ecosystem
Customers have always wanted to “see” the product. They have relied on photos in print and TV ads to get a first glimpse to determine whether they are interested. With the growing migration online, customers not only expect multiple product photos, they are also expecting much richer and in-depth information. They want far more than product features and specs. They want to evaluate as much as they can before clicking the mouse to purchase, or making a trip to the store to see the product first hand.
In the simplest sense, “rich content” is all the collective visuals, information and experiences that help customers answer fundamental questions:
- What is the product, and what does it do for ME?
- Why would I want it?
- Where and when would I use it?
- Who else do I know that uses this product, or would use it?
- How many options do I have?
Since a majority of today’s customers begin their journey, online, rich content is critical for engagement. It also increases the potential to “help a customer decide to buy”, or at least make a trip to a store to experience the product in person.
Rapidly emerging, and evolving “Rich Content” opportunities
In terms of rich content optimizing engagement and customer experience, AR is becoming more widely adopted across more categories. There are online experiences that now let you virtually “try on” clothes and cosmetics. IKEA and others let you simulate furniture in your room. DIY retailers like Lowes are even creating VR “holorooms” where you visualize your home and furnishings in store.
The “rich” aspect of content does not always require innovative visual technology. Content becomes rich when it engages customers. More web sites are implementing simple chat windows to provide interactive feedback and content not found in regular copy. Some customers prefer engagement through “chat bots” to get answers. Who is responsible for all of this rich content? More importantly, how is it produced.
Bridging content gaps through strategic collaboration
In the new ecosystem that spans time and place there are many new opportunities for content collaboration. In fact, the traditional roles of content creation are changing. New content contributors are emerging. Indeed, if there was a prima fascia case for value and potential of strategic collaboration it would be in the area of rich content which engages customers.
Historically, retailers have relied on brands to produce the product images and content required for ads and web pages. While retailers like to enhance the customer experience, resource constraints have limited in-house production for many retailers. Most retailers will continue to collaborate with brands to evolve richer content like videos. Some retailers are investing AR in ways that customers can visualize rooms, wearing clothes or applying cosmetics. Nevertheless, bricks and mortar retailers should never forget or neglect the richest content “source” retailers have to engage customers — their associates on the retail floor. Brands would also do well to find innovative ways to collaborate and support store staff on a real time basis.
Brands will continue to be a primary source of content about their products and services. Enlightened brands will work with retailers, as well as customers to develop richer content that highlights the value of their products in the customer’s life. Rich content is not only important in the retail space. Major technology brands are increasingly creating rich content and support for installers and resellers, with the focus on improving services that ultimately create a better experience for their customers before and after the sale.
Distributors have historically served as the “box movers”. In today’s ecosystem, they certainly become critical collaborators for logistics and the last mile of delivery. However, the best distributors are also becoming a key line of support for retailers and resellers. Not only do distributors support products, they now serve as a critical content source for customer trends, and how to curate by local markets and demographics.
Historically, customers have been the primary consumers of content. Make no mistake about it, today’s customers are rapidly escalating demands for rich content online, via mobile and in store. However, we have reached a unique tipping point where customers are now in fact major producers of content. In fact, customers trust what they hear from other customers 10X more than what they see in an ad.
Much of Amazon’s success has come from how they have strategically engaged customers. Amazon was one of the first to feature customers as collaborators in their reviews, their videos and Q&A with other customers. The most successful brands and retailers are rapidly turning to customers as one of the powerful collaborative sources for producing, evaluating and sharing content.
Chris Petersen and Adam Simon are collaborating on a series of blogs that explore the rise of strategic collaboration and new customer centric ecosystems. This blog series will culminate with a worldwide panel discussion at the ContextWorld CES CEO Breakfast, where a global Brand, Distributor and Retailer will share their perspectives on strategic collaboration. If you are interested in more information on this CES event, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
In this second post in a series of blogs, we are looking at Immersive Technology, the blanket term for virtual, augmented and mixed reality and associated techniques and specifically where it is currently being used in the workplace.
In the last part, we looked at how this technology is being used in Healthcare. This time we’ll be looking at the engineering sector, specifically as it relates to Automotive and Aerospace.
Even from the earliest concept stages, VR sketching tools allow designers to visualise their creations at full scale in interactive and collaborative environments, even with remote colleagues, as demonstrated recently by Seymourpowell.
The real power of immersive technology is that it gives designers and technicians all of the same advantages that other digital tools offer, but allows them to interact with projects spatially and at the scales they are used to from traditional prototyping techniques.
Collaborative production planning via virtual environments also allow certain classes of issues to be spotted early, as demonstrated by Lockheed Martin who were “seeing a significantly reduced error rate in the construction stage”. Even NASA is well documented as having promoted the use of VR to share work and “break down the barriers of understanding”.
The high tech engineering sector has also taken readily to incorporating immersive technologies into the production work flow. Volkswagen for example, recently announced partnerships with HTC for workers to collaborate on both production and logistics via virtual reality to “make daily teamwork much easier and save a great deal of time”.
Meanwhile, Ford has been using virtual manufacturing technology to analyse assembly line workflows via its ergonomics lab. This has reportedly seen employee injuries be reduced by 70% and ergonomic issues lowered by 90%.
Much like we mentioned last week in the medical industry, visualising a complicated, three dimensional piece of machinery clearly can be difficult on a two dimensional screen. With virtual reality, however, inspecting complex systems and communicating with colleagues about those systems becomes much easier.
While not a commercial application, upcoming game prototype Wrench illustrates perfectly how useful interactive visualisations are in communicating how a complex product is assembled. For a more industrial example, look no further than ESI Group’s IC.IDO, who work with some of the largest aircraft manufacturers in the world.
Training maintenance technicians in virtual reality will encourage much better process adherence and understanding, reducing maintenance costs in the long run. Furthermore, as illustrated brilliantly in Microsoft’s promotional videos for the Hololense, the ability to have a maintenance professional remotely assist an unskilled on-site worker or end customer will allow those experts to work remotely and maximise their effectiveness.
It seems clear that large engineering companies are taking immersive technology seriously and seeing promising results across the scope of their business. Many of these techniques and others will also be relevant to other industries, including the ability to showcase products virtually, both in B2B and B2C settings. While this is clearly an attractive proposition for the aerospace and automotive industries, we will look at this in more detail in part three, Architecture and Real Estate.
*Photo Credits: Shutterstock.com & Editorial credit: Darren Brode / Shutterstock.com
A running theme over the last few years in business news in the US and elsewhere is the terminal decline of the physical retail store. Many of the big name chains once thought of as bastions of the high street have fallen victim to the online juggernauts, on what seems like a weekly basis. The finger of blame is most often pointed at Amazon, whose profits continue to soar to such extents that some financial analysts are now claiming that their share price is overvalued and based upon forecasted earnings of massive proportions.
It is possible that President Trump may attempt to curtail Amazon’s growth through trust-busting legislation – something which could be motivated by his feud with The Washington Post and its owner/Amazon exec Jeff Bezos – however there is little legal ground to challenge the etailer simply because their business model and disruptive technology offers a better deal for consumers as things currently stand. It’s true that few retailers can take on Amazon based on pure pricing, however there are still assets which Amazon does not yet have: a large high-street presence and refined customer service.
I was speaking to a colleague recently whose wife works as a beauty consultant in London’s West End. She was upset that although their footfall was good and plenty of customers wanted to try out products, very few actually bought anything, and many could be seen price-checking and purchasing on Amazon before they even left the store. Let’s be honest: many of us do this every time we shop. Her general feeling was that they shouldn’t even bother stocking anything in-store. This remark was borne of bitter resignation, but some retailers have done exactly that, using a sophisticated omnichannel model to remove the need for significant store inventory.
There are certain categories where consumers will always want to try products in person, and which if prove unsatisfactory can result in a glut of expensive return logistics. Clothing and fashion is an obvious candidate; US brand Bonobos recently posted a $60m increase in revenue over the past five years, driven by their Guideshop setup. Consumers visit physical stores to see the new lines, try on clothing, then pay to have clothes delivered when and where they wish. The store itself does not hold large stock or inventory. Bonobos’ system challenges the assumption that most consumers want to leave with the product in hand, and has allowed them to reinvest logistical savings in staff training and a high service-level.
This phenomenon is also seeing green shoots for technology sales, with showroom setups such as London’s Sandbox offering hands-on experience with new categories including VR. Like Bonobos, Sandbox’s function is to give consumers the chance to try room-scale VR, something Context’s 2016 VR consumer survey showed to be a key factor in purchasing VR. At this stage in the category’s lifecycle relatively few consumers have tried room-scale VR, and would therefore be unwilling to part with the daunting initial upfront cost.
These kinds of demonstrations are arguably more important for VR marketing than traditional advertising. VR can be a revelatory experience, but selling it to someone who has never tried it is an uphill struggle. It is also fair to say that many consumers shop online to avoid feeling pressured by a salesperson, and at present very few retailers can offer truly excellent face-to-face customer service. By removing the onus of making the purchase then and there, and potentially allowing for price reductions to compete with Amazon, Bonobos’ solution, or a modified omnichannel setup could be the saviour of the high street, not to mention a huge boom time for the distribution channel and drop shipments.
The art of window-dressing has a long and proud history, once a place of hubris for serious-minded shop attendants and source of satire for comedians, but now the whole store offers a window into (Microsoft) Windows.