Exciting News from Forward Concepts

Effective with this newsletter, Forward Concepts is merging its newsletter publication with seasoned colleagues at TIRIAS Research. My personal experience with principals in TIRIAS Research goes back more than a dozen years and their technical and writing expertise will be a welcome expansion of the newsletter. Descriptions of the experienced analysts on Tirias’ staff are on the linked website. This issue of our joint newsletter follows the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), so below you can see our informed coverage of the key technical innovations presented at the show. With the change, I will become a contributor to the new newsletter and will also be a Senior Advisor to TIRIAS Research. Of course, you can expect format changes with the next newsletter.

What was Hot at CES 2017? – AI, AR, Autos, IoT & VR

CES is so massive, that you can never see everything and every time you turn around, you see something new. CES used to be about anything that was connected to power – batteries, AC, or even renewable power. Now, however, CES also includes the last things you would ever think of being connected – from walking canes to saddles. If you can add sensors and connect them to a smart phone, router, or the cloud, rest assured that someone is trying to connect it…all in the name of collecting data and trying to add value to the consumer.

As expected, CES was filled with new products, there were only a few standouts from the crowd. The first product to announce using the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 was ODG (Osterhout Design Group) R-8 and R-9 AR smart glasses. These glasses are fully contained with better optics and Qualcomm processor inside the frames. The glasses also use the 835 to full effect with graphics for rendering, CPU for running Android, and the Hexagon DSP for inside-out motion tracking.

While we’re on Qualcomm, the Snapdragon 820A gained automotive designs from Volkswagen for its infotainment systems. In addition, the company released the Qualcomm Neural Processing Engine and Symphony SDK to utilize heterogeneous computing cores (CPU, GPU, and DSP) for machine learning and computer vision. Qualcomm has plans to make the 820A part of ADAS systems. Qualcomm also announced the Snapdragon X16 LTE modem for automotive with support for up to 1Gbps download speeds.

NVIDIA’s DrivePX platform picked up support from Audi, Bosch, ZF, and Mercedes-Benz. NVIDIA’s CEO Jen-Hsun Huang devoted about a third of his keynote to automotive and AI (Artificial Intelligence) required for autonomous and “co-piloted” driving.

There was a plethora of new smartphones from the likes of ASUS, Huawei, ZTE, and others. Look for more devices as we approach Mobile World Congress (MWC) in late February. Thus far, the Huawei Honor 6x and Mate 9 continue to impress with sleek designs, long battery life, and dual cameras. The ASUS ZenFone AR includes Google’s Project Tango AR (Artificial Reality) platform.

A key trend that we had anticipated this year was wireless in-ear audio solutions. There were hundreds of companies demonstrating new Bluetooth-connected headsets and earbuds, but only a select few that eliminate even the wires between the two ears, such as Earin and SkyBuds. The big winner from a technology standpoint appears to be NXP, as the more advance solutions were all using NXP Semiconductor’s near field magnetic induction technology referred to as MiGLO technology under the “hearables” product brand. NXP’s ultra-low-power DSP technology from their hearing aid products is an integral part of the solution.

A company called Bloomlife is offering a wireless contraction monitor that is the size of a large Band-Aid. The remote healthcare solutions from companies like Bewell were very impressive and give us hope for FDA approved solutions in the near future.

The digital assistant, on the other hand, was a key category at CES in 2017. Sparked by the form factor innovation of the Amazon Echo, digital assistants were everywhere in just about every size and shape. More importantly, however, is the innovation around Amazon’s Alexa, the artificial intelligence (AI) solution powering the Echo. The availability of the Alexa development platform has sparked Alexa’s use in everything from smoke alarms to smartphones to cars. Alexa was everywhere at CES cementing Amazon’s position as a leader in AI platforms and enabling new generations of electronic solutions.

Well, with this year’s CES behind us, we turn our focus to other areas of innovation. With Mobile World Congress (MWC) just around the corner, the deluge of new product and technology announcements in unlikely to abate until at least the end of the first quarter. While some of the new products featured at CES failed to excite us as industry analysts, this is a great time to be watching and participating as the industry shifts to the Intelligence of Things (IoT).

Additional TIRIAS Research coverage of CES can be found on Forbes.com including preview of CES and a review of the press events, and AR/VR.

NOKIA Lives Again

Nokia was once the market leader in smartphones, some seven years before the iPhone was launched in 2007.  Nokia’s Symbian operating system was the first true smartphone operating system, one that went beyond feature phones that employed a simple touchscreen, email and PDA features. That OS was first employed on Ericsson’s R380 in 2000, but Finland-based Nokia went on to employ Symbian in its own cellphones with great success. But, the iPhone’s rapid growth, among other things, led to Nokia’s market decline. Then Microsoft bought out Nokia and the re-named Lumia product line, employing Windows OS which proved to be unsuccessful. Now a Finish holding company named HMD Global has licensed the Nokia name from Microsoft and employs a number of former Nokia employees in Finland. Foxconn has been engaged to manufacture the new smartphones based on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon modem/application processor chips.

Introduced at CES, the mid-market Nokia 6 employing the Android OS is based on the Snapdragon 430 chipset, 5.5-inch full HD display, 4GB RAM and 64GB internal memory with a 16 MP rear camera and 8 MP front camera. The first million units were sold out in one day through JD.com, the exclusive Chinese e-tailer for the device. More volume sales are expected in a few weeks as supplies are replenished.

But at the upcoming MWC in Barcelona, Nokia is expected to introduce their flagship phone (rumored to be the P1) based on the Snapdragon 835. Early leaks indicate a Gorilla Glass 5 protected 5.3-inch Sharp Aquos Xx3 2K display, 6GB RAM, 256GB internal storage, 16 MP rear camera and 8 MP front camera, dual speakers a fingerprint sensor and Android 7.0. Rumored pricing is $950 with $800 for the 128GB version.  Maybe their plan is to make the iPhone 7 look cheap J

As always, I encourage your feedback.

Will Strauss
President & Principal Analyst, Forward Concepts, wis@fwdconcepts.com
Senior Advisor, TIRIAS Research, will@tiriasresearch.com

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