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“In the next three to four years we are going to see an exponential explosion on several different fronts that are going to have massive impact on both the smartphone and your daily lives,” said Glen Mulcahy, head of innovation, RTÉ Tech, at the latest Mojo (mobile journalism) Meetup in London on 16 August.
Warning news organisations not to see technology as linear, but as a quickly evolving medium that will change workflows and production on a wider scale, he explained why he thinks mobile will dominate news media in just three years’ time.
“Processing power is getting faster, cheaper and a hell of a lot more powerful,” Mulcahy said, reminding attendees that the smartphone in their pocket is far more powerful than the computer NASA used to put a man on the moon.
“If all you do with it right now is tweet, send the occasional email and take selfies, you’re driving a Ferrari in first gear.”
“One of the biggest challenges with mobile journalism to date has been running out of space,” Mulcahy said, noting that reporters using their phones to shoot in HD and 4K have had problems out in the field, often having to spend a lot of time transferring content to larger hard drives mid-shoot.
“But that almost becomes a negligible argument now.”
Indeed, SanDisk has already released a microSD card which can store 200GB on it.
“We will get to the point where we have trouble filling the storage available to us, whether it is localised on your device or cloud-based.”
Young people don’t give a damn about the broadcast infrastructure – the only thing they are interested in is content, and they are not fussed about how that content is createdGlen Mulcahy
Smartphones are now able to shoot in 4K, a resolution four times higher than HD content, and consumers are being pushed to buy future-proofed 4K TV sets.
“But many broadcasters are still standard definition, and yet, we can shoot, edit and share 4K content from our smartphones,” he said.
Broadcasters just aren’t ready for it yet, he added – if they were to migrate to a 4K transmission path, they would need a huge, costly amount of infrastructure.
“Very quickly, you’ll probably see Apple release a 4K Apple TV, so you can stream that content to your super high-resolution television in your home, without going through the broadcast chain – for me as a broadcaster, that is a very scary proposition.”
Mulcahy explained that brands are now pushing out their own short films, and more and more journalists are picking up their phones, jumping in at the deep end, shooting and editing their own stories on mobile.
“You look at them on the screen and you don’t wonder what it was shot on, you just think that the story is engaging, the storyteller is engaging.”
Even 360-degree cameras have evolved tremendously in the past two years, with consumers now able to purchase self-stitching software at a fraction of the cost, for both Android and Apple users.
“4K is going to make a difference in the VR space, because the problem with virtual reality right now, if you’re using a smartphone slapped into the viewer of a head-mounted display, is that when you put the magnifying glasses on, you’re magnifying the pixels in the screen, so the quality of your experience is relatively low.
“When you pack a 4K resolution screen into the size of a smartphone, you won’t see the dots, it really will feel truly immersive.”
Apple’s keynote at the developer conference a few months ago announced that all future iPhones will support HEVC (H.265) – the codec which can compress these large 4K files so they can be streamed in high quality.
“4K over HEVC will be smaller file sizes, so they can stream faster, but they’ll be higher quality – this is quite a big deal and part of Apple’s strategy going forward. Google have their own platform separate to HEVC for those on Android,” explained Mulcahy.
“If you’re a mojo content producer, you’re probably going to realise that your phone is going to last an hour and a half if you’re shooting HD video, and that of course is a real problem,” he said.
There are a lot of accessories available for smartphones to help resolve this issue, and Mulcahy pointed out there is also a huge race to improve battery life, with car manufacturers pledging to have more electric vehicle offerings by 2021, and graphene technology emerging as one of the most promising options in the future.
You have an extremely powerful computer in your pocket – if all you do with it right now is use it to tweet, send the occasional email and take selfies, you’re driving a Ferrari in first gearGlen Mulcahy
“By 2020, it is fair to say that most of Europe will have the next-generation mobile phone network – 5G is coming on hard and fast, and there are already pocket sites around Europe testing it,” Mulcahy said.
“There are a whole series of benefits to it, the volume, the speed, the lower latency and the fact it can actually have low power – all these things are going to influence mobile usage.”
Mulcahy explained that 5G is the key enabler for the Internet of Things, with telecommunications companies hoping to see an explosion in the number of devices on their networks, connected in real time.
“Young people don’t have televisions, and don’t give a damn about the broadcast infrastructure. The only thing they are interested in is content, and they are not fussed about how that content is created, it comes down to an engaging story,” he said.
“Mobile serves this audience really well, and you can see by the metrics from Facebook and YouTube, that they are actively engaged in creating content.”
“There are big players who have billions upon billions to invest in research and development – Apple spent 10 billion on it last year, and I can promise you that the entirety of the broadcasters in Europe wouldn’t scratch over 2 billion,” he said.
Facebook knows its users inside out and is able to feed them with a stream of content that will keep them hooked to the platform for hours on end.
Smartphones are now able to give their owners the ability to use augmented reality, a technology that superimposes a computer-generated image on a user’s view of the real world, through their phone.
“I don’t think the phone is the best way to consume this content, because you have to hold your phone to see things, you can’t interact with it yet,” said Mulcahy, adding that he believes this technology will become more suited to the mobile experience within the next three years.
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Additionally, artificial intelligence is advancing, with even facial recognition software entering into the news space. Virtual assistants, such as Siri or Alexa, are improving, with algorithms that drive them getting better and understanding more.
“If you haven’t heard of it, check out SoundHound’s Hound platform – it understands context, and you can have a conversation as naturally as you would on the phone to someone.”
Wireless charging has been introduced into some smartphones as well, and Mulcahy predicted wireless technology in smartphones will be a given within three years. But he hopes Apple will not get rid of the Lightning connector, as that will be a huge step back for the mobile journalism community.