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Wearables face hype shake-up

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An IDTechEx report has shown that the wearable technology sector is currently worth over $30bn, and despite the total market growing to over $150bn by 2026, it forecasts shake-ups in several prominent sectors.

With hype around some of the core wearable technology sectors beginning to wane, IDTechEx have released their latest analysis of this diverse and growing industry in their brand new report Wearable Technology 2016-2026. The report finds the market to be worth over $30bn in 2016, with over $11bn of that coming from newly popular products including smartwatches and fitness trackers. However, despite the total market growing to over $150bn by 2026, IDTechEx forecast shake-ups in several prominent sectors, with commoditization hitting hard, and product form factors changing rapidly.

Global wearable technology forecast summary, including 39 forecast lines covering all prominent products today (e.g. smartwatches, fitness trackers, smart eyewear, smart clothing, medical devices and more), but also to many incumbent products (e.g. headphones, hearing aids, basic electronic watches and more). Source: IDTechEx Research report Wearable Technology 2016-2026

Global wearable technology forecast summary, including 39 forecast lines covering all prominent products today (e.g. smartwatches, fitness trackers, smart eyewear, smart clothing, medical devices and more), but also to many incumbent products (e.g. headphones, hearing aids, basic electronic watches and more). Source: IDTechEx Research report Wearable Technology 2016-2026

The IDTechEx report covers these trends in granular detail, including 39 separate forecast lines by product type and 60 formal company profiles and interviews compiled from primary research by IDTechEx’s expert analysts. The report also covers all of the industry megatrends that are driving innovation, demand and development, as well as describing application sectors including fitness & wellness, elite sportswear, healthcare & medical, infotainment, commercial, industrial, military, and others. For each, general sector-wide themes are described, but also detailed case studies are used to explain value propositions, end user needs and unmet problems that are driving the market forward.

Fuelled by a frenzy of hype, funding and global interest, wearable technology was catapulted to the top of the agenda for companies spanning the entire value chain and world. This investment manifested in hundreds of new products and extensive tailored R&D investigating relevant technology areas. However, the fickle nature of hype is beginning to show, and many companies are now progressing beyond discussing “wearables” to focus on the detailed and varied sub-sectors. Within this report, we include sections on each key of these key product areas, including fitness trackers, smartwatches, smart clothing, smart eyewear (including AR and VR), smart skin patches, headphones and more. For each, the key trends are discussed, the key players characterised, and qualified market forecasts provided.

IDTechEx’s expert analyst team has been covering this topic for over three years, including device level studies, but also looking to the component level at displays, sensors, batteries & power solutions, microcontrollers, e-textiles and haptics. This understanding of the entire value chain is used to qualify the market forecasts, and particularly when looking at the future of personal communication devices.

In a unique aspect of this report, IDTechEx outlines a long term case for standalone wearable communication devices as a future evolution of the smartphone. Today, most smartwatches and many fitness trackers still rely, at least partially, on a connection to a smartphone hub. The ubiquity of the smartphone as a central platform has been a key enabler for growth in wearables so far, but all of the largest manufacturers now look to a future, where the hub itself may become wearable. In the report, the authors describes the growth central, personal hub providing connectivity to peripheral devices, whether they be displays, sensor platforms or otherwise. With many smartwatches already beginning to move in this direction, we extend this case further providing a 10 year forecast for growth of devices of this type.

This is the most thorough and comprehensive report covering the entire wearable technology ecosystem. It provides detailed description of all of the hardware challenges and opportunities across the varied device types, and draws from IDTechEx’s case study database of around 1000 companies in the wearable technology value chain. The report lists around 500 companies actively making products (both hardware and software) to support this report. For full details of Wearable Technology 2016-2026, including the table of contents, please see www.IDTechEx.com/wearable.

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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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