April 25, 2017
THE BIG NAMES MAKING BIG MOVES
There have been some huge changes to the world over the last 10 years, and this is made very clear when you look at the list of the top 5 largest companies in the world. Exxon Mobil, General Electric, Bank Of America and Citigroup are all gone, replaced by Alphabet (Google's parent company), Amazon, Facebook and Apple. Only Microsoft remains (and in the same third place as it was back then). Clearly, smartphones and what they are used for have become all-encompassing in their importance, so with this in mind, what are the biggest players planning for 2017?
When you're a tech company in the top five biggest companies in the world, you don't need to turn up to other people's tech showcases, you simply host your own. The WWDC (Worldwide Developer's Conference) is Apple's version, while Google have I/O. Facebook have just held their annual conference, named F8 was held in San Jose this month, and they revealed some of their ideas for the future. Mark Zuckerberg is renowned for having an ambitious vision of the future, and this year's announcements were no exception - they're working on creating a way for computers to read your mind. This is something that Zuckerberg has been thinking about for at least two years, but the difference between a man worth $60 billion and the rest of us, is that he has the resources to turn daydreams into reality. As well as dreaming big, Facebook will be making a few tweaks and changes to their existing properties, which include the most popular apps in the world (for example, the number of people using Facebook Messenger is now an astonishing 1.2 billion). They'll be looking closely at both Virtual and Augmented Reality (and as you'll see below, they aren't the only ones), updating the Messenger app (because 1.2 billion users isn't enough) and working to combat 'fake news'.
Traditionally, Apple likes to wait until September before making any big announcements. Given that 2017 is the 10th anniversary of the release of the first iPhone, people are expecting something special this year, and there's already plenty of speculation about what that will be. But Apple have a bit of an image problem at the moment. After 10 years at the top, the sheen is starting to wear off a bit, and Apple are having to engage in a bit of damage limitation. What, for example, are they planning on doing with the $245 billion profit pool that they've got stashed offshore (it's unlikely to be anything on this list)? It was recently announced that in the future, Apple's phones would be made from 100% recycled materials. While this might be down to a new-found sense of responsibility, the more likely explanation is that it deflects criticism away from the fact that they don't allow people to repair the Apple products that they own.
Despite their issues, Apple remain technological visionaries, and, just like everyone else, considers Augmented Reality to be vital to their future plans. Having already reaped $3 billion from the success of Pokemon Go! apps on iPhones, Apple sees this as a better bet than Virtual Reality, as the former enhances the real world, while the latter locks you away from it. They have some interesting plans, and the option to combine this with another piece of futuristic tech that is becoming a reality - self-driving cars. The idea of Apple's design team let loose on the humble automobile would be something to get very excited about indeed, but we still need to ask ourselves how much Apple would charge for such a thing, and whether you'd be able to fix your car if it broke down.
Apple aren't the only big company flirting with the self-driving car concept. Google are also on the case, and are already offering free rides in their driverless cars in Phoenix, Arizona. This is a little bit behind their co-founder Larry Page's extraordinary new toy, which looks like something taken straight out of the pages of a Batman comic. Meanwhile, Google continue to put their AI DeepMind through its paces, setting it up against one of the world's best Go players. DeepDream, an experiment to figure out what an AI network 'sees' when it looks at an image, continues to push the boundaries of both science and modern art. Even Bob Ross's Joy of Painting is not immune to its surreal influence.
In the smartphone market, Google seem to be faltering a little. While there are plans to follow up their very successful Pixel phones with newer models, there are still issues getting hold of the original. For a company the size of Google, this is a rare misstep. However, they have also recently announced two new initiatives that should make a sizeable difference. Firstly, they're reportedly putting an ad-blocking feature into their Chrome browser. Some may believe this is a bit of a strange move from the world's foremost advertising platform, but it's to protect users from other types of advertising - pop-ups, self-playing videos and the kind that hides malware. There's not much news on that yet, but speaking of news - they have also just announced an offensive against 'fake news'. How they're going to achieve this is yet to be seen, but in common with their peers, Apple and Facebook, no one could accuse them of thinking small.