Author(s): CCS Insight
Today in London, several hundred delegates from around the world attended CCS Insight's biggest-ever Predictions event.
This annual session offers insights on progress in 5G networks, the data economy, artificial intelligence, blockchain, the digital workplace, the Internet of things, consumer device trends, pet tech, the future of retail, the importance of trust and many more hot topics.
The event also reveals our expectations for the future role of major technology players such as Alibaba, Amazon, Facebook, Google, IBM, Microsoft, Tencent and other giants.
Huge variation in users' experience of 5G in 2019 and 2020 becomes a marketing headache. Differing operator strategies result in vastly different levels of performance and coverage for 5G networks. This variation in performance exacerbates the challenge of marketing 5G technology; it risks frustrating users as they try to compare oversimplified promises based on raw speed.
Amazon buys a major retailer in Europe by 2019. Following its acquisition of US-based Whole Foods Market, Amazon seeks to replicate the strategy in another region. It may extend its Prime Now arrangement with Morrisons in the UK by acquiring the entire supermarket chain. Or it could go for a name with outlets in multiple countries, such as Lidl. Either way it is a multibillion-dollar move.
By 2023, unlimited data is the default option in many mobile tariffs in advanced markets. As the value of mobile data continues to be eroded, competitive forces pressure operators to offer all-you-can-eat data bundles in the same way that voice minutes and texts are sold today. Many tariff plans evolve to include unlimited data, albeit with some level of throttling or a fair usage policy.
The battle between consumer speech assistants spreads to the enterprise market in 2019. With Amazon's Alexa for Business already launched and Microsoft experiencing a growing number of queries into Office 365 from Alexa users, 2019 brings formal competition in speech assistants for the enterprise and workplace markets. Rising usage in homes, home offices and in corporate meeting rooms encourages greater focus on business scenarios by developers for Microsoft's Cortana, Amazon's Alexa and Google's Assistant.
Salesforce enters the team collaboration space in 2019. The company builds on its acquisition in 2016 of Quip, a provider of collaborative productivity tools, and introduces a competitor to Slack and Microsoft Teams. It does so either through further acquisition or through in-house development. The product reinforces its employee engagement offerings and helps the company compete more effectively in the digital workplace arena by complementing its digital transformation strategy.
By 2021, it is possible to talk to almost every new connected consumer device sold in Western markets. Strong recent progress in speech recognition drives the trend, alongside greater integration with personal assistants such as Amazon's Alexa. Not every device incorporates a microphone and voice-processing functions: greater support for programming interfaces and the ability to relay commands from speech-activated devices such as smart speakers brings voice control to otherwise "deaf" products.
Trust is the most important source of competition among cloud service providers in 2019. The industry adapts to a new era in the wake of data-sharing scandals, extensive security breaches and concerns that service providers may not be acting in the best interests of their customers. For example, Walmart has warned its suppliers away from using Amazon Web Services, fearing a conflict of interest at the cloud service provider. The likes of Alibaba, Amazon, Facebook, Google and Microsoft recognize the importance of winning customers' trust to set them apart from rivals, prompting a focus on greater transparency, compliance efforts and above all investment in security.
In 2019, at least three countries ban or restrict levels 2 and 3 semi-autonomous driving. The Society of Automotive Engineers defines level 2 autonomy as "hands off" and level 3 as "eyes off", but in both cases the driver remains behind the wheel. The transition to these levels of control is problematic owing to the immaturity of the technology and the need for occasional and sudden intervention by the driver. Several accidents lead to a crackdown by regulators. Restrictions are imposed on how companies can market what should be referred to as a safety aid rather than "self-driving" functions. Some countries move to ban the technology outright.
Behavioural biometrics become the latest layer of security on smartphones. A combination of biometric triggers is used to authenticate users, especially in scenarios involving highly sensitive or regulated data, such as medical consultations or high-value financial transactions. The biometrics used in this new layer encompass established elements such as fingerprint, facial and iris recognition to more-subtle but equally valuable elements like the way people type, scroll or talk on the phone. With the right sensors a user's breath could even be used as an authentication method.
Phones with folding screens arrive in 2019 but they remain a niche category until 2022. After years of hype, a smartphone with a folding screen finally becomes available to buy. Although a magnet for gadget lovers, the phone's inevitable high cost and its trade-offs in usability result in limited shipments. Problems include poor readability in sunlight, a bulky design to protect the screen's fold and the need for an external screen. Despite some early missteps, folding-screen technology continues to develop, partly thanks to users' never-ending quest for larger and larger displays, and more attractive devices emerge within a decade.
Security becomes a bigger focus for mobile operators deploying 5G networks. The race to gain bragging rights from being early with the launch of 5G networks results in many operators and suppliers placing less emphasis on the security aspects. With mission-critical services being touted as an important reason to deploy 5G networks, security assumes a far more important role than in previous generations of cellular connectivity. Renewed efforts in security feature in delays to the introduction of some network technologies.
The 2024 Olympic Games in Paris see the introduction of digital anti-doping passports. Olympians are already subjected to blood passports and regular anti-doping tests. The World Anti-Doping Agency goes one step further by mandating that athletes record training and performance data such as heart rate and perceived effort into an online application. The data gathered is analysed using artificial intelligence in an effort to catch dopers. Athletes who do not provide data risk being banned from the competition.
In 2021, smartwatches become a hub for peripheral devices including augmented reality glasses. Smartwatches become a principal way for devices such as smart headphones and smart glasses to connect to the Internet when users do not have their smartphone with them. An important area of usage is sports, allowing athletes to receive audio and visual updates.
Facebook deploys blockchain technology to track social networking data by the end of 2020. In the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal Facebook has learnt a hard lesson that it must have a clear and irrefutable audit trail of companies that have historical or current access to consumer data. Facebook-specific payment infrastructure is undoubtedly another facet. A major feature of blockchains is that data cannot be deleted; Facebook uses the technology to track permissions and credentials, rather than data itself.
Netflix opens its own branded cinema by 2022. The move is made in partnership with an existing cinema chain or through acquisition. It allows Netflix to diversify and promote its catalogue of original material to new audiences, and increase loyalty among subscribers by offering special screenings. Owning a cinema in Los Angeles would help Netflix's aspirations to win an Oscar for one of its feature films: nominated films must show at a commercial cinema in the city for a week. We expect some rivals to follow suit, especially Amazon, given its investments in video content and bricks-and-mortar retailing.
Senior executives from major web players run for political office over the next five years. They enter elections in a range of countries in efforts by their former employers to get closer to the establishment. As the political climate swings away from agenda-setting Internet companies, they realize that even large lobbying budgets are not enough to help. Under the guise of helping governments prepare for the age of artificial intelligence, candidates with previous executive roles at web players stand for public office, helping to restore the bridge between the two groups.
Amazon launches a mass-market Alexa development kit by 2020. The success of the Raspberry Pi and the importance of developer commitment to the Alexa platform prompt Amazon to launch a hardware and software development kit. It is an extension of existing developer initiatives that offers kits that are tested, optimized and certified. It is packaged and sold at cost and used as a stepping stone for its broader developer kits and developer ecosystem.
In 2019, enterprises beyond the technology sector set up machine learning labs. Large companies begin to realize that having their own research facilities in artificial intelligence is a strong mechanism to enable collaboration with developers and universities, and a way to access and retain talent. JP Morgan, Pearson and BP, which have all hired heads of artificial intelligence recently, are good candidates. Despite well-publicized goals by major service providers to democratize artificial intelligence, most usage of the technology is confined to big firms, and by 2020, 90 percent of large enterprises are running custom machine learning applications, compared with just five percent of small and medium businesses.
In 2019, networks of householders' connected security cameras are created to support law enforcement. Consumers opt in to allow their external security cameras to be linked to a common cloud-based system. Stored and real-time video is made available to law enforcement bodies, which mine the footage using artificial intelligence tools. Some communities opt into a service run by private security firms to protect themselves.
Alibaba partners with a major bricks-and-mortar retailer in India by the end of 2020. Alibaba has made substantial moves in physical retail in China, combining the online and offline experiences in its Hema stores and planning to open 30 new stores in Beijing during 2018. The company looks to cement its position in the Indian market by running a similar programme either through acquisition or partnership with a major local retailer like Avenue Supermarts.