Next Generation Technologies

Next Generation Technologies

We will explore emerging technologies that could be extremely powerful in the future but are unlikely to hit the mainstream in 2019.

The Blockchain

Much has been written about cryptocurrencies and the blockchain technology that underpins them. This is essentially a system in which a number of different computers contribute to a time-stamped, secure, permanent and public ledger – thus allowing for automated transactions that many believe will make business radically cheaper and easier. So far, the system is best known for facilitating speculative currencies, but could it do more? Could it help secure the future of journalism?

Civil Media is a non-profit start up that aims to do just that, to help news outlets raise money from readers and investors while also providing new tools to monetise journalism. Civil is currently supporting more than a dozen newsrooms with significant grants, including local and investigative news outlets, even though its initial token sale spectacularly failed to reach its target. A new ‘simpler’ token sale is a planned for 2019.

Participating newsrooms also sign up to the Civil Constitution, which defines the values and standards expected of the community. Civil credibility labels provide further detail about processes and sourcing of a particular story.

The Civil initiative is just one way of using blockchain technology, In theory, it could also unlock micropayments for individual stories or authors by doing away with credit card and inter-banking fees that currently make these impractical. This could open the way for lower cost, and more diverse models to flourish that don’t require paywalls or advertising.

Another media-focused start-up, po.et, is specialising in mapping blockchain and crypto-currencies to current industry standards in media and publishing to allow text, video or pictures to be licensed in this way. This could make it easier to syndicate and manage content for different territories, with the process of managing rights effectively automated.

And then there is the Holy Grail of verification. In theory, it might be possible to construct and crowd-source real-time ledgers of the truthfulness of an individual piece of content, perhaps by getting the community to vote on it. This is much more contentious and the association with volatile crypto currencies is likely to distract from the potential of these technologies – a situation which is likely to persist through 2019.

Smartphone manufacturers bet on foldable phones and 5G networks

Smartphone sales declined for the first time ever last year after growing at an average of 16% between 2012 and 2017. The market is close to saturation and consumers are holding on to their phones for longer. One consequence of this is higher prices. Apple’s latest iPhones sell for an eye-watering $1,000 or more and it is possible we’ll see the first $2,000 price tag this year as the first foldable and 5G phones come on stream.

The world’s largest manufacturer, Samsung, is looking to revive its fortunes with new Galaxy models and a foldable phone early in 2019. It has consistently been losing ground to Chinese rivals like Huawei and Xiaomi. Other innovations this year are likely to be fingerprint sensors build into screens and hole punch camera mounts.

Huawei hole-punch camera screen. Folding phones could double screen size

Meanwhile, phone companies will be looking to shift their business models away from volatile hardware sales towards subscription packages. Expect to see more phones essentially leased using services like the Apple upgrade programme.

More speed – but do we need it?

5G networks can transfer data dozens of times faster than the fourth-generation networks in use now. This will enable quicker browsing, high-quality video streaming but also make it possible to connect more devices at the same time. In most countries, the handsets will be available before widespread network coverage. Verizon is leading the charge in the US, hoping to offer 5G coverage, while in the UK the West Midlands is getting £75m of public money to trial the new technology. This may involve using 5G to live stream CCTV coverage from buses to enable traffic police to respond more quickly to incidents.

For news organisations, 5G will eventually enable reliable high-definition mobile reporting and access to the cameras of citizen journalists in breaking news situations. Faster speeds and better screens will also accelerate the push to personalised news, mobile formats, and visual journalism.

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