HTC debuts eye-tracking with enterprise VR launch

HTC has announced it is bringing its enterprise VR product to North America, after teasing executives at CES in January.

The product itself, Vive Pro Eye, is not cheap, $1,599, but features the latest in eye tracking technology with HTC claiming it is ‘setting a new standard’ for VR in the enterprise market. While the consumer VR segment has been relatively sluggish, despite the incredible promises made by technologists, though there does seem to be a bigger focus on enterprise in recent months.

The Vive Pro Eye follows up HTC’s Vive Pro which is already in the hands of various different enterprise customers throughout the world, introducing new features such as precision eye tracking software, deeper data analysis, new training environments and more intuitive user experiences.

And while some of the features might be considered excessive at the moment, there is always the potential to influence mainstream adoption.

“We’ve invested in VR technology to connect our fans to our game and deliver a new level of engagement through VR game competitions and in-ballpark attractions,” said Jamie Leece, SVP of Games and VR for Major League Baseball.

“By integrating eye tracking technology into Home Run Derby VR, we are able to transport this immersive baseball experience to any location without additional controllers needed. Our fans can simply operate menus by using their eyes.”

This is perhaps where the VR industry has fallen short of expectations over the first few years; cash conscious consumers do not have the funds to fulfil the promise. These are after all individuals who have been stung by various difference financial potholes over the last decade and might be hesitant to invest so handsomely in such an unproven technology.

The focus on enterprise is a much more sensible bet for many of the VR enthusiasts to follow. Firstly, in working with organizations like Major League Baseball, new applications can be created, and experiential experiences can be offered to consumers at the games. This might have a normalising impact for the technology on the mass market.

Secondly, there is a lot more money in the enterprise world than in the individual’s wallet, with decision makers much more enthusiastic about investments when it isn’t linked directly to their bank accounts.

Finally, there are more usecases in the enterprise world. Some of them might be boring, but they are realistic and important for the companies involved. Training exercises are an excellent example.

What this product also bringing into the equation is eye-tracking software, offering an entirely new element for developers to consider.

“Our virtual venues come to life as individual audience members can react with various animations when a user makes direct eye contact with them,” said Jeff Marshall, CEO of Ovation, a company which uses VR to help media train customers in public speaking environments.

“As a developer, there’s just no going back once you’ve seen all that eye tracking makes possible.”

From an experience perspective, the eye-tracking software can also add to the gaming world. Foveated rendering is a graphics-rendering technique which uses an eye tracker integrated which helps reduce rendering workload by reducing the image quality in the peripheral vision. By focusing processing power where it is needed most, the strain placed on the device and experience is lessened.

Many have suggested this technology could be at the forefront of the next generation of VR devices, both in the consumer and enterprise world. Whether this is enough to force the potential of VR from promise to reality remains to be seen, but something needs to be done.

Is the VR market primed to pluck?

For all the promise of virtual reality (VR) the consumer appetite remains as somewhat of an unknown. Theoretically the technology could revolutionise the entertainment space, but we’re currently in a bit of a waiting game.

HTC is ready to gamble the consumer appetite, supporting ecosystem and product portfolio has evolved to such a position to provide the fuel for a subscription-based library of premium VR content.

“We have built a new model for VR that shines a light on the great library of VR content this industry has developed and gives users a reason to spend more time in headset than ever before,” said Rikard Steiber, President of Viveport.

“At the same time, we’re increasing developer reach and potential revenue as more developers can monetize a single Infinity user. We believe this model matches how consumers want to experience VR”

In pursuit of simplicity, Viveport is effectively a ‘Netflix for VR’. Customers can either pay $12.99 a month or $99 a year to access a VR content library with more than 600 titles already listed. As with other subscription models such as Netflix for content and Spotify for music, customers will have unlimited access to all content hosted on the platform.

However, you still have to answer the question as to whether the VR segment is ready to deliver the much-anticipated riches.

For the profits to be made, three criteria have to be satisfied. Firstly, is there an ecosystem which is creating enough volume of content, wide enough variety and immersive enough experiences. Secondly, is the hardware priced to allow the opportunity to generate mass market penetration. And finally, is there enough demand from the consumer.

With 600 titles already listed on the platform, this would suggest there is a large enough ecosystem in place to create the content. HTC is promising more titles, as well as some co-ordinated launches such as ‘Angry Birds VR: Isle of Pigs’. Secondly, the price of VR headsets has been coming down recently, and while it is still expensive, it is not prohibitively so. Consumers can spend thousands at the top end, but then again Google Daydream View can be purchased for £69. The breadth of products is now available to make this segment potentially viable.

The final criterion is the consumer appetite. This is incredibly difficult to gauge without launching a product, but as long as there are early adopters it is a good time to launch. Let’s not forget, Netflix was not an immediate success, it took time to develop the monstrous subscription base it has today, but it steadily attracted more and more thanks to it being first to market, while also offering an affordable (and very good) experience. Much of this was done through word of mouth.

Another lesson which HTC will have to learn is that enough is never enough. Netflix has maintained it position as the leader in the content world because it is constantly driving for more. Last year, the team spend almost $8 billion on content acquisition and creation, a number which will drastically increase this year. Not only is Netflix funding bigger-budget productions, but it is also expanding the local content libraries around the world. With Viveport, HTC could do the same, but it needs to ensure it is constantly expanding.

HTC has crafted itself a leadership position in the VR world, and the raw materials are currently in place to make this a profitable segment. Add improved connectivity with fibre penetration increasing and 4G constantly improving to the above three criteria, and HTC could be onto a winner.

Who knows, maybe in a few years’ time we’ll be referencing Viveport as the heavyweight of the entertainment space, not Netflix.

Premier League giants take baby steps toward digital economy

If you’ve ever been on any sports’ club website you would be forgiven for thinking these guys are technophobes, but Intel is predicting a new era for sports broadcasting and fan engagement.

“We’re going to find ourselves in a couple of years’ time looking back and wondering how we ever got by,” said XXX of Intel.

The sports industry, and football in particular, has never really been at the forefront of technology. For an industry which defines itself, and almost entirely depends, on fan engagement little has been done to embrace new technologies and ideas. However, the last couple of years have seen a few rays of hope.

A couple of the more innovative clubs in the football industry, ones who just so happened to be partners of Intel, featured on a panel session to discuss the glaringly obvious opportunities which are being presented to sport clubs and the progress being made in shifting incredibly traditional businesses.

“We have been seeing a convergence of technology and sport and this has been accelerating over the last few years,” said Damian Willoughby, SVP Partnerships at Manchester City FC.

“Technology is impacting all of us and from our perspective, we are looking at how we can create fan engagement or fan experience, whether it is at Anfield or anywhere around the world,” said Billy Hogan, Chief Commercial Officer at Liverpool.

“What isn’t changing is the popularity of the English Premier League,” said Peter Silverstone, Commercial Director of Arsenal. “What is changing is the consumer appetite for how they consume the English Premier League as a product.”

What you have to take into consideration, and why it is so baffling that football clubs and the industry on the whole have been so slow to react to new technologies, is the global reach. The English Premier League (EPL) official Facebook and Twitter pages have 42 million and 18 million followers respectively. Another 23 million follow the competition on Instagram.

Below you can see the social media reach of each of the clubs on show during the event:

Club Facebook Twitter Instagram YouTube
Liverpool 32.2 million 11 million 12.4 million 1.1 million
Arsenal 36.9 million 14 million 13.3 million 1.1 million
Man City 36.7 million 6.6 million 10.4 million 1.6 million

This is a truly global industry and while these numbers are certainly impressive, the challenge now is how to best capitalise on such significant assets. This is where the Intel partnership and content play a role.

As all three of the executives point out, the idea behind technology implementation is to offer a greater variety of ways for fans to consume content. This might be through virtual reality, player POV footage, more in-depth analysis, behind the scenes content or partners stories. The idea is to create content which came be customisable, interactive and varied. Each user can create their own story on-demand, building interactions which are more suited to them.

Looking at Intel’s True View product, one of the technologies which will be used to deliver this enhanced experience, XXX highlighted 38 5K sensors will be installed in each stadium, allowing the team to capture footage which is eight times the definition of HD. The cameras capture volumetric data (height, width, and depth) using voxels, a 3D pixel, delivering a new experience for the consumer.

Collecting this data will allow the three clubs to introduce 360 degrees replays, allowing the consumer to decide how the content is viewed, player POV footage and new content on laser wall screens. Intel believe this sort of technology is addressing a supply/demand chasm in the market; consumers are demanding a different type of experience, yet few in the world of sports seem able to deliver it.

Creating all of these experiences has another excellent impact on these clubs; it allows them to match the globalised nature of football. The worldwide footprint of the Premier League is pretty unmatched in the entirety of sports, especially over the last decade with clubs targeting fans on distant shores. These are three clubs which have certainly fit this mould.

“Some of these people will never get the chance to go to Anfield, but we can deliver this experience,” said Hogan, referencing fans in Indonesia, China and the US.

Although there certainly have been positive steps forward in converging the worlds of technology and sport, this is only the beginning. Looking forward, there are some genuinely exciting technologies in the pipeline, each of which has the potential to completely revolutionise the experience.

Virtual reality is one which is constantly discussed, and while there might be some applications and hardware on the market which offer some sort of experience, this is only the tip of the iceberg. VR is very much an embryonic technology for the moment, though the fast decreasing price of hardware and the approaching 5G euphoria could take this technology to the next level.

Another area to consider is the delivery of content through holograms. A couple of months back Vodafone delivered one of the best 5G demos we’ve seen, live-streaming a hologram from Manchester to its Newbury HQ of England Women’s football captain Steph Houghton. The image was crisp while latency was pretty much non-existent. Slumbering journalists very bolted upright by genuine innovation.

Imagine sitting in your living room and experiencing a Premier League Football game as if you were sat on the halfway line and seeing replays through the eyes of the players. Or how about a boxing match hosted in Las Vegas, but live-streaming holograms to hundreds of venues throughout the world. The viewing experience could be completely revolutionised.

What these three clubs are doing are the first baby steps into digital transformation, a buzzword which has plagued us for years. However, it might not be too long before the sports entertainment world morphs into a completely unrecognisable beast.

Apple turns to gaming to crack subscription conundrum – sources

Apple has been searching far and wide for alternative revenue streams to reduce its reliance on the plateauing devices market, and the latest venture might take it into the world of gaming.

With content being an incredible bust for the business, Apple is reportedly in hot pursuit of the blossoming gaming segment. This is an area which would seemingly tick all the boxes for the iLeader; recurring revenues, a chance to grow organically and in before the segment has become popular and saturated.

According to Cheddar, Apple is in discussions to create a gaming platform which would bundle various titles together behind a paywall. It sounds like it could be a Netflix for gamers and would certainly give the status quo of gaming a bit of a poke.

Looking at the gaming segment, this is an area which is becoming increasing popular with users while profitability is certainly heading in the right direction for the developers and platform owners. There is already a lot of money flowing around this space, but as more games evolve away from single- to multi-player, internet focused experiences, popularity seems to be growing in the mainstream markets.

Recent figures from the Entertainment Retailers Association (ERA) in the UK suggest gaming now accounts for just over 51% of the three segments in the entertainment world (video and music being the other two), doubling in revenues since 2007. Netflix and Amazon have proven the subscription OTT segment has legs, normalised the idea in the mind of the consumer, so why shouldn’t a gaming platform work as well.

Of course, for this to work Apple would have to convince the developers to join hands behind the paywall. This is where Apple’s venture into the world of content has failed before; it didn’t create good enough content to be considered a realistic player. This will certainly be a big change in the status quo for the developers and it will be interesting to see what the results are. Apple not only needs high quality content, but a broad enough portfolio to make it value for money.

Here is where Apple is swimming against the tide. Single purchases might have been the way developers made money in the past, but the popular route is now free-to-play with in-game purchasing options. It has proven to be very successful and there might be some resistance to move to another business model. Don’t fix what isn’t broken might be a relevant phrase here. What Apple is suggesting in a completely new approach to revenue sharing as the games are bundled together behind a paywall. Theoretically it can work but change scares the majority.

If Apple can balance the equation, it would certainly be a relief for CEO Tim Cook who must be feeling some pressure right now. A less than enthusiastic earnings call demonstrated Apple is floundering in the software and services segment. Yes, it is growing, but not at the rate of knots which Apple investors have come to expect. Apple hasn’t really done anything exciting or applaudable in this segment yet, most of the gains are through iTunes or Apple Care for example; differentiation and diversification are desired above all else.

Apple is certainly stepping out of its comfort zone here, and we strongly suspect it might fail because of this. However, it might just lead the way for a fast follower (Netflix perhaps?) to reap the rewards.

In fairness though, you have to give Apple credit for creative thinking and an interesting idea. Those recurring revenues might not be that far away for the iGiant.

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.

The connected car takes pole position at CES

With the glitz and glamour of Las Vegas, it perhaps shouldn’t come as much of a surprise the connected car is stealing the headlines at the 2019 Consumer Electronics Show (CES).

Starting with Audi, pairing up with Disney the team has unveiled an in-car VR entertainment system which adapts the content to the movements of the car. The game itself is called ‘Marvel’s Avengers: Rocket’s Rescue Run’ and is based on the journey itself. If the car turns right or accelerates the spaceship in the experience does the same.

While Audi is the parent company, the open platform has been brought to the market through subsidy Holoride. Audi will license the technology to the start-up, which will be made available to all carmakers and content developers in the future.

“Creative minds will use our platform to come up with fascinating worlds that turn the journey from A to B into a real adventure,” said Nils Wollny, Head of Digital Business at Audi, and future the CEO of Holoride. “We can only develop this new entertainment segment by adopting a cooperative, open approach for vehicle, device and content producers.”

Moving across to the mapping side of the connected vehicle, Intel’s Mobileye announced a new agreement with UK mapping agency Ordnance Survey. Although this might not be the most exciting aspect of the connected car space, it is perhaps the most crucial; without the relevant location data, the OS is pretty much useless.

While this data will certainly supplement the Intel offering for the connected car space, Mobileye and Ordnance Survey will use the data to create new customized solutions derived from the location intelligence, to help companies realise the riches promised through the city segment.

“One key, and common, learning is that detailed and accurate geospatial data is a must for the success of these projects,” said Neil Ackroyd, Ordnance Survey CEO. “We envisage this new rich data to be key to how vehicles, infrastructure, people and more will communicate in the digital age. Our partnership with Mobileye further enhances our commitment to supporting Britain as a world-leading center for digital and tech excellence.”

For chipmaker Qualcomm there’s been no rest to check out the shows. While Audi, Ducati and Ford have all been using its tech to run various demos across the show, the team has also teamed up with Amazon’s Alexa to demonstrate in-car artificial intelligence.

“The vision behind Qualcomm Technologies’ automotive solutions is to continuously improve and expand the realm of possibilities for in-car experiences while delivering unparalleled safety-conscious solutions,” said Nakul Duggal, SVP of Product Management, Qualcomm.

“Leveraging Amazon’s natural language processing technology, along with services like Amazon Music, Prime Video, Fire TV and Audible, allows us to offer an exclusive, interactive in-car experience for both the drivers and passengers to leverage the latest innovations in a natural, intuitive way.”

The demonstration makes use of Qualcomm’s Smart Audio Platform to include immersive natural language instructions involving in-vehicle navigation, points of interest outside the car and multimedia services which users will use every day at home with Alexa.

“Our vision is for Alexa to be available anywhere customers want to interact with her, whether they’re at home, in the office or on the go,” said Ned Curic, VP of Alexa Auto at Amazon.

This is of course not the only bit of news featuring Amazon this week, as the team announced a partnership with navigation firm Here yesterday. The tie in gives the Here platform a smarter, voice UI and gives Alexa a useful little foray into the connected car segment, an area Google’s virtual assistant has got a little bit of a head-start in.

Finally, AT&T and Toyota Motor North America announced they will enable 4G LTE connectivity for various Toyota and Lexus cars and trucks across the US, starting at the end of the year. As part of the deal, owners of the relevant vehicles will also receive unlimited data plans from AT&T, while the vehicle will also become a wifi hotspot.

“Cars are the ultimate mobile device. Working with Toyota and KDDI we will bring the benefits of connectivity to millions of consumers,” said Chris Penrose, President of IoT Solutions at AT&T.

“This new technology deepens our relationship with Toyota. And we couldn’t be happier to continue working with them. We’re both founding members of the American Center for Mobility testing facility for connected and automated vehicles, where we will help deliver the future of connectivity.”

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.

Nokia and StarHub boast of completed 5G NR trial Singapore

Nokia and the Singapore mobile operator StarHub conducted an outdoor pilot of both industrial and consumer use cases on 5G New Radio (NR).

The two companies made another claim for Singapore’s “5G first” drive with this outdoor 3GPP compliant trial on 3.5 GHz. Two use cases were demonstrated to their staff, industry partners, and enterprise customers. The first one for industry was a simulated manufacturing environment, where businesses can use 5G-based video analytics to optimise efficiency and reduce errors. The use case for consumers was a 5G-based VR immersive video experience of live sport events. The trial was done in non-standalone (NSA) mode, with Nokia’s 5G AirScale radio access overlaying on top of StarHub’s 4G core networks. The third-party that supplied the consumer VR terminals has not been identified.

“This successful pilot with Nokia showcases the readiness and possibilities of 5G to enhance consumer services and boost efficiencies for enterprises. It aligns with StarHub’s goal to support and accelerate Smart Nation initiatives in Singapore,” said Chong Siew Loong, Chief Technology Officer of StarHub.

“Nokia is able to offer customers such as StarHub a pre-integrated and ultra-optimised network using its 5G Future X end-to-end architecture to accelerate the launch of 5G. Leveraging this technology, customers such as StarHub can achieve greater operational efficiencies and higher performance as they begin to deliver enhanced mobile broadband services,” added Tommi Uitto, president of Mobile Networks at Nokia.

Singapore is expected to be among the first countries to switch on commercial 5G networks. With its competitor Singtel busy trialling 5G and claiming its own “firsts”, StarHub must have felt the heat to not to be seen left behind. as industry momentum towards 5G NR is gathers momentum. After more than 40 companies signed the agreement in March 2017 to accelerate 5G NR development, much progress has been made on both the standardisation and the implementation fronts. Both the standalone (SA) and non-standalone variants of the 5G NR standards were completed and approved before the original deadlines.

Facebook unveils latest attempt to take VR mainstream

Facebook has had a fair few cracks at creating the perfect VR headset, but the Oculus Quest looks like a product which could take Virtual Reality (VR) into the mainstream market.

This has been the problem with VR to date, the reality has not lived up to the expectation. Cheaper devices have not delivered the experience the masses were expecting, while those on the top-end have but pricing has meant mainstream penetration was out of the question. To date, the virtual experience has been limited to specialist venues, hardcore gamers and pioneering industrial applications. Oculus Quest might just be able to break these limitations should the stars align perfectly.

Oculus Quest is what Facebook describes as its “first all-in-one” VR system, which will be available for purchase from Spring 2019 for $399. Oculus Quest comes with Touch controllers, while there will also be 50 games available at the time of release.

“So this thing is just wonderful,” said Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg during the Oculus Connect 5 event. “Some of the experiences are just really amazing. You can play tennis, we have a tennis court set up [at Oculus Connect 5] so you can have one person on the court and another in the living room, so you can see how the experience scales up and down nicely with the amount of space you have available. You’ll see the ball coming and you’ll run towards it. You move your hand to hit it and you get haptic feedback. It’s just awesome.

“With Oculus Quest we will complete our first generation of VR products. There’s Oculus Go, the most affordable way to experience VR for the first time, there’s Oculus Quest, the all-in-one VR experience that we’ve been waiting for, and there is Rift, for experience which need a PC to push the edge of what is possible.”

Each of these devices will form the future of the VR business at Facebook, with Zuckerberg highlighting a platform and ecosystem will be built around each one. In other words, consumers can buy the newest bit of hardware, as and when Facebook make upgrades, but everything which has been designed for the previous generation will still work on the newer devices. With these three devices, the market is open for Facebook; Go could be viewed as for the cash conscious, Quest is for the mainstream and Rift is for the high-end, hardcore gamers and industrial applications. While there will be a role for each one, Quest is what could take VR out to the masses.

Firstly, it’s affordable. $399 is expensive of course, but it is not prohibitively so, and comes with all the necessary specs to deliver the experience people have been promised through countless years of buzz and futuristic TV programmes which hyped-up the technology. The devices contains 64 GB of storage, has display resolution of 1600×1440 per eye and has six degrees of freedom built in to allow for specified movement around the physical world.

The six degrees of freedom is an interesting one, as it offers more freedom during the experiences, allowing the user to move and reach new places. Some might be worried about walking into a wall or smashing a shin on the coffee table, but Facebook has built in software called Guardian, which allows the user to set boundaries in the real world. Should you stray too close to these boundaries with the headset on, notifications and visual barriers will appear to let you know.

Although we haven’t had the opportunity to test out the headset, this does sound like a product which can open VR up to the mass market. However, there are a few questions which remain. Firstly, can the ecosystem support the expectations in terms of content, and secondly, can the infrastructure meet the data demands of the experiences?

From an ecosystem perspective, Facebook has said the launch of this headset will accompany the release of 50 titles. This might sound like a lot, but is it? We’re not too sure, your correspondent is not a particularly avid gamer, though the sheer number of titles which are launched for consoles such as PlayStation or Xbox suggests this would have to be beefed up. It doesn’t matter how good or accessible the hardware is, if the breadth and depth of content is not available for the user, the segment will fall flat very quickly.

Secondly, the question around infrastructure is a big one. Internet cafes or specialist gaming venues will have powerful enough broadband connections to allow for these sort of experiences, but considering the low levels of full-fibre connectivity in general, and the suspect nature of 4G connections when using mobile, you have to wonder whether current infrastructure can effectively support VR. This is a vast question, can the segment take-off and survive without the future-proof infrastructure which many telcos are sluggishly rolling out?

Questioning the ecosystem and infrastructure are two valid questions, but that shouldn’t take away from what Facebook is promising to deliver here. The product is affordable and does seem good enough to deliver the promised experience; it could bode well for the slumbering VR segment.

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.