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Image capture changing the world

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Image capture and related technology is speeding up and changing the world of communication. To keep up, the entire ecosystem around visual technology is having to evolve – not least of all in terms of storage and device processing power, writes HITENDRA NAIK of Intel.

Image capture and related technology is speeding up exponentially, and changing the world of communication and creativity as we know it. It’s estimated that globally more pictures were taken every two minutes of 2012 than ALL of the photographs taken in the entire 19th century. Last year we snapped an estimated trillion photos – in a single year! And by 2017, Infotrends estimates that 78.8% (or just over three-quarters) of all photos will be taken using our phones. If the 20th century saw an explosion of text-based information, the start of this new century will be defined by two things – data and visual communication. The entire ecosystem around visual technology is having to evolve – not least of all in terms of storage and device processing power. And that’s just a drop in the ocean of what’s to come – 360 degree photography, augmented reality, and more… 

The evolution of photography

Photography has come a long way since the days of film cameras. The expense of buying and developing film meant we had to put a lot more thought into capturing the perfect shot. Once exposed, the film was used – a finite creative resource. And then, after a long wait to get photos developed by a third party service provider, we’d carefully arrange the best shots in albums to be looked at over and over again. There was no preview for shots as you take them, no secure process for developing them that kept them private, and no fail-proof back-up solution either.

Today, technology has solved all of those problems, and put a camera in the hand of every person with a smartphone. Not only are the photographic devices generally cheaper and easier to use, they’re smaller or built into phones, making them inherently portable. Furthermore, in the past our photos were for our use, not a way to curate communities and share emotion as they are now. The ubiquity of images – not just our own, but an entire internet full of images – has created a new way of communicating.

The birth of digital photography

In the 1970s the world’s first digital cameras were invented. The potential use for these was clear, but it would take almost three decades for these to start going mainstream in the consumer market. It was the birth of personal computing and the internet in the 90s that drove adoption. As people became more technically savvy and connected, so their need and desire to capture, store, sort and share images digitally increased. It sparked a wave of innovation – image quality improved, and cameras and sensors shrunk. The next step was the camera phone – which first appeared in the market in 2000 – and arguably launched the next wave of exponential change. Today, digital photography is virtually instantaneous. Don’t like that picture? Review it, delete it, and retake it.

Evolution drives a revolution

This revolution in thinking about photography – as ubiquitous, instant, changeable and sharable – means that photos are now as much about recording our everyday moments and communicating with others online, as they are about preserving memories. Furthermore, mobile technology, including smartphones, tablets and tiny video recorders, have put advanced photography tools into the hands of just about everyone. Everywhere we go, people are taking photos – of their food, of a book they want to read, of themselves. Our digital albums have become extensions of our brains, holding not just memories but also functioning as repositories of information and knowledge. And image search puts this world of visual stories at our fingertips, to use, transform and replicate.

The role of technology

Did you know an estimated 70 million photos are uploaded to Instagram every day? Facebook users upload 300 million photos a day, and a whopping 8 796 photos are shared on SnapChat every single second. This is only possible because of the processing power of today’s mobile devices, as well as exponentially improved categorisation and search capabilities. In less than 20 years we’ve gone from the first camera phone featuring a miniscule 176×208 pixel colour display, to “budget” devices with 10MP cameras and HD displays. Today’s top devices frequently offer two cameras, at 16MP quality or higher. It’s no wonder we can’t stop snapping. And, as discussed, it’s not just about capturing the world around us: Photography has enabled a new kind of instant visual communication that we create, reference, remix and reuse (like memes) to convey emotions and experiences – a visual narrative tool.

Rethinking storage and linkages

The result is that most people have thousands of images dispersed across multiple devices and no real organisation or filing system – until we bring the PC into the mix. With more storage space, faster processing power and enhanced graphics, the PC is the one place where all our images can be stored and organised into albums, catalogued by search engines, easily edited and remixed, and uploaded to social media or cloud storage.

Moving image storage to the cloud has become a game changer for photography. No longer are our precious images locked in physical storage, such as a box of unsorted images in the back of a cupboard. Cloud storage can enable easy sharing, often has built-in backup options, and is inherently searchable – which again links to the transformation of photography from something of image capture to an element of communication.

This is demonstrated in the power of visual memes and gifs that convey emotions and responses. Today, you’re as likely to see someone share an image linked to an emotion as you are to see them respond in text. I believe that this is fundamentally related to the explosion of uptake of emojis (and before that emoticons). The power of the visual image now lies in its instant recognition factor – the thing that makes you immediately identify with the emotion being conveyed.

The future of photography

We’re proud that Intel’s innovations have enabled every one of these touch points, and helped transform photography over the ages. The next generation of photography devices and software will demand even more processing and storage capacity, as images continue to get bigger and more detailed, and as new ways of capturing photos come on to the mainstream market.

360 degree photography is one such innovative method, creating immersive, experiential images and videos – but these come with huge file sizes and require market-leading processing speeds to edit (and even, to a lesser degree, to experience). Augmented reality is also rewriting the script on photography, using still images to layer on top of the “real world” or image recognition to provide information about the buildings, streets, signs, and art right in front of you. Not only can we layer on information, we can now refocus and transform already taken images. Yes, the power of something like Intel’s RealSense Depth Enabled Photography (DEP) means you can even shift focal points after you press the shutter button.

In combining these types of image capture and image analysis tools, and incorporating them into devices, not only will your smart glasses (as one example) talk you through what you’re seeing, they could be used to capture images – for a “my view of the world” perspective, promoting narrative style photography. Imagine the power of these next frontier photographic stories for embedded journalists, NGOs, and even tourism! The next layer (driven by image capture and processing) is this powerful form of visual communication, and with that, visual recognition – transforming communication platforms like social media, analytics, machine learning, and even artificial intelligence. The future looks bright. Capture it.

* Hitendra Naik, director of innovation, Middle East, Turkey and Africa at Intel.

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When will we stop calling them phones?

If you don’t remember when phones were only used to talk to people, you may wonder why we still use this term for handsets, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK, on the eve of the 10th birthday of the app.

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Do you remember when handsets were called phones because, well, we used them to phone people?

It took 120 years from the invention of the telephone to the use of phones to send text.

Between Alexander Graham Bell coining the term “telephone” in 1876 and Finland’s two main mobile operators allowing SMS messages between consumers in 1995, only science fiction writers and movie-makers imagined instant communication evolving much beyond voice. Even when BlackBerry shook the business world with email on a phone at the end of the last century, most consumers were adamant they would stick to voice.

It’s hard to imagine today that the smartphone as we know it has been with us for less than 10 years. Apple introduced the iPhone, the world’s first mass-market touchscreen phone, in June 2007, but it is arguable that it was the advent of the app store in July the following year that changed our relationship with phones forever.

That was the moment when the revolution in our hands truly began, when it became possible for a “phone” to carry any service that had previously existed on the World Wide Web.

Today, most activity carried out by most people on their mobile devices would probably follow the order of social media in first place – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn all jostling for attention – and  instant messaging in close second, thanks to WhatsApp, Messenger, SnapChat and the like. Phone calls – using voice that is – probably don’t even take third place, but play fourth or fifth fiddle to mapping and navigation, driven by Google Maps and Waze, and transport, thanks to Uber, Taxify, and other support services in South Africa like MyCiti,  Admyt and Kaching.

Despite the high cost of data, free public Wi-Fi is also seeing an explosion in use of streaming video – whether Youtube, Netflix, Showmax, or GETblack – and streaming music, particularly with the arrival of Spotify to compete with Simfy Africa.

Who has time for phone calls?

The changing of the phone guard in South Africa was officially signaled last week with the announcement of Vodacom’s annual results. Voice revenue for the 2018 financial year ending 31 March had fallen by 4.6%, to make up 40.6% of Vodacom’s revenue. Total revenue had grown by 8.1%, which meant voice seriously underperformed the group, and had fallen by 4% as a share of revenue, from 2017’s 44.6%.

The reason? Data had not only outperformed the group, increasing revenue by 12.8%, but it had also risen from 39.7% to 42.8% of group revenue,

This means that data has not only outperformed voice for the first time – as had been predicted by World Wide Worx a year ago – but it has also become Vodacom’s biggest contributor to revenue.

That scenario is being played out across all mobile network operators. In the same way, instant messaging began destroying SMS revenues as far back as five years ago – to the extent that SMS barely gets a mention in annual reports.

Data overtaking voice revenues signals the demise of voice as the main service and key selling point of mobile network operators. It also points to mobile phones – let’s call them handsets – shifting their primary focus. Voice quality will remain important, but now more a subset of audio quality rather than of connectivity. Sound quality will become a major differentiator as these devices become primary platforms for movies and music.

Contact management, privacy and security will become critical features as the handset becomes the storage device for one’s entire personal life.

Integration with accessories like smartwatches and activity monitors, earphones and earbuds, virtual home assistants and virtual car assistants, will become central to the functionality of these devices. Why? Because the handsets will control everything else? Hardly.

More likely, these gadgets will become an extension of who we are, what we do and where we are. As a result, they must be context aware, and also context compatible. This means they must hand over appropriate functions to appropriate devices at the appropriate time. 

I need to communicate only using my earpiece? The handset must make it so. I have to use gesture control, and therefore some kind of sensor placed on my glasses, collar or wrist? The handset must instantly surrender its centrality.

There are numerous other scenarios and technology examples, many out of the pages of science fiction, that point to the changing role of the “phone”. The one thing that’s obvious is that it will be silly to call it a phone for much longer.

  • Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee and on YouTube
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MTN 5G test gets 520Mbps

MTN and Huawei have launched Africa’s first 5G field trial with an end-to-end Huawei 5G solution.

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The field trial demonstrated a 5G Fixed-Wireless Access (FWA) use case with Huawei’s 5G 28GHz mmWave Customer Premises Equipment (CPE) in a real-world environment in Hatfield Pretoria, South Africa. Speeds of 520Mbps downlink and 77Mbps uplink were attained throughout respectively.

“These 5G trials provide us with an opportunity to future proof our network and prepare it for the evolution of these new generation networks. We have gleaned invaluable insights about the modifications that we need to do on our core, radio and transmission network from these pilots. It is important to note that the transition to 5G is not just a flick of a switch, but it’s a roadmap that requires technical modifications and network architecture changes to ensure that we meet the standards that this technology requires. We are pleased that we are laying the groundwork that will lead to the full realisation of the boundless opportunities that are inherent in the digital world.” says Babak Fouladi, Group Chief Technology & Information Systems Officer, at MTN Group.

Giovanni Chiarelli, Chief Technology and Information Officer for MTN SA said: “Next generation services such as virtual and augmented reality, ultra-high definition video streaming, and cloud gaming require massive capacity and higher user data rates. The use of millimeter-wave spectrum bands is one of the key 5G enabling technologies to deliver the required capacity and massive data rates required for 5G’s Enhanced Mobile Broadband use cases. MTN and Huawei’s joint field trial of the first 5G mmWave Fixed-Wireless Access solution in Africa will also pave the way for a fixed-wireless access solution that is capable of replacing conventional fixed access technologies, such as fibre.”

“Huawei is continuing to invest heavily in innovative 5G technologies”, said Edward Deng, President of Wireless Network Product Line of Huawei. “5G mmWave technology can achieve unprecedented fiber-like speed for mobile broadband access. This trial has shown the capabilities of 5G technology to deliver exceptional user experience for Enhanced Mobile Broadband applications. With customer-centric innovation in mind, Huawei will continue to partner with MTN to deliver best-in-class advanced wireless solutions.”

“We are excited about the potential the technology will bring as well as the potential advancements we will see in the fields of medicine, entertainment and education. MTN has been investing heavily to further improve our network, with the recent “Best in Test” and MyBroadband best network recognition affirming this. With our focus on providing the South Africans with the best customer experience, speedy allocation of spectrum can help bring more of these technologies to our customers,” says Giovanni.

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