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How countries are fighting against COVID-19 using technology?

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Aarogya Setu app now has over 11 crore users.

Coronavirus is continuing its spread across the world, with more than three million confirmed cases in 185 countries. More than 200,000 people have lost their lives. Some countries, like South Korea and Singapore, have done a better job than, say, Italy and Spain. Asian countries have used a range of technologies in their fight against the pandemic.

Digital technology has been widely used to help limit the spread of coronavirus. During the COVID-19 pandemic, technologies are playing a crucial role in keeping our society functional in a time of lockdowns and quarantines. And these technologies may have a long-lasting impact beyond COVID-19.

Here is the list of technologies that different countries are using to fight coronavirus pandemic.

Aarogya Setu app

The Indian government has launched a smartphone app called AarogyaSetu to help track coronavirus patients and the people they come in contact with. Available in 11 languages, the app was launched on both Andriod and iOS. It uses Bluetooth technology to allow people to check whether there is a coronavirus case in their vicinity.

A Gurgaon based startup, Staqu, recently announced an array of offerings to facilitate superior COVID-19 response. The brand is leveraging its proprietary video analytics platform JARVIS to roll out cutting-edge use-cases aimed at identifying, tracing, and curbing the spread of COVID-19 and similar contagion. 

COVIDSafe App

As the number of coronavirus infections increases across the world, Australia has launched an app for tracing those who have come in contact with confirmed patients. This comes amid concerns that such smartphone apps may infringe upon citizens’ privacy. Using a Bluetooth wireless signal, the COVIDSafe app allows health officials to access crucial information about a person’s interactions if they contract the virus. All mobile phone numbers within a 1.5-meter range of the infected person — for 15 minutes or more — will be stored.

QR Codes

Health apps have been a crucial element of China’s race to prevent a second wave of COVID-19 infections. Users scan QR codes to share information about their health status and travel history. These codes need to be scanned before boarding buses and trains or entering airports, offices and even their own housing complexes. Different colors on the apps indicate different levels of risk, with green codes granted unrestricted movement,  yellow codes for seven days of quarantine, and red codes for those who required 14 days of quarantine. The apps can trace whether users have been in contact with infected people.

Italy’s app

As Italy mulls measures for a gradual lifting of its coronavirus lockdown, the country is working on an app that would trace people who have come in contact with a confirmed case. Acknowledging concerns over privacy and data control, innovation minister Paola Pisano said it would help in bringing the country back towards relative normalcy. A fast tender was launched for the app — to cover monitoring and medical support — towards the end of March, receiving hundreds of proposals that are currently being assessed. The app would work on a voluntary basis and have a clearly defined objective.

COVID-19 Smart Management System

South Korea was one of the first countries to experience a coronavirus outbreak and used massive testing and technology to emerge as a case study for controlling the number of cases nationwide. South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) runs COVID-19 Smart Management System (SMS), a contact tracing system that runs through smartphone apps and helps the authorities analyze the movement of affected patients and those in quarantine. 

The country will also begin strapping electronic wristbands on those who ignore home-quarantine orders. A refusal to use the band would result in the person being moved to a shelter, which they will have to pay for themselves.

Other COVID-19 Tracing apps

After pushing for a home-grown alternative, Germany has changed tracks to back an approach supported by US tech giants Apple and Google. The German-led alternative was called Pan-European Privacy-Preserving Proximity Tracing (PEPP-PT), with the country’s Fraunhofer HHI research institute and the Robert Koch Institute public health body as key players. It received criticism over a central database. It has now chosen to support Apple and Google’s approach, with decentralized software architecture. The data, in this case, will be stored on users’ phones.

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Stop app | Technology News,The Indian Express

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Written by Pranav Mukul
, Karishma Mehrotra
, Aashish Aryan
, Sandeep Singh
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Updated: July 5, 2020 7:12:27 am


TikTok ban, Chinese app, TikTokers complain, Mumbai news, Indian express news Last year, TikTok surpassed Facebook to reach 611 million downloads in India, according to Sensor Tower, a market analysis firm. (Representational)

Until recently, the most fascinating story about Valsad was its Freddie Mercury connection — the British rock musician traced his lineage to this South Gujarat town that’s now a chemical industry hub. But when the town shut down in response to the Covid pandemic, Sanjay Rathod, a 29-year old who washed cars for a living, found himself out of work. He filled his long, vacant hours practising his dances moves and recording them on his smartphone, one with a broken screen and an inexpensive data pack. Soon, his videos were up on TikTok — and a new star was born. In a little over three months, Rathod, who went by the screen name ‘Armaan’, had earned 7 million followers on the video sharing app.

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Last week, amidst a tense border standoff with China, the Centre banned the app along with 58 others for posing “emergent threats” to the country’s national security. While TikTok’s reach — with over 120 million active users in India — made it the most visible symbol of the government’s action against China, the other apps too had a deep presence in India. According to technology market research firm Counterpoint, almost one out of every three smartphone users in India had one or more of these apps on their devices.

Tailored for the first-time Indian Internet user, these apps are among hundreds that make up China’s digital presence in India, and which have been gradually edging out American competitors from the country’s top downloads since 2018.

In 2018, 44 of the 100 most downloaded Internet applications in India were made by Chinese companies, a huge jump from 18 such apps in 2017, according to a report in the Observer Research Foundation.

Last year, TikTok surpassed Facebook to reach 611 million downloads in India, according to Sensor Tower, a market analysis firm.

Tech as strategic goal

But this is more than just an app story. From hardware to software, Chinese companies have dominated the digital technologies space in India over the last few years, with more than a little push from the Chinese establishment.

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The Communist Party of China (CPC) has consistently viewed technology as the next frontier through which to establish its supremacy in the global market, with its ‘Digital Silk Road’ policy — announced in a white paper in 2015 — an attempt at expanding its digital footprints to 65 countries.

In 2016, the country’s National Cyber Security Strategy adopted the phrase “strong Internet power” as a strategic objective.

Numerous other strategies, such as the Internet Plus strategy of 2015 and the National Informatization Development Strategy of 2006-2020, explicitly call for the country’s largest companies such as Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent to push out products to international markets.

Read | Chinese apps banned, Govt calls homegrown ones to rise to challenge

In India, the ground for this aggressive push from Chinese companies was laid in July 2014, when Xiaomi, often called the ‘Apple of China’, made its entry, followed by a flurry of Chinese brands such as Oppo, Vivo, OnePlus, Realme etc. The influx of these Chinese companies peaked in 2016 when Reliance Jio launched its cheap data offerings, starting with its free Internet package that disrupted the telecom sector.

Latest data by the International Data Corporation shows that among the top five smartphone sellers in the country, four are Chinese with Xiaomi topping the charts with a market share of 31.2%, followed by Vivo at 21% (see box).

This rapid increase in imports of electronic goods worried the Central government, which in April 2017 notified a phased manufacturing plan to ramp up domestic production of smartphones.

“The import of electronic goods was of the order of $53 billion (approximately Rs 3,44,500 crore) in 2017-18. With the demand for electronics hardware expected to rise rapidly to about $400 billion (approximately Rs 26,00,000 crore) by 2025, India cannot afford to bear a huge foreign exchange outgo on import of electronics alone,” the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology detailed in its National Electronics Policy of 2017.

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The efforts to make India a manufacturing hub for electronics resulted in dozens of Chinese companies and their contract manufacturers setting up base in Maharashtra, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh and elsewhere.

Chinese equipment vendors such as Huawei and ZTE also have a significant presence in the telecom equipment space in India. India telecom companies have depended on technologies by these Chinese equipment makers to take on European giants such as Ericsson and Nokia, a partnership that has helped bring down costs.

Thus, while the smartphones were being assembled in the country, most of the high-value components such as printed circuit boards, memory devices, storage units, processors, were — and continue to be — imported, much of it from China.

This has been mainly because of the scale of Chinese manufacturing that has enabled companies to offer cheap, low-cost products. Most of the Chinese products would technologically follow premium brands such as Apple and Samsung, often resulting in a $100-device with functionalities and design of a $1000+ one.

Read | PM Narendra Modi launches app innovation challenge to promote homegrown apps

Even Indian brands such as Micromax had initially resorted to importing semi-knocked-down mobile phone units from China to assemble them locally and sell at a competitively lower price. The Gurugram-headquartered company, which is now struggling to maintain its ground, once led the Indian mobile phone market, beating global behemoths such as Samsung and Nokia. But this was before the entry of Chinese players, who together accounted for 114 million of the 158 million smartphones shipped to India in 2019.

Source: IDC Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker, May 2020 *All except Samsung are Chinese brands

In addition to flooding the digital market with affordable products, the Chinese also pushed the purchase of these products through micro-financing. For example, smartphone brand Oppo has jumped onto the financial services bandwagon in India, launching Oppo Kash. Realme and Xiaomi are the other smartphone makers that offer credit, investment and other financial products through their apps PaySa and Mi Credit respectively. These players are also engaged in providing services such as smartphone screen insurance, personal loan, business loan, free credit report and even mutual fund investments.

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India’s financial technology sector hasn’t remained untouched either. Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba is the largest investor in payment app Paytm. Zestmoney, which has raised Rs 236 crore till date in the form of equity, counts Xiaomi among its investors.

The software presence

Once they had flooded the hardware market, Chinese companies launched a blitzkrieg on the software side as well. The three Chinese giants, search engine Baidu, online marketplace Alibaba and WeChat developer Tencent — also known as the BAT trinity — have invested in a bunch of startups in India, including unicorns (startups worth at least $1 billion) such as Swiggy, Zomato, Ola, Snapdeal, BigBasket and Byju’s among several others.

Of the 30 unicorns in the country, more than half have major investments from Chinese firms. Twelve of these count marquee investors Alibaba and Tencent among their backers.

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Simultaneously, hundreds of utilities app were launched on Apple’s App Store and Google’s Play, and a concerted push from the Chinese companies led to some of these becoming the most popular ones in their respective categories. These included CamScanner, which was used even by senior officials in the Indian government to scan and share documents on their mobile phones. The app was among the 59 banned last week.

Dev Lewis is among those who have witnessed the early days of this Chinese “gold rush” for the Indian digital space. Keenly aware of their own saturated user bases, Chinese companies big and small were eager to harness India’s data revolution.

In 2016, with a fresh diploma in Chinese language and literature under his belt, Lewis had his first job interview in Beijing at a little-known company called NewsDog. NewsDog was one of the forerunners in Chinese apps built exclusively for India.

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Now a fellow with Digital Asia Hub, a Yenching scholar at Peking University and researcher of India-China technology relations, Lewis says, “I remember the founder said something on the lines of, ‘I know nothing about India, but I know it’s the only other market like China. I missed the bus in China; I want to go for India’. It was a new gold rush.”

Characterised as ultra-experimentative and iterative, Chinese companies apply the Shenzhen manufacturing model — quick-to-market and quick-to-fix — for its products. ByteDance, which owns TikTok, has been called an “app factory”, with at least 21 products since its founding in 2012.

Another Indian, who requested anonymity, recalls her time in 2017 working at ByteDance in Beijing, where she was tasked with looking at international products for the company (the company had no products in India then). In November that year, ByteDance bought another Chinese-company, Musical.ly, which had a growing Indian base. In August 2018, it merged the company with TikTok.

Read | India, China attend BRICS meet hosted by Russia

“These companies consider themselves global, not Chinese. They believe that whatever success they have in China can be replicated in a lot of other markets,” says the product strategist.

Chinese developers working on apps such as TikTok or NewsDog were quick to comprehend India’s highly-stratified market with divisions of Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities. “The themes of migration from smaller cities to bigger cities, from lower middle class to upper middle class — those are stories the Chinese can relate to.” Something worked and TikTok became a household name in India.

Given the app’s reach in India, global brands such as PepsiCo and Reckitt Benckiser, which makes Dettol, jumped on to the bandwagon, their video campaigns garnering views in billions on TikTok.

An expanding footprint

The increasing popularity of these apps also prompted the companies running them to invest heavily in their India operations. To begin with, to meet India’s data localisation norms, major companies with China links, including Tencent, Alibaba Group and ByteDance announced the setting up of data centres within India.

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Last year, ByteDance, which is based in Cayman Islands, announced an investment of $1 billion in India over a period of three years.

Through all this, there were concerns, much of those surrounding China’s far-reaching Internet laws, which experts interpret to mean that these apps and companies could be forced to give data to their government. They say that both the 2017 National Intelligence Law and the 2014 Counter-Espionage law can be leveraged by the Chinese government to seek data from companies that run out of India and other countries.

Despite these concerns, experts say China’s disproportionate presence in India’s app economy has allowed the Indian government a bargaining chip, albeit a low-hanging one, in these times of tension.

“This (ban) is just a stopgap measure… to convey that the Chinese should stop what they are doing, otherwise India has levers in other respects,” says Arun Mohan Sukumar, who is pursuing a PhD at Tufts University on international rule-making in cyberspace. “Whether they have the Digital Road or the BRI (Belt and Road Initiative), China just can’t ignore India. Half the population is still waiting to be connected to the Internet. No matter what our growth prospects, the digital economy will mature.”

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The bargaining chip may be pure signalling. To be sure, the Chinese-owned MiPay, MiCredit, and RealMe Paysa handle much more sensitive financial data, and have not been touched by this ban. Yet, the ban serves to highlight the growing diplomatic dimension of these digital routes into India.

“Data privacy has become the new national security. It’s natural that India would view Huawei differently from an Ericsson or a Nokia. Technology is not neutral. When you strip everything down, it’s a question of who do you trust more — the Chinese, the Americans, the Europeans,” said Lewis, the researcher of India-China technology relations.

While the Indian government has chosen to crack down on Chinese apps for now, the technology space offers plenty of fodder for diplomatic negotiations.

On the heels of the 2017 Doklam incident, the Defence Ministry asked armed forces personnel to uninstall 42 Chinese apps. More recently, Chinese tech company Huawei has been entangled in geopolitical concerns, as other members of the ‘Quad’ grouping (Japan, Australia, and US) have decided to ban the company from 5G infrastructure. India is yet to follow suit.

Speaking at the 2015 World Internet Conference in Wuzhen, Chinese President Xi Jinping was quoted in China Daily as saying, “Cyberspace should not become a battlefield for countries competing against one another.”

But now, it seems, a new front has opened. A virtual one.

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Pandemic offers solution to tech industry’s big Brexit problem

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The pandemic taught Britain’s technology executives that business can still happen even if everyone’s working from home. That lesson is providing a source of relief as the nation’s year-end departure from the European Union looms.

A range of senior members of the industry say that having to fabricate remote workforces almost overnight in response to the coronavirus has transformed how they’ll approach recruitment after Brexit. A rough consensus on this is emerging: executives will be kept local to headquarters, but most other roles will not.

This approach may lessen the need for work visas, something that could be a huge benefit to an industry where almost a fifth of its workers are born outside of Britain. Though remote working has limits, the prospect of being able to attract and keep a scattered workforce suggests the tech industry, and perhaps other service businesses such as recruiting, are in a stronger position to survive Brexit than they may have expected before the spread of Covid-19.

Previously, video-game developer Codemasters Group Holdings Plc “didn’t like to have people working from far away,” said Frank Sagnier, chief executive officer. Now, remote working isn’t an issue in staffing considerations, and the company has a lot more flexibility to recruit the talent it needs.

“If it’s difficult through visas and Brexit laws that are going to come out, we certainly now know we can do it without having to transfer anyone,” he said. “That makes a big difference for us. It’s a big relief.”

The Leave campaign’s promise to end free movement from the EU alarmed business executives who have relied on unfettered access to staff on the continent for decades. Negotiators have yet to agree on the terms of a new trading relationship with the EU.

Already from January, a points-based immigration system will take effect in Britain. Workers wanting a visa must prove they can speak English, have a verified job offer and meet a points threshold based on their specific skills, qualifications and prospective salaries.

Pandemic Revelation

For Paul Sulyok, CEO of digital software retailer Green Man Gaming, his company’s pandemic experience was a revelation. It had about 100 staff based in London when the pandemic hit, and some asked to go back to their home countries in Europe. They worked “very successfully” from those locations, and the company has remotely hired a number of people from outside the capital, including someone in Belgium.

“It’s opened my eyes and those of senior management,” Sulyok said. Asked if this will affect his plans for the business once the post-Brexit visa rules are applied, he said, “it’s fundamentally changed how we look at how we can, and how we want, to grow the company.”

It’s not just digital businesses that found a Brexit benefit from the lockdown. Venture capital firm Northzone, which made lucrative early bets on companies such as Spotify Technology SA, iZettle AB and Trustpilot AS, recently began recruiting for a new intern.

“For the first time in our history we listed it as a remote job,” said Paul Murphy, a partner at the London-based firm. “This means we don’t have to worry about visas,” he said.

And Romanie Thomas, CEO of recruitment platform Juggle Jobs, said her startup had a physical office prior to the pandemic but has since moved to a fully remote environment: “For our software engineers in particular, we’re now sourcing all over the globe.”

In-person conversations

Nearly one in five — 18% — of the 3 million jobs the U.K. tech sector supported as recently as 2017 were held by foreigners, according to data compiled by Frontier Economics for TechUK, an industry body. Many of those work for the British arms of U.S. internet giants, and could benefit if their leaders relax their stance on home working.

Facebook Inc., which employs about 4,000 people in the U.K., could have half of its employees working remotely over the next five to 10 years, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in May. There were “very clear benefits” to this, including being able to “access talent pools outside of traditional tech hubs in big cities.”

But this comes with its own complications.

“For key roles, you probably still need to find ways to make that personal connection,” Johann Button, VP of Slack Inc.’s business in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, said last month at Bloomberg’s Sooner Than You Think conference.

Since the pandemic started, Slack adapted by interviewing more people for key roles than it would have done before, which resulted in the company appointing at least one person “who we’d never met in person.”

Afterward, the new employee and their manager “went for a walk for an hour in a local park while maintaining social distancing,” Button said. “Having that in-person conversation, that’s what it took for both sides to really get comfortable.”

Britain’s appeal

Russ Shaw, founder of industry body Tech London Advocates, cautions that other sources of friction posed by a combination of Covid-19 and Brexit will remain a threat to the U.K.’s attractiveness as a whole.

“As countries such as Estonia increasingly set up Digital Nomad Visas, it will be even more difficult to attract foreign tech workers to move to the U.K.,” he said. “They can access the same employment benefits alongside a lower cost of living elsewhere.”

Still, at the most senior levels, a move to Britain may be the best option.

This is evident when examining the types of people applying for a Global Talent Visa in digital technology through Tech Nation, an industry body used by the Home Office to endorse applications. These allow entrepreneurs to live in the U.K. and work in its technology industry initially five years, with extensions and later permanent residencies possible.

Tech Nation’s CEO, Gerard Grech, said about a third of applications are made by startup founders attracted to the U.K. in part for the speed at which a business can be set up in the country. Application numbers fell during the start of the pandemic, but are already returning to pre-crisis levels, indicating that Covid hasn’t deterred people from wanting to come to Britain to start companies.

“In some of the countries that they come from, they can’t even open a bank account,” he said.

Written by Nate Lanxon.



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Interview: Snap’s hardware head on Spectacles 3, future of augmented reality

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Written by Anuj Bhatia
| New Delhi |

Updated: July 4, 2020 7:43:31 pm


snapchat, spectacles 3, snap spectacles, spectacles smart glasses, snap hardware head Steen Strand, AR smart glasses, smart glass Snap’s Spectacles 3 pack an all-new design, dual HD cameras and 3D AR features. (Image credit: Anuj Bhatia/Indian Express)

Steen Strand, who leads Snap’s secretive hardware unit, SnapLab, has one of the most challenging, yet exciting, jobs in the tech world. After all, he along with his team, has been tasked with creating new experiences designed around smart eyewear, a new genre of products with augmented reality at their center.

Strand, who joined Snap Inc in 2018 as the director of product design within the company’s hardware division and later took the role as head of hardware development, is responsible for giving a new direction to Spectacles, a pair of smart glasses designed to let you record pictures and videos from a first-person point of view.

The Spectacles 3, the latest smart glasses from the company behind the popular Snapchat social media platform, can shoot 3D video and photos through two cameras and let users add 3D augmented reality (AR) effects to your captured shots. They cost Rs 29,999 ($397) in India, and are targeted at elite creators and celebrities, rather than regular people.

For Strand, Spectacles 3 are positioned as both a fashion accessory as well as smart glasses. “We see them as both because we think that both of those components are so important for these products to eventually be successful,” he told indianexpress.com over a video call from Los Angeles where Snap is headquartered. “We really strive to strike that balance where we are delivering interesting functions, but we are also wrapping it up and in the emotional context and the content in the personal context that makes sense for the end-user.”

snapchat, spectacles 3, snap spectacles, spectacles smart glasses, snap hardware head Steen Strand, AR smart glasses, smart glass Steen Strand leads Snap’s secretive hardware unit called SnapLab. (Image credit: Snap Inc)

Unlike the previous two versions made of plastic, Spectacles 3 glasses are made out of metal and they are not only modern but also a bit more premium. The fact that Vogue magazine did a long piece on Spectacles 3 in its September 2019 issue and the launch of a limited-edition Gucci-branded version clearly points to the audience Snap wants to tap now.

Snapchat’s third version of Spectacles was always envisioned to have two HD cameras that capture 3D images and video, letting users apply new augmented-reality effects. “We worked on multiple prototypes, the focus of the product has always been on the depth and all of those prototypes were formulated to have two cameras, and then the question comes, what is the most effective way to capture depth,” he said, adding, “There’s a lot of interesting metrics around that — you can play with the spacing between the cameras, you can play with the types of cameras, there are different ways of capturing depth as well, and then there’s different sensors you use.”

Snapchat Spectacles 3 review: Smart glasses for the snappy generation

While it may appear relatively simple to add two cameras to Spectacles in the first place, the actual process was a lot more complicated. “Behind the scenes, there’s a lot of complexity both in the hardware and software, because there’s a lot of work that has to be done to take those two images, then process them in order to create what we call a depth map. And that’s why we actually take those videos, transfer them into the cloud, do the processing there, and then send them back to your phone.”

“It’s a fairly complex algorithm. I think there’s something like 17 steps that we have to process the video through in order to get to a very refined accurate depth map,” he added.

But designing smart eyewear like the Spectacles 3 can be a lot more complex than other products. “A lot of the challenges with doing technology and eyewear is about how to hack all the stuff you need into a form factor that’s small, light, comfortable, and ultimately something that looks good as well,” said Strand. Clearly, technical challenges make augmented reality smart eyewear very different from smartphones.

snapchat, spectacles 3, snap spectacles, spectacles smart glasses, snap hardware head Steen Strand, AR smart glasses, smart glass Spectacles 3 are made with lightweight stainless steel frame and circular lenses. (Image credit: Anuj Bhatia/Indian Express)

Fitting all the components and circuitry in a very small space can lead to some major challenges in power and thermal management. At the same time, the teams have to address software issues like “how does the product talk to your phone and to the cloud and how do we process depth information and overlay effects.”

“People’s expectation from eyewear is that it’s relatively lightweight, so you are constantly pushing against that.” Strand said learnings from earlier versions have been incorporated in the new version; for instance, the understanding of the advantages of having a camera close to your eyes.

One of the big bets made by Snap in recent years is in augmented reality, an emerging technology that overlays information and virtual objects on real-world scenes in real-time. Although AR is far from being a mainstream technology, it could have a big impact on major industries in the coming years.

AR technology is already heavily baked into the Snapchat app in the form of face filters and lenses. With more than 1,000,000 lenses created by Snapchat creators and Snap’s 239 million daily active users interacting with its AR features “nearly 30 times every day” on average, it is clear that AR has an important role to play in the company’s future direction. But then the question arises: what would Snap achieve by making its own hardware?

snapchat, spectacles 3, snap spectacles, spectacles smart glasses, snap hardware head Steen Strand, AR smart glasses, smart glass You can find a capture button to trigger photo or video shooting on either side of the temple. (Image credit: Anuj Bhatia/Indian Express)

“Snapchat is very good at taking something very complex like AR and implementing it in a way that’s just fun and playful,” Strand explained. “It really sidesteps the whole burden of the technology and we are trying to do that as much as possible with Spectacles.”

Snap hasn’t had immense success with Spectacles smart glasses which were first unveiled in late 2016. In fact, Snap wrote down $40 million in late 2017 on the first model, which was priced at $130. The Spectacles 2 glasses weren’t a commercial success, either. Despite that, Snap has continued to launch new versions of Spectacles every year.

Perhaps the biggest reason why the company keeps investing in new hardware is because of Snap’s CEO Evan Spiegel’s involvement in the project from day one. “The original brief really was to provide those depth effects,” Strand recalled, adding how it soon became a “question from a design point of view…what’s the visual expression that we want to get into?” Stranded qualified: “He [Evan] is always looking for ways to express the technology in a way that goes beyond the tech that really steps into the realm of fashion.”

While Snap clearly sees its future in augmented reality and investments in hardware is a part of the game, there are others who too want to get into the augmented reality eyewear business. Apple and Facebook are rumoured to be working on AR glasses. Microsoft already sells an AR headset called HoloLens, but it’s limited to developers. Google, on the other hand, recently bought Candian start-up North that makes smart glasses. The company’s previous attempt to crack the smart glasses segment with Google Glass was a massive failure. Even Amazon is after the smart glasses market as the e-commerce giant last year announced a pair of Alexa-enabled glasses called Echo Frames.

snapchat, spectacles 3, snap spectacles, spectacles smart glasses, snap hardware head Steen Strand, AR smart glasses, smart glass Spectacles 3. (Image credit: Anuj Bhatia/Indian Express)

So, is the future of Snap also envisioned with Spectacles? “The short answer is yes. But the longer answer is, it’s not clear what the role of smartphones will be to eyewear in the future,” said Strand. “Our expectation is that each will have its own function.”

Strand does see smart glasses eventually replacing smartphones but it’s going to take a while. “We do think that the use of AR eyewear is going to go up dramatically in the future,” he said, adding that it is generally agreed that the advantages of augmented reality eyewear are compelling for a lot of different use cases. “It’s more of a question of when and what does that look like?”

Strand agrees that AR is at its inception stage but he also claimed the glasses are a better medium to experience augmented reality than regular smartphones. He cited the example of Spectacles 3 glasses which can capture high definition, depth information that you cannot achieve on smartphones.

The two cameras on Spectacles 3 lets users apply AR filters onto images and video, meaning the effects appear as if they are in the real world. But you still have to use the Snapchat app and save the clips to your device before you can apply the 3D effects. In the future, these effects that you can experience on the glasses will happen in real-time in front of your eyes.

snapchat, spectacles 3, snap spectacles, spectacles smart glasses, snap hardware head Steen Strand, AR smart glasses, smart glass The success of Spectacles 3 is crucial in bringing augmented reality (AR) to eyewear. (Image credit: Snap Inc)

At Rs 29,999, the AR eyewear is far from being ready for mainstream consumption and Strand is fully aware of it. “We could make things more mainstream if we wanted to defeature them but our approach is that we want to continue to add technology to increase the capabilities and to create this future where you truly can overlay computing on to the world around you.”

“To succeed at that and to do that at a price point that’s very accessible is going to take some time, it’s likely at least 10 years to get that horizon,” he adds.

For now, Snap is happy to serve a small subset of people with Spectacles 3 who are ready to pay that much money for the glasses that have “incremental capabilities.” Not to mention, Snap is also bringing Spectacles 2 to India at Rs 14,999, which the company hopes to be a bigger draw among the Snapchat users.

The battle to gain early supremacy in augmented reality eyewear space is still on, with no clear winner in the market yet. Snap, which has been aggressively pushing AR through the Snapchat app, does see the glasses as part of the company’s long-term plan.

“When we think about augmented reality eyewear, we have a really interesting opportunity to pull all the cool things that Snapchat is doing over to the eyes,” Strand said.

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