Smartphones will continue to be one of the most followed technologies in the consumer tech industry.

Will 2019 be a year of smarter technologies and innovation? Izwan Ismail and Balqis Lim look at the tech crystal ball

TECHNOLOGY has always been interesting and there has never been a year that is not filled with exciting innovation as well as happenings.

This year has been a pretty exciting year as well as one that is full of challenges, especially in the cyber security areas.

As the dawn of the new year approaches, let’s take a look at what could be in store for all of us in 2019.

First and foremost, let’s take a look at the most happening industry in the consumer electronic space — the mobile or smartphone arena.

As the most important device to everyone today, smartphones will continue to be one of the most followed technologies in the consumer tech industry.

The upcoming Consumer Electronic Show (CES) in Las Vegas in early January and the Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona in February will be the platforms to gauge what’s coming in the smartphone arena for the year.

While the traditional physical design of smartphones may have reached its peak of innovation, with almost all phones looking the same today, consumers can expect new revolutionary designs to be introduced, like the foldable smartphone.

Tech giants like Samsung and LG have already made investments in this new phone design and are expected to showcase their products this year.

Players like Motorola, Huawei and Apple too are said to be preparing themselves for such a design in their smartphones.

Like all residents, Ooi folds her own laundry.

Samsung president and chief executive officer (IT and mobile communications division) D.J. Koh confirmed during his visit to Kuala Lumpur last October that the company will introduce the foldable phone soon.

“We are quite close to delivering the product to consumers. When we have the date fixed, we will make the announcement,” he says.

When coming out with a new product, Koh says every aspect must be looked into carefully.

“Even when folding a paper, we must deliver a unique experience. What we are pursuing is the best consumer experience,” he adds.

Essentially, foldable smartphones will offer larger screens while offering a smaller form factor when folded.

The OLED and AMOLED screen technologies are making this possible and the phone may even be able to transform into a small laptop with part of its screen becoming the soft keyboard.

A.I. or artificial intelligence has been one of the most used acronyms in the tech industry in 2018 especially in the mobile arena where every other smartphone introduced has the world A.I. in its promotion materials.

From image enhancements to voice assistants in smartphones, expect A.I. to move more into consumer products, such as smart speakers running Alexa, TVs running Google Home, smart lightbulbs, cars and more.

LG Electronics, one of the companies that is heavily investing in A.I., says the technology will be huge in the consumer and business landscape in the years ahead.

“A.I. will ultimately touch everybody’s lives, transforming the way we live, work and play,” says its president and chief technology officer Dr I.P. Park.

“Early implementation of A.I. in connected devices today is setting the stage for tomorrow’s smart cities, smarthomes, smart businesses and smart devices, all with capabilities beyond our imagination,” he says.

Meanwhile, research company Gartner says that by next year, 20 per cent of user interactions with smartphones will take place via VPAs or virtual personal assistants.

Many mobile app interfaces will become subservants of VPAs, and advances in various technologies will drive users to interact with their smartphones in more intuitive ways.

Expect AI to move more into consumer products.

“The role of interactions will intensify through the growing popularity of VPAs among smartphone users and conversations made with smart machines,” says Annette Zimmermann, research view president at Gartner.

Apple’s Siri and Google Now are currently the most widely used VPAs on smartphones.

VPAs’ usage is bound to accelerate as they add many new features, including integration for business services, further language support and appear across more devices.

Gartner expects that in the coming months, VPAs will change the way users interact with devices and become universally accepted as part of everyday life.

VPAs are already fulfilling simple tasks such as setting the alarm or retrieving information from the web. In the near future, these systems will be able to deliver more complex tasks such as completing a transaction based on past, present and predicted context.

By 2020, Gartner predicts that zerotouch UI (user interface) will be available on two billion devices and IoT (Internet of Things) endpoints.

“Interactions will move away from touchscreens and will increasingly make use of voice, ambient technology, biometrics, movement and gestures,” says Zimmermann.

Gartner also forecasts that worldwide shipments of wearable devices will reach 225 million in 2019, an increase of 25.8 per cent from 2018.

End-user spending on wearable devices is forecast to reach US$42 billion (RM175 billion) in 2019. Of that, US$16.2billion will be on smartwatches.

“At the moment, the smartwatch market is bolstered by the relatively stable and higher average selling price (ASP) of the Apple Watch,” says its senior director, Alan Antin.

“But the overall ASP of smartwatches is expected to slowly decline from US$221.99 in 2018 to US$210 in 2022, due to lower-priced competitors and as higher volumes lead to reductions in manufacturing and component costs, while strong brands like Apple and traditional watch brands try to keep pricing stable.”

Worldwide shipments of wearable devices will reach 225 million in 2019.

In 2019, 74 million smartwatches will be shipped, which makes smartwatches the top segment of all wearable device form factors.

However, Gartner predicts that by 2022, ear-worn devices “hearables” shipments will take over as the top wearables segment with 158 million units shipped compared with 115 million smartwatch shipments in 2022.

As technologies get more advanced and more devices and machines become connected to each other, security threats also increases.

This year has been quite a challenging year for Malaysian organisations with regards to cyber security.

Based on a joint report by Microsoft and Frost & Sullivan, the potential economic loss in Malaysia due to cybersecurity incidents can hit a staggering US$12.2 billion.

This is more than four per cent of Malaysia’s total GDP of US$296 billion.

“As companies embrace the opportunities presented by cloud and mobile computing to connect with customers and optimise operations, they take on new risks,” says Dr Dzahar Mansor, national technology officer at Microsoft Malaysia.

“With traditional IT boundaries disappearing, the adversaries now have many new targets to attack. Companies face the risk of significant financial loss, damage to customer satisfaction and market reputation — as has been made all too clear by the recent high-profile breaches.”

The findings of the study were launched in the presence of CyberSecurity Malaysia, Malaysia’s national cyber security specialist agency.

“Cyber-attacks have become a common occurrence not just in Malaysia but around the globe,” says Datuk Dr Amirudin Abdul Wahab, chief executive officer of CyberSecurity Malaysia.

Companies can also find plenty of clues in the events of the past 12 months.

Among the now familiar forms of attack, cyber hacks of major corporate systems and websites continued in 2018 and will inevitably be part of the 2019 cyber security scene.

Attackers will exploit AI systems and use it to aid assaults.

Many well-known organisations around the world suffered significant breaches this year.

One thing for sure, attackers will exploit A.I. systems and use it to aid assaults. Even as these systems helpfully automate manual tasks and enhance decision-making and other human activities, they also emerge as promising attack targets, as many A.I. systems are home to massive amounts of data.

In addition, researchers have grown increasingly concerned about the susceptibility of these systems to malicious input that can corrupt their logic and affect their operations.

The fragility of some AI technologies will become a growing concern in 2019.

In some ways, the emergence of critical AI systems as attack targets will start to mirror the sequence seen 20 years ago with the Internet, which rapidly drew the attention of cyber criminals and hackers, especially following the explosion of Internet-based e-commerce.

One of Malaysians’ favourite pastimes, online shopping, will continue to flourish in 2019.

Online malls such as Shopee, Lazada, 11street and ShopBack will see healthier growth, based on the successful online shopping campaigns throughout 2018.

The recent 12.12 sale was the biggest online sale event in Southeast Asia. In Malaysia, the number of orders on that day spiked by nearly 15 times compared to any day in the first week of December.

This number is revealed by ShopBack, a portal that empowers over seven million users on more than 1,500 online partners in Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, Taiwan, the Philippines and Australia.

Among all the Southeast Asia countries that ShopBack operates in (excluding Taiwan and Australia), Malaysia ranks the second in terms of number of orders, slightly behind Indonesia but about 80 per cent higher than Singapore.

Malaysia has seen a significant rise in e-sports in terms of acceptance and recognition in 2018.

In the 2019 budget, an allocation of RM10 million has been announced for the development of e-sports.

Razer CEO Min-Liang Tan has responded positively on the government’s announcement and pledged to invest RM10 million for e-sports in Malaysia next year to bring the industry to the next level.

In raising our local e-sports industry on the world stage, we also saw Malaysia hosting Kuala Lumpur Major in November, the first Dota 2 Major of the 2018/19 season at Axiata Arena.

The highlight of next year will be the Southeast Asia Games in the Philippines where e-sports will be one of the official medal events — with games including Dota 2, Starcraft II, Tekken 7, Arena of Valor, and Mobile Legends: Bang Bang to be contested.

Moreover, with e-sports arenas like The Pantheon in Subang Jaya and Battle Arena in Petaling Jaya, we can expect more people, regardless of age, to hop onto this industry.

eSports has received official recognition as a full-medal event in the 2022 Asian Games.

More competitions will also be held with participation from private companies such as airlines and banks.

In terms of devices, brands like Acer, Lenovo, Asus and HP have already produced their own gaming product lineup.

We will continue to see upgrades of the products and more accessories made available to suit gamers’ needs.

As mobile penetration is high in Malaysia, more people have also turned to social media for everything.

In fact, some people who are active on certain social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube command followers in the hundreds of thousands.

Advertisers flock to these “social media influencers” — celebrities, bloggers, vloggers, YouTubers, and media personalities — to promote their products.

Influencer marketing has become the new advertising strategy for brands and will continue to rise next year with a new generation of influencers being in the limelight.

It will be a rare occasion for any brand to launch a product or campaign that does not involve at least one or two social media influencers.

However, a one-off deal with these social media influencers will not be enough. Next year, we predict more of them to become brand ambassadors and be a part of a longer-term strategy to build relationships with their customers.

Companies have seen their power and effectiveness to create brand awareness and also reach their target audience in various media channels.

Although 5G network has been the talk of the town at almost every tech-related summit and conferences since last year, we have yet to see any big breakthrough in terms of its implementation, even in Malaysia.

However, with a Malaysian 5G Taskforce that was set up by the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission recently, we hope to see more 5G developments in the country.

Communications and Multimedia Minister Gobind Singh Deo says 5G network testbeds will be in Cyberjaya and Putrajaya and we can expect to see product tests and trials there soon.

The Taskforce will produce a monthly report to Gobind and is expected to prepare a comprehensive report on the 5G Key Challenges and 5G Nationwide Implementation Plan by Q3 2019.

Although 2020 is dubbed as the year that 5G global standard will be released, next year will see commercial advances in 5G, which we see in some areas of the world already like the 5G drone coverage at the Winter Olympics in South Korea.

Chinese telecommunications company Huawei, for example, also announced its 5G data chip, the Balong 5000, recently. It will also be unveiling its first 5G smartphone next year.

Besides faster interconnectivity, 5G plays a crucial role in the development of self-driving cars, drones, boosting artificial intelligence and many more.

Meanwhile, Gartner says 5G phones will reach the market next year. By 2021, nine per cent of all smartphones sold will support 5G and it will bring faster uplinks and support new AI applications.

Rollouts of 5G networks is expected to start in select countries next year, such as the US and South Korea.

The company predicts that by 2021, nine per cent of smartphones sold will support 5G. Overall, 5G will be a significant driver of video and streaming services, as it will bring faster uplinks and support new AI applications.

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