Xiaomi the difference: Chinese smart device maker vows to disrupt UK market

Xiaomi launched Mi 8 Pro, the first time it has unveiled new products outside of Greater China, a sign of its ambition to expand in more mature markets.

At a Hollywoodian event (as almost all smartphone launches are nowadays) in Barbican Centre on Thursday, Xiaomi became the latest Chinese smartphone maker to introduce their latest products in London, following recent launches by Huawei and OnePlus. The company unveiled Mi 8 Pro, an upgrade version of its Mi 8 model launched earlier in China.

After registering impressive growth in India and other markets in Asia, as well as consolidating its position in China, Xiaomi, like some other Chinese brands, is eyeing the mature markets for new growth. Western Europe is an attractive option as the market is not flooded with hundreds of smartphone brands as in India and China, and there is a sizeable open market that is easier for new brands to set a foot in instead of having to crack the carrier market as in the US.

“Today we witness a new chapter in Xiaomi’s global expansion journey, underpinned by our global ambitions. We are thrilled to make great strides by announcing our arrival in the UK,” said Wang Xiang, Senior Vice President of Xiaomi Corporation.” By bringing a range of our amazing products at honest pricing we want to offer more choices and let everyone in the UK enjoy a connected simple life through our innovative technology.”

The newly launched Mi 8Pro and its predecessor share exactly the same hardware and software, powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 845 CPU, 6.21” AMOLED display (yes, need to go to the second decimal digit), 8GB RAM and 128GB onboard memory,12MP+12MP AI dual camera on the back, and 20MP selfie camera, Dual 4G SIM, Dual frequency GPS (to minimise coverage dead zones, like near tall buildings), infra-red facial recognition (to unlock with facial ID in the dark).

On the software side, Xiaomi overlayed a light MIUI skin on top of the latest Android release, plus a couple of its own preloaded apps (browser, messaging, etc.). Presumably the main point is not how many people will use its apps but rather to gather usage data. The Xiaomi executives did stress the number of active MIUI users in the world and in Europe (its products are already being sold in Spain, Italy, and France). It has also preloaded a MS Office suite, one of the first offers Microsoft made to the Android ecosystem back in 2016.

Under the spotlight was its photography technologies including the so-called “4-in-1” super-pixel, that is combining 4 pixels into 1 to take in more light, therefore to capture more details even in low light environment. Also being boasted is the speed the phone focuses (using the so-called Double Pixel Auto Focus, DPAF, technology, demonstrated in a video as faster than both the iPhone XS and the Samsung S9+). Nowadays, no presentation of smartphone cameras is complete without talking AI, and Xiaomi is no exception. The main talking point here was on the analytics capability to separate foreground from background, making post-shot processing easier.

The only genuine upgrade the Mi 8 Pro offers over the Mi 8 looks to be the fingerprint reader. It is at the back of the phone on the Mi 8, but is upgraded to on-screen reader on the Mi 8 Pro.

All the bells and whistles aside, what Xiaomi most wanted is to stand out in two areas: design and price. It is clearly successful in one, maybe less so in the other. Xiaomi claimed to go down the minimalist route for its design, claiming that it was inspired by the exhibits at the Helsinki Design Museum. It even got the director of the museum to go on video to endorse an earlier product. But what it got to show its innovative design on the new product is a transparent back-cover where the upper part of the inside of the phone is visible. But to those of us old enough to remember the 1990s, this is more a retro than inno. Swatch’s Skeleton series, anyone?

Xiaomi Mi 8 Pro_Front resized Xiaomi Mi 8 Pro_back resized

But when it comes to pricing the strategy is much bolder and more likely to succeed. Xiaomi broke through in the device market in China in 2011 by offering smartphones with decent specs at a very affordable price. This strategy has carried them through ups and downs all the way to London. The Mi 8 Pro will be retailed at £499.99. This is vastly lower than other smartphones with comparable hardware specs. Xiaomi is clearly targeted at the so-called “affordable premium” segment.

On the distribution side, Xiaomi started in China exclusively using online distribution channels. There have been followers with mixed success, but at the same Xiaomi is also diversifying to brick-and-mortar retail outlets in markets like India, Malaysia. Xiaomi also aims at a mixed channel strategy in the UK, it opens its own online shopping channel, getting online and offline channel partners (Amazon, Currys, Carphone Warehouse, Argo, John Lewis, etc.) on board, as well as opening its own authorised retailer in southwest London on 18 November. It also tied a partnership with 3UK, though Xiaomi executives would not tell more details of the terms or the packages 3 plans to offer.

Also introduced to the UK market at the event are a smart wristband (Mi Band 3, main feature being its display larger than previous generations) and an electric scooter, to deliver the “ecosystem” story—the executive stressed Xiaomi is more than a smartphone company. On display in the experience area were also smart speakers, set-top boxes, smart kettle, and smart scale.

Our overall feeling is that, the Mi 8 Pro smartphone is decent but not fantastic. However the price point Xiaomi sets it on is disruptive. This strategy has worked for the company in China and other Asian and European market, taking them to commendable market positions and financial success. It may stand a chance.

Xiaomi event pic2

Microsoft recognises AI might screw over some employees

Artificial intelligence has been hyped as the technology which will drive profits in the next era, though few in the technology want recognise how painful the technology will be for some segments of society.

The propaganda mission from the technology world was incredibly present at Microsoft’s UK event Future Decoded. Of course, there are benefits from the implementation of AI. Business can be more productive, more intelligent and more proactive, tackling trends ahead of time and gaining an edge on competitors. There is a lot of buzz, but it might just turn out to be justified.

Despite this promise, Microsoft has seemingly done something this morning few other technology companies around the world are brave enough to do; recognise that there will be people screwed by the deployment.

“There is a risk of leaving an entire generation behind,” said Microsoft UK CEO Cindy Rose.

The risk here is the pace of change. While previous generations might have had time to adapt to the impact of next-generation technologies, today’s environment is allowing AI to disrupt the status quo at a much more aggressive pace than ever before. Rose pointed towards the explosive growth of data, pervasiveness of the cloud and much more powerful algorithms, as factors which are accelerating the development and deployment of AI.

One question which should be asked is whether the workforce can be re-educated and reskilled fast enough to ensure society is not being left behind? Yes it can, but Rose stated the UK is not doing enough to keep pace with the disruption.

Looking at statistics which support this statement, Microsoft has released research which found 41% of employees and 37% of business leaders believe older generations will get left behind. Now usually when we talk about older generations and a skills gap, retirees comes to mind. However, those in the late 40s or early 50s could be the more negatively affected. The ability or desire to reskill might not be there due to the individuals entering the final stages of their career before retirement, though the risk of redundancy will be present. How are the people who might be made redundant 3-4 years short of retirement going to be supported? This is a question which has not been answered or even considered by anyone.

To help with imbalance, Microsoft UK has announced the launch of its AI Academy, which is targeted on training 500,000 people on AI skills. This is not just a scheme which is aimed at developers, but also IT professionals, those at risk of job loss and executives in both the business and public sector world.

As the technology industry has pointed out several times, there will be jobs created as part of the AI enthusiasm. But here is the risk, are those who are victims of job displacement suitably qualified to take these jobs? No, they are not. Uber drivers who fall victims to the firms efforts in autonomous driving, or how about the bookmaker who will be made redundant by SAPs powerful accounting software. These are not data scientists or developers, and will not be able to claim a slice of the AI bonanza which is being touted today.

But perhaps the risk has been hyped because there is too much focus on the negative? KPMG’s Head of Digital Disruption Shamus Rae suggested too much attention has been given to the dystopian view of AI, instead of its potential to unlock value and capture new revenues. Comfused.com CEO Louise O’Shea said one way her team implemented AI was to pair technical and non-technical staff to, firstly, allow front line employees to contribute to development and make an application which is actually useful, and secondly remove the fear of the unknown. The technical staff educate the non-technical staff on what the technology means and why it can help.

These are interesting thoughts, and do perhaps blunt the edge of the AI threat somewhat, but there will be those who use AI for purely productivity gains, not the way the industry is selling it. These are not businesses which will survive in the long-term, but they will have a negative impact on employees and society in the short-term. When you are lining up in the dole queue, the promise of an intelligent, cloud-orientated future is little comfort.

Microsoft UK CEO Cindy Rose is right. AI will power the next-generation and create immense value for the economy. But, no-where near enough is being done to help those at risk of job loss to adapt to the new world. The aim here is not to hide the negative with an overwhelming tsunami of benefits, but to minimise the consequences as much as possible. Not enough is being done.

Microsoft’s resurgence continues, driven by strength in cloud and gaming

Microsoft’s results demonstrated a continued upward trajectory, with the cloud and gaming units standing out with particularly strong performances.

Since wrapping up the last financial year by breaking the $100 billion annual revenue mark three months ago, Microsoft should not have been immune to the recent financial market gloom hanging over the technology sector. But the Q1 results of its financial year 2019 published on Wednesday are telling a different story.

On corporate level, the total revenue was $29.1 billion, up by 19% over the same period last year, and net income reached $8.8 billion, up by 34%, indicating an excellent management of both the top line and bottom line.

“We are off to a great start in fiscal 2019, a result of our innovation and the trust customers are placing in us to power their digital transformation,” said CEO Satya Nadella. “We’re excited to help our customers build the digital capability they need to thrive and grow, with a business model that is fundamentally aligned to their success.”

All the business units have registered growth, but the most impressive part is how balanced the company has become.

Microsoft Financials Q3 2018

More Personal Computing continued to be the largest revenue contributor with $10.7 billion, an increase of 15%; this is a story of two extremes. Standing out in this group is the gaming division, which reported a revenue growth of 44%, with Xbox software and services revenue up by 36%, indicating its strategy to tie exclusive titles from gaming companies is reaping rewards. At the other end of the spectrum, Windows OEM grew by 3%, further proof that the PC market is slowing, but the pronouncement of its demise is still premature. Between the two extremes sat search advertising (Bing) which grew by 17%, Surface up by 14% indicating the new models are winning some traction, and Windows commercial products and cloud services, up by 12%.

Productivity and Business Processes contributed $9.8 billion in revenue, an increase of 19%. The Office commercial and consumer products and cloud service as the business application suite Dynamics all registered healthy growth, but what caught our eyes was the 33% revenue growth by LinkedIn, and a 34% increase in average session length. The revenue numbers may still be small (it is not disclosed separately) but it is a sign that two years after the $26 billion acquisition of the professional social network Microsoft is turning it around. This is particularly impressive when compared to the lacklustre performance reported by Facebook recently.

Intelligent Cloud, the smallest of the three business units by revenue reported the highest growth rate of 24%. Azure continued to deliver stellar numbers, its revenue increased by 76%. This may be lower than the 90% growth it reported last quarter but would surely be the envy of any other company.

If Microsoft’s mobile first strategy flopped badly a few years ago, its cloud first strategy is definitely paying off. As Amy Hood, the CFO said, “We see continued demand for our cloud offerings, reflected in our commercial cloud revenue of $8.5 billion, up 47% year over year.”

The management is confident in the next quarter, giving bullish guidance during the earnings call

Alibaba Cloud opened two data centres in London

The e-commerce giant Alibaba is challenging Amazon and Microsoft in cloud service by adding London to its global data centre map.

If anything can indicate that the world is still confident in the UK as a business hub, amidst all the confusions over deal or no deal of Brexit, new investment from Alibaba can certainly do. The cloud service division of the e-commerce giant, Alibaba Cloud, announced on Monday that it is opening two data centres in London.

“Our decision on the location is driven by the rapidly growing customer demand in the U.K. The United Kingdom is one of the fastest growing European markets for Alibaba Cloud,” said an Alibaba spokesperson. “We are also working with many global and local partners to make sure we are offering best-in-class technologies, services and consulting to customers.”

Among the services the data centres will provide include a so-called “elastic computing”, which is a dynamic system to manage traffic spikes in the network, as well as deliver application services and big data analytics. Alibaba Cloud’s UK clients come from sectors like retail, finance, media, education, research, and logistics, and include public companies like the software maker SDL and the B2B media and event company Ascential.

Cloud service has become a key battlefield for the webscale companies and are clearly delivering results for the market leaders. Over 60% of Amazon’s operating income was from AWS, its cloud service division, in the first half of 2018, while Azure has been the most stellar performer among all Microsoft products.

Meanwhile cloud services have also attracted unwelcome following. According to a report by PwC, “Red Apollo”, a hacking group based in China, launched a series of sustained cyber-attacks last year, specifically targeting cloud service providers. The logic goes that, if they could break the defence of a major cloud service, they would be able to spread spying tools and malware to all the companies on these outsourcing services.

London joins Frankfurt to form Alibaba Cloud’s network in Europe. By the time the new data centres are up and running the company will have 52 data centres sites in 19 regions for its cloud service.

Microsoft looks to take Xbox experience onto mobile

Microsoft has announced the launch of Project xCloud to take the world of Xbox gaming onto mobile.

The idea is a relatively simple one. Gaming is traditionally a better experience on consoles which are specifically designed for gaming, but Microsoft wants to take this experience into the mobile world of tablets and smartphones. Trials will start next year and will allow gamers to take the same content from games built for the Xbox console and PC onto their smartphones, using a Bluetooth enabled handset or an under-development touch overlay.

“The future of gaming is a world where you are empowered to play the games you want, with the people you want, whenever you want, wherever you are, and on any device of your choosing,” said Kareem Choudhry, Corporate VP of Gaming Cloud at Microsoft. “Our vision for the evolution of gaming is similar to music and movies – entertainment should be available on demand and accessible from any screen. Today, I’m excited to share with you one of our key projects that will take us on an accelerated journey to that future world: Project xCloud.”

Compatibility with existing and future Xbox games has been enabled by building out custom hardware in Microsoft data centres. The team have architected a new customizable blade that can host the component parts of multiple Xbox One consoles, as well as the associated infrastructure supporting it. The custom blades will be scaled out through the Azure cloud regions over time.

Currently, the test experience is running at 10 Mbps, though the team are keen to bring this down while still maintaining the same experience for gamers through advances in networking topology, and video encoding and decoding. The idea is to ensure these games can be played on 4G networks, though getting the bitrate down might be a tough ask considering the depth and interactivity of the content on consoles such as Xbox.

One thing is very clear; gaming is just another aspect of the mobile world which is pressing the case for 5G.

Microsoft has an ambition to ensure this content will be able to meet consumer experience demands on 4G networks, though this is a selfish view on networking. These games are incredibly immersive and will place additional strain on the network. For the telcos, the issue is not the singular demands of browsing, video or gaming, but the sum of all the parts. Gaming is just another item which has been thrown on top of the teetering pile of network strain. The efficiency gains of 5G will soon become a necessity, not the buffering-free cat video gains of today.

Looking at the gaming industry, growth is gaining momentum fast. Research from Newzoo suggests mobile gaming will generate $70.3 billion across 2018, accounting for roughly 51% of the industry total. This equates to 25% year-on-year growth, compared to 4.1% growth on consoles, such as Xbox, which is expected to account for $34.6 billion. Mobile’s share of gaming is expected to increase to 59% by 2021, taking $106.4 billion. Asia will account for the majority of this spend, though the gains will be experienced in every region.

An excellent example of the surge of mobile of gaming is Fortnite. While this might be a title most play through consoles or on PC, the most recent update for the game saw 60% surge in data traffic over normal peak traffic levels on Verizon’s broadband network, as well as a 5-8% jump on mobile.

The tsunami of mobile gaming titles over the last 4-5 years has improved the accessibility of gaming for the general public, though the complexity of these games in also growing. While this segment of mobile content might have been simplistic to start with, think of Candy Crush, more in-depth games are becoming increasingly popular with the general public. The proportion of games which require constant connectivity is also increasing. Should the Microsoft project prove to be successful, both in terms of operation and adoption, these trends will only be accelerated.

Gaming is no longer a niche, and pretty soon it will start to weigh heavily on the network.

Microsoft CEO and other execs offload $47 million of shares

It might be nothing, but it is always intriguing when major amounts of stock in public companies start shifting around, especially when it’s owned by senior executives of that same company.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, President Jean-Phillipe Courtois and Executive Vice President of Business Development Margaret Johnson have collectively pocketed more than $47 million between July 26 and August 10 through disposing of Microsoft stock. Executives are of course entitled to sell shares to bolster bank accounts, it is after all part of their annual package, but when the three most senior executives sell off such amounts in a small window, the sceptical individuals in society will start looking for explanations.

During the period, five Form 4 documents were filed with the US Securities and Exchange Commission, these forms detail instances of named directors are either selling or purchasing additional shares in the company. Three of these documents were filed by Courtois, with one each for Nadella and Johnson. As you can see from the table below, we are certainly not talking about chump-change; in the case of Nadella, it was roughly 30% of his holding. The last time he offloaded cashed in was in 2016, though he still holds 778,596 Microsoft shares.

Beneficiary Date Shares sold Price Total
Nadella 10/08/2018 328,000 $109.4396 $35,896,188
Johnson 02/08/2018 47,000 $107.6716 $5,060,565
Courtois 26/07/2018 4,493 $110.83 $497,959
Courtois 08/07/2018 28,941 $109 $3,183,290
Courtois 09/08/2018 28,939 $110 $3,154,569

All three offloading shares at a similar time might be nothing more than coincidence, rewarding themselves some summer spending money. Looking at the Microsoft share price, selling shares bang in the middle of two quarterly reports does look like a good time to maximise cash, though the share price has consistently gone upwards at a very healthy rate since Nadella was appointed as CEO. Most might come to the conclusion there is no reason not to assume it would continue to.

Since his appointment in February 2014, share price has gone up by roughly 190%. Pivoting more to a cloud orientated business, Nadella was EVP of the cloud business unit prior to assuming the top office, has seen Microsoft reclaim its position as one of the most influential companies in the technology world. During the most recent earnings call, Microsoft reported $110.4 billion in revenues across the 2018 financial year, the first time $100 billion has been exceeded. Cloud and artificial intelligence were the winners in 2018.

As CEO, Nadella currently collects a base salary of $1.5 million, while receiving nothing for his position on the Board of Directors. According to the latest proxy statement from Microsoft, executives are paid 7.6% as a base salary, 73.2% as equity and 19.2% through cash incentives. By meeting all his personal targets, Nadella received an additional $7,032,406 in cash incentives over the course of 2017, while Courtois and Johnson pocketed $2,762,884 and $2,168,795 respectively.

Of course, the trio might have just preferred to have cash in their bank accounts than subject part of their salary to the sways of the financial markets, however the movement of significant amounts of cash is certainly noteworthy.

Microsoft surges past $100bn in full-year revenues

Microsoft has unveiled its full-year financial results for 2018, with golden CEO Satya Nadella leading the company past the $100 billion revenue milestone for the first time.

It is now amazing to think this was a company which was struggling to adapt to the new world a few years back, but Nadella’s introduction and his stringent approach to cloud computing is paying dividends. He might not be the most charismatic leader in the technology world, but the numbers speak to themselves. $110.4 billion in revenues across 2018, a 14% increase, with the Productivity and Business Processes unit up 13%, Intelligent Cloud leaping 23% and More Personal Computing gaining 17%.

“We had an incredible year, surpassing $100 billion in revenue as a result of our teams’ relentless focus on customer success and the trust customers are placing in Microsoft,” said Nadella. “Our early investments in the intelligent cloud and intelligent edge are paying off, and we will continue to expand our reach in large and growing markets with differentiated innovation.”

Having taken a dominant position in the cloud market during the early days, Microsoft is continuing to tear-up trees at the front of the pack alongside AWS; over the course of the last 12 months the team expanded its global data centre footprint to 54 regions, claiming to be larger than any other competitor. Google might still be able to challenge, though the distance between the top two and everyone else is starting to look more apparent. Having re-established the company as a leader in the digital revolution, Nadella turning his attention elsewhere to build on the solid foundations; edge computing and conversational AI.

“I shared our vision for the intelligent cloud and intelligent edge a little over a year ago, a vision that is now quickly becoming reality and impacting every customer in every industry,” said Nadella during the earnings call. “Everything we have accomplished this year has been about accelerating our lead in this new era and the tremendous opportunity ahead. We focused on the right secular technology trends and growing markets and followed that up with solid roadmap execution.”

IaaS will continue to be the baseline business of the cloud business, though a restructuring of the sales team in recent months and accelerated focus on higher value services will be the cherry on top. The focus on AI and edge services will provide a new conversation with customers looking to capitalise on the connected era, which in turn requires additional storage and data, feeding the baseline cloud business once again. Utility is seen as a dirty word in some segments of the technology world, but it is very appropriate in cloud. Scale and accessibility is key in this business, a concept which Microsoft has grasped; the potential is almost limitless for the immediate future.

It might not be the sexiest part of the industry, but the public cloud is still an incredibly profitable and burgeoning area. Over the course of 2018, IDC predicts spending on public cloud services and infrastructure will reach $160 billion in 2018, a 23% increase from 2017. AWS might still be the leader in this space, though Microsoft is widely regarded as a clear second in the cloud race.

What is clear is the Microsoft strategy moving forward; the edge is critically important to the success of the business.

“I think vision that we have always had is that distributed computing in some sense will remain distributed. So, we don’t split this into, there is an edge computing, there is a cloud computing,” said Nadella. “The need for computing is on the secular basis going to increase. And as you need to reason over larger amounts of data, you need not only storage and compute to be co-located all over as the world get them embedded with computing, that’s what we are building for.”

Tele2 claims eSIM first in partnership with Microsoft

Sweden’s mobile operator Tele2 announced it will collaborate with Microsoft to enable eSIM on Windows 10 based devices.

A Mobile Plans application will be preloaded on Windows 10 devices coming with embedded SIM, eSIM, chips, e.g. laptops or tablets. When activated, users can take their devices out of Wi-Fi or fixed internet environment and remain connected through Tele2’s mobile network.

eSIM, has been controversial when it comes to mobile operator acceptance. This is chiefly down to the fear that the operators feel they will lose control over and the direct relations with their customers as they do now with the physical SIM cards. By definition, eSIM users can switch operators remotely without visiting a retail shop. In this particular case though, because Tele2 is the first operator to offer eSIM service in Sweden, the concern for churn is mitigated, at least until its competitors follow suit.

This deal can bring multiple benefits. For Tele2, this opens a new revenue stream to mobile broadband, in addition to enhancing its reputation as an innovator. However, we believe the offer in its current form is more a symbolic move than substantial business opportunity.

To start with, consumer PC usage is declining, and not many models are being shipped with eSIM capability. (A quick search for eSIM enabled devices on the homepage of Sweden’s leading electronics store Elgiganten does not return many results.) When PCs are being used, they are mainly in indoor environment where more often than not there is already either a Wi-Fi or a fixed connection in place, and, ironically, where cellular coverage is normally inferior.

In outdoor uses cases, which predominantly are for tablets (and much larger number of smartphones), iOS and Android tablets outsell Windows based tablets (Microsoft’s Surface series and a few 2-1 models primarily made by Lenovo) by a big margin, making the addressable market for this deal very limited.

However this will be a useful test for Tele2 to gauge consumer use patterns, before it expands into the more mainstream iOS and Android segments. Maybe more importantly, it will also serve as a testbed of the technology for the more lucrative corporate market, where PCs are still widely used, without frustrating the corporate IT departments with immature products.

For Microsoft, this is a good (re-)entry point to the mobile market, after its ill-fated venture into smartphones through the partnership, then acquisition, of Nokia’s mobile device business.

IoT platform initiatives start to ramp

Ericsson, Qualcomm and Microsoft have all announced initiatives designed to move the whole internet of things thing along a bit.

At MWC Shanghai Ericsson and China Mobile (pictured) signed a cooperation agreement for the latter to use the former’s Device Connection Platform to augment its IoT efforts.

“Ericsson is a global leader in IoT with solid cooperation with operators’ associations GMA and Bridge (Association), providing connecting services for nearly 30 operators in over 100 countries and markets, and accumulating rich technical experience and industry resources in the field of IoT,” said Qiao Hui, GM of the China Mobile IoT Company.

“By launching DCP, we will be able to solve unified connection management and roaming across borders for our international customers, while at the same time share business opportunities in the global IoT market, which will further drive the expansion of IoT business overseas for China Mobile, and improve our market competitiveness in this field.”

Qualcomm, meanwhile, is claiming the world’s first commercial IoT development platform supporting field upgrade to LTE IoT. This also seems to involve China Mobile, which seems to be having a busy time of it at MWC Shanghai, a company called Gizwits, which specialises in IoT development platforms, and manufacturer Quectel.

“The expansion of the IoT depends on the ecosystem’s ability to deliver vast amounts of solutions featuring edge intelligence and flexible connectivity that stays current through the device life,” said Serge Willenegger, GM, 4G/5G and Industrial IoT at Qualcomm. “We are grateful of the opportunity to work with Gizwits, China Mobile Shandong Branch and Quectel.”

“The IoT enabling infrastructure is rapidly evolving,” said Jack Huang, CEO of Gizwits. “A challenge during this growing process for developers and manufacturers is the concern that the products they deliver today may not work well in tomorrow’s environment.

“For example, telecommunication operators throughout the world are phasing out 2G networks, leaving manufacturers with the tough choices of either sticking with the 2G modem technology that has worked well but may not be supported in the near future, or switching to LTE technologies, such as NB-IoT or eMTC, with limited network coverage in many regions.”

“The path of the IoT ecosystem toward 5G goes through LTE IoT, including the NB-IoT mode,” said Yong Chen, GM of enterprise business, China Mobile Shandong Branch. “Qualcomm Technologies and Gizwits are collaborating to help our customers get ready for the future as we deploy the latest cellular technologies across our network infrastructure.”

Lastly Microsoft has announced the general availability of Azure IoT Edge, its cloud platform for IoT devices. “Today, we are excited to announce Azure IoT Edge is now generally available (GA) globally – enabling our growing list of enterprise customers to bring their edge solutions to production,” blogged Microsoft’s Sam George.

“We are also introducing new robust capabilities on Azure IoT Edge to easily develop and deploy intelligence to the edge. These robust updates position Azure IoT Edge as a true end-to-end solution for enterprise-grade edge deployments.”

As 5G inches closer to reality, the industry seems to be getting real about IoT too. All three of these announcements seem to be concrete steps towards providing substantial IoT services to the market and China is looking like a major driver of that activity.

Microsoft gives VR another kick in the teeth

The virtual reality segment might have been gathering some momentum over recent months, but Microsoft’s neglect of VR for its Xbox platform adds another dent into the credibility of the technology.

It’s been a tough week for the VR enthusiasts. IDC research estimated sales declined 30.5% year-on-year over the first quarter, largely thanks to telcos unbundling the devices from premium contracts and handset deals, while a snub from one of the biggest gaming platforms on the planet will not help the situation either.

Speaking in an interview with Gamesindustry.biz, Microsoft’s Chief Marketing Officer for the gaming business, Mike Nichols, confirmed there was little or no work being done for virtual or mixed reality, at least when looking at Xbox.

“We don’t have any plans specific to Xbox consoles in virtual reality or mixed reality,” said Nichols. “Our perspective on it has been and continues to be that the PC is probably the best platform for more immersive VR and MR. As an open platform, it just allows faster, more rapid iteration. There are plenty of companies investing in it in the hardware side and the content side, or some combination therein.

“Obviously on phones, augmented reality is a good scenario as well that’s going to grow. But as it relates to Xbox, no. Our focus is primarily on experiences you would play on your TV, and ultimately we’d like to make those experiences more broadly.”

For the VR community, this could be a very worrying view. The influence of PCs in the consumers life is declining rapidly, while gaming consoles such as Xbox remaining a constant. The PC will never disappear, and should the connected anywhere PC take off there might be a resurgence, but being limited to a dying area of the technology world should not be viewed as a positive.

Looking at the advertising and promotional campaigns for the general public, it is clear the VR community feels TV is a perfectly suitable platform for the technology. Almost every advert you see which has some element of VR in it focuses on the living room, billing the technology as a way to bring families together, but with Xbox not considering the platform appropriate for the technology, prospects are slightly dampened.

VR will have a place in the world at some point, but the road is proving a very bumpy ride right now.