The widely anticipated Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus were announced at the recently concluded MWC 2018 (in Barcelona, Spain). Samsung’s new flagship was not, however, the only new device of note at the event – with Sony, Asus, Vivo, Huawei (laptop) and other big players also coming up with cutting-edge handsets. What’s more – MWC 2018 threw up several interesting trends that are likely to dominate in the foreseeable future. Over here, we will take you through some of these innovative trends in mobile technology (in particular) and digital transformations (in general), that dominated MWC 2018:
AR set to become more mainstream
iOS 11 gave iPhone-users the first taste of true augmented reality-based applications, thanks to the built-in ARKit tool. Following its success (iOS 11 touched 65% adoption rates by January), Samsung launched the latest version of its flagship smartphone – the Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9+ – with interesting AR capabilities. As a direct response to iOS 11’s Animojis, the Korean tech giant has introduced ‘AR Emojis’ – which use advanced motion tracking technology to create customized emojis (sticker packs) and videos. The camera app of the new phones also has an AR-powered ‘makeup’ tool. Apart from Samsung’s efforts to make AR more accessible to Android users, the Blade Smart Glasses (by Vuzix) also drew plenty of interest at this year’s Mobile World Congress. Going forward, we can reasonably expect that most new flagship smartphones will have some AR capabilities.
Note: The tagline of the new Samsung phones is ‘Do what can’t be done’. Interestingly, the pre-orders of S9 have been somewhat below par till now.
More smart connections. IoT to gain momentum
Industrial Internet of Things, or IIoT, is the segment that will be doing a lot of running in 2018 and beyond. A number of big players – from Intel and Ericsson, to Sierra Wireless and Huawei – presented informative demo sessions at the MWC. Probable scopes of using IoT applications in a myriad of use cases, like aviation, manufacturing (robotics), agritech and development of smart cities, were highlighted – and the total number of IIoT connections was projected to reach 13.7 billion by 2025 (at present, there are less than 3 billion such connections). The consumer IoT sector will continue to grow at a healthy clip too – with smart homes, autonomous vehicles, security tools, wearables and smart gaming consoles/controllers leading the way. According to GSMA Intelligence, the world will have more than 25 billion connected devices by the end of 2025. IoT is growing fast, and it will continue to do so in the foreseeable future.
Note: With nearly 11 billion connections, Asia-Pacific is expected to emerge as the biggest market for IoT. North America and Europe, with 5.8 billion and 5.6 billion connections respectively, will take up the second and third spots.
Rise of blockchain technology
The last year was well and truly the ‘year of the bitcoin’ – with close to 191000 transactions taking place every day (on average). 2018 can very well turn out to be the year where blockchain technology takes centerstage. At MWC 2018, Verizon announced its plans of using its VNS (Virtual Network Services) platform to implement KSI blockchain for a wide range of cutting-edge tech services later this year. The services will be particularly focused on the security and maintenance of digital supply chains. The Hyperledger Sawtooth project (a blockchain initiative by the Linux Foundation) got a new participant in the form of T-Mobile – with the latter developing a unique Identity & Access Management (IAM) resource, known as the Sawtooth Hyper Directory. Using blockchain for developing smart cities was the point of focus for Cisco IoT at this year’s MWC. The concept of coming up with cryptocurrencies for different cities was, in particular, very interesting.
Note: By 2021, the global blockchain market will be worth ~$2313 million – nearly 582% more than the valuation in 2017.
Artificial intelligence to get every OEM hooked
Virtual assistants like Google Assistant, Amazon alexa, and to a lesser extent, Siri, have already redefined the concept of artificial intelligence (AI) for day-to-day usage. At the MWC, it became more evident that manufacturers are ready to invest more on AI than ever before. For starters, Samsung’s Bixby Vision received several interesting AI-related updates (Bixby currently has well over 10.5 million active users worldwide). LG too jumped onto the AI bandwagon, with the brand new LG V30S ThinQ – which comes with advanced scene-identification and colour selection capabilities to make photographs more appealing (the phone also has improved internal storage space and RAM, but the camera AI is definitely its biggest USP). Manufacturers are warming up to the idea of using AI to make the smartphone-using experience more immersive than ever before for final users – and over the next couple of years, artificial intelligence & machine learning will become integral elements of mobile technology.
Note: The LG V30 was released last September. Launching its successor in less than a year’s time clearly shows that LG is extremely serious about the technology.
Too many phone models with the ‘camera notch’
The camera notch of iPhone X has received more than its fair share of flak. That, however, is not going to prevent other phone manufacturers to be ‘inspired’, and include similar ‘notches’ in their latest flagship models. The Huawei P20 (with triple lens) – set to be launched at a Paris event at the end of this month – is likely to have the ‘notch’, while Asus Zenfone 5, showcased at MWC ‘18, indeed has it. To be fair, Asus has done a good job of keeping the notch size small, and increasing the screen-to-body ratio (the company referred to a certain ‘Fruit Phone X’ for comparisons!). However, the fact remains that the ‘camera notch’ in iPhone is primarily for Apple’s True Depth camera (used in Face ID) – and the ‘notch’ in other handsets simply does nothing more than housing the front camera. Let’s just put it this way – Apple’s latest designs are being copied by many other manufacturers, and this trend seems strong enough to continue for some time.
Note: Xiaomi and Vivo, thankfully, veered away from launching lookalikes of Apple phones in this regard. The former announced a phone with the camera on a bezel at the bottom, while the latter decided to include a camera that protrudes from the top (in the Vivo Apex).
5G getting more and more attention
The recently concluded Pyeongchang Winter Olympics was hyped to be the first ever ‘5G spectacle’ – but the marketing efforts of KT Corp were far from being as revolutionary as originally envisaged. It can be safely stated that the first set of 5G-compatible smartphones will not come before 2019 – and what’s more, IEEE is yet to specify the official standard for the technology. Even so, MWC 2018 was buzzing with the latest news and updates about 5G – with a lot of speculations about which vendor will launch the world’s first ‘5G phone’. MoUs have been signed by Huawei with as many as 45 leading operators – from 30+countries (in North america, Asia and Europe), and the company has started pre-commercial 5G trials. Overall, 5G trials are being conducted in 49 nations across the globe, by a whopping 77 mobile companies. Sprint will probably take a headstart in the United States (with networks almost ready for Atlanta, Los Angeles, and several other cities). The 5G trials are also being held using different frequency bands – sub-3GHz, 3GHz-6GHz, and 6 GHz-30 GHz (3.5 GHz and 26 GHz are the most popular for these tests). The 5G revolution is not going to be limited to the mobile space either. Intel is already working in collaboration with HP, Lenovo and Dell to bring 5G services to the XMM 8000 commercial modems.
Note: A combination of regulation fragmentations and misplaced attentions of mobile operators is causing Europe to fall behind in the 5G race (compared to Asia and North America). China Mobile has plans to kickstart 5G trials in 2018 Q2.
Bezelless phones will be the future
We have to wait for the end for the last week of this month for the bezelless Xiaomi Mi Mix 2S to be announced. However, the trend of thinning out bezels as much as possible in a bid to maximize the screen-to-body ratio is already well-and-truly in. Following last year’s iPhone X, Asus announced the Zenfone 5 – in which the ‘notch’ is 26% smaller (i.e., more screen area). The Galaxy S9 is also, of course, bezelless, as is the LG V30. The biggest splash in the bezelless space was, arguably, made by Vivo – with a new concept phone (Vivo Apex), that includes the fingerprint sensor AND the earpiece under the display screen (it can be unlocked by swiping on the lower section of the screen). What is, however, slightly disturbing is that – OEM’s are rushing to ‘duplicate’ the bezelless designs of the latest Apple flagship, without providing enough practical justification for the same. Over time, companies have to ensure that the functionalities of their devices do not get hampered in any way by the bezel-free design styles.
Note: The pop-up selfie camera of the Vivo Apex has also generated quite a bit of interest among tech enthusiasts. In general, phones with greater screen real estates are becoming increasingly common.
More implementation of edge computing
At present, almost 90% of the total volume of enterprise data is created in a data center or a centralized cloud system. A Gartner report has suggested that, in future, nearly three-fourths of the data will be created outside such central systems. The bulk of the computing/processing power is being moved to the network edges – and that, in turn, is enhancing the usability of smart devices – while making them more lightweight (think of a VR headset that looks just like a pair of specs, and you will get the idea). Since most of the connectivity in such tools will be managed wirelessly, people will be able to get a seamless experience of the virtual/augmented reality space. Another interesting offshoot of the greater focus on edge computing is the betterment of IoT infrastructure optimization and security. VMware showcased unique hyper-convergence plans at this year’s MWC, geared to boost edge computing solutions. As the popularity of IoT solutions grows, the demand for more powerful data processing and hence, edge computing will continue to soar.
Note: MWC 2018 clearly underlined the current emphasis on creating relatively small devices with heightened processing capabilities. Edge computing is going to be key for that.
More smart cities in the world
NTT DoCoMo has entered a collaboration with Intel to provide a full-scale 5G convergence coverage for the Tokyo Olympics in 2020. Automated solutions are making public utilities smarter, speedier and more accurate than ever before – and technologies like LoRaWAN and Sigfox are going to play big roles in the development of the required smart solutions. The Samsung demonstration underlined that smart city solutions would include a broad range of things – from cars and public vehicles, to aviation, smart homes, stadiums, waste disposal, and a whole lot more. Fog computing is gaining in popularity, smart public lighting offers advantages, significant amounts of energy can be conserved by smart grids, and for select countries – precision agriculture is proving instrumental in pulling up annual yield levels. All eyes are now on how revolutionary the HD camera drones, the smart city sensors and the 8K video streams (360 degree) at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics turn out to be.
Note: Following the 2016 countrywide adoption of LoRa technology in the Netherlands (KPN), Italy, Belgium and France have also had rollouts of LoRaWan. Actility has also announced that there will be a nationwide LoRa coverage launch (Netzikon) in Germany later this year.
10. Connected cars to make travels smarter
Uncertainties regarding the availability of Apple Car (Project Titan) might still linger, but there are no doubts about the prospect of the ‘connected cars’ segment over the next five years or so. At the MWC, a new company (Xmoba) was announced by leading car manufacturer SEAT (incidentally, SEAT is also involved in a smart city project for Barcelona) for introducing advanced mobility solutions for cars. The chief objective of this is to create a fully autonomous car with high-speed 5G connectivity. The cutting-edge neural processing unit of the Huawei Mate 10 Pro is being used to prepare a driverless vehicle (the Porsche Panamera is being tested). SAP, the renowned computing company in German, is also getting its hands wet in this domain – with a open-standard mobility service marketplace, the SAP Vehicles Network Solution. Apart from 5G, machine learning standards are at the core of the growing interest in autonomous vehicles.
Note: By the end of 2020, a whopping 98% of all cars are set to have internet connectivity in some form or the other.
11. Mobile Money to grow huge, and South Africa emerging as the market leader
By 2015, the total transaction volume of mobile money services was already close to $455 billion. That figure will more than double (~$930 billion; estimated) this year. On a YoY basis, there was an impressive 25% rise in the number of registered/verified accounts last year (close to 700 million accounts by 2017 Q4). At the Mobile World Congress, GSMA revealed that the daily mobile money transactions handled by it was more than $1 billion. Another interesting observation in this context was the emergence of South Asia as the leading user of mobile money accounts (it overtook sub-Saharan markets for the first time) – with almost 48% of the total registered accounts in the globe coming from that region.
Note: The value of mobile money transactions is expected to breach the $1 trillion mark in 2019.
12. Nostalgia matters in the mobile space too
The heavy early demands for last year’s $89.95 Nokia 3310 clearly showed that a major section of mobile-buyers can be swayed by nostalgia. At the 2018 edition of the MWC, Nokia revived yet another old favourite (particularly among fans of The Matrix) – the banana-shaped Nokia 8110 (powered by KaiOS). While it will have 4G connectivity, the price tag (around $100) will still be rather too high for what is, in essence, an upgraded feature phone. However, feature phones in general are enjoying hefty demand levels – with annual global annual sales in the near future expected to be around 600 million. Among the several competitively priced Android Go phones announced at the event, the sub-$100 Nokia 1 handset warrants a special mention. It remains to be seen how feature phones fare in their tussle with budget smartphones. One thing seems fairly certain though: the initial demand for the Nokia 8110 4G will be high.
Note: Launched by HMD Global, the Nokia Android handsets have been a surprising success. In the final quarter of last year, more than 4 million units of these devices were sold – allowing Nokia to capture 1% of the total smartphone market.
13. The future of wearables under some cloud?
The first quarter of 2018 is fast turning out to be the biggest ever for the Apple Watch (sales are up by ~100% on a YoY basis). Fitbit Versa – an all-new ‘mass appeal’ smartwatch is also set to hit the markets soon. However, the long-term future of the wearables market still remains suspect – and there were no new smartwatch was announced at this year’s MWC (MWC 2017 had Huawei Watch 2). While there are news filtering in about Google’s improvements to Android Wear at its annual developer conference – the other manufacturers are not being proactive, or innovative enough to bring in new customers. There are plenty of fitness trackers and hybrid watches already in the market and more are being launched every quarter – but that much required X-factor to motivate buyers is missing. Apart from Apple Watch, Fitbit and maybe Android Wear, it’s tough to see any other company to make significant progress in the wearables segment this year or the next.
Note: By mid-2021, North America will register the most sales of wearable devices (~380 million), overtaking Asia-Pacific (~258 million). Western Europe will remain in the third spot.
14. Wireless charging from a distance to become a reality
And that, sooner rather than later. Ossia and Energous are changing the game in this field – and both hosted intriguing demo sessions at MWC 2018. The CEO of Ossia showed that it was possible to charge a Galaxy S7 from a distance of more than 10 ft – with the 2.4 GHz radio frequency transmissions, and signals being sent out by devices. Unlike Energous though, Ossia does not yet have the FCC approval for its wireless charging solution. The Energous transmitter (which is essentially a smart speaker prototype) can be used to charge smartphones, wearables and even wireless earbuds – from a maximum distance of 3 ft. The company has also entered into a deal with chip manufacturers Dialog, to make the adoption of this technology smooth. If these ‘true wireless chargers/transmitters’ become successful, people will finally get an option beyond the troublesome charge cables and charging pads.
Note: The first consumer product announced by Energous is Skiin – an innovative ‘smart underwear.
The demonstration of Temi – a personal robot with a 10” tablet face and a variety of capabilities – was indicative of robot technology having the potential of doing more in the forthcoming future. For the average smartphone-user perpetually worried about device battery performance, the announcement of the 16000 mAh-battery Energizer Power Max P16K Pro was welcome news. Ultrasound gestures is also something to watch out for, while Intellinium’s smart ‘safety shoes’ offered an ‘out-of-the-box’ insight. MWC 2018 was a huge success…and it certainly threw up many fascinating mobile and tech trends.