Author(s): Geoff Blaber
Apps, content and services have undergone huge changes and witnessed unprecedented disruption in the last decade. Mobile apps were around before the iPhone, but it took a newcomer in Apple, free of legacy commitments to operators, to transform app distribution, commerce and discovery with the launch of its App Store in 2008. Google quickly followed.
However, a factor often overlooked in the development of the app economy since 2008 is connectivity, along with the supporting businesses in cloud infrastructure that lowered barriers to entry and transformed app development and monetization. Developers have benefitted from the accessibility of cloud infrastructure with back-end services including storage, analytics, management services and tooling all readily available. They've enabled companies to focus on their core competencies and outsource all the necessary technical infrastructure.
This is a commonly overlooked driver of the app economy: connectivity, coupled with the growth of the cloud, has enabled businesses to swiftly and efficiently scale in parallel with demand. Businesses such as WhatsApp, Snapchat, WeChat and others have built astonishing user totals of hundreds of millions of subscribers in just a few years.
Seven years since the launch of Apple's App Store, I think we're on the cusp of the next big transition in apps and services in terms of their sophistication, demands on the network and how users interact with them.
Virtual reality and machine learning are two areas that illustrate the significance of connectivity well.
Not only will virtual reality transform how people use mobile devices, but the content itself is already quickly adapting. By the end of 2015 there were already over 30,000 360-degree videos on YouTube and this number is growing at an impressive rate. One of our predictions last year was that every major movie release will offer a virtual reality trailer by the end of 2016.
With the launch of previous new technologies such as DVD, Blu-ray and 3D, content has been the Achilles heel. Virtual reality is proving to be an exception as the technology and content evolve almost in parallel.
This will place unique demands on the network, be it cellular or Wi-Fi. In contrast with high-definition video, which requires just 5 Mbps to 6 Mbps, virtual, augmented and mixed reality will require far higher resolutions and frame rates for an adequate user experience. The baseline requirement is already widely considered to be 4K and 60 frames per second, with 4K per eye and 90 frames per second likely to become the baseline threshold. This will require low latency, and bandwidth as high as 100 Mbps for streamed virtual reality content.
To date, artificial intelligence has largely just been exclusive to heavy-duty computing power based in the cloud. However, we expect the capability to increasingly move to devices at the network edge. Usage includes common deep-learning user experiences such as scene detection, text recognition, object tracking and avoidance, gesture and face recognition and natural language processing.
For apps where latency is a problem, the ability to perform such functions locally is critical. This includes mission-critical apps such as remote medical diagnoses and there are several examples starting to appear in smart home security devices. Similarly, apps should not have to rely on a persistent connection, because this cannot always be guaranteed. With the translation example, listening to ambient noises means machine learning on the device and relaying to the cloud at intervals is a logical approach.
I regard machine learning on the device as the start of a change in the design of apps using artificial intelligence. We'll see hybrid apps that combine the convenience and speed of local processing with the power and ubiquity of the cloud — voice assistants are a good early example of this. Connectivity is the enabler of such an experience.
The next five years will see a dramatic change in how people interact with apps, content and services. This change will affect everything, starting with content itself as 4K and virtual reality become commonplace and transform entertainment, education and commerce.
In parallel, the way in which this content is created, packaged, delivered and monetized will be forced to change. Services will go through similar disruption, particularly in access and delivery as bots become as prevalent as Web sites are today.
This vision makes one very significant assumption: connectivity. Connectivity has to be ubiquitous, pervasive across licensed and unlicensed spectrum and capable of connecting devices both at low power across a wide area and at high throughput with low latency. In the same way that connectivity was a major enabler of the app economy since 2008, it will define the speed and significance of the disruption in this post-device era.