If CES was any indication, 5G is supposed to change the world as we know it. And after all the noise we’ll no doubt hear next month at Mobile World Congress, even my 96-year-old mother-in-law will demand 5G on her phone. Before we look into how 5G might impact the world of consumer imaging, let’s first explore what it is and review the most discussed use cases in the consumer tech world at large.

5G is upon us. What now?
5G is upon us. What now?

In simple terms, 5G is a cellular communications protocol that uses higher radio frequencies and shorter wavelengths than 4G/LTE, enabling faster internet communication (high bandwidth, allowing for low latency) and supporting more devices in any given area (high density). How much faster? That’s up for debate and subject to hype, with estimates going as high as 100 times faster than 4G/LTE.

How will this impact our lives? First and foremost, 5G will further fuel the already proliferating Internet of Things. Every imaginable device (from smart ovens to smart toothbrushes to smart toilets) will be connected to the internet and communicate with the others, and we’ll be able to control them from anywhere in the world. You’re on your way home on a cold day? No problem, some smart solution will figure out when exactly you’ll arrive home given your driving speed and the traffic conditions, so that it can start heating your house at just the right time before your arrival.

And then there’s the self-driving car. With close to zero latency your car can communicate with other cars so that it can, for instance, speed through an intersection without slowing down.

Let’s switch gears to the world of consumer imaging. How might things change when your camera or phone could send or receive high-resolution files in a flash?

This is a topic we’ll plan to explore in greater depth at our next Visual 1st conference, October 3-4, but for now here are 5 examples to get the juices flowing, ranging from boring and utilitarian to crazy and outlandish:

  • Upload raw photos or high-res video files to the cloud in a fraction of a second for server-based computation-intensive tasks (such as 360 stitching, batch image processing, high-res rendering) or for backup. You can do so from anywhere and in real time – no need to wait until you’re home and on your WiFi.
  • Edit your videos or photos in a web-based app rather than an app you’d need to download. With web uploading time close to zero, why would you go through the extra steps of downloading and installing an app when you can edit your imagery on any of your devices with zero latency? (there’s a long list of arguments that developers might have regarding web vs. native apps, but that’s beyond the scope of this article).
  • Stream high-res videos (yeah, at some point they will be 8K) or 360 imagery right from your phone or camera – in other words, with 5G you can share these “beasts” (in terms of pixel count) with anyone, anywhere, and in real time.
  • Combine distributed content: Embed visual content that is dynamically served from anywhere on the net. How about an AR high-res live video stream from your pet camera inside that photobook you made with pictures of your beloved poodle? All the viewer has to do is point her phone or AR glasses at the right page to not just view the printed photos, but also watch – right between those photos – a live video feed of what mischief the poodle is making when you’re away from home.
  • Leverage the gazillion camera sensors from all your Internet of Things devices. With the click of a button, you’ll create the craziest trailer of the funny faces people might have made when ringing your camera-equipped doorbell. Or those you captured with your wearable camera. Or with the security cameras in your driveway and on your porch. Or with your hallway mirror, which is actually just a camera-equipped screen. Or you’ll combine footage from all these camera-equipped IoT devices into a single trailer, slideshow or photobook …

OK, you get the idea, but …

First, before we all get swept away by the 5G hype that is descending upon us, let’s make sure we keep a critical eye on use cases that could actually be served quite well through 4G/LTE or WiFi – especially if the 5G speed advantages end up being less dramatic than currently portrayed. Real-time vs almost real time – when does it really matter?

Second, for more utilitarian use cases (server-based applications or computing-intensive processes), note that the tide is currently flowing in the other direction (i.e. towards imaging processes occurring on the device rather than in the cloud), and I’m not sure the speed boost from 5G will reverse this trend anytime soon.

As the computational power of smartphone processors has been dramatically improving and will continue to do so, more of the tasks that previously required server-strength processing can now be done “on the edge.” So why first upload your visual content to the cloud, especially with all the privacy and security concerns that many of us have these days when sharing our personal content? Yes, 5G dramatically improves bandwidth, but at the same time, these darn smartphone processors keep steadily and quite impressively improving as well!

My take: the consumer imaging use cases that 5G unlocks better be really compelling and make possible things that cannot currently be done through 4G: That’s the challenge – and opportunity – for innovative entrepreneurs! Do you have any applications in mind that you’d be able to share at our next Visual 1st, October 3-4 in San Francisco? Drop me a line!

And a few more things…

Lightricks. Going SMB. Lightricks, the makers of Facetune and Enlight are going SMB through their latest app, Swish, which helps business owners to easily create custom videos to market their brands. Swish comes with over 75 templates, as well as music and other content.

WhiteWall. Going AR. Germany-based wall décor photo lab WhiteWall announces the WhiteWall Augmented Reality App through which customers can instantly view and experiment with their pictures on the wall before placing an order.

Facebook. Going open source. Facebook has officially launched a new open source image processing library called Spectrum. Spectrum is a client-side image transcoding library for both Android and iOS apps. Some successful commercial imaging solutions like JPEGmini are already considering wrapping their technology into Spectrum, according to Eli Lubitch, president of Beamr.

InstaSize. Going Forbes. We already heard quite a bit about this startup’s coming of age from co-founder Omar Arambula at last year’s Visual 1st, but there is more about this successful startup in this extensive story in Forbes. The company made $14M in revenues in 2018 and had 500K paid subscribers.

MailPix. Going 1 hour. MailPix announced its latest app, Photobucket 1 Hour Photo, for iOS and Android. The app connects to more than 20,000 convenient retail locations for pick up including CVS Pharmacy, Walmart, Walgreens, Duane Reade, Target and others. Mailpix acquired the print product arm of Photobucket back in August.

Blippar. Saved by the bell. British property tycoon Nick Candy acquired AR developer Blippar for a restart out of bankruptcy protection. Candy was already a large shareholder; Blippar previously raised more than $130M and apparently spent it all.

Cycloramic. Going exit. The power of impromptu demos: Remember Cycloramic, the app that used the iPhone’s vibrator to have it auto-autorotate to take 360-degree pictures? Founder Bruno Francois did an impromptu demo after one of my mobile photography presentations at PMA 7 years ago and wowed everyone. Then he started pivoting and turned it into a 3D solution for the car industry and now has successfully sold his company for $22M. Read this fascinating story all the way to the end, as there was another impromptu demo that eventually prompted his acquisition!

Author: Hans Hartman

Hans Hartman is president of Suite 48 Analytics, the leading research and analysis firm for the mobile photography market and organizer of Mobile Visual 1st, a yearly industry conference about mobile photography.

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