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The Tech Year

Originally published in iGaming Business, issue #90.

The year is coming to an end as I put fingers to keys, but by the time you read this, 2015 will be well underway, well past the “wrong year on cheques” period.

Cheques?! They may be so last century, but Blackberry is the one truly pulling out a Classic; literally, complete with Brick Breaker, the game that came pre-loaded on Blackberry devices for many years. As the Wall Street Journal said: “When you use it, you will feel like no time as passed at all.” So not only is Blackberry releasing a new product, it’s releasing time in a bottle.

I, for one, believe it is a great move. As I said in my article for the Feb/March 2014 issue of iGaming Business North America, it’s my contention that Blackberry’s biggest mistake was forsaking great usability features to try and compete in the feature-set race now driving the consumer smartphone space. However, the question now has to be, “Is it too little, too late?”

While Blackberry’s announcement saw 2014 end with a veritable flashback, we saw, like every year before, a new iPhone and iPad and several new Samsung devices in every size known to man, as well as Dick Tracy’s famous fashion statement from the1930s make a comeback —the smart wristwatch.

More notably, we saw digital health and other wearable technology further define their place in the market, with many brands now also adopting a more haute-couture approach to product design. The Internet- of-things also continued to take strides, encompassing more everyday items, as well as a few odd ones such as home automation hub Mother from Sen.se, becoming connected whether you want them to be or not.

3D printing also became more affordable during 2014, with NASA recently sending a wrench to the International Space Station via email, saving millions in rocket fuel. And if saving rocket fuel doesn’t resonate with you, how about being able to buy a 4K Ultra High Definition television for the same price as a standard High Definition one?

2014 saw new things get old, old things become new again and some things getting cheaper, but it also brought us new ways to do old things.

While Uber continues along its rocky path towards world domination, revolutionizing the way we get a ride, other “disruptive” concepts like MonkeyParking are generating their fair share of controversy, continuing the tradition of Silicon Valley’s insatiable hunger for venture investments, amoral or otherwise, receiving mixed reviews among the wider population.

But if you thought that Silicon Valley can get silly, how about the dashingly funny idea to make a movie about a pair of reporters out to assassinate the leader of an actual country, complete with real-names and lookalikes, all in the name of comedy and the freedom of expression? It’s all fun and games until someone gets hacked...then it could be the best thing to happen for what might otherwise be just another crude American comedy.

In gaming, 2014 saw the NBA take an equity stake in FanDuel, a daily fantasy sports company, and Churchill Downs acquire social and mobile games publisher Big Fish for close to US$900 million, reminiscent of IGT’s acquisition of DoubleDown Casino back in 2013.

So that was 2014. What is there to look out for in 2015 and how might this affect iGaming and gaming? There’s strong odds on our seeing yet another new iPhone and iPad, but ahead of that, there’s the new Apple Watch, here to reinvent the entire smart watch market in Spring of 2015.

Innovations and new products aside, the developments that made the most news in 2014 and arguably stand to have the longest lasting effects in 2015 and beyond relate to how we make use of technology, rather than the actual technology itself.

In December 2014, while speaking at the 41st Global Symposium on Racing and Gaming organized by University of Arizona’s Race Track Industry Program, I saw a short video presentation by the Hong Kong Jockey Club, highlighting the use of technology in their operations. Shot using virtual set technology, the presentation felt more like something you would see at a serious computer or special effects conference than a gaming show.

To enrich their customers’ viewing and wagering experience, they demonstrated cameras mounted on unmanned flying drones, robotic blimps, autonomous Segway-looking contraptions and a super- ultra-high-definition camera system which stitched two UHD camera inputs together to create an interactive real-time race coverage that handicappers can scroll, zoom and pan to follow any action they want, complete with full playback controls like a DVR. They are even working on image-stabilizing software to adapt camera tech used on F1 cars to allow for interactive point-of-view coverage from the jockeys’ perspective!

For a tech-head like me, it was a candy store, especially when you consider that most US race track coverage still only employs a single-fixed-camera view, on- screen graphics from the 70s, little to no tech in the stands and OTBs and minor mobile penetration at best.

The Internet-of-things certainly hasn’t hit gaming in many customer-directed deployments either. Some will blame regulators and clearly, at least in the US, there are owner-operators who are against what technology could bring to gaming, particularly iGaming, and openly admit that matters of technology are often way over their heads.

Not embracing technology in gaming not only could be to operators’ cost in terms of maintaining and growing market share, a failure to understand how customers can potentially use the technology could impact the business in other negative ways – could iGaming be the next Silicon Valley disruption target for someone?

iGaming has certainly seen its share of tools, hacks, bots and more that give players an edge through to outright cheating, but with the increasing pervasiveness of wearable technologies, it will be a challenge for brick and mortar operations as well.

Often, what gaming doesn’t want to deal with, gaming bans. While that might appear to be an overly generalising statement, it does happen to varying degrees in practice; I’ve seen casino players get a strong talking to when they have their smartphones out at a table.

Furthermore, we’re actually getting close to a point where it may no longer be possible to detect the presence of tech. Google Glass may be identifiable but there are similar systems in the wild now that simply look like a pair of glasses. The upcoming Apple Watch will feature a haptic feedback system they call Taptic Engine. It can tap the wearer’s wrist in different patterns, allowing notifications, communication, and even the ability to share heartbeats. It will not take me long to come up with some “creative” uses for both these technologies to give me an edge during a night out.

So, what can properties do and where is the balance between enforcing fair play versus customer comfort, convenience and retention? To explore these issues, the casino industry does have WGPC, which will happen in March at the M Resort in Las Vegas (one of the rare sites that took more than one click to figure out where it was being held).

Having not been to WGPC, I cannot opine on its effectiveness beyond the program showing a wide array of speakers and vendors ready and willing to demonstrate their wares.

If WGPC has a Black Hat-like track as part of the show, it would be a great move. Black Hat is a broad-based conference that attracts many “white hat” hackers, sharing knowledge to prevent crime, to present exploited loopholes they have discovered. Past shows have brought everything from software flaws to physical security exploits such as the bump key.

Black Hat works because it opens up the process of discovering flaws and threats, as opposed to the more traditional approach of hiding them behind closed doors. Perhaps there is room for a gaming- oriented Black Hat conference.

We sometimes fear what we don’t know but there is wonder to be found too. What new technologies will come in 2015 and what will we say about them in 2016? Stay tuned!


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