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.

Who’s got the stones to buy Netflix?

Apple, Disney, Microsoft or Apple; one of the biggest questions which has circled the technology industry over the last couple of years is who could possibly acquire Netflix?

The streaming giant, Wall Street’s darling, has almost constantly been talked up as an acquisition target. However, another year has passed and it’s another year where no-one managed to capture the content beast. You have to start to wonder whether it will ever happen, but here we’re going to have a look at who might be in the running.

Netflix numbersWith subscriptions totalling more than 148 million, 2018 revenues exceeding $15.7 billion and operating income up to $1.6 billion, Netflix would certainly be a useful addition to any company. However, with market capitalisation now roughly $143 billion and debt which would make your eyes water, an acquisition would be a scary prospect for almost everyone.

First and foremost, let’s have a look at some of the players who might have been in the equation, but alas, no more.

Disney has been a rumoured acquirer for almost as long as Netflix existed. This is an incredibly successful company, but no-one is immune to the shift tides of the global economy and consumer behaviour. Getting in on the internet craze is something which should be considered critical to Disney, and Netflix would have given them a direct-to-consumer channel. However, there was always a feeling Disney would develop its own proposition organically and this turned out to be the case.

AT&T is another company which might have been in the fray, but its Time Warner acquisition satisfied the content needs of the business. All telcos are searching to get in on the content cash, developing converged offerings, and AT&T is a company which certainly has a big bank account. As mentioned above, the acquisition of Time Warner completes rules this business out.

There are of course others who might have been interested in acquiring the streaming giant, but for various reasons they would not be considered today. Either it would be way too expensive, wouldn’t fit into the company’s objectives or there is already a streaming service present. But now onto the interesting stuff, who could be in the running.

Microsoft logo

Microsoft

From doom to gloom, CEO Satya Nadella has certainly turned fortunes around at Microsoft. Only a few years ago, Microsoft was a shadow of its former self as the declining PC industry hit home hard. A disastrous venture into the world of smartphones was a slight detour but under the cloud-orientated leadership of Nadella, Microsoft is back as a lean, mean tech heavyweight.

Alongside the cloud computing business, Microsoft has also successfully lead the Xbox brand into the digital era. Not only is the platform increasingly evolving into an online gaming landscape, but it also lends itself well to sit alongside the Netflix business. If Microsoft wants to compete with Amazon across the entire digital ecosystem, both consumer and enterprise, it will need to expand the business into more consumer channels.

For Netflix, this might be an interesting tie up as well. Netflix is a business which operates through a single revenue stream at the moment, entertainment, and might be keen to look at new avenues. Gaming and eSports are two segments which align well with Netflix, opening up some interesting synergies with Microsoft’s consumer business.

“Microsoft is at a crossroads,” said independent telco, media and tech analyst Paolo Pescatore. “Its rivals have made big moves in video and it needs to follow suit. The acquisition addresses this and complements its efforts with Xbox. The move also strengthens its growing aspirations in the cloud with Azure, firmly positioning itself against Amazon with AWS and Prime video.”

However, while this is a company which could potentially afford to buy Netflix, you have to wonder whether it actually will. The Netflix culture does not necessarily align with Microsoft, and while diversification into new channels is always attractive, it might be considered too much of a distraction from the cloud computing mission. Nadella has already stated he is targeting the edge computing and AI segments, and considering the bounties on offer there, why bother entertaining an expensive distraction.

Apple Store on 5th Avenue, New York City

Apple

Apple is another company which has billions floating in free cash and assets which could be used to leverage any transaction. It is also a company which has struggled to make any effective mark on the content world, excluding iTunes success. With Netflix, Apple could purchase a very successful brand, broadening the horizons of the business.

The last couple of months have shown Apple is not immune to the dampened smartphone trends. Sales are not roaring the same way they were during yesteryear, perhaps because there has been so little innovation in the segment for years. The last genuine disruption for devices probably came from Apple a decade ago when it ditched the keyboard. Arguably everything else has just been incremental change, while prices are sky-rocketing; the consumer feels abused.

To compensate for the slowdown, CEO Tim Cook has been talking up the software and services business unit. While this has been successful, it seems not enough for investors. Netflix would offer a perfect opportunity for Apple to diversify and tap into the recurring revenues pot which everyone wants to grab.

However, Netflix is a service for anyone and everyone. Apple has traditionally tied services into Apple devices. At CES, we saw the firm expand into openness with new partnerships, but this might be a step too far. Another condemning argument is Apple generally likes to build business organically, or at least acquire to bolster existing products. This would stomp all over this concept.

Alibaba Logo

Alibaba

A Chinese company which has been tearing up trees in the domestic market but struggled to impose itself on the international space, Alibaba has been hoping to replicate the Huawei playbook to dominate the world, but no-where near as successfully.

Perhaps an internationally renowned business is exactly what Alibaba needs to establish itself on the international space. But what is worth noting is this relationship could head the other direction as well; Netflix wouldn’t mind capitalising on the Chinese market.

As with any international business a local business partner is needed to trade in China. Alibaba, with its broad reach across the vast country, could prove to be a very interesting playmate. With Netflix’s Eastern ambitions and Alibaba’s Western dreams, there certainly is dovetail potential.

However, it is very difficult to believe the current US political administration would entertain this idea. Aside from aggression and antagonistic actions, the White House has form in blocking acquisitions which would benefit China, see Broadcom’s attempted acquisition of Qualcomm. This is a completely different argument and segment but considering the escalating trade war between the US and China, it is hard to see any tie up between these two internet giants.

Google Logo

Google

If you’re going to talk about a monstrous acquisition in Silicon Valley, it’s difficult not to mention Google. This is one of the most influential and successful businesses on the planet with cash to burn. And there might just be interest in acquiring Netflix.

Time and time again, Google has shown it is not scared of spending money, a prime example of this is the acquisition of YouTube for $1.65 billion. This might seem like pocket change today, but back in 2006 this was big cash. It seemed like a ridiculous bet for years, but who is laughing now?

The issue with YouTube is the business model. Its advertiser led, open to all and recently there have been some PR blunders with the advert/content alignment. Some content companies have actively avoided the platform, while attempts to create a subscription business have been unsuccessful. This is where Netflix could fit in.

“Google has made numerous failed attempts to crack the paid online video landscape,” said Pescatore. “Content and media owners no longer want to devalue their prized assets by giving it away on YouTube. Acquiring Netflix gives Google a sizeable subscriber base and greater credibility with content and media owners.”

Where there is an opportunity to make money, Google is not scared about big cash outlays. Yes, Netflix is a massive purchase, and there is a lot of debt to consider, but Google is an adventurous and bold enough company to make this work.

However, you have to question whether the US competition authorities would allow two of the largest content platforms to be owned by the same company. There might not necessarily be any direct overlap, but this is a lot of influence to have in one place. Authorities don’t generally like this idea.

Verizon Logo

Verizon

Could Verizon borrow a page from the AT&T playbook and go big on a content acquisition? Perhaps it will struggle to justify the expense to investors, but this one might make sense.

Verizon has been attempting to force its way into the diversification game and so far, it has been a disaster. While AT&T bought Game of Thrones, Verizon went after Yahoo to challenge the likes of Google and Facebook for advertising dollars. A couple of data breaches later, the content and media vision looks like a shambles. Hindsight is always 20/20 but this was a terrible decision.

However, with a 5G rollout to consider, fixed broadband ambitions and burnt fingers from the last content acquisition, you have to wonder whether the team has the stomach to take on such a massive task. Verizon as a business is nothing like Netflix and despite the attractive recurring revenues and value-add opportunities, the integration would be a nightmare. The headache might not be worth the reward.

You also have to wonder whether the telco would be scared off by some of the bold decisions made from a content perspective. Telcos on the whole are quite risk-adverse organizations, something which Netflix certainly isn’t. How many people would have taken a risk and funded content like Stranger Things? And with the release of Bandersnatch, Netflix is entering the new domain of interactive content. You have to be brave and accept considerable risk to make such bets work; we can’t see Verizon adopting this mentality.

Softbank Logo

Softbank Vision Fund

Another with telco heritage, but this is a completely different story.

A couple of years back, Softbank CEO Masayoshi Son had a ridiculous idea which was mocked by many. The creation of a $100 billion investment fund which he would manage seemed unimaginable, but he found the backers, made it profitable and then started up a second-one.

Son is a man to knows how to make money and has the right connections to raise funds for future wonderful ideas. Buying Netflix might sound like an absurd idea, but this is one place we could really see it working.

However, the issue here is the business itself. While Son might be interested in digital ventures which are capable of making profits, the aim of the funds have mainly been directed towards artificial intelligence. Even if Son and his team have bought into other business segments, they are more enterprise orientated. There are smaller bets which have been directed towards the consumer market, but would require an investment on another level.

Tencent Logo

Tencent

Another Chinese company which has big ambitions on the global stage.

This is a business which has been incredibly successful in the Chinese market and used assets effectively in the international markets as well. The purchase of both Epic Games and Supercell have spread the influence of the business further across the world and numerous quarterly results have shown just how strong Tencent’s credentials are in the digital economy.

Tencent would most likely be able to raise the funds to purchase the monster Netflix, while the gaming and entertainment portfolio would work well alongside the streaming brand. Cross selling would be an option, as would embedding more varied content on different platforms. It could be a match made in heaven.

However, you have to bear in mind this is a Chinese company and the political climate is not necessarily in the frame to consider such as transaction. Like Alibaba, Tencent might be viewed as too close to the Chinese government.

No-one

This is an option which is looking increasingly likely. Not only will the business cost a huge amount of money, perhaps a 30-40% premium on market capitalisation, the acquirer will also have to swallow all the debt built-up over the years. There will also have to be enough cash to fuel the content ambitions of Netflix, it reportedly spend $7.5 billion on content last year.

Finally, the acquirer would also have to convince Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, as well as the shareholders, that selling up is the best option.

“If I was a shareholder or Reed Hastings, I’d be wondering whether it is better to be owned by someone else or just carry on what we’re doing now,” said Ed Barton, Practise Lead at Ovum.

“These guys are going down in business school history for what they have done with Netflix already, do they need to sell out to someone else?”

Netflix is growing very quickly and now bringing in some notable profits. The most interesting thing about this business is the potential as well. The US market might be highly saturated, but the international potential is massive. Many countries around the world, most notably in Asia, are just beginning to experience the Netflix euphoria meaning the growth ceiling is still years away.

What this international potential offers Netflix is time, time to explore new opportunities, convergence and diversification. Any business with a single revenue stream, Netflix is solely reliant on subscriptions, sits in a precarious position, but with international growth filling the coffers the team have time to organically create new business streams.

Ultimately, Hastings and his management team have to ask themselves a simple question; is it better to control our own fate or answer to someone else for a bumper payday? We suspect Hastings’ bank account is already bursting and this is a man who is driven by ambition, the need to be the biggest and best, breaking boundaries and creating the unthinkable.

Most of these suitors will probably be thinking they should have acquired Netflix years ago, when the price was a bit more palatable, but would they have been able to drive the same success as Hastings has done flying solo? We suspect not.

Bose joins the connected craze

Premium audio brand Bose has become the latest business to attempt to cash in on the promised, but yet to be realised, riches of the augmented and virtual reality world.

The new product, Frames, is claimed to have the ‘protection and style of premium sunglasses’, and ‘the functionality and performance of wireless headphones’, with the team positioning the product as the world’s first audio augmented reality platform.

“Bose Frames are both revolutionary and practical,” said Mehul Trivedi, Director of Bose Frames. “They look and act like classic sunglasses – until you turn them on. And then you’re connected to your phone, contacts, the web, and all its audible content, just like headphones. There’s nothing else like them – they’re a breakthrough you have to see, wear, and hear to believe.”

An acoustic package is set in each arm’s interior to produce discreet sound for the user. For touch and voice control, a microphone and multi-function button are embedded on the right temple for power and pairing, while also allowing the user to interact with Siri and Google Assistant, make calls and commands, or to pause and skip songs. For example, when paired with the user’s phone, Google Maps can rely directions, while the glasses can also rely information about whatever the user is looking at.

After shipping 10,000 pairs of the glasses to AR developers in 2018, the product is now available for pre-order, at a reasonable $199, with consignments to be made in the New Year. One of the questions many in the industry has been asking is whether the AR and VR will emerge from the niches and penetrate the mainstream market; with a well-known and respected consumer electronics brand pushing the case, the segment has a genuine opportunity.

While the industry has struggled to date, new research from IDC suggests there has been a bit of a rally over the last three months. Over the last quarter, IDC estimates shipments for VR headsets reached 1.9 million units, up 8.2% compared to Q3 in 2017. More competitive pricing and a broader number of options are credited for the boost, with Facebook’s Oculus Go and Xiaomi’s Mi VR (the same product branded for local markets) proving to be the most popular standalone products by a wide margin.

“The VR market is finally starting to come into its own,” said Jitesh of IDC. “On the consumer front, the combination of lower prices and increased content is beginning to resonate with users. Meanwhile, commercial adoption is also on the rise for a range of use cases, including training, design, and showcasing.”

With Bose entering the market, new momentum could be generated.

While the likes of Xiaomi and Facebook have brand awareness around the world, this reputation is not tied into consumer electronics and hardware. This might be an issue for mass market penetration for AR and VR devices, as consumers are generally quite fickle. They buy from companies and brands which they trust. Bose making moves in this market not only opens the segment up to new audiences but validates the technology in the eyes of the consumer.

It is too early to suggest AR and VR have made it, but the more companies like Bose who join the craze, the more normalised the products become in the eyes of the consumer. Trends are certainly heading in the right direction for a sluggish segment which is yet to gain genuine traction in the world.

Facebook eyes up the connected home space

Facebook has seemingly taken its first steps towards the connected home market with the launch of Portal.

As it stands, Portal is being marketed simply as a video calling product, though with partnerships with various content streaming channels and a tie-in with Amazon’s Alexa, the future could see Facebook enter the fray as a competitor in the smart home hardware segment.

Two products will be released to start with, Portal and Portal+. Portal will feature a 10-inch 1280 x 800 display, while Portal+ is a larger model with a 15-inch 1920 x 1080 pivoting display. Powered by AI, Facebook claims the smart camera automatically pans and zooms to keep everyone in view, while smart sound features minimize background noise and enhances the voice of whoever is talking. How effective the AI remains to be seen, however now the idea of smart communications products have been normalised in the home it won’t be too long before some pretty impressive products will start hitting the market.

Such a venture could prove to be a very useful gander for the Facebookers, as diversification is going to need to happen sooner or later. With younger demographics searching elsewhere for their social media fix, Snapchat and Facebook-owned Instagram benefiting, pressure will soon start to mount on the advertising business.

Shareholders are used to exceptional year-on-year growth figures, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see these flatten; people are becoming less engaged by the platform, therefore spending less time exposed to adverts, while recent figures have shown key markets are not boosting total subscription numbers. Sooner or later a threshold will be hit; only so many adverts can be placed in front of users. Perhaps this is where the Portal products can help.

Unlike the other internet giants Facebook hasn’t really done an exceptional job of diversification. It has added more advertising products (i.e. different ways to engage users on the platform), but this isn’t genuine diversification. If the audience for the core product declines, Facebook’s business suffers; it doesn’t matter how many products there are if no-one is one the other side of the screen to see them.

Google or Amazon however have supported their core business with outside bets. Think of the cloud computing businesses they own, or the content platforms, or ventures into the grocery sectors. These are ventures which diversify enough to ensure negative impacts on the core business do not have a significant impact, however, close enough to lean on the brand and expertise.

With the Portal products, Facebook could make a play for the focal point of the smart home. This has a couple of interesting benefits, one of which will be controlling the gateway and therefore access to the consumer. By operating a window to the consumer, the owner of the window can charge access to gaze through. Partnerships are already in place with the likes of Spotify Premium, Pandora, and iHeartRadio, as well as Food Network and Newsy. This is a business model which could certainly be successful should Portal offer scale.

It is a simple, but effective idea. The window owner would also have the opportunity to launch new services and products which be installed as default, offering an entry-point to the data economy, in the same way Google dominates the mobile OS space with Android.

The focal point of the smart home is still an on-going battle, though Amazon and Google do seem to be winning with their smart speakers. The telcos have a chance with the router, though the proactive nature of the internet players is wrestling the ecosystem behind the speakers. However, today’s generations demand screens. Amazon has been trying to launch its own smart device with a built-in screen for months, though a difficult relationship with YouTube has not helped the situation.

Should Facebook be able to launch a video-orientated product, with high-enough specs, deep connections to the smart home ecosystem and smart enough AI applications, it could make a dent in the market. No-one has really produced a product which grips onto the space, and priced at $199 and $349, it isn’t out of the question for the Portal and Portal+.

Unsurprisingly, Facebook has made a point of security. AI applications are stored on the device, meaning data will be processed locally not transferred to the cloud. It’s almost as if Facebook has accepted it has a terrible reputation for data collection and management, and is offering an alternative to trusting the team with your personal information.

The big question is whether people trust the Facebook brand enough to give the business such prominent influence over so many different aspects of their lives. Even with a physical cover for the camera lens, users might be sceptical, though if there is ambition for additional services, there is a lot of work which will need to be done. The brand is not in a very good position when it comes to credibility and trust.

Another area which might prove to be a stickler for the product is that you have to have a Facebook account for it to work. This might not prove to be an issue at all in the long-run, though considering there will be people who don’t have and don’t want a Facebook account, or people who have intentionally deleted theirs as a result of recent scandals, it might be immediately ruling out a number of potential customers.

AR and VR headsets nosedive in Q1

Shipments of augmented and virtual reality headsets have plummeted year-on-year across the first quarter, according to statistics from IDC, as telcos unbundle the kit from premium contracts and handsets.

Despite the poor performance in the first quarter, down 30.5% year-on-year, totalling 1.2 million units, IDC does forecast the segment to return to growth for the remainder of 2018 as more vendors target the commercial AR and VR markets and low-cost standalone VR headsets such as the Oculus Go make their way into stores. The team estimate sales will increase to 8.9 million units in 2018, up 6%, with growth continuing upwards to 65.9 million by 2022.

“On the VR front, devices such as the Oculus Go seem promising not because Facebook has solved all the issues surrounding VR, but rather because they are helping to set customer expectations for VR headsets in the future,” said Jitesh Ubrani of IDC. “Looking ahead, consumers can expect easier-to-use devices at lower price points. Combine that with a growing line-up of content from game makers, Hollywood studios, and even vocational training institutions, and we see a brighter future for the adoption of virtual reality.”

Although bundling has become unpopular for the telcos, it is worth noting the importance of such sales models. Smartphone penetration was incredibly rapid in comparison to other technological breakthroughs, partly because consumers have more disposable income, but also bundling made the process of purchasing a device simpler and more cost effective. It normalised the product, before consumers become more savvy shoppers, exploring data only tariffs and separate purchases of devices. Telcos might not like bundling devices into contracts, but it is a very important factor in the progression of the data and digital economy, and aiding the market penetration of new devices.

Augmented reality is going to be the poster child of the segment for the immediate future, it is far more accessible, though it shouldn’t be too long before virtual reality starts making waves. IDC forecasts virtual reality headsets to grow from 8.1 million in 2018 to 39.2 million by the end of 2022, believing the commercial market to be equally important and predicts it will grow from 24% of VR headset shipments in 2018 to 44.6% by 2022.

AR and VR has certainly been making progress over the last 12 months, admittedly quite slowly, hopefully Q1 is simply a blip in the progress.

Qualcomm launches first dedicated AR and VR chip

Qualcomm has announced the launch of Snapdragon XR1 Platform, its first chip dedicated to augmented and virtual reality applications.

The platform was unveiled at the Augmented World Expo in California, with Qualcomm proclaiming it as the ‘first dedicated Extended Reality platform’ which also includes optimisations for integrating artificial intelligence into AR experiences such as pose prediction and object classification.

“As technology evolves and consumer demand grows, we envision XR devices playing a wider variety of roles in consumers’ and workers’ daily lives,” said Alex Katouzian, GM of the  Mobile Business Unit at Qualcomm. “By integrating powerful visuals, high-fidelity audio, and rich interactive experiences, XR1 will help create a new era of high-quality, mainstream XR devices for consumers.”

Qualcomm has said the platform integrates the company’s heterogeneous compute architecture, which includes the ARM-based multicore CPU, vector processor, GPU and its own AI Engine. Other features include an advanced XR software service layer, machine learning and the Snapdragon XR Software Development Kit (SDK), as well as connectivity and security features.

With the AI engine integrated into the chip, Qualcomm claims processing can be handled on the devices. This aspect suggests it is designed for standalone headsets that don’t need specialised computers to power the experience, such as the Oculus Go. Should this prove to be an effective feature, it could make the technology much more accessible to the mass market as more affordable offerings are currently powered by mobile processors, limiting the experience. In short, it potentially makes immersive experiences possible without being powered by a PC.

Key announcements from Facebook’s developer conference

This year’s edition of Facebook’s developer conference was always going to be an interesting one, with executives scuttling away from the Cambridge Analytica fallout.

As with every year, it would be fair to expect some blockbuster announcements, but considering the nefarious maze the firm is currently negotiating, fire-fighting privacy concerns should also be on the agenda. So what did we gather from Day One?

Advertising business concedes a little bit of leverage

Personalised and targeted advertising has been a big topic over the last couple of weeks. CEO Mark Zuckerberg got a grilling from US legislators on the topic, while CTO Mike Schroepfer received the same condemnation from a Select Committee of MPs in London. At the annual extravaganza, there was always going to be a nod to privacy enhancements.

The new feature, which will be known as Clear History, will allow users to opt-out of the practice of collecting and monetization of web browsing history through social media plug-ins on third-party websites. This has always been a contentious issue for the social media giant, which denied the practice until 2014, but now it has at least conceded some ground to critics. Others might argue it should be opt-in, but this is at least progress.

This is not to say Facebook will stop collecting information on where else you go on the internet, but if you opt-out, you won’t be included in any advertiser’s targeting through the platform. Facebook will still collect and store the information, but it will be anonymised and only used for analytical purposes. If you choose to request to have your personal information deleted, it won’t happen immediately. Facebook has stated it will be deleted within 90 days, which doesn’t sound promising, but there are no time limits as it stands.

Cashing in on the online dating craze

Broadcasting whether you’re in a relationship or single has been one of the long-standing features of Facebook, pretty much since its inception, but now it is actually going to do something with that information.

Alongside data privacy plans, Zuckerberg also used the stage at F8 to announce a new dating platform for Facebook. This seems like a logical step for the social media giant, it is after all used to authenticate users on third-party dating apps such as Tinder or Bumble. The data collected from any dating application will sit separately from the rest of the platform, and the team has not detailed how it will monetize such a venture. It would be fair to assume it would be through advertising, as the pay-to-play model isn’t really in the Facebook DNA.

The platform will not necessarily attempt to partner you with people you already know, but work on various different other factors similar to apps which are on the market now, and does present the opportunity to normalize the idea further. While the stigma of online dating has largely been removed, there will still be those who do not trust the idea. Facebook could add credibility.

Facebook is going through a period of scrutiny and criticism at the moment, but it doesn’t seem to have had a massive impact just yet. People are still using Facebook and the #DeleteFacebook hashtag never had any material impact. People like to be enraged to give off the impression they are good people, but who realistically changed their lifestyle.

The online dating industry is worth in the region of $3 billion as it stands, though Facebook could accelerate this figure. And it does appear investors believe so as well. Following the announcement, share price in future competitor Match Group, which owns OkCupid, PlentyOfFish and Tinder, plunged 23% before recovering slightly in overnight trading.

Match Group Share price

VR actually becomes affordable for mass market?

Virtual reality is an area which has been closely watched by Facebook for some time now, though it might have just released a product which can take the segment to the next level.

Oculus Go is now available in 23 countries, starting at $199 for 32 GB of storage and rising to $249 for the 64 GB model. While this would still be deemed expensive, it is getting to the levels which most would consider affordable. This has been the problem for VR to date; it is simply inaccessible to the mass market, finding home for niche gaming communities and commercial applications. Could this be a game-changer?

Two questions remain. Firstly, can the same, premium experience be delivered for this price? And secondly, will there be the ecosystem to support the hardware.

Looking at the specs, a 538ppi 2560 x 1440 WQHD, fast-switch LCD display sounds promising, while the team has also been working with partners like Xiaomi and Qualcomm to optimize performance. Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 821 chip will be paired with Facebook’s automatic Dynamic Throttling feature to improve energy efficiency for smoother frame rates, while a built-in lithium ion battery will power about two hours for games and up to 2.5 hours for streaming media and video. The specs are promising.

On the content side, Facebook has said it has more than 1,000 titles to choose including Jurassic World: Blue, MasterWorks: Journey Through History and Space Explorers. The key here will be providing enough content to lure users away from traditional screens, but also to manage the quality of the content. Facebook needs to make the Quality Controller role its own here if VR is going to be a new avenue of profit.

New tools for businesses

In terms of diversification success stories, Facebook has done well to engage the commercial world. While it might not look like much from the surface, creating a platform where all businesses, not just those in the FMCG world, can meaningfully engage consumers was a successful move. Part of this was creating a successful platform for customer services, which has most recently manifested itself in the form of bots.

Facebook has said there are now 300,000 bots on the platform, sending 8 million messages a day. Adoption of the technology should be considered successful, now the Messenger platform is due for another makeover, this time with AR on the mind.

Though it is still in private beta mode, the Camera Effects Platform can now be integrated into Messenger, allowing companies to prompt users into using various filters on their devices. For the shopping experience, this is a great move forward, potentially removing a buyers nervousness at not being able to visualise products. AR is still in the early days, but this is one of the more common usecases discussed over the years.

We’re more than networks now – ETSI

Transformation is one of the most common buzzwords in the telecoms world and it seems not even standards bodies can stand against the tides of change.

The world is changing, and changing very quickly. Operators are being pitted against new and unknown competitors, while profits are being sucked out of the telecoms sector. This change means companies have to play in new ballparks, to different rules, and the same can be said for ETSI.

“I don’t think ETSI will be doing the same thing in five years what it was doing five years ago,” said David Boswarthick, Director of Committee Support Center at ETSI.

ETSI’s bread and butter work to date has naturally been focused on the network. And while work here will never be complete, it is becoming less stressful. Projects are completed and new focus areas arise. Like augmented reality for instance.

Eventually operators will start making money out of next generation technologies like AR, but for the moment the foundations are being laid. And what is crucial to these foundations is bringing new stakeholders into the equation. ETSI’s AR working group is one of those which operates further up the value chain. Yes, there are networking questions to be asked, but the technology is much more consumer orientated. The purpose of this group is to assess the landscape, before moving onto standardization projects for the interfaces between devices and an industry accepted framework.

The problem with technologies like AR is that they tend to fall between the cracks. It traverses across so many different sectors, it is difficult for someone to be able to take control. Unfortunately this can lead to some disappointing results. Right now there are three companies (who shall remain nameless) who are dominating the AR space. The technology is proprietary and siloed right now which is a problem.

While some people would consider standards as a limitation for technologists and blue-sky thinkers, Boswarthick highlighted they are crucial for success in the long-run. AR has been walking down the proprietary path for some time unchecked, but to make sure the consumer and the wider ecosystem benefit, there has to be a process of checks and balances. This is what ETSI plans to oversee; the process of creating interoperability and a sustainable ecosystem.

But this is where the complications lie; ETSI has little or no experience in dealing with industry verticals. There are a few industry members in the groups right now, Siemens and Bosch are two examples, but more are needed. “ETSI getting close to the vertical domains is a tough nut to crack,” said Boswarthick, but considering industry players will influence and define applications on the network, they are needed in the conversation from the beginning.

This is one of the first examples of ETSI expanding into new areas, but there will be more. Autonomous vehicles for instance will muddy the waters with new players in the ecosystem, as will smart cities. ETSI certainly isn’t forgetting about its tried and tested playground, but this organization is going to be much more than networking before too long.

Snap’s spreadsheets start to crackle as sales pop

Snap has always been pretty good at coming up with new ideas to engage consumers but making money was always its Achilles heel.

For the three months ending December 31 sales hit $285.7 million, an increase of 72% year-on-year, while for the year it was up to $824.9 million, a 104% increase. While these numbers might sound impressive, net loss for the year stood at $3.4 billion mainly down to stock rewards to its engineers. This compares to a loss of $500 million in 2016. We’re not quite sure what to say about that numbers.

“Our business really came together towards the end of last year and I am very proud of our team for working hard to deliver these results,” said Snap CEO Evan Spiegel. “We executed well on our 2017 plan to improve quality, performance, and automation, which removed friction from our advertising business and improved our application for the Snapchat community.”

Looking at the audience numbers, Daily Active Users increased 8.9 million or 5% sequentially to 187 million, while ARPU was $1.53 in Q4 2017, up 46% year-over-year and 31% sequentially. These improvements have been partly put down to improvements of the experience of the Android application, which Spiegel said increased retention rates by 20%. These improvements have led to increased engagement for the users, and also better value for advertisers.

Of course, the numbers are still pretty small when compared to the other social media giants but they are heading in the right direction. To take the next steps, Snap will be looking to continually improve application performance, while also partner up with telcos to reduce the bandwidth cost of the app. On the sexier side of development, Spiegel also boasts about moves into the world of augmented reality and content.

On the content side of things, the Wall Street Journal is reporting a partnership between Snap and NBC focusing on the Olympic Games. As part of the agreement, NBC will broadcast two- to six-minute live segments of key moments from the games. This is another interesting idea from Snap.

This is part of the problem Snap has been facing; it has never really been rewarded for the good ideas the team comes up with this. This highlights partnership is a good idea which will open up the brand to new audiences, but it is something which will be replicated by the bigger boys in the social media playground. For instance, the stories feature which so many people use on Facebook and Instagram, was originally the brainchild of Snap. You have to give credit to Snap for coming up with good ideas, but the cash reward is being realised elsewhere.

Should Snap be able to get enough partners involved with these highlights partnerships there could be rewards for the team. The next logical step could be into cinema trailers and promos, but it will have to prove it can hold onto the audience and the idea first and foremost.

Could we exist in a world without Apple or Samsung? Maybe…

Some would argue the smartphone is the most important technological breakthrough of the last 50 years, but Google could be creating a world where the device actually becomes redundant.

It all sounds very far-fetched, and of course, there would have to be an incredible change in society for this scenario to exist, but stick with us for a second. Irrelevant as to how unlikely it sounds, it is a perfectly plausible scenario; Google could architect a digital value chain where the smartphone is actually removed.

The story begins with the Google virtual assistant. As the consumer is guided away from the touch user interface and towards the voice, different devices can be used by the user. If, for instance, you want to know the population of China, you could just say it aloud and it would be picked up by anyone of the connected devices which surround you.

If anything can be turned into a connected device with the potential for interaction, is there any need for us to carry a smartphone around? Let have a look at a couple of different ideas. Let’s say you are in:

  • Living room: Your Chromecast TV hear the command and interacts with the user through its own speakers
  • Kitchen: Your Connected Fridge hears the command and pushes the interaction with the user to the smart speaker which you have set up
  • Car: At CES Google announced it has been working with automakers to directly integrate the Google Assistant into the cars infotainment system. There will be no need to ‘tether’ your phone to the vehicle
  • Work: With the lines between mobile and PC applications becoming blurred, there why not have your messaging conversations or video calls through your laptop
  • Street: Another announcement from CES, Google has been working with headphone manufacturers to integrate the assistant’s functionality. Headphones already have the ability to make phone calls know, so why shouldn’t this be the point of interaction between the assistant and the user

There are of course a number of different arguments against the redundancy of the smartphone, but there is a small answer to each. Let’s start with the Google business model.

The Google business model in the mobile world is built on the success of Android as an operating system. For the core Google business to be effective, scale is critical. Removing smartphones does remove Android from the mobile world, however, should Google win its battle against Amazon for virtual assistance dominance, the Google Assistant could replace the Android operating system as the touch point with the consumer.

Another problem is the idea of personalization; a user downloads what he/she wants or needs to their device. A 55 year old taxi driver will probably have different needs from a 17 year old A-Level student. This is where voice recognition could place a role.

In theory, once voice recognition technology has been refined, there is no reason why several people could not use the same device, while also creating a personalised experience. It would recognize person John and pull up the right emails, but then five minutes later be able to tell Emily what is listed in her calendar.

Once a device recognises it is interacting with you, there is very little it cannot do with the power and storage capabilities of cloud computing. Nothing has to be stored locally, meaning there are few limits to how much can be accessed by any number of users. Once you have a device which is hooked up to the web through fibre (speaker/fridge/TV/fishtank), you won’t even have to worry about download speeds, or those pesky mobile signals.

Video is another area which would be a complication. You can’t watch a cat chase a laser pointer on headphones, but you can on all the smart displays and devices which Google is bringing out for the smart home. And if you are sat on the bus, don’t forget about Google Glass. Yes, it was a wonderful failure at the time, but AR has come on leaps and bounds over the last couple of years. Why couldn’t the next breakthrough be a pair of glasses which brought up a screen on one lens when you had an incoming video call, or wanted to watch something on YouTube?

The last one is a bit of a stretch, but why not throw it out into the blue sky. It sounds ridiculous to consider a world without a smartphone, but with voice recognition slowly starting to catch on, what reason do you need a physical device with such a large screen for interaction? Video content or games us probably the reason (we concede we haven’t really addressed that one properly), but the Google assistant could read everything else out to you before too long.

Another reason the smartphone might prevail is because some people will just like having a device on them. This is cultural, and is probably the same argument that was used when detractors said mobile phones will never take off. Who would want to carry those devices around with them? And now we can’t consider a day when we leave the house without a device.

Attitudes change and voice interaction will start to catch-on before too long. Combine the voice UI with adoption of wireless headphones, and people will start to take their device out of their pocket less often. Should there be a suitable AR/Video glasses solution, the device will come out less often again, and then you’ll be able to make components smaller and lighter because the battery won’t need to be as powerful with less screen usage. Once you make the components small enough and light enough, they could be incorporated into the headphones, and the smartphone becomes redundant.

Another area to consider is money. Smartphones are increasingly being used to pay for items, but what about the idea of biometric identification and authentication for finance? You could pay for your pint with your eye; nothing physical needed there.

There might also come a day when you no-longer need substantial storage on the device, or any need to store anything locally. Should Mobile Edge Computer continue its progress, connectivity be stretched to every inch of the country, and the 5G revolution live up to the hype, our whole existence could be cloud-based. The headphones could be made even lighter and streamlined.

Of course, for all this to happen, there would have to be an incredibly, fantastic series of events, which are astronomically unlikely to coincide perfectly. It might be an amazingly absurd notion, but isn’t it something to think of a world where Apple is rendered completely redundant.