As IFA 2017 draws to a close, we take a quick look at the overarching tech trends from the show and what they might mean in our near future. By Marcus Wong.
IFA Berlin or Internationale Funkasusstellung is easily one of the largest industrial exhibitions in Europe, and every year it draws a large crowd of companies looking to show off their latest and greatest. Here’s what happened this year.
Power got smaller
Just when you thought smart phones couldn’t get any smarter, Huawei announced a new Kirin 970 processor that has a dedicated Neural Processing Unit along with an 8-core CPU and 12- core GPU. This allows it to deliver up to 25 times the performance with 50 times the power efficiency compared to previous generation chipsets.
Huawei says they expect these new chips to improve the Artificial Intelligence (AI) capabilities of mobile devices of the future greatly because more processing can be done by the device itself. Contrast this to the current state, where most of the information gathered by the on-board sensors has to be sent up to the Cloud for processing, and it’s easy to see how these chips will allow mobile phones to do much more.
Microsoft jumped into the Virtual Reality fray
And their version is Mixed reality (MR). How’s that different from Augmented reality (AR) and Virtual reality (VR)? Well, Windows Mixed Reality headsets have a system of front-mounted cameras that allow the developers the option of bringing real objects into the virtual world, or virtual objects into the real one. Hence, “mixed” reality.
For example, boundaries can be drawn in the virtual world to prevent you from knocking into the table that’s right in front of you in real life. Likewise, virtual objects can be projected onto an empty desktop. PC makers like Acer, Asus, Dell, HP, and Lenovo also showed off their own version of MR headsets. And MR controllers have also been developed with the requisite sensors and Windows button. These are tracked by the headset, meaning there’s no need for additional sensors or cables.
Gamers will be pleased to note that Microsoft have also announced that it’s working with a number of developers on content; including game titles on Steam. Early developer headsets from Acer and HP also seem to be relatively affordable at US$299 and US$329 respectively, so there’s a chance this may be the one unified platform that virtual reality really takes off on.
Microsoft hopes their Mixed Reality
platform proves to be the one that
unifies Virtual Reality.
Virtual assistants talking
to each other is the next
phase of development.
will deliver up
to 25 times the
Virtual assistants play nice
From refrigerators to televisions to portable waterproof speakers, the rise of Internet of Things (IoT) seems to have been followed by the rise of the virtual assistant.
Virtual assistants aren’t new of course. Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana and Google Assistant have all been showing up on a vast assortment of devices through the years. Alexa in particular is steadily gaining steam as it’s making its presence felt on all manner of devices like speakers, headphones and even pianos.
Beyond that, what’s really interesting this year is the partnership Microsoft and Amazon have just announced. Cortana and Alexa will be able to communicate (and send commands to) with each other by the end of the year, so you will be able to get the benefits of both platforms without having to switch devices.
Both companies will certainly also get the advantage of tapping into each other’s consumer bases, hence increasing their reach. This increase in reach goes beyond just who the smart assistants can access though, but also where.
Cortana lives mostly in your Windows devices – i.e. your smart phones, tablets, desktops and laptops. Whether it’s to check on your appointments for the day, or just to get directions to a meeting while you’re driving, Cortana probably has you covered for work.
Alexa on the other hand, has been integrated into so many different products lately that it quite feasibly resides in every part of your home. From the original Amazon Echo to the latest Yamaha piano, Alexa is there, so put the two together and you basically have a framework for virtual control over most of your life. Now that’s a space that you can bet both Amazon and Microsoft would love to dominate.
For now, getting the systems to work together will be a little awkward. If you’re working on an Alexa device, you’ll have to say “Alexa, Open Cortana” followed by your command, and vice versa, so it’s not quite a seamless experience. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos hopes that in the future each device’s assistant can defer the task to the appropriate assistant, so you’ll only have to talk to the one device, and everything else will work in the background.
Now, if only Apple and Google would come on board too; the idea of a smart home might just be that much closer to coming true.
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