From more mem­ory and Alexa to screen max-outs: here’s my eight pre­dic­tions for what’s due to come in tech­nol­ogy

Adrian Weckler looks at all the key mo­ments from Europe’s big­gest tech trade event — IFA 2017 — in Berlin

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Whether on­line sales will change this re­mains to be seen. In gen­eral, phys­i­cal stores are start­ing to see an ac­cel­er­ated de­cline in their busi­ness due to com­pe­ti­tion from Ama­zon and other gi­ant on­line etail­ers.

What does the fu­ture hold for the tech we use ev­ery day? What are the ma­jor trends to be aware of ?

These are the ques­tions af­ter Europe’s big­gest tech trade event —IFA 2017.

One of 250,000 peo­ple present to see what’s new, tech­nol­ogy expert Adrian Weckler offers eight pre­dic­tions about what we can ex­pect to see in the new fu­ture.

1. We’re fi­nally max­ing out on phone screen sizes as bat­tery life improves It looks like six inches is the far­thest we’re will­ing to push it on our smart­phones.

For years, hand­set screens have been scal­ing up. In­deed, it’s hard to fathom that the stan­dard screen on a phone just three years ago was only 3.5in across.

To­day, the av­er­age screen size is five inches, even for bud­get en­try-level phones. That’s a dou­bling in size in a rel­a­tively short pe­riod of time.

How­ever, we are now defini­tively ap­proach­ing the final size ceil­ing for our phone dis­plays.

This is be­cause man­u­fac­tur­ers have nowhere left to push the screen size with­out mak­ing the de­vices into ac­tual tablets.

At present, Samsung, LG and, prob­a­bly, Ap­ple next week, are ex­e­cut­ing their final screen-en­larg­ing push by get­ting the dis­play to cover the en­tire front side of the hand­set, squeez­ing out the bezels.

In the case of Samsung’s Note 8, this re­sults in a screen that’s 6.3in in size, a hair larger than its Galaxy S8 Plus, which has a 6.2in screen us­ing the same bezel-elim­i­nat­ing method.

But any­thing big­ger than this would make the de­vice into some­thing re­sem­bling an ipad mini. And while such a screen would have its ben­e­fits, it sim­ply wouldn’t fit into a pocket or ever be us­able with a sin­gle hand.

One happy by-prod­uct of the ever-larger phones, in­ci­den­tally, is an im­prove­ment in bat­tery life.

Even mid-range mod­els such as Mo­torola’s new X4 now have bat­ter­ies of 3,400mah or higher (com­pared to the iphone 7’s bat­tery of 2,700mah).

The ex­tra bat- tery life is due to more phys­i­cal space to house a even big­ger bat­tery.

But it’s also a recog­ni­tion from man­u­fac­tur­ers that peo­ple now use their phones for much longer pe­ri­ods, and for much more me­dia-in­ten­sive pur­poses, than was the case in pre­vi­ous years.

2. It’s get­ting in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult to tell TVS apart Walk into any elec­tron­ics su­per­store and you’ll be hard pushed to find any real dif­fer­ences be­tween to­day’s pre­mium TVS. If IFA is any­thing to go by, it’s get­ting even more ho­moge­nous.

They’re all thin, flat screens with tiny lo­gos. They all have 4K. Most are now get­ting HDR, which marginally improves de­tail and your abil­ity to see the colour black. But there’s no tech­nol­ogy that gives any one TV set the kind of edge that any­one is re­ally talk­ing about.

Ear­lier ad­vances such as 4K have been in­te­grated into no- name, en­try level tele­vi­sions that cost £499. (Even now, 4K con­tent still rep­re­sents a tiny per­cent­age of pro­gram­ming that peo­ple can watch on an ev­ery­day ba­sis.

It’s for this rea­son that no-one is even try­ing to talk up 8K, de­spite a few mod­els on show at IFA with that res­o­lu­tion.)

Fur­ther­more, TV man­u­fac­tur­ers have used up a fair dol­lop of cred­i­bil­ity on sup­posed tech­no­log­i­cal break­throughs that were flops.

Re­mem­ber curved TVS and 3D? You don’t see many of those any­more.

In the last two years, the pro­mo­tional push has been around Oled tech­nol­ogy and HDR. But nei­ther pro­vides a sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ence to the qual­ity of con­tent that the or­di­nary per­son watches or streams.

Aside from screen size and thin­ness, we’re sim­ply find­ing it harder to tell one TV from an­other these days. So the gi­ants — Samsung, LG, Sony and Pana­sonic — have eased off hyp­ing the prod­ucts up for the time be­ing.

3. Tiny mem­ory stor­age cards will soon hold 1,000GB Over the last five years, mem­ory cards have not been able to keep up with pop­u­lar us­age pat­terns in phone, cam­era and PC me­dia. Phone cam­eras, in par­tic­u­lar, have been get­ting far bet­ter for both stills and videos. It’s not un­usual now for an or­di­nary per­son to shoot a few dif­fer­ent videos on a daily ba­sis, us­ing up 100MB (0.1GB) of their phone or cam­era’s 16GB or 32GB stor­age mem­ory in the process. This has been a great boon to com­pa­nies like Drop­box and icloud, both of which now make ever-in­creas­ing sums from peo- ple’s monthly cloud stor­age sub­scrip­tions.

To tackle this, some phones allow you to put a Mi­crosd mem­ory card into the phone to hold pho­tos or videos. But even then, most cards are limited to 32GB or 64GB, which fill up quickly for peo­ple tak­ing a lot of pic­tures.

San­disk chose IFA to un­veil its new­est mem­ory card, which has a whop­ping 400GB of stor­age in a lit­tle plas­tic thing the size of your lit­tle fin­ger­nail.

While this won’t ini­tially be cheap (cost­ing well over £100), the good news is that this will make still-hefty 128GB Mi­crosd cards cheaper, with prices now al­ready fall­ing be­low £50 (the equiv­a­lent of five months’ cloud stor­age fees with Drop­box). 4. Ama­zon Alexa is spread­ing ev­ery­where Voice ac­ti­va­tion is prov­ing to be one of the most per­va­sive hit tech­nolo­gies of the last three years. In par­tic­u­lar, it’s prov­ing pop­u­lar in homes with gad­gets such as Google Home or Ama­zon Echo (right).

A walk through the halls of IFA showed a grow­ing num­ber

Voice ac­ti­va­tion has been one of the most per­va­sive hit tech­nolo­gies of the last three years

of de­vices load­ing voice-recog­ni­tion sys­tems from Ama­zon or Google into their sys­tems. This is par­tic­u­larly no­tice­able in the world of speak­ers and ‘smart home’ gad­gets.

But it’s also now present in phones. For ex­am­ple, de­spite dual cam­eras and object-recog­ni­tion tech­nol­ogy, what most in­ter­ested com­men­ta­tors about Mo­torola’s new X4 phone seemed to be that it can han­dle both Google and Ama­zon Alexa voice com­mands.

Alas, Ama­zon Alexa is not yet of­fi­cially sup­ported for the Ir­ish mar­ket. (Nei­ther is Prime, its shop­ping ser­vice.) So if you get an Ama­zon Echo, it will work as a (medi­ocre) mu­sic speaker.

But if you ask it about the weather, you’ll have spec­ify the weather “in Belfast” (or wher­ever you live) as op­posed to sim­ply ask­ing about “the weather”, which you would do in an Alexa-sup­ported ter­ri­tory such as the UK, the US or Ger­many.

5. The stand­alone cam­era mar­ket may soon be dead A cou­ple of years ago, cam­era man­u­fac­tur­ers such as Canon and Nikon boasted huge stands at shows such as IFA and CES in Las Ve­gas.

At this year’s Berlin show, Canon (the world’s big­gest cam­era man­u­fac­turer by some dis­tance, be­low right) didn’t turn up, de­spite one new ma­jor prod­uct launch and sev­eral smaller ones in re­cent weeks. Olym­pus was ab­sent too, de­spite a brand new cam­era launch (the E-M10 Mark ii) the same week.

Once-mighty Nikon had ar­guably the small­est tent in the whole con­fer­ence, manned by two peo­ple and a hand­ful of D850 cam­eras (with no bat­tery grips or new lenses).

When I vis­ited it, there was no-one else go­ing near it. Even Blackberry had more vis­i­tors.

Fu­ji­film, which is one of the few cam­era com­pa­nies ac­tu­ally holding its own in the mar­ket, skipped out on the event too. The mes­sage the cam­era mar­ket is send­ing out is a des­per­ate one — it’s sink­ing and its big­gest prac­ti­tion­ers can bare­lyely af­ford to take out a standnd at the world’s most im-im­por­tant trade­trade fairs.

Even if they can af­ford it, they don’t think any­one will be both­ered to go over and look at their wares, which are start­ing to take on the aura of niche pro­fes­sional ma­chines rather than fun de­vices to tempt a mass mar­ket.

To be fair, both Pana­sonic and Sony had plenty of cam­era equip­ment, lenses and other op­ti­cal gear on site.

But that was only as part of their gi­ant en­clo­sures which fea­tured ev­ery­thing else from TVS and fridges to smart home speak­ers.

Iron­i­cally, talk of cam­eras dom­i­nated some of the launches at IFA – but it was in phones and drones. Sev­eral phone man­u­fac­tur­ers un­veiled dual cam­era mod­els at the event, while DJI hyped up the large en­hanced cam­eras on its new Phan­tom 4 Pro Ob­sid­ian model.

This is sadly typ­i­cal of the global trend. Cam­eras are now spo­ken about and mea­sured in con­ver­sa­tions about phones, not stand­alone DSLRS, com­pact or mir­ror­less de­vices.

In a vi­cious cir­cle that will ac­cel­er­ate the de­par­ture of cam­eras from the main­stream, cam­era man­u­fac­tur­ers are now pay­ing less and less at­ten­tion to or­di­nary con­sumers and re­trench­ing to pro­fes­sion­als or wealthy hob­by­ists.

As such, while the price of most tech goods is go­ing down, the price of new cam­eras is go­ing up, with fewer and fewer ma­jor launches fo­cus­ing on sub-£1,000 mod­els.

6. Drones are fi­nally start­ing to pipe down What’s the big­gest down­side of drones? For many, it’s the ir­ri­tat­ing noise they make. As drones can­not be flown in built-up ur­ban ar­eas, they tend to be flown in ru­ral beauty spots in­stead (be­low). But this some­times comes with a price: the high-pitched buzzing sound they emit, sim­i­lar to a gi­ant mos­quito. DJI, which has around 70% of the drone mar­ket, an­nounced an up­date to one of its main mod­els with a mas­sive re­duc­tion in noise. Its Mavic Pro Plat­inum is 60% qui­eter than the pre­vi­ous Mavic Pro. This is a big deal and could help im­prove re­la­tions be­tween peo­ple legally fly­ing drones in beauty spots and oth­ers try­ing to en­joy the tran­quil­lity of those ar­eas.It will not, how­ever, do any­thing to stop the grow­ing num­ber of sites around Ire­land that are ban­ning drones.

Ear­lier this year, Her­itage Ire­land de­clared that drones may not be flown at Na­tional Mon­u­ment Sites such as cas­tles, abbeys and ne­olithic sites around the coun­try.

7. No­body’s shout­ing about wear­ables any­more Two years ago, you couldn’t move at a big con­ven­tion like IFA with­out en­coun­ter­ing some sort of ‘wear­able’.

There were watches, rings, bracelets and no end to ‘smart’ clothes (even socks). No­ti­fi­ca­tions, pay­ments and voice con­trol were to be the big rea­sons that we would don mini-in­ter­net jew­ellery.

But the ini­tial hype wave has died a death. In­stead of email, it turns out that pun­ters mainly want their watches for fit­ness.

This has re­sulted in the march of smart­watch man­u­fac­tur­ers slow­ing to a shuf­fle.

Even gi­ant com­pa­nies like LG and Huawei are thin­ning out (or stop­ping al­to­gether) their smart­watch ranges. Samsung, which was sup­posed to be big­gest smart­watch com­peti­tor to Ap­ple, has re-fo­cused its ef­forts al­most to­tally on fit­ness.

“The prob­lem that’s af­flicted smart­watches over the last few years is that they’re more about tech­nol­ogy look­ing for a prob­lem to solve,” said James Park, the co-founder and chief ex­ec­u­tive of fit­ness tracker company Fit­bit. “There re­ally wasn’t a killer app.”

What scope there was be­yond fit­ness has been hoovered up Ap­ple, which is es­ti­mated to have cap­tured some 70% of the £9bn smart­watch mar­ket.

It seems that when peo­ple aren’t run­ning or swim­ming, they’re per­fectly happy to look at their phone for news rather than some­thing hang­ing off an­other part of their body.

8. The generic elec­tron­ics sec­tor could still eat some ma­jor brands Did you know that there are Po­laroid lap­tops and TVS? Or that there are hun­dreds of speaker brands, with very lit­tle to choose be­tween them in sound qual­ity?

This is the re­al­ity of Fox­conn and the other su­per-fac­to­ries in China. Some 80% of the elec­tron­ics in­dus­try is a com­mod­ity busi­ness.

Com­pa­nies like Pana­sonic, Canon or Fuji, with their own fac­to­ries in Ja­pan, are in­creas­ingly an ex­otic rar­ity.

We may grav­i­tate to­ward brands such as Samsung and Ap­ple, but many of the things we say we want are now be­ing rolled out at base­ment prices.

Even phones could soon suf­fer this fate.

The new­est crop of bud­get smart­phones are set to have 5.5in screens and dual cam­eras, which is sim­i­lar to to­day’s top-level iphone 7 Plus.

Much of the in­cre­men­tal im­prove­ments are oc­cur­ring in soft­ware.

But Google pro­vides the same An­droid up­dates to any An­droid de­vice, whether it costs £799 or just £99.

Of course, some ar­gue that it was ever thus.

Brands still pre­vail be­cause they ad­ver­tise — cre­at­ing de­mand — and pro­vid­ing shops with higher mar­gins when cus­tomers agree to pay a higher price than a generic al­ter­na­tive.

The trou­ble with smart­watches is they’re about tech­nol­ogy look­ing for a prob­lem to solve

ADRIAN WECKLER

The San­disk un­veiled its new­est mem­ory card at the IFA

The screen size of mo­bile phones are un­likely to get big­ger

A vis­i­tor tries out the Len­ovo Ex­plorer mixed re­al­ity’lity head­set at the IFA con­sumer mer elec­tron­ics show in Berlin er­lin ADRIAN WECKLER LER

ADRIAN WECKLER

The LG V30 smart­phone

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