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2017 is poised to be a year of incredible opportunity and excitement for developers. As we look to build upon the successes and momentum seen in the past year – with mass consumer adoption of new technologies, proliferation of connected and intelligent devices that are ‘always on’, and breakthroughs in fields such as machine learning, speech and visual recognition and autonomous vehicles – in many ways it feels like it’s 2007 at the dawn of the smartphone, but with numerous game-changing technologies instead of one.
Part of what makes this time so interesting is that we’re also seeing a convergence of sorts – a removal of barriers between technologies resulting in products that, with comparatively small effort, integrate with and fuel one another. In 2017, developers can incorporate more into their products, delivering a broad set of innovations that span hardware, software, cloud, communications and machine learning. Products coming to commercialization now bridge these once disconnected areas and deliver impressive solutions for a more tech-savvy and tech-demanding public.
For today, let’s consider three areas of technology that we believe are blue ocean opportunities for developers this year: Internet of Things (IoT), VR/AR and machine learning.
Internet of Things
Of all the exciting IoT developments in store for 2017, the transition of the IoT development model from device-centric to distributed systems-centric represents incredible opportunities for developers. IoT solutions are evolving from mostly homogeneous, single platform, single network systems to heterogeneous distributed systems encompassing edge processing, service gateways and cloud computing with endpoints (the devices) in the real world.
Think about that for a moment. Think about the impact Uber has had having smartphone apps in cars as the real-world endpoints of their distributed system. What happens when things everywhere have sensory and computational capabilities similar to smartphones and yet trigger actions that are composable in microservices or container architectures, bound only by the reach of the internet and the creativity of the developer? We are certain to find out.
Another IoT space to watch in the coming year is connectivity. While 5G will grab headlines and open new avenues for IoT products, this year developers will have even more choices for how to connect their IoT devices -- with decisions affecting everything from product experience to power consumption to ROI. Broad choice in how devices connect to the network and each other allows for optimizing connectivity given a device’s environment. However, the variety of connection options come with new challenges - for example, managing dynamic connectivity while maintaining a consistent user experience.
Finally, as the IoT becomes a greater part of our daily lives the need to secure IoT devices and applications is crucial. Look for issues such as preventing distributed denial of service attacks in IoT applications, ensuring firmware and operating system security (particularly challenging as a device - almost by definition - will be physically available to an attacker), and thwarting unauthorized system participation or device spoofing to be areas of high activity (white hat and black) in the year ahead.
Virtual Reality / Augmented Reality
When we look back at 2016 in the history of technology, we’ll mark it as the year Virtual and Augmented Reality became commercial realities. The past year was characterized by big moves from established tech giants and a slew of startups taking aim at this space. We saw the release of the first VR/AR developer kits followed rapidly by platforms from major players and numerous head mounted displays (HMDs). It’s hardly been a year and the race is in full swing for which platform can bring the most immersive experiences and content to consumers.
Looking ahead, the competition to create fully immersive experiences will drive more variety and improvements in sensors, processing capability, and rendering. While visual processing will continue to be a focus of innovation, look for enhancements in auditory, haptic and spatial sensing to set new standards for enriched immersion.
It’s important to keep in mind that being able to deliver these experiences in a compelling and efficient system is essential for the accoutrements of VR/AR to get out of the way and let someone become immersed. It’s this recognition that helped drive the design of the new Qualcomm® Snapdragon® 835 processor. It’s why we’re betting on mobile-first VR/AR and delivering fundamental technologies fueling many VR/AR innovations.
As a consumer of VR/AR – whether as part of an enterprise or personally – the bevy of content being created is exhilarating and, at times, astounding. Gaming, movies and live content will increasingly entertain us while industries like real estate may be facing major transformation. In medicine VR is already helping train tomorrow's physicians and the use of AR in the treatment of phantom limb pain is amazing. One day in the distant VR/AR future we may look back at the content today similar to how we currently look at corded telephones or fax machines because things are just getting started. But we’re seeing experiences today that are already approaching magical and the technology is only getting better.
Opportunities abound for developers in VR/AR. Whether creating software and hardware that reshapes the fundamental sensory experiences of VR/AR systems, building the tools and technology that translates real-world, virtual or hybrid objects into an immersive experience or developing VR/AR content, it doesn’t take a HMD to see the opportunity that awaits.
This next area may be the most influential of all. And while we’re not envisioning a robot uprising in the year to come, we are convinced that machine learning will continue to reshape the technology landscape in 2017. More and more devices will be capable of making decisions based on computation at the edge from models created in the cloud. The latest in autonomous machines (everything from drones to self-driving vehicles) will combine high-end sensing in video, audio and their environment with machine learning and hybrid edge-cloud computation to continue their advance. These sensing capabilities also mean greater demand for efficient processing and will drive heterogeneous computing models.
As developers, we encourage you to look for hardware platforms capable of optimizing your products for leading machine learning algorithms like those found in deep learning neural networks. It remains to be seen whether CPUs will emerge as competitive with GPUs for this work – time will tell. One thing we are sure of in the year ahead: the demands on processor performance are only going up.
As we dive into 2017 together, QDN continues to offer software and tools to help you build these technologies that all of us will be talking about for years to come. For instance, the new Snapdragon 835 processor, which we noted earlier, is designed to deliver life-like VR and AR experiences. Or for IoT, the use of the DragonBoard 410c from Arrow Electronics along with AWS Greengrass, which is currently available in a limited preview.