Crystal ball-gazing: 2013 how did I do?

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As with a number of previous years I put my head together and came up with three predictions for 2013, now is the time when I measure how I did. Unlike previous years I made less predictions than I have done in previous years, so the only way I can beat my 85.7% prediction rate from last year is by being completely right.

It’s the economy stupid

I felt that the economy would be a key shaper of technological trends in 2013; I predicted a wider use of messaging services like Facetime or Skype and there seems to have been an explosion in OTT messengers as consumers move away from more expensive SMS to richer alternatives. In addition China Mobile has looked to address the needs of the global Chinese and Hong Kong people, as well as those who have connections there like me with its Jego application designed to provide a Skype-In like service at minimum cost.

  • A large section of the web is ad-supported from Facebook to news sites, companies generally reduce advertising spend in straitened times. Yahoo! during the bust saw advertising revenue declne by a third, which gives an idea of what could be in the pipeline

  • The launch of Windows 8 has gotten off to a slower than expected start, part of the reason for this is that consumer PC purchasing cycles have been extended from four-to-five years. Now part of that could be because we don’t need to buy ever more powerful computers all the time if we are using them primarily for web-related tasks, but it could also be because incomes are tighter. Tablets like the Apple iPad could be what economists would call substitute products (like using margarine as a cheaper replacement for butter)

  • This is also likely to mean that new ways of selling us televisions like Sony’s innovations in creating 4K displays will have a slow adoption rate because we don’t want to buy films we have on DVDs and Blu-Ray yet again, so technological upgrades will starve media cash-cows

  • I would expect household discretionary media budgets to be squeezed which is probably why Sky has looked at a la carte online video models in the UK

One aspect of the technology sector that is ripe for a restructure in the current economy is venture capital firms as many of them who invest in ‘easy innovation’  have a raison d’être that looks increasingly uncertain. Web-based start-ups are increasingly been bootstrapped together by the technically savvy; Kickstarter allows for the trial of consumer hardware concepts.

Whilst I was right about the economy, I completely missed how it would radically change the tariff models of a few mobile telecommunications providers, notably T-Mobile US and 3UK – both underdogs trying to carve out market share in straightened times.

Advertising overall seems to be remarkably robust, at least in the UK this year. However when one looks at some of the hot new platforms like the OTT messenger services what is striking about them is how they are not looking to advertising spend for their revenues instead looking at selling platform services like: official accounts, m-commerce or digital commerce (gaming and stickers) to consumers.

Tablet sales to consumers have gone well, the market helped by lower cost Android tablets as well as the iPad, and PC sales have continued to decline according to IDC. In March their predictions of a tablet computing shaped showed PC usage being made up of just under 50 per cent tablets by 2017.
IDC Data March 2013

By December this year IDC dialed down its predictions for tablet sales growth a notch from earlier on in the year, but it still represented some 53 per cent growth compared to 2012.

Microsoft has put some of the blame in low adoption of Windows 8 on the radically different experience and is experimenting with bringing back the start menu. Microsoft has also worked at trying to blur the lines between tablet and PC, something I am less convinced about though this may change with the right industrial design.

In terms of ultra-high definition or 4K TVs interest was more muted than for internet enabled TVs according to Google Trends. Interestingly Blu-Ray was showing a bigger decline in interest as consumers presumably cut back on content consumption and streaming offered an adequate substitute.

I put 3D TV in the mix as the hot area of a few years ago to benchmark against. 3D did much better in the cinema as part of an immersive experience than at home. And I would question how much smart TVs are actually used for web browsing given their ‘lean-back’ user case. There was some rare good news for Sony in the search trends with it’s branding being the one most cited by consumers searching for 4K TV.

In terms of 4K there are currently a lot of adoption barriers:
High price – most 4K TVs at launch were over 10,000 USD in price.

Scarity of content to take advantage of it, no broadcast services are currently planned so getting the content available into the hands of consumers. Sony talked about a streaming service when launching it’s 4K TVs. However streaming over most internet connections wouldn’t allow for an immediately watchable experience, according to Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu:

A one hour compressed 4K film is about 160GB and would take seven and a half hours to download on a 50 Mbit/s

An eight-layer Blu-Ray disc could hold 200GB of data; again this may not be enough for a full feature film and definitely wouldn’t be suitable for the kind of ‘binge viewing’ that consumers seem to do with Netflix and their peers.

Dataxis thinks that there will be 2.2 million 4K households worldwide by the end of the year. It is no concidence that NPD DisplaySearch is predicting the greatest growth opportunity for 4K televisions being in the more dynamic Asian markets that have seen sustained economic growth:
NPD DisplaySearch predictions on 4K TV
NPD DisplaySearch talk about a longer decline in television sales due to hyper-competition, low margins and extreme market seasonality.

Consumer media budgets being crushed has offered an opportunity to Netflix and their peers who are bringing  downward price pressure on media content for consumers due to their competition. The cable companies don’t seem to be addressing this effectively at the moment.

My predictions about funding of companies, seemed to have at least some validity:

  • Jolla used a crowd-funding-type model to pre-sell it’s new handset
  • Oculus VR which was founded using crowd funding got second stage funding from venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz

The struggles that Kleiner Perkins Caulfield  & Byers (KPCB) have gone through recently are at least partly due to the fact that venture capital models don’t work particularly well with ‘hard innovation’ involving basic scientific research needed in areas like clean technology.

3D-Printing is interesting, but isn’t the future of manufacturing as we know it

Over the past year we have seen a lot of interest in 3D printing. Guns (admittedly with all the sophistication of a backyard gunsmith) have finally fired rounds through themselves without taking someone’s hand off and they are even appearing in supermarkets to make 3D figurines of shoppers. McDonald’s are supposed to be in the process of evaluating 3D printing for Happy Meal toy parts. There is a company in Texas called Solid Concepts who made a replica of the Browning 1911 pistol via a direct metal laser sintering (DMLS) printer. Metal powder is deposited and melted using a laser.

Now for the reality check:

  • DMLS printers are expensive, a CNC milling machine could have probably been cheaper to do the job, the DMLS equipment would cost anywhere between 400,000 to 1,000,000+ US dollars.
  • Solid Concepts themselves say that making the gun would cost five figures (tens of thousands in US dollars
  • Printing is great for low volume items or rapid prototyping, but Solid Concepts themselves still have a tooling business for low volume to mass production of items

Metal materials aren’t just formed, but often heat treated. Many materials are extruded or laminated, their manufacturing process imbuing them with properties that 3D printing can’t match. Whilst the progress made this year has been interesting, 3D printing is more likely to be one of those technologies that changes things enormously in the long-term whilst being over-hyped in the short to medium term.

LTE is going to make more a of difference to your carrier than to you as a consumer, at least for now

This year saw the rise of voice over LTE, making life easier for early adopter carriers like SK Telecom in Korea. In many markets however roll-out has been far from universal making the impact of faster mobile broadband limited. In some markets like Hong Kong carriers are now worried about 3G spectrum being re-purposed for 4G services, which will disrupt their infrastructure.

More information
Past predictions in the series
Crystal ball-gazing: 2012 how did I do?
2013: just where is it all going?
China Mobile International launches VoIP Mobile Application to Grow International Retail Business – Jego offers the renting and binding of China Mobile numbers
Mobile tariff disruption
Three says arrivederci to roaming charges in seven countries.
Tablets as substitute technology
Worldwide Tablet Shipments Forecast to Slow to Single-Digit Growth Rates by 2017, According to IDC
IDC Forecasts PC Shipments to Fall by Double Digits In 2013; Volumes Are Expected To Stabilize Above 300 Million Units per Year, But With No Significant Recovery
4K TV and TV market dynamics
4K kicks off – Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu International (TMT predictions) – (PDF document)
Pavlovian Shoppers and The Demise of TV Retailing | DisplaySearch
Ultra-HD (4K TV) Will Be Mass-Market Proposition In Next Four To Five Years
2013 to be Breakout Year for 4K×2K TV; Market Forecast to Reach 7M in 2016, NPD DisplaySearch Reports – China Forecast to Lead in 4K×2K TV Adoption
Venture capital and other funding models
The first production batch of Jolla smartphones fully booked with demand from 136 countries | Jolla – (PDF document)
Onward to the Metaverse! | Oculus VR blog
The shakeup of Kleiner Perkins exposes the short comings of venture capital | GigaOM
3D printing
Create amazing ‘mini me’ versions of you and your family at Asda! | Your Asda
McDonalds Wants To Start 3D Printing Happy Meal Toys For Unhappy Kids | BusinessInsider
World’s First 3D Printed Metal Gun | Solid Concepts Blog
Questions Answered: 3D Printed Metal Gun | Solid Concepts Blog