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Top Tech Trends of 2017 from the Industry

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AI, VR, AR. 2016 was very much the year of the double letter acronym, and, if our panel of industry experts is to be believed, then 2017 looks set to take the developments of 2016 and push them into overdrive. We asked a number of industry experts from the worlds of tech, design and advertising, exactly what delights and terrors they thought 2017 would bring, and what trends they predicted would outline the technological landscape of the year. As expected, VR features pretty heavily indeed!

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David Tiltman, Head of Content at Warc, believes that 2017 will be the year when AI really takes root in adland.

2017 looks set to be the year that many brands take their first steps in artificial intelligence. Machine learning is already being applied to programmatic trading – and we’ve seen brands like Aviva in the UK improve their media efficiencies as a result. The next major application looks set to be chatbots, as marketers look to respond to a consumers’ take-up of messaging apps.”

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Dror Ginzberg, Co-Founder & CEO of Wochit, believes that social media platforms will continue trying to perfect at art of video.

Last year saw Facebook Live’s release in April, Twitter’s extension of its video character limit, and Instagram’s launch of disappearing videos. Next year, such video-focused innovations will continue amongst the most popular social media platforms. With online video now accounting for over two-thirds of all internet traffic, this figure will only keep increasing into 2017 and all the main players will be seeking ways to interest and excite their users, while keeping a close eye on what their competitors are up to.”

He also believes that in 2017 we can all forget about that that TV subscription.

Pay TV subscriptions are actually declining significantly with on-demand services, such as Netflix, which added a whopping 3.2 million international subscribers in the summer, picking these viewers up. A key trend we’ll see next year is that while traditional TV subscriptions fall, a raft of new on-demand providers will looking for a piece of this ever increasing pie. Huge players such as the British Film Institute and BBC plan to launch their own bespoke services in 2017, meaning this area is likely to see fierce competition throughout the year as new providers jockeying for position.”

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Dylan Stuart, Partner at the creative consultancy, Lippincott, thinks that the line between our selves and our virtual selves will blur even further in 2017 and that automated chatbots will become even more relevant as the AI underpinning them continues to improve.

As digital friends including Siri, Alexi, Google and Microsoft enter our pockets and homes, offering more and more utility and control of everyday functions, the lines of relationship between human and virtual become increasingly blurred. Inside and outside the home, brands are increasingly servicing their audiences through automated functions, and as these chatbots cross the digital divide from transaction to relationship, the face and nature of branding is evolving. Where brands were once defined by their visual expression and human interaction, we’re now entering a stage where they will also be defined through digital voice. So what does this mean for your business? There are many fundamental branding questions from naming, to transparency, to ownership and disintermediation.”

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Joel Hughes, UK Design, Technology and Hardware Manager at Indiegogo, has found that the so-called 'Year of VR' appears to be getting pushed back every year and pontificates that this year could be no different.

In 2015, 2016 was predicted to be the 'year of VR'. With pre-orders for Oculus opening earlier this year people understandably had high hopes and unfortunately many of them were left disappointed. With a sale price of almost double what people were expecting, attitudes seemed to shift slightly and more recently I've heard a lot of chatter about 2017 being the 'year for VR'. Having attended many recent tech shows including TechCrunch Disrupt and Slush I've seen a huge increase in the availability of VR technology and some really creative uses ranging from the typical gaming functions you'd expect, to being able to walk around your new home before it's even built.” While 2017 will see improvements in the VR space, I predict a continued disparity between our price expectations and the reality of how much these headsets will cost. Saying that, there's a huge opportunity for traditional entertainment providers to integrate VR into our daily lives, enhancing our enjoyment and experience of consuming our favourite media. Will we be watching on-demand video from our sofas through VR headsets in 2017? I think not, but it certainly won't be long before these are being offered as part of an at home media experience.”

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Paul Hewitt (right), Head of Marketing at Nice (part of the Karmarama family), a member of the DMA Mobile Council and a Wirehive 100 Judge, also feels that VR won't become mass market next year. Indeed, he believes that it will never truly filter through into the mainstream. He does, however, think that we'll see more experimentation from brands in 2017. His major trend prediction, however, is that we'll see more interesting in-store digital experiences.

Amazing in store digital experiences - Amazon are going to revolutionise this space using tech to make a store without barriers. Often it's thought that putting things like iPads in stores would assist people in their experiences of physical shopping on the high street, however it more than not adds steps rather than makes your time in the store easier. Amazon are opening their physical store, Amazon Go and where you'll scan your phone in at the start of the journey and as you take things off of the shelf, your phone will recognise this and add it to your Amazon basket - then you are free to leave the store and when you do, your Amazon basket will automatically check out. Meaning, I could walk in, scan my phone, grab a sandwich and then walk out - without having to queue or talk to anyone. This is an absolute game changer and is a perfect example of how retail brands need to look at a whole unified customer experience from physical to digital.”

He also predicts than brands will start to offer services within apps like Facebook Messenger and iMessage.

More and more customers are spending more time in fewer apps. Recent research says that 84% of customers are spending the majority of their time in just five apps. They won’t necessarily want to download and open your app anymore, they will bring your brand into what they are already doing and call the services they need into the conversation they’re having. an example might be - an extension in iOS 10’s iMessage App. Let’s say you’re having a conversation with a friend via text and you’re trying to organise lunch - if you bring a third party, like Open Table into the conversation, then you can view and choose the restaurant in iMessage without having to move app. This means you’re still in Apple’s native environment and not in a secondary app.”

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Ben Read, Creative Director at product design and procurement specialists, Matrix, is confident that personalisation will play a greater part in our technology next year.

Personalisation is already a really important part of the product design process, and this is only set to continue throughout 2017. Technology is the only enabler of this corner of the market, from design specifications to rapid delivery, and it is therefore the only way to continue expanding it. Smart fabrics will become more widespread, opening a whole new realm of bespoke personalisation for clothes. From having your dimensions scanned, to having your jumper 3D printed to your exact measurements with inbuilt sensors linked to an app to monitor your vital signs. This kind of connectivity and product consciousness will become commonplace.”

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Ed Preedy, Managing Director of Europe at GumGum, the leading computer vision platform for marketers, sees a near-future where image recognition will play a major role in marketing practices.

You only have to look at the increasingly image-centric nature of the internet to understand how important image recognition will become. The way we consume and share content today has been largely modelled by image-based social media platforms, such as Snapchat, Instagram and Pinterest, which have been driving the charge towards building a ‘visual web’. The opportunity for brands to start analysing the huge volume of image-based data online and use it to better connect with audiences is growing. This is part of the reason why Snapchat, Google and Amazon all invested heavily into their own image-recognition capabilities in 2016. Technology has emerged which helps advertisers take advantage of this trend too, by allowing them to use the wealth of image-based data to create highly engaging and contextually relevant ads in real-time, which match the editorial or user-generated image they appear within and feed online audiences’ hunger for image-based content. Image-based ad formats hold particular appeal for millennials, who are much less engaged by text-based communications than older generations. According to recent research by GumGum, only 49% of millennials state they 'somewhat' pay attention to accompanying text when they see a brand-related image, and only 28% said they pay a lot of attention to text that accompanies the images. As we head into 2017, expect to see more and more advertisers battling to create the best possible image-recognition strategy to make sure they come out on top.”

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Following the successful launch of PlayStation VR, new findings released by Ovum, the leading provider of Technology, Media and Telecoms research and analysis, has revealed that, while gaming and interactive entertainment will drive initial consumer spending across Virtual Reality (VR) content, video will in fact become the number category by 2020. This is according to Paul Jackson, Principal Analyst at Ovum.

Video content has a more universal appeal and is easier to create than games, and typically works on more VR headsets meaning that once broadcasters, rights holders and streaming services start to monetize VR video it will quickly eclipse any consumer spend on VR games. Certain businesses have the advantage of being able to build headsets into a venue, to subsidise the cost of filming/production, and to make money from the content without having to wait for a commercial marketplace to evolve. They can also experiment with cutting-edge technology like Starbreeze’s StarVR headset. Games and interactive experience use the full power of VR, but video is just more accessible for most consumer – plus it’s great for sports and event coverage. That’s why it will dominate consumer spending, once we’re past the current initial early adopter stage of headsets.”

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Richard Wormwell, Head of 360 Production at dock10, is another who can be counted amongst the “2016 Year of VR” champions, though he does wonder when Apple are going to play their hand.

2016 was billed as the year of VR and in terms of the hardware releases that probably stacks up. All the major players launched products. In the HMD market we saw the HTC Vive, the Oculus Rift and the Google Daydream. Samsung brought us its consumer level Gear-360 camera giving the brand a 360 end to end solution. Nokia entered the market with its high end VR camera the OZO and The Foundry delivered the amazing VR plugin, CaraVR. The one company missing from all this you might say is Apple. Whilst Google, Facebook and Samsung have had incremental soft and hardware releases, Apple have been playing its cards close to its chest. That's not to say it isn't working in this space. Recent hires at Apple include Zeyu Li, who served as a principal computer vision engineer at Magic Leap, Yury Petrov, a former research scientist at Facebook-owned Oculus, and possibly its biggest appointment to date, Doug Bowman; the lead author of a book on the technology called ’3D User Interfaces: Theory and Practice’. As the general trend for investment in hardware development has moved away from VR to AR, I believe that Apple will be looking towards developing an AR glasses solution to compete with Microsoft HoloLens. I don't think we'll see this product in 2017. However, integrating AR into the iPhone and putting the tech into the hands of millions of people will give iGlasses a much better chance of success in 2018.”

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Andy Hood, Head of Emerging Technologies at AKQA, is optimistic about the immediate future of the VR industry, and feels that, whilst gaming is the primary focus right now, other industries will soon come on board.

The PSVR and Oculus Rifts of the VR world are the first generation of products and there are lots of competitors and content to come. It is still very early days, as at the moment we are finding out what the opportunities are and how people can actually get benefits from Virtual Reality. It’s a brand new medium that people haven’t truly been exposed to before and finding out how it can affect processes and businesses and the benefits it can bring is still at the investigation stage. The VR industry has only just begun. Although the technology has existed for while now this is the first time that sophisticated headsets have become available for people outside of the tech industry, and everyone who purchases a headset is experiencing this new medium for the very first time. So this is a time of learning and iteratively improving, both the technology itself and the experiences that we create for it. Since Oculus Rift launched from Kickstarter and showed VR to be a viable product we have seen many competitors join the market and we should expect more.”

He's also optimistic about the future of the medium, though feels that it will need to evolve once the initial 'wow factor' has worn off.

The key thing about VR is the access that it offers. When you can give people virtual access to environments and objects that they wouldn’t otherwise have access to for any reason you are offering them something of tangible value. VR has huge implications for education, and also in health, where it is already being used to treat people with phobias- in the US it is being used to treat soldiers coming back Iraq and Afghanistan with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and the NFL team are using to coach quarter backs. The access to remote locations clearly suggests opportunities in travel, and we are already seeing explorations into it’s impact in entertainment. The novelty factor of VR will wear off, and the ‘wow’ factor people have when they first experience VR will no longer be a given, as people start to demand more from the experience in terms of interaction, physicality, storytelling and drama or functionality and genuine value. The pressure will be in the content-makers to rise to this demand. Poor VR implementation in these early days put people off the medium, needing to be wooed back by better experiences. However, this is a new medium which is here to stay, the good experiences will rise to the top and be transformational, and we will see a world in which VR is not amazing, it is merely another valuable way to connect to the world.”

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Dan Koren, Head of ADI (Artificial Design Intelligence) at Wix.com, hopes that 2017 will see a new market standard for web design spearheaded by AI.

Currently, artificial intelligence is mainly associated with robotics and self-driving cars. Nonetheless, major advances in AI technology have opened the door to many new ideas that were thought impossible a few years ago. Some of the latest AI developments have resulted in new products, particularly creative bots that can design, write stories or even compose music. However, AI developments get even more exciting when applied to digital data and design, since it benefits the creative community such as designers, illustrators, photographers and others. Particularly those planning to take advantage of the opportunities created by the growing freelance gig economy. Things get really exciting with the ability to add machine-learning algorithms into tasks that used to be resource and time consuming such as website building. Platforms like Wix.com have analysed the challenges of creating an online presence (time, design and content creation) and are now offering Artificial Design Intelligence, an opportunity to create a stunning personalised website tailored to their needs, instantly and for free.”

He expands on the potential of ADI.

With this new technology (ADI), it is possible to create a website, complete with text, images and videos. Simply by answering a few questions that point the machine in the right direction, it will create the site based on what it learns about each individual, their business and their own style and digital presence. This technology, powered by data gathered from the experiences of millions of users, blends artificial intelligence and human design sensibility, resulting in algorithms that ensure every website design is unique and stands out. This new technology created a new market standard for web design, making website creation accessible and easy for everyone. Additionally, the fact that ADI can help freelance creative community to easily and quickly create websites with a professional look and feel, will certainly contribute to market brands, raise trust, and provide an optimal user experience leading to a higher percentage of conversions. Artificial intelligence is not just the future of website design. By the end of this decade, AI will be part of our everyday life--whether it be to help build and manage an online business, predict the weather or live healthier lives. I am excited to see the innovation in this space, particularly those developments that will support the growth and efficiency of the creative community.”

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Hamza Abbas, the Business Development Manager for Andrew Lucas Studios, a London-based virtual reality design consultancy, feels that, if 2016 was the year that laid the foundations for virtual reality, 2017 is set to be the year that it really kicks off.

“With several interesting technological developments in the pipeline and new platforms making it ever easier to bring content to the user, the next twelve months should see a rapid acceleration of virtual reality’s capabilities, making it increasingly relevant to our day-to-day lives. As with many technologies, gaming has been the principle use for VR thus far, yet it is becoming increasingly more useful as a professional application for businesses of all shapes and sizes. From virtual showrooms and property developments to the classroom and operating theatres, there is a growing demand for custom VR content as a knowledge- and idea-sharing tool that allows users to interact with a wholly immersive environment. Much of this demand is fuelled by more accessible VR systems being introduced to the market. One such system is Google Daydream, an Android-based, open-source platform for mobile VR. While only the Google Pixel was deemed compatible upon release, other current-generation phones that meet the minimum technical requirements (such as the Motorola Z series) are also Daydream-compatible once updated to Android’s Nougat 7.1 release with its built-in VR mode. Microsoft is also working with several PC makers – including Dell, HP and Lenovo – to create new VR-ready PCs and accompanying headsets. These are intended to greatly reduce the technological barrier to entry and cut down significantly on the costs associated with purchasing a VR set-up. With so many new platforms and headsets on the market, content creators will be crucial to ensure that the VR market lives up to its potential next year. While open standards and more universal system requirements will definitely help to streamline development, it’ll be up to the studios and in-house VR developers to continually invest in R&D efforts to keep up with a quickly evolving sector and deliver the best possible experience to customers.”

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Nick Morey, Head of VR and Senior Creative Manager at Dynamo, believes that the HTC Vive will continue to sit at the forefront of all VR-based developments.

My hope is that HTC and other leading VR companies such as Facebook's Oculus and Sony will continue to build on initiatives such as the Global Virtual Reality Association and increase the level of cross-compatibility within VR. Whilst I don't imagine HTC will directly bring out huge hardware changes to the Vive in 2017, they will continue to put emphasis on startups and other third-parties iterating on the experience through their ViveX accelerator and VR fund.”

He does add, however, that it wouldn't be right to discredit the overall influence that Playstation VR will have in 2017.

As many have already said, the existing market penetration of the PS4 system means that more people are going to have the set-up available to give VR a try. Innovation, particularly within VR, is costly, and so many game developers (for example) are waiting for the user base to pick up and make it more feasible to bring out forward-thinking VR apps. That being said, I'm very excited by the work that's being done to bring eye-tracking to virtual reality. Outside of 360 degree body tracking, adding eyes into the mix will only make the experience more realistic. It's not that far away either, early 2017 should see the developer launch of the FOVE HMD.”

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Ed Daly, MD of digital arts studio seeper, is excited by mixed reality devices like HoloLens and Meta 2.

The HoloLens kits were shipped this year, but it'll be 2017 before studios are showing interesting applications. For us what's cool about mixed reality, that we don't get from fully immersive VR, is that we get to work with a physical space, with projections, lighting, animatronics, atmospherics - all the tricks we use in our attractions projects. It's still early days for the hardware so we don't expect any experiences rolled out at scale in 2017, but we could start to see pilots and events. As for Magic Leap, I don't think anyone expects to see anything concrete from before 2018 - would be happy to be proved wrong on that prediction.”

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Michael Cable, Global VR Technical Director at Framestore, has a number of illuminating VR trend predictions that he shared with us. First, he predicts that not only is eye tracking is coming, but that it will dramatically enlarge our creative canvas.

Eye-tracking in a viable form is soon coming to VR. This mean we can track a user’s experience more precisely to better understand important social triggers like blinking and eye contact – crucial human behaviours that are obscured by wearing a headset. More saliently, though, eye-tracking also means we’re a step closer to ‘foveated rendering’ (where VR tech can mimic the human eye by only rendering in detail the part of the image that’s being focused on). This may sound like a geeky granular detail that’s only relevant to those involved in the production side of VR. But it will have a dramatic impact on the creative side too. Currently, 100% of the VR experience is rendered to a high-level so that users have the freedom to look wherever they want without any sacrifice in quality. But this ‘over-rendering’ creates a pixel wastage. By identifying which part of the screen someone’s looking at, and rendering only that piece of the image in real-time at hi-res, we free up a huge amount of computer processing and rendering power that can instead be used to craft more detail and more fidelity.”

He also feels that hand controllers will create a sea change in user experience.

VR has always been interactive because viewers can control where they are within the experience. But, until now, our hands haven’t been involved and – as babies show us – reaching out to grab something interesting is the most natural reaction in the world. So it was almost inevitable that the next phase of VR evolution would see the technology integrate our hands. The HTC Vive, with its two wireless hand controllers, got there first. And Google’s Daydream VR headset also features a hand controller. But the brand new Oculus Touch half-moon controllers, with their ability to recognise human gestures like pointing, are arguably the smartest of the bunch. These hand controllers mark a paradigm shift that will give VR users a much richer and more interactive experience. But it will also re-write the rules for VR producers: not only do we have to relinquish control of the camera, we now have to give up control over linear temporal narrative too. So we need to free ourselves from the tyranny of strict storyboards and instead take inspiration from the games industry – a field that’s been mastering interactivity long before anyone else – and think more about how to craft experiences that mimic natural human behaviour.”

Finally, he predicts that VR will become a more social experience as technology allows it.

VR is often criticised by naysayers for creating isolated experiences. But Zuckerberg, in his Oculus Connect 3 Keynote, offered us a glimpse into VR’s potential to help people meet in the virtual space. And a few experiences, like Jaguar’s I-PACE concept reveal and Lockheed Martin’s Field Trip to Mars, are already experimenting with virtual interactivity. Currently, though, social VR experiences are rare and tend to be pretty low-fi. We need to work more on how best to handle interactions. The good news is that when eye and gaze tracking come online, we’ll be better placed to pick up on crucial but subtle human gestures like frowning and smiling. These gestures can be recorded by an in-headset camera and sent through networks so social VR users can tell when someone is reacting to them, or falling asleep! These types of advances will add so much more fidelity to social interaction in VR. When combined with developments like foveated rendering, we will eventually get to the point where social VR experiences can be made to look closer to reality; and this will dramatically increase authenticity.”

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Christian Lachel, ECD and Vice President at BRC Imagination Arts, foresees brands and organisations creating seeds of empathy and building more personal experiences using virtual reality in 2017.

“This involves putting yourself in other people’s shoes in more immersive ways, like walking through a day in the life of a Syrian refugee and hearing, seeing and feeling their struggles and triumphs like Clouds Over Sidra. Notes on Blindness is another example of building empathy by bringing the sensory and psychological experience of blindness to individuals through immersive virtual reality. In both these virtual and physical worlds, the goal is to understand how to help others. Virtual reality is a not a high volume experience, it is very personal and allows you connect with other people and events in new and different ways. More and more, consumers want to deepen their understanding of a product or place through brand experiences that align with their values. For example, the Connoisseur Experience at the Guinness Storehouse immerses all five senses, creating an emotional connection and leaving guests with greater brand loyalty. Today’s consumers seek better alignment with the social currency of a brand, not just at face value, but through experience and engagement. People want to understand the brand’s history and values in a fun, story-driven and participatory way.”

He also looked back at some of the activations in 2016 that saw a combination of brands, art and lifestyle coming together.

The combination of brands, art and lifestyle is also trending, connecting musicians and cultural icons to create a powerful and unique experiences. For example, Bjork’s immersive virtual reality exhibition at the Somerset House invites visitors to engage with her work through the latest in virtual reality technology. Or Pure McCartney: Early Days, an emotional journey through the early days of the Beatles. It’s a visual and aural landscape of light, sound, and a few kids from Liverpool. We will continue to see these combinations coming together to do good in the world in more permanent forms.”

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Finally, Guy Bradbury, Founding Partner and Executive Creative Director at Atomic London, believes that 2017 will see VR activations in advertising really come into their own artistically and technologically.

Virtual reality grew exponentially in 2016, and by 2020 the number of headsets in households is expected to grow to 200 million. Because of the mass consumer demand for the tech, there is surge in brands looking to introduce and integrate VR into their wider campaigns. But the creative industry has the tendency to over-hype and under-deliver, so 2017 will be an interesting year to see the tech develop further into the world of advertising. Like many things there is a formula to creating a great VR campaign. It is important to treat the tech as the platform and not the idea – all campaigns must start with the brand story. It is important to evoke emotion through the experience, so that the user strikes an emotional connection with the content and the brand. The experience has to tickle the senses; the use of 3D sound and using the full 360 environment is very powerful, Note On Blindness: Into Darkness did this very well. Adding the personalised aspect to VR is very powerful; after all it is one of the most personal experiences people can have with a brand, granting undivided attention from the consumer, why not exploit it! For our VR campaign The Life Garden for Cancer Research UK, we allowed people to personalise their experience by having their loved ones name blossom out of a flower in a sea of 100,000 flowers; each flower represented a person who had left a gift in their Will to the charity. We look forward to seeing more projects take VR away from the realm of gimmicky to provide meaningful and worthwhile experiences.”

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