Scouting for technology trends, I attended the Mobile World Congress (MWC) exhibition 2017. Even though Barcelona, Spain is itself an amazing place to visit, this event, with over 2,000 exhibitors, really pulls you in. Whilst the media usually focuses on latest smartphone presentations and a bit about connected driving, I wanted to see how consumers will live in tomorrow’s world. And I especially wanted to learn about future security and privacy threats, and find out how people can safely enjoy all that fantastic stuff out there.
Offline on the way
The first experience on my way to Barcelona was clear: The mobile world has its offline moments. There was no in-flight Internet connection available. The MWC mobile app also had no ability to download content for offline reading. Here was a mobile app failing to deliver what it was made for – being a seamless companion when traveling. Well, a successful take-off to a mobile event, eh?
Privacy you can drive
“We build Driveables” was the headline at the booth of Ford and SDL. In its SYNC AppLink, Ford uses the open source SmartDeviceLink (SDL) platform to allow third-party apps to be installed and used in a car. One of the great things here was that Ford went beyond putting drivers in the drivers’ seat, they also put them in the driving seat for managing privacy. Privacy settings enable the driver to allow or restrict sharing information about driving characteristics, vehicle information, GPS data, and speed. While this is just a high-level example in a test vehicle, it is good to know that an automobile manufacturer cares about the privacy of interactions between the car’s owner, the manufacturer, and app developers. As there is a whole consortium of car manufacturers behind SDL, and it is an open platform, I am curious how this will develop over time – increasing the transparency of what my car tells others and giving me more sovereignty over my data.
What come next after streaming?
Music cassettes replaced vinyl records, CDs killed MCs, MP3 made CDs disappear and streaming frees us from physical recording media. So, I asked the guys from RealNetworks, “What will disrupt streaming? Can you imagine what comes next?” They couldn’t but essentially told me, “Don’t worry, be happy, streaming is just at the very edge of its possibilities.”
They demoed a direct comparison of a 4K stream with H.264 compression (the usual format) and one using RealMedia HD, both using the same bandwidth. The results were clearly different: On any mobile device, the second format could make a quality difference in the user experience. As the cost to stream a given content is also much lower with RealMedia HD, we can not only expect better video quality but one day this enhanced technology should make living less expensive.
And that’s it? Just better quality for hopefully less money? Part of our further discussion was also about cam-equipped smart TVs and how streaming might become more interactive as screens watch us while we watch them. So, after Wikileaks recently unveiled that authorities were prepared to spy by hacking smart TV cams, should this be considered a risk? Yes. Security providers are on it and have started to come up with 1st generation solutions for protecting IoT (Internet of Things) devices.
Speech-controlled means more than speech interaction
Remember what James Bond first does when he enters a hotel room? He checks the landline telephone, the wall clock, and the floor lamp for hidden microphones. And what do we do? We buy devices with always-on microphones with our own money and put them in our living room, the central place of our private family life. Speech-controlled assistants have been used in cars for a while now, with clearly limited capabilities. Amazon, Apple, and others have now made this technology available for everyone’s home and at a much cheaper price than what it would cost in your car. And – that’s the big point – it is powered by an unlimited number of use cases, as they harness artificial intelligence and connect via the vendor’s cloud services to the internet and to the other online services and devices we use.
What I found interesting at the booths of SK Telecom and others, is that next generation speech-controlled assistants have screens that turn in your direction, underpinning what they are telling you over their loudspeakers with visual information. The version of NUGU introduced by SK Telecom last autumn looks pretty “traditional,” but the upcoming version might be quite different. The usual omnipresence of screens and microphones is in transition, changing their physiognomy like Transformers. These devices’ always-on microphones demand that we place a lot of trust in the manufacturers, and we don’t have any tools today to control them independently – not yet, at least.
Everything is a touch screen, even the air around you
The Sony Xperia Touch, a small short-distance projector that turns any wall, table or other surfaces into a screen – and more than that, into a touch screen! Its sensors detect finger movements, recognize even two-finger gestures, and react on double-clicks. You can not only surf the web, but also interact with applications – and “table football” now has a new meaning. Another great feature is that it translates hand gestures in the air as if you were directly touching the projection area. In this concrete case, the Xperia Touch projected a map on a wall and I could navigate through it, standing about two meters away, with just with my hand in the air. We have seen this capability in cars before, but now this technology conquers new areas of our life and changes our understanding and usage of screens. My guess: Within the next few years, we will interact with holograms projected on the humidity and dust particles in the air.
Devices and services in convergence collision
There is one obvious point we are headed to: When speech-controlled home assistants get screens and moving parts, when speech- and gesture-control become commonplace, when everything can be a touch screen, when pet bots and POS (point of sales) bots arise, when cars become Driveables, when robots become more interactive and cheap enough for private use, and when in-flight entertainment comes via my smart device – all of these technologies will converge. There is no simply good reason to distribute speech-controlled assistants all over your apartment (you pay for each one), have a robot doing physical work, and still keep your loudspeakers for listening to high-quality music sound. Come on, give me a nice Transformer who does all of that!
For now, tech companies tend to sell new device generations that are relatively closed systems with the operating system, core applications, and services tightly bundled in. However, we can see that leveraging the crowd and a certain openness can massively boost businesses: app stores are an easy step, developers and data scientists are naturally using open collaboration platforms like GitHub or Kaggle, and Tesla sharing its patents is – at first glance – a surprising one.
The Connected World’s Boundaries are Breaking. And the outcome? I see a future where we use exactly three things in a specific way:
- subscribing to the AI that fits best our needs,
- storing all our data and managing access on a personal central cloud space,
- renting or plugging into multi-purpose devices for physical interaction.
And that’s it. Once we have a choice of how we put these three components together, consumers can quickly adopt to new services because migration efforts and barriers will crash land together and investment hurdles massively shrink. User experiences will become seamless and unified across services, devices, and locations. To be the users’ first choice, AIs will want to be extremely attractive, relevant and respectful of the user. Central personal storage will bring back ownership and a certain level of control over what we have (our data), what we do (our interactions) and who we are (our digital identity).
So why would businesses choose to go down this path? Conservative organizations might blindly refuse buy-in. Or, they could have compliance arguments against it – doesn’t fit our strategy, harms our revenue streams, will not be adapted by our customer base, could disrupt our business model, and more. But truly Exponential Organisations will examine the upsides: Process more information, access previously unavailable data, trade in more currencies than just money, have shorter investment cycles in devices, sell new device types more easily, monetize new revenue streams and much more.
Finally, this is another nice challenge for the security industry – figuring out how to protect our privacy in order to give us the freedom and peace of mind to use all these new tools.
And, I want to access my personal Transfomer on the in-flight entertainment system during my flight to Mobile World Congress 2020. While it is still nice to get coffee served from a real flight attendant, a pet bot carrying my luggage would be nice.