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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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Rain, Telkom Mobile, lead in affordable data

A new report by the telecoms regulator in South Africa reveal the true consumer champions in mobile data costs

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The latest bi-annual tariff analysis report produced by the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) reveals that Telkom Mobile data costs for bundles are two-thirds lower than those of Vodacom and MTN. On the other hand, Rain is half the price again of Telkom. 

The report focuses on the 163 tariff notifications lodged with ICASA during the period 1 July 2018 to 31 December 2018.

“It seeks to ensure that there is retail price transparency within the electronic communications sector, the purpose of which is to enable consumers to make an informed choice, in terms of tariff plan preferences and/or preferred service providers based on their different offerings,” said Icasa.

ICASA says it observed the competitiveness between licensees in terms of the number of promotions that were on offer in the market, with 31 promotions launched during the period. 

The report shows that MTN and Vodacom charge the same prices for a 1GB and a 3GB data bundle at R149 and R299 respectively.  On the other hand, Telkom Mobile charges (for similar-sized data bundles) R100 (1GB) and R201 (3GB). Cell C discontinued its 1GB bundle, which was replaced with a 1.5GB bundle offered at the same price as the replaced 1GB data bundle at R149. 

Rain’s “One Plan Package” prepaid mobile data offering of R50 for a 1GB bundle remains the most affordable when compared to the offers from other MNOs (Mobile Network Operators) and MVNOs (Mobile Virtual Network Operators).  

“This development should have a positive impact on customers’ pockets as they are paying less compared to similar data bundles and increases choice,” said Icasa.

The report also revealed that the cost of out-of-bundle data had halved at both MTN and Vodacom, from 99c per Megabyte a year ago to 49c per Megabyte in the first quarter of this year. This was still two thirds more expensive than Telkom Mobile, which has charged 29c per Megabyte throughout this period (see graph below).

Meanwhile, from having positioned itself as consumer champion in recent years, Cell C has fallen on hard times, image-wise: it is by far the most expensive mobile network for out-of-bundle data, at R1.10 per Megabyte. Its prices have not budged in the past year.

The report highlights the disparities between the haves and have-nots in the dramatically plummeting cost of data per Megabyte as one buys bigger and bigger bundles on a 30-day basis (see graph below).

For 20 Gigabyte bundles, all mobile operators are in effect charging 4c per Megabyte. Only at that level do costs come in at under Rain’s standard tariffs regardless of use.

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Qualcomm wins 5G as Apple and Intel cave in

A flurry of announcements from three major tech players ushered in a new mobile chip landscape, wrItes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

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Last week’s shock announcement by Intel that it was canning its 5G modem business leaves the American market wide open to Qualcomm, in the wake of the latter winning a bruising patent war with Apple.

Intel Corporation announced its intention to “exit the 5G smartphone modem business and complete an assessment of the opportunities for 4G and 5G modems in PCs, internet of things devices and other data-centric devices”.

Intel said it would also continue to invest in its 5G network infrastructure business, sharpening its focus on a market expected to be dominated by Huawei, Nokia and Ericsson.

Intel said it would continue to meet current customer commitments for its existing 4G smartphone modem product line, but did not expect to launch 5G modem products in the smartphone space, including those originally planned for launches in 2020. In other words, it would no longer be supplying chips for iPhones and iPads in competition with Qualcomm.

“We are very excited about the opportunity in 5G and the ‘cloudification’ of the network, but in the smartphone modem business it has become apparent that there is no clear path to profitability and positive returns,” said Intel CEO Bob Swan. “5G continues to be a strategic priority across Intel, and our team has developed a valuable portfolio of wireless products and intellectual property. We are assessing our options to realise the value we have created, including the opportunities in a wide variety of data-centric platforms and devices in a 5G world.”

The news came immediately after Qualcomm and Apple issued a joint announced of an agreement to dismiss all litigation between the two companies worldwide. The settlement includes a payment from Apple to Qualcomm, along with a six-year license agreement, and a multiyear chipset supply agreement.

Apple had previously accused Qualcomm of abusing its dominant position in modem chips for smartphones and charging excessive license fees. It ordered its contract manufacturers, first, to stop paying Qualcomm for the chips, and then to stop using the chips altogether, turning instead to Intel.
With Apple paying up and Intel pulling out, Qualcomm is suddenly in the pound seats. It shares hit their highest levels in five years after the announcements.

Qualcomm said in a statement: “As we lead the world to 5G, we envision this next big change in cellular technology spurring a new era of intelligent, connected devices and enabling new opportunities in connected cars, remote delivery of health care services, and the IoT — including smart cities, smart homes, and wearables. Qualcomm Incorporated includes our licensing business, QTL, and the vast majority of our patent portfolio.”

Meanwhile, Strategy Analytics released a report on the same day that showed Ericsson, Huawei and Nokia will lead the market in core 5G infrastructure, namely Radio Access Network (RAN) equipment, by 2023 as the 5G market takes off. Huawei is expected to have the edge as a result of the vast scale of the early 5G market in China and its long term steady investment in R&D. According to a report entitled “Comparison and 2023 5G Global Market Potential for leading 5G RAN Vendors – Ericsson, Huawei and Nokia”, two outliers, Samsung and ZTE, are expected to expand their global presence alongside emerging vendors as competition heats up.

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