Telefónica demos surgery with a bit of help from 5G

Some surgeries were performed in Spain with real-time assistance from Japan thanks to the low latency of 5G.

This is still far from the remote surgery that has for so long been used as an illustration of the utopian potential of 5G, but is nonetheless a dramatic illustration of the kind of things it could unlock. A surgeon performed some operations in Malaga and had real-time assistance from another doctor who was dialling in from Tokyo. That assistance would have been far less useful if there had been a lag on the line.

The demo was part of the Advanced Digestive Endoscopy Conference and featured some degree of augmented reality. It claims also to be the first in medical congress in which the training sessions have been broadcast live with almost no latency, thus enabling attendees to interact thanks to 5G and AR.

“The operations organised at this conference are just an example of the numerous practical applications that 5G can have in healthcare,” said Mercedes Fernández, Innovation Manager at Telefónica. “Thanks to two key features of this technology – the low latency that allows transmission without delays and the ability to handle large video streams at high speed – it was possible to perform this intervention with the added value of doing so live and in real time with the interaction of doctors and attendees to provide solutions and ask questions about the clinical case that was undertaken.”

“The experience of previous years in organising innovative training courses in digestive endoscopy allows us this year to provide a global training course thanks to 5G technology, something that might seem science fiction but that we are making reality today” said Dr Pedro Rosón the surgeon who performed the operations.

“The use of 5G and augmented reality is, without doubt, what stands out in comparison with our previous editions and with any other standard medical workshops. We are therefore proud to keep and to continue offering an innovative training space with the live conducting of cases by specialists from Spain and abroad, with an emphasis on theory and reviewing the latest advances in interventional endoscopy.”

Remote assistance via 5G that makes use of AR may well be one of the primary use-cases used to sell 5G to industry. The potential it offers for providing training in the field is clear and it could transform the way training and mentoring is conducted. These are still early days, but each demo such as this one likely makes mainstream acceptance of this kind of technology more likely.

Verizon buys into alternative realities

Verizon has announced the acquisition of Jaunt XR, adding augmented and virtual reality smarts to its media division.

While few details about the deal have been unveiled, the deal will add an extra element to a division which has been under considerable pressure in recent months. The Verizon diversification efforts have proven to be less than fruitful to date, though this appears to be another example of throwing money at a disastrous situation.

“We are thrilled with Verizon’s acquisition of Jaunt’s technology,” said Mitzi Reaugh, CEO of Jaunt XR. “The Jaunt team has built leading-edge software and we are excited for its next chapter with Verizon.”

Jaunt XR will join the troubled media division of Verizon which has been under strain in recent months. The ambition was to create a competitor to Google and Facebook to secure a slice of the billions of dollars spent on digital advertising. On the surface it is a reasonable strategy, but like so many good ideas, the execution was somewhat wanting.

Since the acquisition of Yahoo, Verizon has had to deal with the after-effects of a monumental data breach, write off $4.6 billion of the money it spent on the transaction, spend big to secure a distribution deal with the NFL and cut 7% of its staff. The first few years of living the digital advertising dream has been nothing short of a nightmare.

Looking at the financials, during the last quarter the media division reported $1.8 billion in revenues. This was down 2.9% from the previous year and accounted for only 2% of the total revenues brought in across the group.

With Jaunt XR brought into the media family, new elements could be introduced to the portfolio. Details have not been offered just yet, though with VR, and more recently, AR expertise, there is an opportunity to create immersive, engaging content for the mobile-orientated aspects of the business.

This transaction will certainly add variety and depth to the services and products in the media portfolio, but soon enough you have to question whether Verizon is throwing good money after bad. This has not been a fruitful venture for the team thus far.

IBC 2019: Interactive takes centre stage as VR shuffles to side lines

Every couple of years there seems to be a massive resurgence for the promise of virtual reality before it is cast to the shadows. This year, interactive content took the limelight from VR.

This is not to say VR and augmented reality wasn’t present at IBC in Amsterdam. Throughout the exhibition halls you could see plenty of headsets and software to build the immersive environment, but on the conference stage it was barely mentioned.

The main stage is the business-end of almost every conference; it a technology or company isn’t a headliner, the ‘also-ran’ category list has gotten a bit longer. This is the conundrum which VR and AR has found itself in; there are some interesting technologies and discussions going on, but the most important people are talking about something else.

AR is progressing very quickly from the pale imitation which captured the imagination through the Pokémon Go app, but the illusive business case continues to frustrate. That said, an important trend which was evident through several sessions was interactive content.

This is an area which looks genuinely exciting. Everything from ‘Bandersnatch’ on Netflix, through to personalisation of sports content (selecting a commentator or parallel content) or Celebrity Big Brother, where users can select the camera they want to view and create their own viewing experience and story to follow. This is the next stage of content, and it is immediately more realistic than some of the blue-sky thinking ideas which are scattered throughout the exhibition halls.

Of course, this should not really be that much of a surprise. The idea of interactive or supplementary content being built into platforms is just one step along from how many younger generations consume content today. It isn’t a single point of consumption, its multiple screens, complimentary experiences and a variety of simultaneous touch-points.

Research from YuMe and Nielsen suggests the trend for adults who use their smartphone or laptop while watching TV content is increasing each year. For 2018, 187.3 million US adults admitted to using multiple screens simultaneously, up 6.4% from the year before. Users want more ways to engage with content and building interactive opportunities into content platforms is certainly one way to apply this trend in the real-world.

HTC taps Orange for new CEO

Struggling Taiwanese device maker HTC has finally found a full-time CEO by tapping into the European telecoms scene.

Former Orange exec Yves Maitre (pictured, no relation) takes over as CEO with immediate effect. He replaces owner and Chairwoman Cher Wang, who stepped in as CEO more than four years ago after deciding to throw in the towel on smartphones.  Wang has spent that time pivoting HTC towards virtual reality and the Vive headset, as well as some other connected devices.

Maitre was most recently EVP of Consumer Equipment and Partnerships at Orange was well as being a member of Orange’s innovation technology group, with a focus developing disruptive revenue opportunities, so his appointment is consistent with HTC’s new direction. Wang and the HTC board have clearly committed the company’s future to emerging mobile devices.

“When I took over as CEO four years ago, I set out to reinvent HTC as a complete ecosystem company and lay the foundations for the company to flourish across 5G and XR,” said Wang. “So, now is the perfect time to hand over the stewardship of HTC to a strong leader to guide us on the next stage of our journey.

“I am truly delighted that Yves is taking the reins; he has a long association with our company, and he shares our passion for innovation. I firmly believe Yves is the right leader to continue to lead HTC to its full potential.”

“HTC has long been a bellwether for new technology innovation and I’m honoured to be selected by the Board of Directors to lead the next phase of HTC,” said Maitre. “Across the world, HTC is recognized for its firsts across the mobile and XR space. I am incredibly energized to grow the future of both 5G and XR alongside HTC employees, customers and investors.  We will set out immediately to continue the transition from building the worlds’ best consumer hardware to also building complete services around them to make them easy to manage and deploy.”

XR refers to mixed reality, which covers all forms immersive digital experience, including augmented reality. The advent of 5G is a potential boon for this kind of tech, especially when the low-latency stuff starts to kick in, as it will enable wireless VR without the kind of lag that makes people throw up. Recruiting someone from the operator side appears to be an acknowledgement of that.

HTC was arguably the most successful Android smartphone maker initially, establishing close ties to Google and shipping in impressive volumes a decade ago. But then much bigger players like Samsung and Huawei got their acts together and HTC simply couldn’t compete with their deep pockets and economies of scale. It will attempt to replicate that feat with XR and hopefully will have a better strategy for fending off the big guys next time.

Hello Kitty guided to the AR gaming world by Google Maps

Hello Kitty is the latest product of a by-gone era to be given a digital face-lift as developer Bublar promises the launch of another location-based, augmented reality (AR) smartphone game.

Like Pokémon Go and Harry Potter: Wizards Unite, this title is seemingly targeting the consumers sense of nostalgia to grab a slice of the increasingly profitable smartphone gaming segment.

Powered by Google Maps, ‘Hello Kitty AR Kawaii World’ will bring take the iconic character Hello Kitty, first debuted in 1974, into the digital content arena with the promise of AR. Pre-registration for the game will begin at Hello Kitty´s 45th anniversary in November, with Swedish developer Bublar hoping to launch the title in early 2020.

“Our mission is to merge the real and imaginary worlds together in a fun way, connecting Augmented Reality and digital content to real-world locations,” said Wictor Hattenbach, Game Studio Director at Bublar.

“Our collaboration with Google Maps Platform gives us access to the most prominent mapping service in the world. Buildings, roads and parks will in the game be transformed into a Kawaii world for Hello Kitty and her friends based on Google Maps Platform.”

Although the marriage of augmented reality and mapping technologies does look to be a promising one in the smartphone gaming segment, this is only a tentative step. For the location-based gaming concept to be fully validated, there will be have to be a game which stands on its own two-feet, attracting interest on its own merit. Leaning on the concept of nostalgia is an effective strategy, but there are only so many horses to back in that competition.

So far, we have seen some successful ventures into the world of nostalgia. Pokémon Go was of course a rip-roaring success, and while there is promise for the Harry Potter franchise, the early signs have not been anywhere near as bountiful. That is not to say it won’t make money, but such was the profit-machine Pokémon Go was and is, it has set the bar very high.

The interesting element of the Harry Potter and Hello Kitty games is relevance today. Pokémon Go’s success was partly down to nostalgia, though it will begin to tail off as there is not an engaged audience today. The games are not played as much, and the TV series is no-where near as popular. Harry Potter and Hello Kitty have retained audiences which are constantly engaged through various different mediums.

Of course, what you have to bear in mind is that a large percentage of the audience will not be old enough to have credit cards, parents will have to authorise payments. This is where Pokémon Go perhaps can attribute a notable proportion of its success. That said, there is an element of longevity with these two titles which might not be present for Pokémon Go in the coming years, unless of course the brand can be refreshed through supporting channels.

As mentioned before, nostalgia is not a bad thing however. It will normalise the idea of location-based gaming in the eyes of the consumer, and once it has been normalised, a more varied ecosystem can be developed with a broader range of titles. The nostalgia effect will build market confidence that this is an area in the app economy which can be profitable.

It will be interesting to see how many more titles emerge over the coming months and years as location-based gaming becomes more popular. ‘Otherword Heroes’ is one which Bublar currently has in development.

This is another game which marries AR and location-based technologies to build a new type of smartphone experience, but it is a new story; it isn’t using nostalgia to drive downloads or popularity. Currently in public beta mode, using Bublar’s MMO-platform (massive multiplayer online) where real-time users create and interact with data linked to real-world locations.

The team intend to launch ‘Otherword Heroes’ towards the end of 2019, using the ‘freemium’ model. Users can download the app for free but will be able to enrich the in-game experience through in-app purchases, while advertising revenue can be realised through rewarded ads in-game to unlock or speed-up certain game content. It’s a common-enough model, though it does rely on scale.

The online gaming segment, especially content designed for smartphones, is growing rapidly across the world. This growth is not only being realised in the revenue columns of the spreadsheets, but also the number and variety of users. Smartphone games are increasing the accessibility of online gaming, bringing in users who would never have considered spending hundreds on consoles. The format is opening-up the segment massively.

Location-based gaming looks to be somewhat of a fad, driven by nostalgia, currently but soon enough stand-alone, novel concepts and content will emerge. We are really exciting about the prospect of location-based gaming and can’t wait to see what creative/crazy ideas emerge when the idea is normalised, encouraging more developers

The number of commercial 5G devices almost tripled in Q2 – GSA

The latest data from the Global mobile Suppliers Association show the number of 5G devices being launched worldwide is accelerating rapidly.

If you take at look at the GSA data from the end of March only 19 vendors had announced forthcoming 5G devices, with 33 models officially confirmed. These numbers have now significantly increased, with the latest data showing 39 vendors have now announced upcoming devices and the number of officially confirmed devices has now nearly tripled, standing around 90.

Looking in depth at the recent data also provided by GSA, 28% of the 90 officially confirmed devices are phones (the number standing at 25). On top of that GSA found 23 CPR devices, 23 modules, seven hotspots with assorted dongles, routers and drones comprising the chasing pack. The devices contained 5G chipsets from just four vendors – Qualcomm, Mediatek, Samsung and Huawei, with Intel no longer in the game.

As expected, smartphone vendors have jumped on 5G for various marketing campaigns. The most conspicuous of these is Samsung, which released  the Galaxy S10 5G first in Korea on earlier this year and then in the UK on June the 7th . The S10, due to its 5G compatibility, has a wider array of VR and AR functions than other 4G phones. This new way to experience VR and AR is critical as it will reach further out towards the younger generations who enjoy mobile gaming or more specifically games like Pokémon GO and the more recent Harry Potter: Wizards Unite that heavily rely on the use of AR.

This latest batch of data from the GSA indicates the device ecosystem is fully ramping up its 5G output. How much of this is purely speculative rather than responding to specific demand is still unclear, but we should get the first lots of 5G device sales data before long, which will clarify things.

Niantic’s Harry Potter launches but remains in Pokémon Go’s shadow

Harry Potter: Wizards Unite is up-and-running, but its dash from the starting line is no-where near as fast as Niantic’s gold standard, Pokémon Go.

Few would have predicted the roaring success of Pokémon Go. Most would have assumed it would have done well, but the sustained acceleration of downloads and revenues came as a surprise to most. Even now, almost three years after the launch of the game, Niantic is still hoovering up the cash; the first quarter of 2019 brought in an estimated $205 million; it left a lot for Harry Potter to live up to.

But if you are expecting new records to be broken, you might feel a little bit underwhelmed.

This is not to say Harry Potter: Wizards Unite is not doing well. Most app developers would sell their left leg for the numbers being reported over this weekend. According to estimates from Sensor Tower, Harry Potter: Wizards Unite was downloaded three million times over the opening weekend, bringing in $1.1 million in player spending. Projections for the first month stand at roughly $10 million.

For a single title, most developers would be thrilled by this, but Niantic will always have the Pokémon Go comparisons to deal with.

During the first four days of Pokémon Go, Niantic boasted 24 million downloads and player spending of $28 million. In the first month, player spending reached $206 million and downloads were almost 173 million. Realistically, Harry was always going to struggle to meet these expectations. But that is not to say it won’t be a success.

Your correspondent downloaded the game over the weekend and has been playing around with it over the last few days, and it is pretty good. The experience is better than Pokemon Go, the AR is closer to what many would expect and there is more of a story involved.

There are a few issues, though many of these would have been expected. Heavy data consumption should be expected, your correspondent used 636 MB in the first two days and wasn’t using it as much as most would. Battery life also takes a notable kick, five hours was knocked off what was to be expected on the device in question. Both of these factors might have a notable impact on how much users are using the game in the long-run.

But why has Harry Potter: Wizards Unite fallen short on the lofty goals? We suspect the nostalgia factor is the biggest contributor.

Firstly, lets have a look at the audience. Pokémon came into existence in 1996 primarily targeted at children, however even in the early days there was popularity with those in their 20s. Those who played the original games are 23 years older, though the TV series also proved to be incredibly popular across the world, running from 1997 through to today. There will be millions who are in their 20s, 30s and 40s who would have watched the show and felt the nostalgia bug when the game was launched almost three years ago.

The first Harry Potter title was released in 1997, though perhaps did not reach the peak of its fandom for a decade. During the 00s, the final books were being released and the films were taking the franchise to new audiences. Harry Potter remains popular today, but the core audiences are younger due to the longer period of time it took the spark to grow into a flame.

In short, the nostalgia bug bit for more people in control of credit cards for Pokémon Go than with Harry Potter: Wizards Unite. Many of those downloading the Harry Potter title today will have to ask permission from parents to make purchases, whereas we suspect a much higher proportion of those with Pokémon Go can make their own financial decisions.

Looking at statistics revealed by Survey Monkey a few months after Pokémon Go was released, 71% of players were aged between 18 and 50. The comparative numbers have not been revealed for Harry Potter: Wizards Unite just yet, but we suspect they will be a lot younger. For the final two films of the Harry Potter series, 56% and 55% were over the age of 25, but the books are designed for teenagers.

Secondly, we are going to have a look at the global appeal of both titles.

Although both are incredibly popular throughout the world, one originated in the UK and the other in Japan. Due to the fact the Pokémon TV series was animated, dubbing into new languages would have been much simpler, increasing the accessibility of the content. The TV series is available in 169 countries around the world, while the Harry Potter book series has been translated into 80 different languages.

Harry Potter is very popular in the likes of Japan, South Korea and China, though we suspect it does not exceed the popularity of Pokemon at its prime. This will have a translation into the nostalgia effect which drove the initial adoption of Pokémon Go and the continued success today. Let’s not forget, the US and Asia are the two biggest regions for gaming revenues and perhaps these markets favour the Pokemon brand over Harry Potter.

We confident the Harry Potter game will be a success, but it isn’t able to tap into the nostalgia effect of the right audiences. With the brand continuing to be more relevant than Pokemon is today, see the theme parks and sustained popularity of the movies, it will bring in revenues but perhaps not on the same scale in the short- to mid-term as Pokémon Go.

What we are less confident about is the impact this will have on the normalisation of AR in the entertainment world as a direct result. Yes, it will have an incremental impact and open the eyes of some, but we doubt this will be a watershed moment for the technology.

That said, we do not believe there will ever be a watershed moment for AR. This is likely to be a technology which gathers momentum slowly, gradually being introduced as additional features in every day life. Before we know it, AR will be everywhere, and we’ll wonder where it came from.

Niantic’s Harry Potter might take AR into the world of reality

Augmented Reality is a technology which has promised a lot but hasn’t delivered to date. Niantic will be hoping the hype converts into gain with the launch of Harry Potter: Wizards Unite.

Aside from being a title which taps into the nostalgic cravings of millennials, this is one of the first products which promises to genuinely make use of AR. Of course, we will reserve judgments until the product has been launched on Friday (June 21), but there will always be doubts in the build-up.

The doubts tie back to Pokemon Go. This was an incredibly successful app for Niantic and still brings in the profits. But, from an AR perspective, it wasn’t that genuine. This was an app which laid static images onto reality through the camera. For some, this might be AR, but realistically, AR has to interact with the environment. It was a half-way solution, but commercially it was incredibly successful.

There are perhaps two major reasons it was a massive money-maker for the firm. Firstly, it was a game which offered a new twist to users. Little could be compared to Pokemon Go at the time, and it captured the interest of millions. Secondly, nostalgia.

Nostalgia is a powerful draw for many, and in Pokemon Go, Niantic engaged numerous generations. The same could be said about Harry Potter. Spreading through the books and the movie franchise, this is a title which could attract interest from today’s generation through to those in the 40s. If the game is any good, it could make a ridiculous amount of cash.

The promise is this game will actually deliver on the AR expectations. Users will be able to explore the Muggle world through the app, encountering various characters, challenges and missions in different physical locations. Users will be asked to assume the character of a new recruit in the Statute of Secrecy Task Force to investigate The Calamity.

We’re not too sure what to expect, but we are pretty sure the downloads with soar over the first couple of days. The depth of the experience and the effectiveness of the new technology will drive popularity once the initial excitement has dipped.

One of the areas which is worth keeping an eye on is whether they can prevent the servers from crashing.

This was one of the issues which Pokemon Go faced. It would appear Niantic did not anticipate the popularity of the app, resulting in the service crashing constantly for weeks on end. We dread to think how much revenue was lost due to the fact users couldn’t actually log on, and we hope lessons have been learned. Surely the right amount of resource has been allocated but the same issue persists; predicting demand is a very difficult task.

The next couple of weeks could prove to be very interesting. Firstly, whether Niantic is finally embracing AR properly, and secondly, whether this opens the door for everyone else. If this app proves to be successful, consumers might have their eyes opened to the promise of AR. This app might be a very important factor in validating the technology for the general public.

The doors could be blown off the hinges, or at least if you are watching the doors on the screen of your smartphone.

Google has another run at the AR world

Google is taking another crack at the growing augmented reality segment with the launch of Glass Enterprise Edition 2.

While the first enterprise product has seemingly trundled along without fanfare, Google will be hoping the segment is ripe enough to make the desired millions. Although this is a technology area which promises huge prospects in the future, sceptics will suggest society, networks and the supporting ecosystem isn’t quite ready to make this dream a reality.

“Over the past two years at X, Alphabet’s moonshot factory, we’ve collaborated with our partners to provide solutions that improve workplace productivity for a growing number of customers – including AGCO, Deutsche Post DHL Group, Sutter Health, and H.B. Fuller,” said Jay Kothari Project, Lead for Glass. “We’ve been inspired by the ways businesses like these have been using Glass Enterprise Edition.

“X, which is designed to be a protected space for long-term thinking and experimentation, has been a great environment in which to learn and refine the Glass product. Now, in order to meet the demands of the growing market for wearables in the workplace and to better scale our enterprise efforts, the Glass team has moved from X to Google.”

This is a massive step for any Google idea. Graduating from the moonshot labs to be listed as a genuine brand in the Google family is a sign executives think there are profits to be made now, not in the future. Over the last couple of months, we’ve seen the likes of Loon and Fi make their way into the real world, and now it is time for Glass to hit the big time.

Google Glass was first brought to the market in 2013, though this wasn’t exactly a riveting success. Perhaps it was just a sign of the ecosystem and society at the time; people just weren’t ready for this type of innovation. However, Google is a company which often demonstrates innovation leadership and it was never going to completely give up on this idea. The products were taken back to the labs and refined.

What you have now is an enterprise orientated product which has the potential to run into the mass market. This makes sense for two reasons; firstly, there are more immediate usecases for the enterprise world, and secondly, businesses have more money to spend on these types of products than the consumer.

What remains to be seen is whether Google has any long-term interest in the hardware space or whether this is a game-plan to generate momentum in an embryonic segment.

When you look at the smart speaker segment, Google was always set to make more money in software and services than the hardware space. As soon as the traditional audio brands got the idea, its products were going to come up short. However, selling the hardware cheap to gain consumer buy-in while simultaneously demonstrating market appetite to the traditional brands was an excellent move.

Now there are more mainstream brands starting to develop their own smart speakers, Google can create partnerships to ensure its virtual assistance is exposed to the consumer and make money through means which are embedded in its corporate DNA; third-party relationships and online advertising.

Google might well have ambitions to take a leadership position in the AR glasses space, but you can also guarantee it has bigger plans to make profits through the supporting software and services ecosystem.

SK Telecom is bolstering 5G launch with rich content

South Korea’s largest mobile operator will switch on 5G service for consumers on Friday and has plenty of goodies for consumers to fill the bandwidth with.

After publishing its 5G service packages for consumers, SK Telecom (SKT) announced that it is beefing up content, from streamed games to HD and VR videos, that the 5G users can choose from. In a press release the company claimed it has secured around 8,000 different content titles.

A special section for 5G called “SKT 5GX” is set up in SKT’s OTT video service that would include VR video (concert, city and museum tours), 5G MAX (IMAX-like experience), and UHD content (dramas, entertainment shows and music videos in 4K and above). There on offer will also be VR and AR games as well as exclusive streaming games. Additionally, a social VR will enable “multiple users to watch baseball games together in a virtual reality environment.”

“The AR, VR and cloud games unveiled today only mark the beginning of the age of Hyper-Innovation brought by 5G,” said Park Jung-ho, the Chief Executive Officer of SK Telecom. “SK Telecom will continue to introduce 5G-based innovative services to lead all areas of New ICT.”

In order to promote the early adoption of 5G, SKT will zero-rate data for consuming the content from ‘SKT 5GX’ section of the OTT mobile video service, as well as provide up to 5GB of free data for users of its mobile games and VR games. The promotion will run till the end of June.

SKT said that it has rolled out 34,000 5G base stations covering 85 metropolises across the country as well as some hotspots like shopping centres, metro lines in the greater Seoul region, etc., and is planning to expand the coverage to all the metro lines in the country, as well as the national parks and festival sites. The company has excluded Huawei from its 5G business and has been working with Ericsson, Nokia, and Samsung.