This is a week in the calendar all techies look forward too….The 2019 CES Conference.  Anyone who’s anyone from the world of tech has headed to Las Vegas where they’ll be treated to all the good and great we can expect from digital and tech innovation in 2019.

Nestled amongst other tech news, Our Week in Digital will use this edition to showcase some of our favourite products launched at the show.  While we can’t offer a majestic fountain or a to-scale model of the Eiffel Tower, we hope our little insight into some of what’s on offer is (almost) as good as being there in person! 

Amazon becomes world’s most valuable public company.

2019 looks set to be great for the online giant.  As we move into only the second week of the new year, it has been announced that Amazon has overtaken Microsoft in the race to become the world’s most valuable public company; surprisingly the first time it has held the position.   Back in November, Our Week in Digital highlighted that this title had been regained by Microsoft; 16 years after they became victims of the dotcom crash which plagued the early noughties.

As the US stock market closed on Monday, Amazon had risen 3.4% and enjoyed a valuation of  $797bn (£634bn).  Microsoft, who were sitting at first place, were valued at $789bn.  

In line with this Amazon vs. Microsoft rivalry of sorts, Amazon founder, Jeff Bezos has been identified as the world’s wealthiest man.  According to Bloomberg’s billionaire index, he enjoys riches of $135bn. Bezos overtook Microsoft’s Bill Gates last year.

The latter half of 2018 was a period of ups and downs for big technology stock.  The fortunes of the big three at the top have been volatile. Indeed, it’s been a closely fought race between Apple, Amazon & Microsoft.

In August, Apple became the world’s first public company to be worth $1tn (£767bn), while Amazon achieved that valuation in September.  Since then though, Apple’s fortunes on the stock market have waned.  Its sales in China have slowed, and this drop in favour amongst this huge population of tech consumers has affected its fortunes.  To date, Apple is valued at $702bn.

So the race is on! We anticipate that each of these giants will have big things on the horizon for 2019, and of course, we can’t discount Google!  Watch this space as the Silicon Valley big hitters slug it out for places on the podium.

Google Assistant users set to reach one billion.

It is anticipated that AI will be one of THE key trends to look out for in 2019.  It will undoubtedly feature heavily at the CES conference. Companies of all shapes and sizes will head there and it appears like Google will have a presence like never before!  Quite apart from the rumoured monorail and HUGE booth they are planning on inhabiting, they also had some pretty exciting news to announce regarding their Google Assistant.

By the end of the month, it is expected that it will feature on 1 billion devices — up from 500 million in May 2018.  Impressive numbers we think you’ll agree, and a whopping 900 million more that Amazon just disclosed for Alexa.

However, this number is not without limitations.   In a recent interview given to The Verge, Manuel Bronstein, the company’s vice president of Google Assistant admitted that at the current time this usage is heavily weighted toward phones.  Indeed, he stated that “on Android devices, we have a very very large footprint”, and characterises that the ratio of phones holds the “vast majority” of that billion figure. However, he was quick to point out that smart speakers and other connected home devices comprise a notable and growing market.

The tech giants have achieved some significant and ambitious results from Assistant.  Perhaps these are best underlined if we delve into the figures a little more closely. Google Assistant currently operates in over 80 countries worldwide and works in more than 30 languages.  They have also disclosed that active users have quadrupled globally year on year since it was launched back in 2016.

So what is next for Google in 2019?

In the same interview, Bronstein hinted that feature phones will make up the largest sector of emerging markets and will be their target market for the next ‘billion users’;

“There are large, large numbers of feature phones in the market today — hundreds of millions. … But if you think about writing, reading, and typing on those feature phones, it’s not that simple. And the voice-first interaction is becoming increasingly important in those markets, and we’re beginning to see traction there…there’s a massive opportunity for voice interaction and assistive technology in those markets as well”.

We’ll have to wait until February’s Mobile World Congress to hear in more detail all that Google has planned for feature phones.  If their massive presence at CES is any indication it looks set to be big, and of course, Our Week in Digital will bring you all the ‘need to know’ as it happens!

Computer vision startup, Scape Technologies raises $8million

There is a big noise surrounding AR amongst the tech community right now.  In fact, it is highly predicted to be one of those key areas of disruption for the coming year.  Step forward then, Scape Technologies.

Scape Technologies are a London based startup specialising in spatial intelligence and computer vision.  On Tuesday, they revealed that they have raised $8 million in seed funding to launch the first version of its “visual positioning service”.  This product allows developers to create apps that require a finer level of location accuracy; far beyond GPS capabilities alone.

In these early stages, the tech will target augmented reality apps, but looking to the longer term, could also be used to power applications in mobility, logistics and robotics.  More broadly speaking, the company have an overall goal of enabling any machine equipped with a camera to understand its surroundings.

Edward Miller is Scape’s CEO and co-founder.  Earlier this week, he said of the project;

“We set out on a mission to build a new type of infrastructure, to allow computers to safely interpret and navigate the world, using only a camera. To make this possible, we’ve built what we refer to as our ‘Vision Engine’, which lies at the heart of everything we do at Scape”.

The revolutionary ‘Vision Engine’ can be described as a large scale mapping platform; one which creates 3D maps from ordinary images and video.   The camera devices can then question the ‘vision engine’, using the pioneering Visual Positioning Service API to determine its exact location with far greater precision than GPS has previously allowed.

Such progressive capabilities have been a long time coming.  Scape have been working on this product for two years taking their time to ensure their product is accurate, robust and scalable.  Miller has gone on to acknowledge that the world is “a big place”, and as such, the system needs to be able to “grow with demand”.

This startup has exciting ambitions for 2019 and beyond.  Over the next 5 years, Scape plan to develop what it calls “ubiquitous spatial intelligence,” allowing devices to understand where they are and what is around them, using only a camera.  This level of growth will power the future of the tech space. Wearable devices, the IoT and particularly the connected car continue to surge to the forefront of our arena. The world is becoming increasingly augmented with products designed to integrate seamlessly into our lives.  It stands to reason then that the tech behind it must be able to accurately understand where they are and what’s around them.

IBM premier world’s first quantum Super Computer.

Tech giants IBM have used the illustrious stage at the CES conference to unveil that they have built the world’s first commercial quantum super computer…a breakthrough that could one day lead to PCs that are millions of times faster than regular machines.  

The system, named the IBM Q System One uses theories of physics to create computing techniques that are far more powerful than current devices.  This process serves to make the computer vastly more powerful than regular computers; able to arrive at answers more quickly, especially when using huge data sets or complicated algorithms.

IBM have been running tests on its Q System since 2016.  Until now, it has only been used to run trials and experiments by 100,000 scientists and researchers.  However, when it launches later this year, it will represent the first step towards commercial use and customer availability.

Arvind Krishna is the director of Research at IBM.  Of the launch, he has confirmed the launch as changing the face of modern computing:

“The IBM Q System One is a major step forward in the commercialisation of quantum computing…” and will be “critical in expanding quantum computing beyond the walls of the research lab.”

Understandably, the company are very protective of their innovative product!  Not only is it encased in a metal cylinder, it is currently on display at CES in glass casing half an inch thick.  Protection levels, that in the past, have been met by the crown jewels and The Mona Lisa!

Hardly surprising…tech this innovative needs protection worthy of the Masters and royalty!

Would you store your door key in the Cloud?

Have you ever lost the keys to your front door and wished there was a solution that didn’t require you to change the locks, enduring all the hassle and expense that goes with it?  Well…good news! There is now a digital solution!

The Las Vegas CES show is a hive of digital innovation. Companies big and small use this as a platform to launch new and progressive technologies.  We’ve already mentioned some of the ‘sharks’…Google’s numerous announcements, and IBM’s supercomputer to name but two!

Also attending the conference are lesser known, KeyHero; a US company who have revealed they have partnered with a huge hardware store, Home Depot and can now scan and upload a precise image of any key to the cloud.

If a key is lost, its image can be then recalled via a mobile phone app and recreated without needing the original.  Also useful is that if needed, the image can be shared with anyone who requires access…property managers, dog walkers or a neighbour for instance.

Despite the move toward such a high-tech solution, the company do not see this as the end for traditional key hardware.  Michael Rosenblatt, vice-president of product development says that despite the advent of digital locks, most of these solutions still require physical keys as a backup.

Amazon’s Alexa and Yale locks are just a couple of examples of how connected our homes are becoming.  This latest digital innovation is yet further evidence of the path we are taking toward a fully digital age.  Solutions to everyday problems are cropping up in the most unexpected of places, and we’re sure that we’ll see more of this into 2019 and beyond.

Manchester United to launch entertainment centres across China.

With over 107 million followers across online platforms, Manchester United ended last year as China’s most popular digital team. It seems like a smart move then, that they plan to spend the next couple of years creating a series of club-themed entertainment and experience centres in China.   

Hardcore fans who visit the centre will be treated to an experience which looks set to rival the true “match day” experience.  

The club have teamed up with Chinese property developers, Harves to launch the centres; the first of which is set to open in Beijing by 2021.  Harves boss, Zhang Bo has revealed that the complexes would be “fully immersive” experiences; using VR to educate, entertain and inspire the next generation of fans.  Manchester United hope that a visit to these centres will allow the Chinese fanbase to experience what it feels like to be part of the club…part of the culture and that this will allow them to get closer to the club they love.

Immersive, interactive experiences such as these are cropping up across the globe.  Leading the stampede across the UK are Game.  They launched their first Belong Gaming arena in Manchester back in 2016.  Much like the “Old Trafford” experience, Chinese fans will receive, the Belong centres have created a community for gamers; a destination for fans who want to experience the best in console entertainment and be part of something bigger.

While we’re sure there is no substitute for the “real thing”, such an immersive experience cannot be rivalled for overseas fans. The coupling of Manchester United’s deep pockets and China’s well-documented love of tech indicate that the partnership is bound to be a success.  

Google launch instant, real-time language translator.

Not only is it proving to be the world’s most used smart device, Google Assistant has also just got a whole lot smarter.  The tech giant has revealed this week that they have integrated a real-time Babel-fish system used to translate foreign languages.

It has installed an “interpreter mode” for its voice-controlled speakers, allowing two people speaking different languages to converse in real time.

Google has highlighted that the tech will improve consumer services across a variety of sectors.  Hotel concierge desks in San Francisco, Las Vegas and New York have already been trialling the device to help check in guests.  Looking to the future, it could also be used to revolutionise transportation services across the world. Perhaps most importantly, the tech could be used across industry, business or even medicine; helping to translate business presentations or to facilitate collaboration amongst great minds.

The interpreter mode works on the Google Home range of smart speakers.  It is controlled with voice commands and can translate 27 languages. Perhaps these latest developments are best described as an extension of Google’s online translation software; something which the company now claim to be as accurate as using a professional, human interpreter.  

Users can launch the system by saying a phrase such as “Help me speak French”. The device then transcribes what one person says in their language, translates it, and reads it out in the other person’s native tongue.  Very clever, we think you’ll agree.

Just like many of the new products we’ve featured this week, Google have used CES as its launch pad, ensuring that it receives as much exposure as possible.  Alongside this, they have added an alarm clock system to their already impressive ‘smart’ portfolio, along with integrations for its virtual assistant software.  These developments have facilitated the use of an assortment of internet-connected, voice-controlled gadgets.

We won’t have to wait long to experiment with these updates for ourselves.  Google anticipate that interpreter mode would be a feature on smart speakers that use its Google Home software in the next few weeks.

Tres bien, Google! Tres Bien!

UK & London remain top of the table.

Last but by no means least, we’d like to take a moment to acknowledge that despite the impending changes on the political landscape and the surge of tech hubs further afield, London and the UK continue to dominate the European tech landscape!

The UK has long been home to a vast number of entrepreneurial and transformative tech and digital businesses.  We were hardly surprised to learn then that Britain’s tech sector attracted more venture capital investment and tech IPOs than any other European hub in 2018.  According to end-of-year investment data published on Wednesday by London & Partners and PitchBook, London did particularly well.   Indeed, our capital’s tech companies received £1.8bn (72%) of the total £2.49bn raised by British tech firms. Not only this. The research also showed that London-based tech businesses are benefiting from access to almost double the amount of growth capital than other European cities such as Paris, Berlin and Stockholm.

AI, Blockchain and the fintech sector did particularly well, enjoying record growth in 2018.  UK firms within these industries received over £200m in VC funding compared with the amounts raised in 2017 (£19.11m) and 2016 (£51.96m).

Deputy mayor for business, Rajesh Agrawal is pleased but not surprised by these latest figures.  In a statement released on Wednesday he said;

“The fantastic success of our tech sector is rooted in our city’s openness and our diverse, international talent pool. Regardless of the outcome of Brexit, London will remain open to innovation, talent and investment from all over the world.”

These figures confirm what we at Ignite have borne witness to over 2018…that London is a hotspot for innovation, and more broadly speaking, that the UK is going from strength to strength as a technology leader.   We have been approached by some exciting fintech and AI companies looking to significantly increase their workforce, demonstrating the need to meet the growing demand for their services. It’s exciting times for us at Ignite and we are proud to partner some of these organisations as they build on their success.  

If you are a tech or digital professional wanting to be a part of the booming UK tech scene in 2019, then we can help.  Get in touch with one of our consultants today.

About the author: I manage the recruitment for a range of digital roles for my clients on both a retained and contingency basis. I specialise in senior and confidential appointments, always giving a first class representation of a client’s employer brand.

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