Things I’d like to see in 2018

There are a number of people who have done great trends / predictions for 2018. I thought that I would focus on what I would like to see.

Smartphones are stuck in a period of innovation stuckness. It is becoming increasingly difficult to justify upgrades to your handset. This has had knock-on effects to mobile networks. In markets where subsidised handsets are the norm like the UK we’re seeing that SIM-only contracts are becoming the norm.

Apple is trying to innovate its way out of this problem with its work on augmented reality interaction. Consumer media consumption will take a good while to catch up.

Smartphone cameras are as good as consumers need (at the moment). Displays are now good enough that improvements look indistinguishable. They are also large enough for you to watch Amazon Prime or Netflix during a commute. Mobile wallets are merely a back-up in case one leaves your wallet at home.

Whilst the app names have changed, much of the smartphone usage now is for the same things I used a Nokia or Palm smartphone ten years ago:

  • Alarm clock
  • Web surfing
  • Entertainment
  • Media playback
  • Communications

I hope that we start to see smartphones going back to the future and looking at different form factors. My iPhone would be much more useful as a productive device if it was available in a similar form factor to the old Nokia communicator. Different form factors of devices for different users. Gamers would benefit from better controls a la the Nokia nGage.

Interfaces can make better use of haptic feedback, and be designed to take advantage of more hardware-optimised devices.

Innovation isn’t only the responsibility of app developers and phone makers. What about a modern 4G version of ‘Enhanced Full Rate’ on GSM (GSM-EFR) ‘hi-fi voice calls’. UK operator One2One launched GSM-EFR on 2G networks in the late 1990s as part of their Precept tariffs, but I haven’t seen any other carrier try to do a similar thing since. Why not? I suspect part of the problem is that ‘innovation’ in your average mobile network provider now is testing vendor products in a lab to ensure they work properly on their network.

The web has developed a digital equivalent of clogged arteries. Part of this is down to buffer bloat and a lack of lean web design approach. Unfortunately the mobile web has not brought a clean slate approach but hacked together adaptations. A bigger issue is the layers of advertising technology trackers, analytics and assorted chunks of Javascript. Ad tech hammers page load time and responsiveness.

Share of time spent viewing video content in selected countries using ad blockers

We’ve seen Apple and Mozilla try to redesign their browser technology to slow down or stimmy ad technology. Consumers are adopting ad blockers to try and improve their own web experience.

There needs to be a collective reset button. I am not sure if we see a resurgence of the paid web or a kinder lighter footprint in advertising technology. Otherwise we have an unending conflict between the media industry and the rest of us.

The debate around machine learning in 2017 highlighted a Black Mirroresque dystopia awaiting us. The good news is that we tend to overestimate technology’s impact in the short term. In the long term the impact tends to meet our expectations all be in a more banal way.

Part of the current problem around machine learning is that Silicon Valley seems to only consider technology rather than the consequences of potential use cases. This needs to change, unfortunately the people in charge of technology companies are the least capable people to achieve it. We need a kinder more holistic roadmap. Legislation and regulation will be far too late to the party. We won’t be able to stop technological progress, but we can influence the way its used.

Lying in bed ill over the Christmas period, I read that crypto currency mining currently required as much energy as Bahrain. By the end of 2018, it will require as much energy as Italy. That is insane.

Apart from speculation and buying products on the dark web what is the killer app for crypto currencies? Why is worth the energy overhead? Steve Jobs focused on computing power per watt as part of his vision for laptops and moving the Mac range to Intel. Part of the move to the cloud was about making computing more efficient for businesses and providing computing power over the network for consumers on ‘low power’ mobile devices. Yet almost a decade and a half later, the hottest thing in technology is a grossly energy inefficient process.

We are starting to see regulators in Korea and China step in to regulate the market and energy supply to miners, but western economies need to look at this. And I haven’t even got on to the ICO (intial coin offering) as Ponzi scheme…

If you substitute the words ‘fax machine’ or ‘call centre’ for app would Uber, Deliveroo etc be considered as technology companies? I suspect that the answer is no.  A company may use a lot of technology – it happens a lot these days. But that doesn’t make Capita, Mastercard or Goldman Sachs a technology company, lets  apply a bit of critical thinking. I wouldn’t mind, but this same mistake was made in the late 1990s during the dot com boom.

Many companies including Enron were ‘repackaged’ by management, venture capitalists, investment banks and consultancies (cough, cough McKinsey) as asset-light technology driven businesses aka ‘an internet company’. It didn’t work out well last time. It won’t this time either.

More information
Enhanced full rate (GSM) – Wikipedia
Bitcoin Energy Consumption Index | Digiconomist
Setback for Uber as European court advised to treat it as transport firm | Reuters
Other trends reports
Fjord: 2018 Fjord Trends
iProspect: Future Focus 2018: The New Machine Rules
Isobar: Augmented Humanity: Isobar Trends Report 2018
J. Walter Thompson Innovation Group: The Future 100
Ogilvy & Mather: Key Digital Trends for 2018 – Whatley and Manson are doing webinar presentations this week if you want to catch them
Campaign Asia did a nice precise of them all
Past prediction stuff that I’ve done
2016: crystal ball gazing, how did I do? | renaissance chambara
2016: just where is it all going? | renaissance chambara
2015: crystal ball gazing, how did I do? | renaissance chambara
2015: just where is it all going? | renaissance chambara
2014: crystal ball gazing, how did I do? | renaissance chambara
2014: just where is it all going? | renaissance chambara 
Crystal ball-gazing: 2013 how did I do? | renaissance chambara
2013: just where is it all going? | renaissance chambara
Crystal ball-gazing: 2012 how did I do? | renaissance chambara
2012: just where is digital going? | renaissance chambara
Things I’d like to see in 2012 | renaissance chambara
Crystal ball-gazing: 2011 how did I do?
2010: How did I do? | renaissance chambara
2010: just where is digital going? | renaissance chambara
Predictions for 2009 | renaissance chambara

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Charlie Stross at the Chaos Computer Club conference

Interesting lens on history, predictions and futurology by science fiction writer Charlie Stross. Culture has a role (and attendant responsibility) in shaping the direction of technology. Stross’ talk is an essay on unintended consequences, design, regulation and economics.

Five for Friday | 五日(星期五)

Things that made my day:

Ford’s video spot for the Mustang is emblematic of the craft in ad planning. Ford realised that a loud noise, that emblem of sporting automobiles can be beneficial or damaging in the wrong social context – like waking your neighbours up early on a Sunday morning. What was interesting is how this became a central part of their campaign.

Contrast this with the approach that Toyota took in marketing the Lexus LFA to Americans back in 2010

Back in the late 1980s through through the 1990s Alex Cox or Jonathan Ross would have screened a series of these films on BBC2 or Channel 4 late one night. Mubi tries to do this curation, but fails miserably – it feels like an intern cobbled together the posts by raiding the BFI book shop. Video intros are definitely needed, both Cox and Ross have genuine passion. There is a space for Netflix or Amazon Prime to pick this format up and run with it (but for the fact Amazon makes some godawful film picks).

Instead we get this documentary from Vice that just scratches the surface and hints at the gold beneath

Whilst we are talking about films, I can recommend Alex Cox‘s book 10,000 Ways To Die which is one of the best works I know on the Spaghetti Western genre. It is free to download from his old website.

Tim O’Reilly on his vision of the future

This week I have been listening to:

This new David Morales track

An amazing mix of funk influenced Thai music

ICYMI | 万一你错过了| 당신이 그것을 놓친 경우

Facebook Is Shutting Down Its API That Marketers Lean on for Research – Adweek – big for proprietary agency tools, social media tools and ad platforms

Spicing up Hong Kong’s Café scene | Marketing Interactive – great write-up of Café de Coral

China’s central bank believes bitcoin will die | Quartz – I am more on the bearish side along with the Bank of China. A key function of bitcoin for China was aiding capital flight out of the country

Unilever moves global comms planning to Mindshare from PHD | Media | Campaign Asia – huge win for Mindshare and a move away at the global level between planning guidance and media buying. It would be analogous to investment managers to go back to taking advice from sell-side analysts. I guess part of the problem is trying to get global guidance to be implemented at a country level

Flotogram v1.1 Preview on Vimeo – interesting app that blurs the boundaries between AR and photography

Google’s AI Built its own AI That Outperforms Any Made by Humans – one thing humans jump to is the implications of a more general purpose rather than narrow focus machine learning tool

China’s Tariff Cuts Won’t Hurt Daigou Business For Now | Jing Daily  – China plans to reduce tariffs on 187 consumer goods, including cosmetics, apparel, health supplements, food, and pharmaceuticals. The new policy will go into effect on December 1. The average tax rate will drop to 7.7 percent from 17.3 percent.

China’s Toutiao Tried to Buy Reddit — The InformationOne reason was general skittishness among Reddit’s investors about selling to a Chinese internet company whose user and revenue numbers were tough to assess – and there is the burn

Chinese Smartphone Maker Xiaomi Eyes 2018 Stock Market Listing — The Information – interesting move given Xiaomi’s challenges with other Chinese smartphone companies

Futuristic Warfare Arena Ghost in the Shell: Arise Stealth Hounds – VR ZONE SHINJUKU – I’d love to have a go at this

Are we witnessing the end of the jumbo jet? | Quartz – interesting mix of game theory and economics involved

Apple: Chinese Buying Huawei et. al. but Sticking with iPhone, Says Morgan Stanley – Barron’s – The Jigaung data also highlights that in the 4 weeks ending October 22nd, more “switchers” left their Chinese branded smartphone for an iPhone than iPhone users left for a Chinese branded smartphone, across all local vendors. In fact, Apple’s net switching rate, or the net amount of switchers gained/lost as a percentage of all brand switchers increased to 7.6% in the latest 4 week period, up from 6.7% in the prior 4 week period ending October 8th. Comparatively, Vivo was the only Chinese smartphone vendor to gain “net switchers”, albeit at a significantly lower rate. We expect this trend to only accelerate as future data sets will include the period after the iPhone X first began shipping.

Amazon (AMZN) is so good at keeping prices low, it’s changed how economists think about inflation — Quartz

You are not safe

IBM 360 Announcement center

I have been catching up on Halt and Catch Fire. It is a fiction based on various aspects of Silicon Valley lore. I have enjoyed watching it immensely to a point.

I was especially struck by  episode eight in the third series. One of the main characters in series three hacks his employer and releases their anti-virus software online for free. But its the mid-1980s through a thoroughly modern lens. It resonates because it speaks to our age, not to the 1980s or even the mid-1990s.

YOU ARE NOT SAFE

I, Ryan Ray, released the MacMillan Utility source code. I acted alone. No one helped me, and no one told me to do it.  I did this because ‘security’ is a myth.  Contrary to what you might have heard, my friends, you are not safe.  Contrary to what you might have heard, my friends, you are not safe.  Safety is a story. It’s something we search our children so they can sleep at night, but we know it’s not real.

Yes, there was software piracy, it was a mainstream part of computing culture which had sprung up from the ‘homebrew’ mentality.  Prior to founding Apple, Steve Wozniak used to give out the schematics of what then became the Apple I. Punched paper tapes of software used to be exchanged between members when they met up in aMenlo Park garage and later on in an auditorium at Stanford University.

Back then the narrative was overwhelmingly positive in terms of technology. The main problem was whether the Japanese, Microsoft, Intel or IBM was going to crush the rest of the technology eco-system in Silicon Valley. Consumers  had a bright new world of technology ahead of them.  Video games were still a niche interest compared to VCRs (video cassette recorders). VHS versus Betamax was as important a format war as Windows versus Macintosh.

Here’s the thing. This show (rightly or wrongly) may frame the way a lot of people think about this part of the digital age. For those who aren’t well read about the history of Silicon Valley OR didn’t live through the 1980s – it will colour their view of history. That detail rankled me a bit; I’m not quite sure why.  Part of it is knowing where we’re going is understanding where we have been in past.

That’s all very nice, but why does this matter? It provides you with perspective and the ability to critique ideas.