2018 predictions: consolidation, and on-demand-anywhere
One of the tenets of New Years is around 'resolutions' and 'predictions' for the forthcoming year. Thankfully I've learned the lessons that starting a resolution to kick off the year usually fail in the first 3-4 weeks so tend to stay away from them, choosing goals based on my interests and motivations, not on an arbitrary date in the calendar.
On the 'predictions' front, someone mentioned recently that if you study something, you HAVE to put down predictions at the start of the year, even if you are going to be wrong - the idea being it's something to get you thinking. I love this idea as it gives the opportunity to make a load of mistakes to learn from (as well as hopefully get a few things right!). And so, after sitting on some ideas for a couple of weeks, as well as letting the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) pass, here we go.........
Firstly, if you're interested in new products and specifically what was on show at CES, I can't recommend Steven Sinofsky's annual report ("Real Advances, real progress, real questions") from CES - thankfully now public since he left his role at Microsoft. It's long, detailed, with lots of photos, and well worth a read.
Internet Access and Connectivity
- Data is king of all: if it's not carried as internet-protocol traffic, it's legacy. We're not fully there yet, however we're almost through the 'HMS Great Eastern' phase: building hybrid solutions, in our case, before-internet and after-internet.
- Speeds continue to become ‘good enough’ for most users (so long as on 4G or Wi-Fi). Interesting bet: would a company be willing to do an 'Apple' and stop selling purely on the performance spec of the processor? I.e. is there a company that would start selling on the experience, not just the technical specs?
- As the Internet players fight for the services running on the network and continue to increase their usage (e.g. Facebook Messenger handling 17 billion video calls in 2017, a 100% increase on previous year), interesting new challengers and plays start to appear. Hardware vendors start to consider moving up to become ISPs (e.g. Openet's - provider of BSS and OSS solutions - offer to purchase ID Mobile) taking a leaf out of the playbook of Apple, Amazon, Google: creating, building and owning the software. Telecoms will still remain in the position of strength owning the infrastructure (fixed) and spectrum (mobile) required to join the customers to the services online although calls and text messages will continue to decline (SMS is the mainframe of cellular: will continue to bring in revenue for a period of time, however long-term is on decline).
Messaging, Calls - aka 'communication'
- Push-back on the use of mobile phones goes through a lot of hype but in day-to-day circles nothing changes, although customers start to focus on more control of notifications. Apple and Android make some moves on their own to support this (e.g. Do Not Disturb while driving), and start to promote better controls on monitoring usage. Social networks (in particular, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter) also in the limelight for absorbing people's time.
- Concerns about children and internet safety continue. Debates over whether responsibility of handset manufacturers, parents, teachers continues.
- Messaging and calls. Internet-based services continue to explode (e.g. Messenger doubles it’s usage from 2016 to 2017).
- Podcasts start to go more mainstream moving from strong in popularity among the tech-saavy audiences to frequently popular among even the non-techies. Expect to see announcements from Spotify, and Apple Music to promote more and more podcast-style shows. Related, in many ways, the ‘Kodak’ of the radio industry: Kodak was one of the first to create digital cameras and technology, however it didn't fit their business model and thus they were unable to make the transition, now foundering with cringe-inducing plays like a bitcoin-miner. In the same way, many radio stations were very early in offering podcasts, but business model of the best is not radio stations right now.
- TV: Mainstream TV (in the sense of watching through linear tv channels) starts to struggle more based on the 'internet tv' players (i.e. the Netflix, Amazon Prime's - the on-demand viewers) - as I mentioned already, if it's not over the internet, and on-demand, you're stuck on the legacy model (and build for models when it was technically impossible to push out individual, started-at-any-time, broadcast to every user). Mainstream radio starts to get shaken for the same reasons. Only live events/shows hold value, and even that starts to get offered through Netflix, Amazons (see Eurosport as a great example here: and note they hold the primary distribution rights to the 2020 Olympics). Netflix consolidates more, Amazon Prime makes more in-roads as the secondary player, in Europe Now TV starts to build some traction. If it's not being transported over the Internet and on-demand (with obvious exception of live events).
- 4K tv content goes mainstream, but slowly. Rumours of 8K start to surface, especially prior to winter Olympics in 2019 and Olympics in 2020 but not significant as the 4K replacement cycle is only escalating, not to mention even less reason to have 8K than 4K, unless someone figures out how to make good quality 3D films, and in that case, 3D can be done on a screen without any glasses with 8K quality screens.
- A web-player purchases rights to a major sporting event (e.g. Premiership rights, rugby, etc.). If Amazon, they give away for free as part of Amazon Prime (bold theory!). Although in writing this part, see item 2 above.
- On-line purchasing becomes more comfortable for the non-tech saavy. I'm struggling to articulate this one but based on a feeling. Physical stores start to feel the impact.
- The home drone fad dies off although still stays a respectable business as businesses realize the possibilities.
- Assistants become steadily more useful (Alexa, Siri, Google, etc.). Voice continues to get most of the hype (carried by Alexa and Google), however steady progress is made with chat methods, etc.
- Home automation moves through hype cycle. We start to see more usable versions.
- Virtual Reality stays niche.
- Augmented Reality is here, but no-one has realised it's going to be in-ear for now (with our trusty voice assistants). Visual AR is still a way out: dependent on more miniaturisation, improvements to screens..
We'll hear more and more rumblings from the big media about the evils of Facebook, Google and Amazon.....However, they also forget why they have come to monopolise the internet, and it's because people often like and want convenient, centralised, trusted service providers.
Security concerns continue to increase. Consumers come under more and more risk in their online activities, especially as being pushed to do all activities/interactions through online services (e.g. banks) - keeping this data and accounts secure will be a challenge as both argue over who is responsible. The incoming based on GDPR regulations causes lots of 'fun' for companies, in particular small to medium who can't afford full-time security staff: numerous businesses get big(!) bills unexpectedly. Botnets, particularly utilising internet-of-things devices continue to cause more problems. Some are also not from government bodies, but general citizens. Crazy issues like this company who produces children's toys with terrible security continue to occur: thankfully the fines will hopefully increase to recognise the irresponsibility of such actions.
- Cryptocurrencies and their related functions go through initial hype phase, continue to experience significant fluctuations, but also find more functions and use-cases.
- Self-landing rocket launches become completely normal: averaging more than one every two weeks. More rumors about large-scale satellite internet rear their head: although no-one in telecoms sector appears to be paying attention.
- Renewable energy continues its climb based on ever-decreasing prices, putting more and more price pressure on fossil energy.
- Pure electric cars continue steady rise, perhaps becoming 1% of all sales but not critical turning point. Electric bikes continue to rise in popularity, an unseen and uncelebrated mode of transport.