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5G Factor: MWC24 Preview – AI, Devices, and UX Shine

5G Factor: MWC24 Preview – AI, Devices, and UX Shine

In this episode of The 5G Factor, our series that focuses on all things 5G, the IoT, and the 5G ecosystem as a whole, I’m joined by my colleague and fellow analyst, Olivier Blanchard, for a look at the top unfolding 5G innovations that caught our eye in the lead up to Mobile World Congress 2024. Key unfolding innovations that we addressed included why 2024 is poised as the year that on-device AI will begin to reset expectations for everyday tech products’ features, capabilities, and user experience (UX), voice and gesture recognition innovations redefining the AR and smart glasses categories, and foldable screens ready to proliferate across the entire device space.

Our analytical review focused on:

On-Device AI Ready for 2024 Breakout. 2024 is poised as the year that on-device AI will begin to reset expectations for everyday tech products’ features, capabilities, and UX. Powerful AI features are making their way to premium handsets, and that trend will continue to dominate the smartphone competitive landscape in 2024. The premium handset segment will push the boundaries of what is possible in pocket-sized form factors. We see that Qualcomm is especially well-positioned to lead the way with its next iteration of the Snapdragon 8 series SOC, presumably the Snapdragon 8 Gen 4, in the Android space. And while Apple has been slower to bring advanced AI features to its iPhone product, 2024 will likely mark the beginning of a more concerted effort to do so. We delve into why we fully expect that semiconductor vendors and their OEM partners to scale on-device generative AI capabilities to as many use cases and form factors as they can.

Voice and Gesture Recognition Set to Redefine AR and Smart Glasses. 2024 is also gearing up to be the year that voice and gesture recognition redefine extended reality (XR) and smart glasses UI. Voice recognition and voice-activated commands have been an indispensable UI layer for smart speakers, smart TVs, mobile devices, smart watches, and hands-free automotive solutions over the course of the past few years, but the successful integration of voice-activated commands to smart glasses in 2023 signaled a paradigm shift in how platform vendors and XR OEMs can approach the challenge of developing instinctive, natural, organic UIs into their breadth of XR solutions. We examine why combining voice recognition, eye tracking, and gesture recognition to XR headsets and glasses will also make every segment in the category a lot simpler for OEMs to design products for by using fewer moving parts and can mean fewer points of failure, more streamlined form factors, as well as more elegant, intuitive, usable UX and operating systems.

Foldable Screens Set to Proliferate Across Device Realm. Watching foldable touchscreen technology struggle to achieve any kind of enduring scale in the device market has been a bit of a head-scratcher these past few years, but 2023 turned out to be a bit of an inflection point for the technology. Now we see that foldable screens are proliferating across device categories and becoming a competitive must-have for device OEMs, it feels like the technology has matured beyond the early adopter consumer segment. We explore how the adoption of the technology by some of the world’s largest device OEMs has helped shift those perceptions and that competition is heating up in 2024 between Motorola, Samsung, Google, Oppo, and OnePlus in the mobile handset segment, although no Apple foldable yet, while HP, Lenovo, and Asus have begun bringing the technology to the PC market.

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Disclosure: The Futurum Group is a research and advisory firm that engages or has engaged in research, analysis, and advisory services with many technology companies, including those mentioned in this article. The author does not hold any equity positions with any company mentioned in this article.

Analysis and opinions expressed herein are specific to the analyst individually and data and other information that might have been provided for validation, not those of The Futurum Group as a whole.

Transcript:

Ron Westfall: Hello and welcome everyone to The 5G Factor. I’m Ron Westfall, research director here at The Futurum Group, and I’m joined here today by my distinguished colleague, Olivier Blanchard, our research director focused on key areas such as devices and semiconductors, including 5G of course. And today, we will be focusing on the major 5G ecosystem developments that have caught our eye. And with that, Olivier, welcome back to the 5G Factor and many thanks for joining today. How have you been bearing up between episodes?

Olivier Blanchard: I’ve been sad because I haven’t been on in weeks, but I’ve been managing as best I can.

Ron Westfall: Well, I’m very pleased to hear that and so welcome back. And yes, I think we’re overdue and so this will be a great time to catch up. And with that, let’s jump right in because as we know, Mobile World Congress 2024 is on the horizon later this month. And with that, we are keen on assessing what we believe are the hot technologies and key trends that we’ll move the needle at the mobile industry’s annual mega event. And to start, we view 2024 as the year that on-device AI will begin to reset expectations for everyday tech products, features, capabilities, and user experience. With that in mind on-device AI is not just limited to PCs, which has been gathering a lot of the headlines recently.

So we fully expect that semiconductor vendors and their OEM partners to scale on device generative AI capabilities. So as many use cases and form factors as they can. Now, we’ve already seen powerful AI features make their way to premium handsets, and that trend will continue to dominate the smartphone competitive landscape throughout 2024. Also, we anticipate that the premium handset segment will push the boundaries of what is possible in pocket sized form factors. For instance, Qualcomm is especially well positioned to lead the way with its next iteration of the Snapdragon 8 series SoC.

Presumably that will be branded as a Snapdragon 8 Gen 4 across the Android space. Plus, while Apple has been slower to bring AI features to its iPhone product, at least advanced AI features, 2024 will likely mark the beginning of a more concerted effort to do so. And for the more budget friendly segments, we expect that many of the more premium AI features introduced last year to start trickling down to the lower price tiers. And with that, Olivier, what are you seeing about on-device generative AI that is, well, exciting?

Olivier Blanchard: Well, I think you’ve introduced it really well. There’s not really a whole lot more for me to talk about. You just kind of covered it all.

Ron Westfall: All right. I didn’t mean to steal the thunder here.

Olivier Blanchard: Yeah, just a little bit, but that’s okay. So to echo a recent interview of Vladimir Putin where he backtracks and just starts telling the history of the world to explain his own ambitions, let me go back in time a little bit, but not quite as far and just say that on-device AI has been around for a bit. It’s been on devices for a few years. But it just hasn’t been that obvious. It hasn’t been very forward, not in the sense that generative AI has been.But AI on device has already helped manage power consumption and make devices more power efficient. On-device AI is also like the MVP, but very subtle MVP in the millimeter wave evolution of 5G where essentially without on-device AI, you wouldn’t be able to do these very complicated calibrations and targeting and triangulation between the stations and the devices. So that’s happening as well. On-device AI has also already been enhancing photos and videos for all of us for quite some time.

They’ve been doing the same thing with sound or noise cancellation in audio and mic applications. So it’s already been there. But I think when it became most noticeable was a few years ago I was at the Qualcomm Snapdragon Summit and they did a live demonstration of a live translation from English to Chinese and back and forth. And there was a phone call between two people with their devices and it was almost simultaneous translation between the two of them using an interface that was basically speech to text and then text translate and then text to speech just instantaneously. I realized, “Okay, this is how AI really becomes mainstream on devices.” And so here we are several years later, not very many years later, and that capability on devices has definitely been influenced by generative AI taking the tech world by storm and all of the advances that come with it.

I think where Qualcomm, since you mentioned them, has a specific advantage over some of the other semiconductors in the device space, not in the data center space is that, one, they’ve been developing very powerful AI capabilities on their chip sets for some time, but they’ve been doing so with extremely limited form factors. It all has to fit into a phone or a device as opposed to being in a data center where you have a little bit more room to breathe and also the thermal envelope. So the energy consumption and the fact that these chips don’t heat up with all of this massive processing happening is something that Qualcomm engineers have been not just working on but perfecting over the last few years.

So they have a little bit of an advantage over some of the other semiconductor companies, which is probably why Qualcomm is kind of the choice SoC vendor and platform vendor for the Android market and why we find their IP in pretty much every major AR or XR headsets. And smart glasses in PC soon as well. It’s a natural evolution. But I think that thermal envelope issue that performance per what and being able to keep the chips performing at a super high level without overheating or draining batteries is probably one of the ways that Qualcomm has really sort of differentiated themselves from the competition there.

Ron Westfall: Yeah. I think you hit the nail on the head. I think one obstacle potentially for not just generative AI but the whole AI ecosystem is that energy challenge, i.e, the vendors out there, the partners, the OEMs, all need to make sure that the needle is threaded quite simply not just on devices but across data centers. Basically, the entire ecosystem where AI is, as you put it, Olivier, is energy intensive. And that I think is something that will bear a major attention from our part. How are the players out there addressing this effectively? And Qualcomm, as we discussed, has a time to market advantage here on the Android side. And I briefly mentioned Apple and we’re anticipating the Apple up its game on device but also at the chip set level. I guess for Mobile Congress ’24, the iPhone 15 having come out and the fact that Apple will logically up its game. I guess from your view, Olivier, what about Apple and generative AI that merits attention at this point?

Olivier Blanchard: Yeah, so it’s interesting. I’m a big fan of Apple, but in the last decade or so, Apple went from being an innovator to being a really good editor. Right?

Ron Westfall: Right.

Olivier Blanchard: And so they’re typically not the first to market with the products and especially in the mobile space, they tend to follow the trends that Android sets and then turn those features that are really popular with Android, give them their own Apple flavor. I wouldn’t say necessarily make them better, but make them their own, make them fit into the Apple ecosystem and just “Apple-fy” them. I think what’s been interesting with Apple is everyone has jumped on the AI craze, an opportunity fairly quickly. And Apple seems to be the only major tech company that feels like it’s a little bit behind. I think it’s partly by design and it’s obviously cultural because that’s been Apple’s model and they’ve been focusing on other things, developing this amazing XR solution. But I think Apple has a longer runway when it comes to new feature adoption and I think Apple has three advantages or basically three tricks up its sleeve to make up the time that some might argue they’ve lost already.

One is they’re making their own chips. And so it’s a lot better for a company like Apple to have the capacity to build their own chips, specifically designed for AI applications, whether they put natural or neural processing units on their chips or SoCs. However, they decide to do it, they can do something that’s custom for their ecosystem and I think that’s going to help them get there faster. And the last few years as we’ve seen, Apple has defied the critics and come out with really good silicon for custom solutions for their own products. So that’s one. Number two, I think Apple already is an AI company. Even though in my opinion Siri is very far behind all of the other voice interfaces, I’m impressed with the use of AI in their XR solution. When you put on the Vision Pro, the gesture control alone and all of the different permutations and the eye tracking and all the things that the system does indicates a pretty high and sophisticated level of AI integration.

And so I think it’s going to be fairly easy for Apple to take what they’ve learned and what they’ve developed and the IP that they’ve incorporated into the Vision Pro into other solutions. So I think that AI for Apple is not going to be that big of a challenge. And the third is market power. They have hordes of cash, immense resources, a huge following, a market footprint that is rivaled by very few companies out there. And so if Apple wants to do something quickly, they can do it quickly and they can scale fast. So I’m not really worried about their resources on that front. If they decide that AI needs to be very forward in their strategy for 2024 to 2025, they’ll make that happen. So I think those three things combined will help them. I wouldn’t say necessarily catch up to the Android ecosystem, but at least not feel like they’re behind. I think Apple will seem a lot more competitive on the eye front next year or even at the end of this year than they do right now.

Ron Westfall: Well, yes, I’m convinced. And so that’s good news for the overall mobile ecosystem naturally. So stay tuned. Clearly Apple will have some moves on the AI front coming up. And with that excellent take on the on-device trends, Olivier, now let’s look at why 2024 will be the year that voice and gesture recognition can redefine extended reality and smart glasses user interfaces. Now, voice recognition and voice activated commands have been an indispensable UI layer for smart speakers, smart TVs, mobile devices, smart watches, and hands-free automotive solutions over the course of the past few years speaking of history.

But the successful integration of voice activated commands to smart glasses in 2023 just last year signaled a dramatic shift in how platform vendors and extended reality OEMs can approach the challenge of developing instinctive, natural organic UIs into their breadth of XR solutions. Something I think we’re all definitely looking forward to. 2024 is going to be an exciting year for this. We’re going to see some of this at the upcoming Mobile World Congress event. And with that, I don’t want to steal any more thunder. Olivier, from your perspective, what are your thoughts on what’s going on with voice and gesture recognition technology?

Olivier Blanchard: Yeah, that’s a really good segue into it since we were basically just talking about that. So this is just another natural extension of how AI integrates into a lot of our devices and we’ve seen it already like you said, with smart speakers. I’m not going to say the names of the assistance because all of my devices are going to turn on and respond, but I can get my smart speaker or my phone or other devices to basically come on and interact with me and play a song, tell me what my calendar is, give me the news. All those things are real easy and it’s nice because it’s hands free.

Your environment becomes smarter and you don’t necessarily have to touch buttons and stuff. I think one of the issues with XR, which encompasses everything from virtual reality, augmented reality, mixed reality, even down to smart glasses which have smart features and some technology but not necessarily augmented reality projection and lenses, is that it’s difficult to play around with interfaces and to remember where things are. Just as an example, if you use any kind of EarPods, you know that it can be tricky sometimes going from one system to another. What’s a tap? What’s a double tap? Do we slide? What do you do to pause? Et cetera. It’s easier to control things with your voice and say, “Call so-and-so or volume down,” or whatever it is.

So with XR specifically trying to fit places where you’re going to have tap to do things when you want to be hands-free, whether you’re driving, riding a bicycle or a motorcycle, or petting your dog or fishing or driving a boat, whatever it is, even if you’re busy typing or doing something, you don’t necessarily want to fiddle with your device. So it is nice to be able to say, “Hey, glasses, take a picture, start video, play the next song. Call so-and-so. Or show me options for X, Y, Z. Are there nearby restaurants?” And to be able to start building this into these systems. What we saw last year I think was a really good first integration with the RayBan and Meta Smart Glasses, which also have Qualcomm chips in them. It’s running on a Qualcomm XR platform. It’s basically the most stripped down version of an XR set of glasses. There’s no projection, there’s no screen, it’s just cameras and audio.

Already, you’re able to see how miniaturized those capabilities can be and how easy it is to just go hands free and do some of these features. The bigger the headsets, the more sophisticated the system, the more AI becomes part of these interfaces where instead of touching the device, you have gesture control where you can control things with your fingers. There’s hand tracking, there’s eye tracking, and there’s also this voice interface where you can start to move objects and menus around and interact with features on the device virtually just by using hand and voice gestures or by blinking at things and looking at them. I think that’s the future of the interface because nobody wants to have controls. Nobody wants to have to fiddle with things that you can’t necessarily see that you have to hold up in front of your screen.

You don’t want to constantly be touching your face or your device to look for a button. And so it’s the natural evolution for this, and I think it’s going to make it so much easier to use that whole range of products in that category from smart glasses all the way to fully immersive VR is just basically going to be run on these natural interfaces that just make it sort of ubiquitous and eliminate most of the barriers of entry when it comes to, aside from financial barriers of entry. But at least the learning curve of being able to just slip one of these on or just put the glasses on and be able to use them right away is going to be really simple. And that’s what we need to make these work for mainstream users. You can’t spend hours learning how to use a device, otherwise you’re just not going to use it.

Ron Westfall: Yeah. That’s so true. I think we’ve seen this before with the false start with the 3D TVs over a decade a ago. And this is good news really. I concur that we’re seeing improvement and the voice and gesture interactions. And so 2024 can start unfolding what can be characterized as more elegant, intuitive form factors and capabilities. And so that’s something that is, again, going to help that mobile ecosystem innovation. And I believe that Mobile World Congress ’24 will see some progress specifically in this area. And I think it also segues into foldable devices, something that I think we’ve all been interested in for a while, but I think it’s coming to the mainstream more.

In fact, what we’re going to see is probably more use cases and more proliferation of foldable devices across the entire mobile market. And as a little foregrounding from our view, we see foldable touchscreen technology having struggled to achieve any kind of enduring scale in the device market for a while now. That’s been a bit of a head scratcher quite simply given some of the inherent benefits of it after the cutting edge implementations. It’s come along a bit more, but I believe what we saw in 2023 is that it’s an inflection point for the technology. We’re seeing watchable and watching the foldable screens quite simply become more prevalent across multiple device categories and becoming a competitive mishap for a lot of the device OEMs out there.
It feels like the technology quite simply has matured beyond that early adopter consumer segment that I touched on. Now, the adoption of the technology by some of the world’s largest device OEMs has helped shift those perceptions. And we’re talking about competition that’s percolating between Motorola, Samsung, Google, Oppo, and OnePlus and the mobile handset segment. And as we talked about, Apple actually also doesn’t have a foldable device yet, so we’re just stay tuned for that as well. But also we’re seeing HP, Lenovo and Asus having begun to bring out the technology on the PC market side of things. And as referenced, we’re seeing that really the market actually becoming a lot more addressable in terms of TAM and so forth. And so with that, I’ll turn it over to you, Olivier. What do you see about foldable technology that’s really going to be interesting and compelling, not only in 2024, but hopefully at the show itself?

Olivier Blanchard: Yeah. So like you said, it’s definitely maturing a little bit. I think one of the issues with the adoption of foldables was… Well, actually it’s twofold. One, why do I need this? Right? So either people get it or don’t. Some people will say, “Wow, I could really use this because…” And we’ll circle back to that in a second. And then some people are going to say like, “No, this is silly. I don’t need that. I just need my screen and I don’t need folding screens.” And so already it’s split the market between these two groups. The second one I think is, “Yes, I like this idea, but what are the risks?

This looks like a potential point of failure. Is the screen at some point going to stop working because you folded so many times that you’re going to start losing pixels or something is going to happen?” Or even from a tactile standpoint, the experience isn’t going to be the same as with a flat screen because I’m going to have a little ridge in there. There’s a little fold, I’m going to feel it. It’s going to feel weird.” And for some people that’s importance. They just want that really clean screen experience as opposed to that. So I think that’s limited the market compared to other features that don’t necessarily create the same types of anxieties or opinions. We’re just talking about brighter screens, bigger screens, smaller screens, tougher screens, whatever. So I think in that first group of people who think about why this is valuable to them, on the one hand it’s the cool hot thing and some people are just going to go with it just because it’s a thing to have and it can be fun.

On the other hand, we’ve seen some really interesting use cases for them, which is interesting, and it’s been important I think for the OEMs to find and articulate those use cases to make the solution valuable and to educate the market and make people realize, “Okay, I didn’t understand this before, but now I do.” And so some of those are basically the ability to have your screen folded so you can watch something with a phone without using a stand or without having to prop up your phone against something. At least you have half of your screen that’s going to be able to fold up. One way that I’ve always looked at it is that those screens or those devices are not foldable.

They’re unfoldable. And so rather than having a phone that’s already small and fits in your pocket fold like a pill box, what they really do is you have a phone that fits into your pocket that unfolds into a bigger device, whether it’s a larger phone, whether it’s more screens or even a phone that unfolds into a tablet when you need it to. I think for me, it’s the exact same device, but looking at it from that perspective makes it more interesting and more valuable. Because sometimes I want a tablet, especially if I’m traveling or I need to make a presentation, but I don’t necessarily want to carry a tablet, I can use an unfoldable phone to turn it into a tablet, and that’s more valuable than taking a tablet and folding it into a phone. So that’s just a matter of perspective.

What I’m seeing this year… Well, I started seeing it last year, is like you said, HP and Lenovo and other PC OEMs also beginning to be more serious about their experimentation of use cases with foldable screens. We’re starting to see some laptops come out that essentially do the same thing. They’re laptops that sort of unfold into tablets or even just second screens with detachable keyboards or keyboards that slide down. HP has a really good solution like that, that’s like an all-in-one laptop that turns into just a huge display, and it’s lovely. It’s a little pricey, but I think it could be the future of PCs for that market segment that is looking for something different, that’s looking for more versatility, and that’s looking for a device that can basically serve all these different purposes.

Another thing that I’m seeing is not so much foldable but bendable screens. So we’ve seen that with televisions, which a curve around, but I’m starting to see that with other screen applications. I wouldn’t call them tablets. I don’t know if there’s a category name that we’ve zeroed in on yet, but essentially things that can wrap around your arm. So you can have, for instance, a display. So you have a tablet and you are a service person out in the field doing something, and you have your tablet with you being able to wrap it around your arm to perform some things and still be able to tap a screen and scroll through and have access to all of this essentially while remaining hands free and not having to wear a headset yet because they’re not really necessarily ready or this solution might be cheaper, that’s the type of application that we’re looking at.

I think that we’re also looking at OEMs trying to weave… Well, pun intended, those types of foldable and stretchable fabrics that are screens into other environments, whether it’s clothing environments like even wallpaper, furniture, essentially being able to mold screens to your environment so that they’re even more ubiquitous and more integrated. Which by the way, just as a last little insight, something that I noticed at CES for the first time is that a lot of OEMs, instead of thinking about the technology ecosystem in an office or in a room or in a living room, we’re really starting to think about the actual room itself and how the technology fits inside of it as opposed to sort of dressing a room with all the things.

So you could have your laptop and your speakers and your headphones and all of your things and then have a decor around it. What I noticed, it was more of an IKEA like design thinking mode where they were trying to figure out how to make all of these technology solutions not only work together with the room, but be perfectly integrated with the room, be part of the room, like every other element, design element in it. It seems like a subtle distinction, but I think it’s actually very important and we’ll track this year to see if it grows into something else. But I think that at the intersection of this design trend with the OEMs and the ability to put a screen pretty much anywhere, I think we’re going to come up with some interesting solutions and use cases by the end of this year.

Ron Westfall: Yes. It is very interesting and really from my view, exciting. I agree, Olivier, that we’re getting closer to what can be characterized as Minority Report sci-fi scenarios becoming-

Olivier Blanchard: A little bit, yeah.

Ron Westfall: … more mainstream, at least more possible. And yes, I like the idea foldables today, we think of smartphones, perhaps tablets, but it’s also spreading over into other form factors. And I think that’s going to be the real excitement that can be described as crossover technologies. And I think it would definitely make a big difference in segments like healthcare, public safety, you name it. And you touched on naturally the retail testing, which I think is very intriguing.

Olivier Blanchard: Yep, exactly.

Ron Westfall: Yes. So with that, we’re looking forward to seeing some progress in these areas at Mobile World Congress on the horizon here. And so with that, once again, thank you Olivier for joining. As we can see, there’s plenty of exciting developments brewing at the beginning of 2024, and hopefully we’ll see more of them during the course of the year. Thank you again for joining.

Olivier Blanchard: Yep. Thanks for having me. And I’ll see you at MWC, by the way. I’ll be there.

Ron Westfall:We’ll definitely be joining some sessions together, for example.

Olivier Blanchard: Excellent. Okay. Looking forward to it.

Ron Westfall: So that is a no brainer. And with that, thank you everyone for coming on board and joining us. Again, we appreciate our listening and viewing audience for coming into these webcasts, podcasts. And always don’t forget to reserve us. And with that, happy and great 5G day, everyone.

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Author Information

Ron is an experienced, customer-focused research expert and analyst, with over 20 years of experience in the digital and IT transformation markets, working with businesses to drive consistent revenue and sales growth.

He is a recognized authority at tracking the evolution of and identifying the key disruptive trends within the service enablement ecosystem, including a wide range of topics across software and services, infrastructure, 5G communications, Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI), analytics, security, cloud computing, revenue management, and regulatory issues.

Prior to his work with The Futurum Group, Ron worked with GlobalData Technology creating syndicated and custom research across a wide variety of technical fields. His work with Current Analysis focused on the broadband and service provider infrastructure markets.

Ron holds a Master of Arts in Public Policy from University of Nevada — Las Vegas and a Bachelor of Arts in political science/government from William and Mary.

Olivier Blanchard has extensive experience managing product innovation, technology adoption, digital integration, and change management for industry leaders in the B2B, B2C, B2G sectors, and the IT channel. His passion is helping decision-makers and their organizations understand the many risks and opportunities of technology-driven disruption, and leverage innovation to build stronger, better, more competitive companies.  Read Full Bio.

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