The Year Ahead: 2017

The Year Ahead: 2017

This is my annual post where I look ahead to the next year. I’ll make some predictions, but I’ll warn you ahead of time…I don’t always get things right. ;) That said, I see that I did quite well with my “speculations” last year…not as well with the predictions. I count my hits and misses on the predictions, where I didn’t do as well, but I’m happy that someone who read my post last year wouldn’t have been surprised by some of the things that happened. 2017 is generally seen as likely to be volatile and unpredictable, but we’ll see. The new Administration does impact a lot of things that have to do with this blog. It’s intriguing that the President-Elect has a commercial history primarily tied up in the physical world, and has expressed skepticism about computers…and yet, used new media extensively and has an advisor who is coming from the digital world. Hard to say how that might affect e-books and publishing, but I’m thinking that I can still see some of the trends. First, let’s look at how I did in my predictions and speculations last year:

Prediction: “Kindle Splash”: Amazon introduces a water resistant Kindle

Miss. I have to admit, this shocks me the most (and might shock someone literally if they dropped a Kindle in the water). 😉 Why hasn’t Amazon done this, when Barnes & Noble and Kobo have? I don’t know…perhaps they don’t consider it important, or maybe it adds weight they don’t want. I was also wrong when I said, “While I would love to see Amazon introduce an EBR with audio (for text-to-speech, especially) that doesn’t feel to me like it is going to happen…I think that’s migrated to the tablets, although a stand-alone wearable for text-to-speech still seems possible.” They actually did, in a way, return TTS to EBRs: the most recent All-New Kindle E-reader – Black, 6″ Glare-Free Touchscreen Display, Wi-Fi – Includes Special Offers (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*) has Bluetooth, which allows TTS to work by pairing wirelessly with an external speaker.

Prediction: Continued international expansion of content development and discovery

Hit. I specifically predicted that Kindle Unlimited (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*) would expand beyond the USA, Canada, and Mexico, and that happened. It’s now also available in Australia, Brazil, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Spain, United Kingdom…looks like everywhere except Holland. I suggested that Kindle Scout might expand to other countries, and I don’t think it did, but that wasn’t the main prediction.

Prediction: Amazon moves into the news business

Miss. This didn’t happen…and in retrospect, that makes some sense. The Washington Post and Amazon are separate, but joined by Jeff Bezos. The WaPo was really a presence this year, and perhaps that is a disincentive for Amazon to get strongly into the news business (although I suppose that the Echo’s Flash Briefing counts).

So, one out of three ain’t…great, but it isn’t terrible. 😉 This isn’t a case of three coin flips…there are hundreds of possibilities, so getting one right is decent. However, I expect my predictions to do better than that. The more speculative, well, speculations are a place where I feel like I take more chances, but let’s look at how they did for 2016:

  • I don’t think the Apple case will get to the Supreme Court in 2016…that’s probably too fast. However, it is possible the Supremes would decline to consider it…I think, though, it doesn’t happen during this Presidential election year
    • The Supreme Court did decline to hear the case (probably impacted by the death of Justice Scalia)
  • I think that equal collection legislation could happen in the next administration (whoever the President ends up being)…there is enough bilateral support for it, but nobody wants to give anybody ammunition during the election. Hold that off for 2017
    • Nothing did happen this year, so this one is right so far 🙂
  • Barnes & Noble will continue to sink…I think they could limp through the year, even after what I think will be a disappointing holiday season report
    • They’ve been sinking, especially in regards to the NOOK. We’ll see what the holiday report is
  • Prime continues to be a big priority, getting us more content
  • Fire TV and the Echo will have great years. We’ll see the Echo “Skills  store” expand considerably
    • Exactly…the Skills store now has over 5,000 skills. I should have called it the “Alexa Skills” store, but even though thinking of it as the Echo hasn’t been around that long, I still need to break that habit
  • Virtual Reality could have some book tie-ins…imagine going to Hogwarts in VR, or playing in The Hunger Games. However, I’m unconvinced VR is ready for Prime Time…although I think Microsoft’s Hololens will have industrial application
    • This didn’t happen as much as I thought…but more on that later in this post
  • Amazon could have AI (Artificial Intelligence) produced content, which might tie into the news service above. They could also use AI to do book summaries on Amazon product pages
    • We aren’t aware of this happening…although it could be without us knowing it. 🙂
  • Amazon could consolidate their three social reading sites: Goodreads, Library Thing, and Shelfari. I like Shelfari, but I think it would be most at risk of being absorbed
    • Yep…Shelfari was absorbed

Time for me to take a deep breath and make predictions (and speculations) for 2017!

Amazon VR

I have had a Samsung Gear VR headset (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*) for about a week now, and am completely sold on the technology. With my device, you put a SmartPhone (only certain models work with it) into a headset…basically, like a SCUBA mask. You aren’t seeing the world around you…and then you see a virtual world that knows where you are looking. It’s more sophisticated than that, but it’s an amazing experience.  I took it to family parties, and got the same sort of reactions with relatives from the age of about 13 to about 90.

It’s been made pretty easy to use…I would say it is considerably further along towards mainstream, smooth use than the Kindle was when it was first released. It knows when you put it on and take it off, for example…you don’t have to turn it on. The only problem I had was initially getting the phone in the headset: I should have realized I had to take my very slim silicon case off it, and I had to put in an adapter.

There was a notable lack of Amazon presence. Netflix had an app (and Hulu just added one in Beta)…and it’s like watching your show in a movie theatre, almost. VR may really hurt the big screen TV market. It’s a much better video experience for me to watch on my headset than in my “real life” family room. No question, we need Prime video.

Another thing I was seeking right away? A book reader. That might sound strange: read books in virtual reality? You bet! Virtual Reality (which doesn’t show you the real world at the same time) and Augmented Reality (which overlays virtual objects on the real world…you still what’s happening) will, I think, become a new normal for many people. Having an additional device to read books may seem redundant. Color for books in VR? Not an issue at all…that’s easy. Large print? As large as you want! Lighting? Never a problem. Walk into a book like Gumby? Entirely possible.

The possibilities for non-fiction are really exciting. Tap (or just stare at…when I’m on Samsung Internet in VR, I have “gaze select” where I can set a time for how long I stare at something before it clicks it) a graph in the book, and it becomes large enough for you to read. See a reference to a place and select it and walk around it (I’ve found walking around Chernobyl really fascinating).

I did find a reading app…you can see screen shots from it here:

chimera reader

It does ePUB books.

Unfortunately, as you can see in one of the screenshots, the page (just one page at a time) is directly in front of you…it sort of looks like a movie poster on a wall (without a wall). There is a nice looking library environment, but the reading experience (including how you turn the pages) is just not enjoyable.

Amazon could move into the VR app world this year. Prime Video is a no brainer, and Prime Music could also work well. The surprise one might be a Kindle app, which lets you read e-books and e-magazines. Imagine choosing to read in a comfortable sitting room, in a library, on a sailing ship, or on top of a mountain…whenever you wanted to do that. No distractions around you, and all of your books. They could make it look like you have the book in your hands…and maybe you choose an edition. Oh, picture this! You are reading your book…and sitting in the room with you, also reading (you aren’t interacting with them) are Mark Twain, Jane Austen, and Oscar Wilde!

Amazon VR software is my prediction this year. I do need to note that I was able to enter a world of The Man in the High Castle already, based on the Amazon TV series, but I think this will go beyond that.

What about VR hardware?

I won’t make that a solid prediction, but I certainly think it is possible. Amazon dominated in EBRs (E-Book Readers) when it solved the problem of having to have the device cabled to get books…they went wireless. The problem Amazon could solve in VR? Interoperability. They could make a headset which would fit either an Android or iPhone (and maybe Windows phones). That seems like it shouldn’t be too hard with some adjustable parts and an adapter. A phone-powered VR set is relatively inexpensive (mine sells for under $100, but has been on sale for a lot less than that), which is a good market spot for Amazon. There are two other concerns which Amazon could address. People worry about not being able to see the real world easily when in VR. My set already does “camera passthrough”, so I can see through the phone’s camera without taking off the headset (although it’s odd…sort of like you are underwater). There should be a one tap choice for that. It could also happen automatically in an emergency…your smoke alarm could trigger it, for example. The other thing is how isolating it can be…I haven’t done anything social in it, but Amazon could make it easier for you to see the other people around you (as avatars). Of course, that’s not an issue if it is AR (Augmented Reality) instead…the book appears to be in your hands, but you see the world around you.

My Kindle books anywhere I want, with me being in a reading spot of my choice? Yes, please.

The prediction is Amazon apps for VR, with a possibility of Amazon VR hardware. Ooh, and Alexa for my VR! I want that, too! (I know, greedy, greedy). 😉

An ancillary: a section at Amazon for VR “experiences” (games and apps), which they don’t have now.

More Bluetooth enabled Kindle EBRs

2016 was big for Kindle EBR models, and 2015 hadn’t been. Maybe they are going to start doing that…alternate years for Kindle EBR introductions of an evolutionary nature, rather than every year.

I’ll predict that the full current range of Kindle EBRs gets refreshed with Bluetooth capable models. That would be an evolutionary rather than a revolutionary change. With Alexa expanding rapidly (including probably some different type devices, at least one with a screen), and the possibility of VR hardware, this may not be the year for a whole new model in the EBR line-up. Yes, I’d like to see a water-resistant model, although I’m not going to predict that. 😉 I think we are likely to get new editions of current models rather than a brand new model. If any model is at risk of retirement, I think it’s the Voyage. I also think they may finally sell the Oasis without a requirement to buy an animal leather cover as well.

Copyright Reform

Even though it may be a busy first year of the administration, I think we’ll hear something concrete about copyright reform. There was recently this Judiciary Committee report, but that is just a set of recommendations. My guess is that the reforms will have to do with reshaping the office (clarifying the reporting structure, maybe eliminating the Registrar), and that there will be commerce-friendly reforms proposed…and set in motion. I won’t count this as a hit unless it looks like proposals have been accepted and it is a real plan. We could certainly see movement towards a fully searchable online database of copyright records. “Small claims court” for copyright? Maybe. I expect we will see proposals about “orphan books” (books that are still under copyright protection, but aren’t “in print” and for whom no rightsholder can be located to authorize an edition). I think this administration would make it easier to create those editions, even without locating the rightsholder.

We’ll go with those as the three predictions…and see if I do better than one out of three. 😉

Next, I’ll do some speculations…

  • There will be more than 10,000 Alexa skills by the end of the year at Amazon.com…I think 25,000 is certainly possible, and I wouldn’t be shocked by 100,000
  • Barnes & Noble finds a new CEO…and then maybe it pretty much implodes. It might also stumble along, or even largely jettison books and become more of a restaurant
  • Alexa becomes capable of suggesting apps, so you don’t need to know what apps exist first. If you say, “Alexa, when does Oceanic Airlines Flight 815 arrive?” and you don’t have a flight tracking app installed, it will give you a list of possible apps to answer the question and you pick one and it answers it. It can’t just pick an app for you…app publishers wouldn’t like that
  • The USA Kindle store breaks five million titles…before April 1st (I would actually figure February)
  • Amazon announces a store presence in Cuba and/or Russia, or at least, plans for them
  • Amazon continues to explore brick-and-mortar, opening the Amazon Go “checkout-less store” to the public, and maybe three more Amazon Books stores
  • Drone delivery…in the UK before the USA (the latter may not happen this year, but I think the UK will…maybe another country too, Spain, perhaps)
  • A high level, known executive leaves Amazon for another company
  • George R.R. Martin releases the next “Game of Thrones” (A Song of Ice and Fire) book, and it becomes one of the top ten fiction books of the year

I think I’ve said enough…some of those are pretty out there! One thing I can say very confidently about 2017…it won’t be boring! 😉

What do you think will happen in 2017, in topics of interest to the readers of this blog? Do you want me to speculate about something I haven’t mentioned? Feel free to let me and my readers know by commenting on this post.

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When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) By the way, it’s been interesting lately to see Amazon remind me to “start at AmazonSmile” if I check a link on the original Amazon site. I do buy from AmazonSmile, but I have a lot of stored links I use to check for things.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the The Measured Circle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

 

 

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6 Responses to “The Year Ahead: 2017”

  1. Snapshot: January 1, 2017 | I Love My Kindle Says:

    […] As we enter the New Year, it looks largely like business as usual…and that’s a good thing.;) There are a couple of stats which stand out to me. The biggest thing is the huge jump in books in Prime Reading (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*) …up by about half again (about 500). That’s a great sign, since those are books Prime members can read at no additional cost. For what I call “piece buyers”, who buy one book at a time (as opposed to being a member of a subser…subscription service), it’s worth noting a slight increase in New York Times bestseller hardback fiction equivalents…after a considerable increase during the past year. While Amazon doesn’t want to discourage piece buyers (they probably buy the majority of books), they would prefer that people be Prime members (Prime members tend to spend more, we are told, and become more bonded to Amazon). For my predictions for 2017 for topics of interest to this blog, see The Year Ahead: 2017. […]

  2. Amazon owned online holiday shopping, and a great non-fiction KDD | I Love My Kindle Says:

    […] As shoppers still increasingly move to shopping online, Amazon’s growing dominance in holiday sales looks likely to be an ongoing trend (and  speak as a former brick-and-mortar store manager). The one thing they’ll need to watch is people moving to Virtual Reality (which I have been doing since I got a Samsung Gear VR headset (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*) at the holidays). I have no doubt that I will be shopping through VR, as I spend more and more time there. I already can, because I can browse the internet. Not getting in on VR now is like not getting into mobile when SmartPhones started becoming popular. I’ve predicted Amazon will get into VR in a big way in my annual prediction post: The Year Ahead: 2017. […]

  3. Edward Boyhan Says:

    I wanted to hold off commenting on this until the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) was over. I have some comments on Bezos at the Washington Post; some comments on your predictions for the year ahead; and some thoughts on intellectual property protection.

    ALEXA

    But first CES. Many (including me) said the big winner at CES was Alexa. Interesting in part because Amazon had almost no presence at the show. But Alexa is going to be the intelligence behind a whole raft of things: from 2018 Ford vehicles, to a Lenovo Echo clone with colored fabric coverings (and one more far field microphone than the Echo’s 7), a funky “loop” table lamp from GE with full Alexa capabilities, and (my favorite) the Huawei Mate 9 high end smartphone released last year in the EU at $750 is coming this year to the US at $600 with Alexa included. Could it be? “Alexa, call my sister June”, and carry on a hands-free conversation with her. There were many other 3rd parties with device plans that include an Alexa back end.

    From Amazon I do expect some new Alexa devices. The culmination of Lab 126’s “Knight” kitchen tablet complete with screen, and an Alexa back-end was reported by the WSJ as something on tap for 2017. I’d love for that device to include a cellular modem so: “Alexa, call my sister June” (:grin).

    Alexa currently has 3 “wake” words: “Alexa”, “Echo”, or “Amazon” — perhaps we will see user configurable wake words (although in a technical paper Amazon did explain why this might be fiendishly difficult to achieve).

    I think there’s a good possibility for some new Alexa features that would enable control over environments that contain multiple Alexa devices. Perhaps an inventory of detected Alexa devices, and an ability to tell Alexa that a request applies to one or more Echo devices (enabling perhaps a Sonos-like multi-room music capability).

    Alexa is not alone: there’s Siri, Cortana, and Google Now. A key idea that’s percolating its way through all of these “assistants” is the notion of a “conversation”. Right now Alexa’s ability to carry on a conversation is almost non-existent. I expect this to change. The industry expects conversations to appear through the implementation of “Bot” back-ends. All the major players are investing heavily in “Bot” technology. Some of this should materialize in 2017.

    Could there be an Alexa dictation skill?

    THE WASHINGTON POST

    It is interesting to me that the wapo seems to have moved a bit more to the left since Bezos took over, but he has not interfered on the editorial side at all. Instead, he has focused on the digital delivery technologies, and web page layouts and slashed the price of an annual digital subscription to a third of similar offerings from the NYT and the WSJ. In the process he has turned a money losing operation into something that’s looking good:
    http://digiday.com/publishers/washington-post-growing-business/

    Given all the fake news/biased news foorah, it seems to me that Amazon should stay out of the news business, and stick to its knitting — whatever that might be as long as it’s not “news” (:grin).

    EBR’s

    I think we’ve gone about as far as we can with the traditional Kindle EBR — I’m not expecting much.

    Bluetooth as you say might be useful to some. The browser in the kindles is almost unusable — even for simple text pages. I wish they would make some relatively minor improvements to browser text rendering — on my Oasis even simple text pages are largely unreadable.

    Perhaps there’s some interesting developments possible, if a kindle could be tied to an Alexa back-end?

    INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY

    There’s a couple of cases wending there way through the judicial system that may get finally resolved in 2017.

    The first is the Google vs Oracle case over the copyrightability of system API’s. Oracle lost at trial, and on appeal — this now appears headed to SCOTUS. Much tech innovation depends upon the idea that the specification of what some code does is not protectable. As long as code is developed that mimics the function without copying the code, it should be OK. An analogy: most toasters usually have a push down lever to turn the toaster on. You may not copy the exact toasting mechanism inside the box, but the user interface can be the same on every toaster without legal trespass — same thing for steering wheels in all cars. Oracle says in effect we can copyright (or patent) things like steering wheels, and toaster levers.

    A few years back SCOTUS severely limited the patentability of software — saying that copyright is the appropriate protection. Then an appeals court in a subsequent case created an exception to SCOTUS’s ruling that is now wending it’s way back to the Supremes

    I don’t expect much else on the IP front in 2017

    AMAZON RETAIL

    Amazon has 3 retain bookstores now in Seattle, Portland, and San Diego. They have announced 3 more: Dedham, Mass, Chicago, and NYC. They also have the 3 experimental non-book retail stores set to open in the coming months in Seattle. Also you may recall this past holiday season that the Echo devices were sold out on Amazon online, but were still available at some pop-up stores. Amazon has about two dozen pop-ups — mostly in second tier malls. We may see dramatic expansion of these, or perhaps only during key retail seasons.

    VR/AR

    Lot of noise here, but is it ready for prime time? The next version of Windows 10 (due out in April) will include a new user interaction feature called the Holographic Shell that in conjunction with four or five VR/AR goggle manufacturers (with prices starting at $299) will enable new ways to interact with windows and some applications (mostly games to start like Minecraft — owned by Microsoft).

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Edward!

      Lots of good points here!

      As to Alexa…I’ve done the first thing where I’ve tested the four main assistants (Siri, Alexa, Cortana, and OK Google) with the same inquiry, and I’m thinking I’ll make that a regular feature in The Measured Circle. I did that when writing about Alexa’s new ability to do “follow on” questions:

      https://measuredcircle.wordpress.com/2017/01/10/alexa-now-does-follow-on-questions/

      Alexa is going to get lots of competition in the next couple of years, though…I’m not sure how Amazon can make Alexa unique enough, outside of the connection to Amazon (and many of the devices which will use Alexa Voice Services are not going to be used for shopping, at least as a prime function) to dominate the assistant market. Even if Alexa is the definition for people of a digital assistant (have you noticed how people have largely stopped describing Alexa by using Siri as a touchpoint?), that may not mean market domination…just as many casual people think of any SmartPhone as an iPhone, even where it isn’t the market leader.

      Phone calls with Alexa seem inevitable…one interesting use might be to have the response be in Alexa’s voice (and there may be multiple voices in the future), rather than in the speaker’s voice. I would be speaking to you, but we would both hear the words as Alexa. As an option, some people might really like that…and with clever voice options, it could be quite fun. 🙂

      On intellectual property: I am on tenterhooks to see where the new administration goes on that. As you note, there are already cases which have been working through the courts…in some cases, for years. However, a “stance” can make a big difference in this area, so we’ll have to see. There was an interesting decision recently against someone who produced an unauthorized Star Trek version. I’ve been planning to write about that, and may yet…but bottom line, I don’t think it was protected under the parody element of Fair Use. This case has some real bearing on book publishing, depending on how it finishes, especially in regards to making money from something without charging the consumer for it.

      Brick-and-mortar is clearly, in a very specific way, part of Amazon’s near future…but VR/AR may help change that (and for other retailers). Which brings us to that topic: is VR/AR ready for prime time? Interestingly, I said I didn’t think it was back at the end of 2015: now I am convinced that it is. The level where it is now is much more consumer/mainstream friendly than e-books were in 2007, or music services were in the original days of Napster. I’m also going to start writing quite a bit about VR/AR/MR (I’ll explain that there) in The Measured Circle, probably starting this weekend. The entry point, if you already own a compatible SmartPhone, is now under $100. We need some things for it to really mainstream, but that will start significantly this year. I tend to overestimate people’s willingness/ability to adopt new things (I’m still shocked that Americans don’t commonly use the metric system…I was surprised that failed in the 1970s), and the e-book market has grown more slowly than I thought (in the mainstream, at least).

      I do think, though, that by the end of this year, that holiday season, VR/AR/MR will be positioned at least as well as the Echo was in the 2015 holiday season.

      Thanks for a great comment!

  4. Welcome, vammers! Our Virtual/Augmented/Mixed/Merged Reality coverage starts here | The Measured Circle Says:

    […] The Year Ahead: 2017 […]

  5. Is this the first of Amazon’s virtual/augmented reality announcements? | I Love My Kindle Says:

    […] The Year Ahead: 2017 […]

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