With 2016 nearly upon us, we're running daily pieces from industry experts on the trends they expect to see in the coming year. Today, Juniper Research's Steffen Sorrell looks at how mobile and adjacent technology is likely to develop over the next 12 months and beyond.
Watershed year for VR
Virtual Reality can be described as the technology that aims to totally immerse the user inside a virtual world, typically requiring the user to don a headset that covers the eyes. (Think Nintendo's Virtual Boy or the movie Lawnmower Man, but actually believable.)
Unfortunately VR is incredibly complex, precisely because it replaces the physical world. The brain expects the rules of physics to be the same. For example, if the user turns his or her head, any delay in the on-screen display alterting its orientation to match the movement can lead to a feeling of nausea. Furthermore, software ideally must track eye movement as well as various other inputs.
Presently, you could look at VR in terms of two approaches. The first is a more ‘serious’ approach such as that taken by Oculus, Sony and HTC/Valve: dedicated headsets using powerful chips to present as immersive an experience as possible. The second is that taken by Google and Samsung: low-cost solutions, where a simple headset is designed to be used with the smartphone.
At this stage, the latter option is important for the market as they offer the consumer a low-cost, low-risk taster of VR, but also encourage developers to get in on the act. For many applications – a corporate VR ‘meeting’ for example – these simple solutions might even suffice in the long run.
Once Oculus et al finally release their devices, we expect the gaming and entertainment community to be the first to jump on board. To gather serious traction however, we expect vendors to gradually implement things like 4K displays to match expectations of pin-sharp resolution, while GPU vendors will undoubtedly be working on more powerful chips to meet resolution and framerate demands.
Wearables go to work
While the success of consumers wearables is arguable, in the workplace these devices are really able to shine. That's particularly true of head-worn smart glasses. Suffice to say that Google Glass was a failure, in part because of the small display overlay, battery life and the fact that it targeted neither consumers nor businesses specifically.
Devices designed for the latter are now gaining business interest, not only because of the technological improvements that have taken place, but also because of the potential ROI that these devices offer. Imagine, for example, a field worker dispatched to repair a gas turbine. The cost of downtime for such an asset is considerable. If the repair worker carries a set of smart glasses, the on-board display, camera and connectivity can bring useful information to the worker – for example, a remote colleague can use the video feed to help in the repair process. In the long term, the money saved due to the reduction in downtime will undoubtedly outweigh the costs for the hardware and support.
There’s usually an ‘inertia effect’ within businesses when new technologies are developed. This is now being overcome with smart glasses, and we expect shipments to ramp up over the coming years.
The race to 5G begins
5G is the next stage in mobile cellular communications. It's especially interesting because, while all previous generations were focused on facilitating communications between humans, 5G will but also be targeting communications between machines. What does this mean? Essentially this is about bringing a lot more devices onto the network without bringing it down: try using your phone reliably at a crowded music festival for example.
The network will be capable of extremely high data rates, reduce latency and improve energy efficiency over 4G. This should allow for better delivery of rich content like video, while simultaneously allow low power, battery-operated machines to join the network.
The release cycle for each generation occurs approximately every 10 years, so 2020 is likely the year where mass deployments will begin to roll out. However, development is already feverish: Ericsson, SoftBank, ZTE and Verizon are all conducting tests while Verizon has even claimed it will launch 5G services in 2017.
Many devices, one platform
Over the past decade or so, technology has been undergoing a trend towards convergence, which has really been accelerated by smartphones on the one hand, and the availability of cloud computing services on the other. Handoff, Office 365, the entire Google ecosystem: these are all enabled by the cloud, and demands for seamless integration between platforms has been fuelled by smartphone and tablet ownership.
Microsoft has taken the trend further with its Universal App API, allowing developers to target multiple device types using the same code, while Google looks to be shaping up to better integration between Chrome OS and Android. While Apple has stated that it won’t converge iOS and OSX, it previously stated that it didn’t see a market for phablets, or styluses for tablets.
Times change, and the overall trend is undeniable: it will be a question of when, and not if. Certainly for Microsoft, this strategy is absolutely fundamental because it is losing out in the mobile space, and losing momentum in the desktop PC space. It needs to have those developers on board.
Steffen Sorrell is a senior analyst with Juniper Research