TIME the big picture

Your Tablet Will Be Your TV: 5 Bold Tech Predictions for 2015

Tablet Television
2 people watching television on a tablet. Nick David—Getty Images

And Apple will make the MacBook Air even thinner

Every winter for the last 26 years, I’ve taken a stab at predicting tech trends for the upcoming year. I’ve had a solid track record: Last year, I was half-right when I said Google would spin off Motorola — it was instead sold to Lenovo. I also predicted PC sales could actually grow in 2014, and that was basically true: In 2013, PC sales were down 10%, and this year they’ll only be off by about 2.5%. That resurgence came as people figured out their shiny new tablets couldn’t fully replace their PCs.

Oh, and back in 1998, I said Apple would be the largest consumer electronics company in the world within a decade. I remember that one mostly because the piece got so many comments calling me an idiot.

With that in mind, here are my top five predictions for tech in 2015:

1. Tablets will be positioned as personal TVs. The tablet market has become competitive enough to drive prices down to the point that about half of American adults own one. Tablets have become major hits worldwide, too, especially lost-cost models meant for consuming media.

But in 2015, we will see a major push to position tablets as personal televisions. Qualcomm’s new Broadcast LTE chip, which enables media to be broadcast directly to a smartphone or tablet, will help make this happen. One of China’s major TV broadcasters, for example, is creating a branded tablet marketed as a TV that can get all of the broadcasters’ content as part of a subscription service. The Chinese tablet will be $99 with a small monthly content fee.

I already turn all my tablets into televisions via Slingbox, but I need a secondary device to make it happen. Tablet owners can already get video content via apps like Netflix or over the web, but come next year, tablets will be marketed as televisions first and computing devices second.

2. Streaming media will be everywhere. HBO’s decision to offer streaming-only services in early 2015 is a big deal. This type of unbundling of traditional cable content is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to moving even more content into direct streaming models and services. Add to that the dedicated social media platforms being developed around streaming content and shared viewing from remote locations, and next year we could see streaming media expand its reach and have a big impact on traditional media distribution.

3. Apple will release a new ultra-thin, ultra-light MacBook Air. While Apple is rumored to be releasing a bigger iPad next year, I think Apple’s really big hit in 2015 — besides the Apple Watch — will be a newly designed MacBook Air. Apple’s MacBook Air pushed the laptop market to thin and light designs overall, but if Apple does something even thinner and lighter with a new MacBook Air (and maybe a retina display) it could make “ultra-thins” the next big thing in laptops.

4. Application-specific tablets will take the market by storm. Did you know it’s cheaper to buy a $99 tablet than a souped up clock radio for the bedside? And the tablet gives you not only a variety of clock faces and alarms, but the versatility to hear Internet radio, AM/FM radio, podcasts, police and fire radio bands and more. This is just one of the trends we’re seeing as people buy cheap tablets to hang under kitchen cabinets, place in bathrooms or put in their kids’ rooms for news, podcasts and television.

5. You will finally start using 3D scanners and printers. While 3D printers will gain more traction in 2015, what the market really needs are easier ways to design 3D products. I believe we will see the first laptops with built-in 3D cameras by end of the year. Along with a 3D printer, that would make it possible to take an object, put it in front of your laptop camera and push print. Don’t be surprised if Apple goes big on 3D cameras or ways to capture 3D images for use with 3D printers in 2015.

TIME Sports

Why 49ers Fans Totally Love High-Tech Levi’s Stadium

San Francisco 49ers Levi's Stadium Ribbon Cutting Ceremony
Workers head down the stairs during the Ribbon Cutting Ceremony for Levi Stadium on July 17, 2014 in Santa Clara, California. Michael Zagaris—Getty Images

They have Wi-Fi, food-ordering apps and more

When the San Francisco 49ers set out to build their new stadium, they wanted to make it one of the most tech-advanced in the NFL. Now that Santa Clara’s Levi’s Stadium has been open for nearly a full season, it’s time to see if they actually pulled that off.

When the new stadium was built, the 49ers laid close to 400 miles of cable that allows for all types of wired and wireless connectivity in the arena. At the professional level, that gave TV, radio and online broadcasters access to some of the most high-powered infrastructure and world class broadcasting equipment ever installed in a stadium. For 49ers fans, new Wi-Fi routers, beacons and an app make it possible to order food, beer and merchandise from their seats or stream replays on their phones or tablets.

12 games into Levi’s Stadium’s inaugural season, I headed to catch a game to get a sense of how successful all that new technology has been. I can report the new features have made the arena experience much more immersive and interactive, putting it on-par with watching a game in the comfort of your own home.

I talked to over a dozen people at the stadium who have used the new Wi-Fi and various apps, and they all seemed to love the experience, especially the ability to have food and drinks delivered to their seats. Many 49ers fans also told me about the Beacon-powered tools that helped them find their seats or check on the bathroom line without getting up and missing a key play.

However, there’s a catch-22 about Levi’s Stadium’s new tech: When the 49ers are doing well, fans seldom check their mobile devices, preferring to keep their eyes on the action. However, if the home team is struggling, fans’ attention drifts, and many of the people I talked to said they used the stadium’s Wi-Fi to go online and check email, surf the web, or post disparaging comments about the team’s performance.

About 21,000 to 23,000 people use Levi’s Stadium’s Wi-Fi per game, with the exception of Sept. 14’s home opener that saw 41,000 unique users, according to the 49ers’ IT department. The peak bandwidth usage has ranged from 1.5 GB/s (Nov. 2nd) to 3.1 GB/s (Sept. 14th). The team’s last home game, on Nov. 27, registered a figure of 2.5 GB/s. Most games have seen fans use more than 100MB of data each, no small feat considering how hard it can be to use mobile data during games at big sports arenas.

The various San Francisco 49ers officials I talked to say the stadium’s tech has performed well. They admitted there have been Wi-Fi glitches every once in a while, but there have been no major problems. They are also pleased that once people first try the stadium app, they often keep coming back to it.

The 49ers hoped that Levi’s Stadium could be a poster child for other stadiums, and have been very gracious in sharing details about their plans with other NFL teams. The fans, meanwhile, are happy that the 49ers went the extra mile to make the stadium experience even better through technology the ticketholders have widely embraced.

TIME the big picture

How Smartphones Could Evolve Into Something Totally Different

FRANCE-ECONOMY-TELECOMMUNICATION-SMARTPHONES
People show their smartphones on December 25, 2013 in Dinan, northwestern France. Philippe Huguen—AFP/Getty Images

Smartphones may become modular computers you drop into larger interfaces like "dummy" tablets or laptops.

One of the more interesting comparisons of computer speeds often checks the computing power aboard NASA’s Apollo moon missions to the computing power in your smartphones. Indeed, The Daily Grate actually compared how much more powerful your phone is compared to the computer that tracked all the Apollo missions and flew grown men through the narrowest event windows while guiding a tin can in the infinite reaches of space — the Apollo computer had 1 MHz of processing speed, your iPhone 5s sports 1.3GHz in two cores.

I’m not sure if the Apollo crew actually understood how underpowered their computers were, but thankfully they didn’t ask the question, and came back in one piece. However, the idea that we have this kind of computing power in our pocket could make smartphones the most important computing device we have, eventually powering all kinds of personal computing products.

About 23 years ago, I wrote a paper on what I called back then a “vision for modular computing.” I’ve traveled a great deal in my career, and in the early days, I lugged portable computers that looked like singer sewing machines. Once clamshell-style laptops came out, I started carrying them instead — but they weighed 6-9 lbs. and had short battery lives. But I envisioned — or actually longed for — a time when I could just carry a small modular computing core with me, plugging it into a TV in my hotel room or fitting it into a screen and keyboard on the flip side of an airplane seat tray.

I wanted the full power of a personal computer in a small device that could connect into all types of stationary devices. Now I know I was describing then what smartphones have become today, although they have the screen and keyboards built in as part of their design.

But that might not be the endgame for smartphones. In one of the more interesting products on the market this year, Asus has created something that embodies part of that original vision I had for modular computing. The Asus PadFone X is a unique product that includes a smartphone which slides into and powers a 7-inch tablet. The idea here is that all of the computing power is based in the smartphone, while the tablet simply mirrors what’s on the smartphone. However, if you undock the phone from the tablet, the tablet does nothing — all you get is a blank screen. The PadFone costs $199 without a contract and works with AT&T’s prepaid program.

The PadFone’s idea to put the computing power in the smartphone and using it to power a tablet is quite interesting and very much modular in design. I’m hearing another angle on this in the works in China, wherein you’d take a smartphone and pop it into a laptop clamshell design, using the smartphone as the core processor mirroring the device’s operating system and apps on a 12-inch laptop screen with a full keyboard. Motorola had a product like this a few years back called the Atrix Smartphone with LapDock. The Atrix never took off because 2011’s smartphones weren’t powerful enough to deliver on the idea, among other reasons. But the concept of using a smartphone docked to a laptop shell is now being tossed around design shops in Asia, and we could see new versions of the idea sometime next year.

The smartphone-based modular computer has plenty of potential, and what Asus delivers with the PadFone could just be scratching the surface. It would not surprise me if someday my original modular computing vision finally plays itself out in ways that make the smartphone the center of our computing experience and it becomes docked into tablets, laptops and desktops that powers our future computing experiences.

TIME Big Picture

Why Your Next Computer Might Be a Dell

Dell World Keynote With Michael Dell
Michael Dell gives the keynote address to Dell employees to kick off Dell World 2014 at the Austin Convention Center on November 5, 2014 in Austin, Texas. Gary Miller—Getty Images

The now-private Dell is looking better than it has in a long time

The PC market has undergone incredible consolidation over the last five years, leaving only five or six brand-name players in a market which once had at least 17 serious PC vendors. Among the top of today’s list lies Dell, a company that over the last 15 months has gone through the kind of major changes that will determine if it’ll remain a major PC market player.

In early 2013, Michael Dell and his team made the decision to take the company private. That got serious pushback from some Dell investors, with the most intense recalcitrance coming from activist investor Carl Icahn. Icahn felt Dell was undervalued, and tried to take over the board and kick Dell out of the company. Dell and his team fought back, and in the end got major backing from Dell’s own personal wealth and private investors, enabling them to take the company private just over a year ago to great initial success — Michael Dell and his partner Silverlake has realized a 90% gain on their investment since they did this leveraged buyout, according to Bloomberg. The irony here is that Icahn might’ve been right that Dell was undervalued, Dell wouldn’t have seen this increased gain without Michael Dell at the helm.

I got the chance to speak with Michael Dell and some of his executives at last week’s annual Dell World consumer event. I’ve known Dell for decades, and during the final years before he took his company private, he often seemed very weary. Running a public company can beat a person down, and I’m sure the pressure to perform for investors took its toll on Dell.

That no longer seems to be the case.

Dell is the happiest I’ve seen him in a decade, more relaxed and reassured about Dell and its future. He still has pressure to perform and stay profitable, but that now comes from meeting the needs of his customers, not his investors. That means Dell can stay customer-focused and not have to deal with Wall Street and its various machinations that can distract a company’s executives. In fact, I know a few CEOs of public companies who are jealous of Michael’s newfound freedom, which makes it possible for Dell as a company to respond more quickly to market demands, be more nimble and more free to experiment.

More importantly, Dell has recently posted some serious growth. During Michael Dell’s Dell World keynote, he said the company delivered nothing but positive outcomes over the last year. Some of these results included seeing year-over-year growth across all regions globally, increasing worldwide PC shipments by nearly 10% year-over-year in Q3 of this year, which led to growing its market share in the North American market by 19%. It gained triple the share of HP, five times as much as Apple, and 10 times as much as Lenovo, making it the number three PC vendor in terms of worldwide shipments, behind Lenovo and HP.

Dell also said the company performed well in servers and storage, but during the Dell World event, the CEO told me that close to two-thirds of Dell’s enterprise business comes through its PC business. He added that he “loves PCs and is highly committed to creating new innovative laptops and desktops” to support his customer’s needs.

This is a big deal for Dell. Even if they’re no longer a growth market, PCs are not going away. They remain business workhorses and a key productivity tool for students and consumers. Dell having a company focus on creating great new PC and laptop designs is good news for those who will continue to buy PCs for many years to come.

“The company’s future strategy has been aligned to four customer imperatives — transform, connect, inform, and protect — which addresses the major technology trends of cloud, mobile, big data, and security,” Dell said in his keynote speech. “The company is highly focused on providing complete solutions to their customer, that includes helping them manage everything from the back end to all end points that connect to these servers and applications. While Dell has been doing this for years, there is a renewed commitment to deliver world-class solutions to IT and consumers. I see a really new Dell, and one that is committed to being a top-level company for the long run.”

At last year’s Dell World, Michael and his team had just won their battle against activist shareholders and taken the company private. At that time, the Dell team was optimistic about the company’s future without the pressures of Wall Street. However, it was too early to tell if a private Dell would be a successful Dell. Given what I saw at Dell World last week, I think it’s safe to say that Dell’s bet on themselves was a good one. If it continues to perform this way going forward, Dell will certainly remain one of the top PC players in the market for many years to come.

TIME Big Picture

Phablets and Bluetooth Headsets Are Perfect Companions

When I saw the original Samsung Galaxy Note a few years ago, I couldn’t believe it was actually a smartphone.

It sported a 5.3-inch screen and at the time, it looked more like a small tablet. But I was told that it was indeed a full-fledged smartphone, designed to be used as a phone as well as a small tablet.

When I picked it up and put it to my ear, I thought I looked ridiculous. In fact, in one of my columns at the time, I pointed out that something this large did not make sense for use as a phone given its form factor and what I considered its unruly size.

Yet the Galaxy Note struck a nerve in many regions of Asia and became quite a hit. In these markets, people generally only carry one device with them and with the Galaxy Note, they got a small tablet and a smartphone in one.

Now Apple has jumped in with a phablet of its own, which has immediately become a hit in all of the markets that it’s sold, including the U.S. and Europe. To be clear, the iPhone 6 with its smaller 4.7-inch screen is outselling the 6 Plus at least five to one, but there are still many people buying the 6 Plus who like its actual size. I am one of them. I struggled with which new iPhone to get but decided on the 6 Plus because of its large screen and the fact that I could read its screen without my glasses. Now I love it and feel like a hypocrite for dissing phablets in the past.

However, I will not put it up to my ear and use it as a phone, as I still think I look ridiculous putting something this size to my ear and talking on it. I might be the only one who feels this way, but I find that for me, a Bluetooth headset is the best solution. I use one religiously when making or receiving calls with the iPhone 6 Plus.

The Bluetooth headset I like the most has been the one from Bose. It fits in my ear well and delivers great sound, and the people who hear me on the other end say I come in clear.

I have tested over 15 headsets and while I especially like a couple of models from Plantronics and Jabra, so far I keep coming back to my Bose Bluetooth headset for use with the iPhone 6 Plus. However, I recently got to test a new Bluetooth headset that has the potential to become my primary headset. While it works like a Bluetooth headset with any smartphone, it’s unique in that this feature is secondary to its purpose.

The folks from Soundhawk, who make this new headset, call it the worlds first smart listening system:

Soundhawk was founded by one of the world’s leading hearing experts, Dr. Rodney Perkins. He started his career as an ear surgeon but quickly became one of the world’s most successful life sciences entrepreneurs. He has started twelve companies, four of which were in the hearing sciences and three of which went public. As a physician, he realized that there were limits to the number of patients he could help. As a result, he began to apply his knowledge and creativity to building products and companies that could have a much broader impact.

What makes the Soundhawk headset so different is that its main purpose is to help enhance and amplify the conversations around you, especially in noisy restaurants, sporting events, or any gathering when you want to hear people but it’s too loud to hear them clearly. This is not a hearing aid in the traditional sense, although its use to help people hear better has its roots in Dr. Perkins’ medical practice. He would often have people come to him thinking they might need a hearing aid but when they were tested, they didn’t have the aural problems that qualified them for such a device. Yet he understood that these folks had real issues with hearing, so he started Soundhawk with the idea of creating a headset that would help people hear better in noisy situations.

The Soundhawk system from left to right: charging case, wireless mic, smartphone app and Scoop earpiece Soundhawk

The Soundhawk smart listening system consists of four components. The first is a smartphone app that gives the headset precise controls for four distinct situations. It can be fine-tuned for use indoors, when dining, when driving and for outdoor activities. Then there is the headset itself, called the Scoop. It’s smaller than my Bose headset and fits well in any ear. It uses adaptive audio processing to enhance key sound frequencies in order to elevate what you want to hear while reducing unwanted background noise.

Its third component is a wireless mic that gets you closer to what you want to hear in even the noisiest environments. You simply place the wireless mic near what you want to hear and it will pick up that sound and deliver it in great clarity to the Scoop. The wireless mic is perfect for noisy places like restaurants, coffee shops or even at home.

I spent last week in Honolulu working on a project, taking many meetings in restaurants. I took the Soundhawk mic and placed it on the table front of the person speaking, and even in these very loud environments, I could hear them clearly. The mic even has a clip on it, so if the environment you’re in is really loud, you could ask the person you’re talking with to clip it on their lapel instead.

One interesting thing about using the Scoop and the mic together is that when someone was talking to me in a noisy area, it was like the person was speaking only to me. Their voice came in loud and clear, making the conversation seem even more personal.

The fourth component is the case that houses the Scoop and the mic. The case has a rechargeable battery inside and protects, organizes and recharges them so they are always ready to go. This is a really cool feature. All other Bluetooth headsets need to be plugged into a wall outlet directly to charge them. This charges in the case and the case itself can be recharged over night. This is a very handy feature.

According to Michael Kisch, CEO of Soundhawk, “As our world gets noisier, many people are hearing less of what matters most. At Soundhawk, our mission is to transform the listening experience simply and affordably, and empower people to hear the world the way that they want to.”

The Soundhawk’s Smart Listening System launched recently, and at the moment is only available on the company’s website for $299. I realize that most high-end Bluetooth headsets are priced much lower than this, but keep in mind that this product has a lot of added value to it. It works on iOS and Android devices.

It’s an interesting product, and one I think will meet a need for a lot of people who would like to be able to hear better in noisy environments and also want a great Bluetooth headset for use with any of the larger smartphones on the market. Of course you could use this with any size smartphone, but at least in my case, it’s a perfect companion to my iPhone 6 Plus. Even though I have only been testing it for a week, it has the potential to become my primary headset.

Bajarin is the president of Creative Strategies Inc., a technology industry analysis and market-intelligence firm in Silicon Valley. He contributes to Big Picture, an opinion column that appears every week on TIME Tech.

TIME Big Picture

The Force Disrupting Samsung and Other Tech Giants

Shenzhen
Shenzhen is an ultra-modern city of 14 million people located in southern China approximately 30 miles from Hong Kong. Getty Images

Over the past five years, Samsung has become one of the big tech giants, enjoying a lot of success with its smartphones and tablets. It became a dominant player in China, Korea and other parts of Asia, and became Apple’s biggest competitor in the U.S., Europe and other parts of the world.

However, over the last two quarters, Samsung’s profits have declined substantially, with its executives recently warning that profits could be off as much as 60% in the most recent quarter. So in such a short time, how did a tech giant go from the top of the mountain to a place where it’s looking like the next BlackBerry?

The High-Tech Flea Market

This came about because of the Shenzhen ecosystem effect. Shenzhen is a large town about 30 miles north of Hong Kong and an important part of the China manufacturing area. What makes this area interesting is that it has emerged as a kind of technology parts depot that provides off-the-shelf components that can be used to create everything from smartphones, tablets, PCs or any other type of tech device, which can then be sold as no-name — or what we call white-box — products.

During my first visit to Shenzhen many years ago, I was taken to a six-story building that was affectionately called the flea market for cell phones. On every floor were dozens of vendors with glass showcases peddling cell phones and early smartphones by the hundreds. In Asia and many other parts of the world, users actually buy their cell phone of choice first and then go to a store to buy a SIM card that provides voice and data services.

In this part of China, the Shenzhen flea market was a hotbed for locals to come and buy their phones, providing all types of sizes and models to choose from. Most of the cell phones were of this white-box nature, carrying no known brand name and having been manufactured cheaply from readily available components. They were sold all over China and parts of Asia, and up until around 2007 when Apple introduced the iPhone, these types of phones dominated these markets.

Upstarts Aplenty

Over the last seven years, the Shenzhen ecosystem of component makers has become much more sophisticated, supplying high-quality components to vendors of all types, which are then used to make smartphones and tablets that can rival products from Apple, Samsung and anyone else making top of the line devices. And vendors from all over the world are making the trek to Shenzhen to buy these components, get them manufactured in quantity and take them back to their regions of the world to sell against established brands.

The best example of this comes from a company called Xiaomi, which didn’t even release its first smartphone until a few years ago but is now the number one smartphone provider in the region. It did this by leveraging the Shenzhen ecosystem to create well-designed smartphones. Until early 2013, Samsung was a top player in China, but big brand Lenovo jumped into the China market with smartphones and gave Samsung some serious competition. Apple also entered China in a big way. Between these three companies making aggressive moves in China, Samsung began to lose market share dramatically.

Micromax has done something similar in India, coming from nowhere to own 40% of that market today. Cherry Mobile did the same thing in the Philippines, and this similar pattern is being replicated in Brazil, South Africa, Eastern Europe and elsewhere – all markets that Samsung had leads in but where it’s now coming under major competitive threats.

Big Apple

Samsung has a double whammy going on here, too. One of the reasons the company has been so profitable in the mobile business is because of the Galaxy S4 and Galaxy S5 smartphones and the Galaxy Note 3 phablet. These smartphones are in the premium category and Samsung dominated the five-inches-and-up smartphone space for almost three years.

However, research is showing that Samsung benefited from a lack of a similar products from Apple, but now Apple has the new 4.7-inch iPhone 6 and the 5.5-inch 6 Plus. These products take direct aim at Samsung’s similar models and demand for these new iPhones has been very strong, so Samsung is impacted by this Apple move as well.

Hardware Headaches

What makes this even more problematic for Samsung is that its business model is to make money from the hardware. These white-box vendors can take these phones to their local regions and sell them pretty much at cost because they make their money on apps and local services that they provide their customers. Samsung and many of the other big vendors aside from Apple make most of their money on hardware, while Apple makes money on hardware, software and services.

When it comes to PCs, we have always had white-box products in the market. In fact, no-name white boxes represent about 40% of all PCs shipped. However, companies like HP, Dell, Lenovo, Acer, Asus and others have had solid brands and offered things like warranties and service agreements. Even though brand-name PCs are priced much higher than white-box PCs, the big players have been able to compete around the world based on brand, distribution and customer services.

This has been especially true in the U.S., Europe and most of the developed markets. However, if you look at what’s going on with laptops now and see how products like Chromebooks and low-end laptops and desktops are dominating consumer markets, even these major vendors are being squeezed when it comes to trying to actually make money just on hardware.

We are starting to see new PC players go to the Shenzhen components market in order to create PCs to sell in their home markets. Once there, they add local apps and services while pricing these laptops and PCs almost at cost. If they gain more ground in these local markets, this could have real impact on traditional PC vendors who are still trying to compete in these markets but have to make profits from hardware alone in most cases.

For Samsung, the Shenzhen effect is a serious problem — one that will be very difficult to counter while still maintaining profitability. Even with new hardware products, Samsung’s lack of software and services for local markets will continue to make it difficult to compete with Xiaomi, Huawei and others, especially in markets like China and other parts of Asia.

Even worse for Samsung are rumors that companies like Alibaba and Tencent may jump into these markets with smartphones of their own in the next year. Both of these Chinese companies have strong local services they can tie to these smartphones, allowing them to almost give these devices away since they are assured an ongoing stream of revenue from preloaded apps and services.

The Shenzhen ecosystem will continue to be a disruptive force as hardware becomes commoditized and real money is made from apps and services. Companies just selling hardware will continue to be challenged by these upstarts, who can buy components cheaply and get them manufactured cheaply. This can leave even the big tech players hurting, as we’re seeing now with what’s happening to Samsung.

To get a better understanding of the Shenzhen ecosystem and Xiaomi in particular, check out Ben Bajarin’s short presentation on this topic.

Bajarin is the president of Creative Strategies Inc., a technology industry analysis and market-intelligence firm in Silicon Valley. He contributes to Big Picture, an opinion column that appears every week on TIME Tech.

TIME Big Picture

Nobody Can Predict the Success of Apple’s Watch Yet

The new Apple Watch is displayed during an Apple special event at the Flint Center for the Performing Arts on Sept. 9, 2014 in Cupertino, Calif.
The new Apple Watch is displayed during an Apple special event at the Flint Center for the Performing Arts on Sept. 9, 2014 in Cupertino, Calif. Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

It’s interesting to read all the coverage Apple got for its watch announcement, and the amazing amount of analysis and predictions that came out shortly after the launch event.

Critics went after everything, from style, form and function. Others lauded its design, potential capabilities and eventual usefulness.

Part of this discrepancy in views is due to the fact that while Apple did show us the watch and give us some early details about what it would do, the company didn’t actually give us a lot of details about things like costs, storage, future apps and security features that could help people develop a more informed view of the product.

Since it doesn’t come out until sometime in early 2015, there’s a lot of time for speculation. And even though we have some solid details we can use to try and draw some conclusions about its potential success, I would like to suggest that to actually try to predict the future success of the Apple Watch today would just be folly. We only have the bits and pieces that Apple wanted to share; it’s not enough to really determine how this product will fare when it finally reaches the market next year.

Why Unveil It So Early?

Many people thought it was odd for Apple to introduce a product like the Apple Watch months before it will ever come to market. For one, it gives competitors a lot of time to try and create something similar that can compete with the Apple Watch when it ships. It also gives the media, detractors and a whole host of folks plenty of time to try and guess what Apple’s really doing and whether it’ll actually have any serious impact on Apple’s bottom line. Given Apple’s penchant for secrecy, one would think that it would have been smarter for the company to hold off announcing the watch until a day or two before it would actually ship.

For those of us who follow Apple very closely, this move, while unique, was a necessary for a couple of reasons. First, this is a brand new category for Apple and the watch market is very complex. Apple actually needs real feedback from people in the watch, entertainment, fashion and tech worlds in order to help refine the final product.

However, there’s another critical reason that the watch was unveiled months before it’s supposed to come to market, and it’s one of the major reasons why it’s impossible to actually predict its success at this time in Apple’s history.

Much More Than Hardware

The proper way to actually view the new Apple Watch is to see it as a platform that includes more than just hardware. It has to have apps and services designed for the new, smaller-screen form factor. This actually follows Apple’s overall formula for success.

Before the company introduced the iPod, it spent two years working with the music industry in order to have media content available for use on the iPod when it shipped. The same thing happened with the iPhone. Apple had to create a special SDK (software development kit) so the developer community could create apps for the new smartphone. While Apple did have its own apps and some special partner apps at launch, the software community moved rapidly to create apps and services for the new iPhone, which ultimately is why people actually buy an iPhone these days.

This similar approach was used when Apple introduced the iPad. At launch, the company had some of its own apps and a couple from partners — and in this case, it could use iPhone apps, although they had to be upscaled up for the iPad’s larger screen. But the software community soon created native iPad apps, and Apple’s tablet took off. In the end, with all three of these products, it’s all about providing customers with hardware, a rich operating system, apps and services.

Waiting for the Killer App

This will be the same case with the Apple Watch. We need a lot more info about what it can do, how it works and, of course, the ultimate value proposition of what it will deliver those who buy it. But the really important unknown factors lie in the types of apps that can be created for such a small screen, and if any “killer” apps emerge that take it from a “nice to have” device to an “everyone needs one” type of product.

The best example of a killer app came from the birth of the PC era. Apple introduced the Apple II computer in 1977, but at the time, it was viewed only as a hobbyist machine. Then in 1979, a program was created that ran on the Apple II called VisiCalc, which was the first spreadsheet. It literally became the killer app that brought the Apple II out of the hobbyist category and into the world of business computing. A they say, the rest is history.

The second killer apps were the word processors that came out about the same time, followed by a product called Lotus 1-2-3 that included a spreadsheet, graphical charts and a database. This was the first killer app for the IBM PC when it came out in 1983, launching the true PC era we know today.

The importance of apps was driven home to me when the iPhone was first launched. When Apple SVP Phil Schiller first showed it to me, he put his iPhone on the coffee table in front of me and asked me what I saw? I told him I saw a blank piece of glass in a metal case. He said that was exactly what Apple wanted me to see until I turned it on. The magic would come from the apps on the device itself. While the hardware is important, he stressed that it would be the apps that make the iPhone dance and sing.

After the launch of the iPhone, I talked to Steve Jobs and asked him if he was certain he had a hit on his hand with the iPhone. He told me he was pretty sure the iPhone would be important, but went on to say that it would be the apps that third-party vendors create that would ultimately make it successful. He also told me that the exciting thing for him was that Apple had developed an SDK to create apps for the iPhone and that he couldn’t wait to see what software developers created.

This really is the formula for the success of any device like this. A company can create a great piece of hardware, but the magic comes from the software community. Who will create the “killer” app or apps that make the device appealing to everyone?

While we only have part of the story about the Apple Watch from Apple, I suspect that even when it launches, we won’t really be able to judge its ultimate success at first. However, I am betting that Apple gets strong support from the software community, who will create a host of apps that may appeal to people from all walks of life. That will ultimately determine the success or failure of Apples new watch.

Bajarin is the president of Creative Strategies Inc., a technology industry analysis and market-intelligence firm in Silicon Valley. He contributes to Big Picture, an opinion column that appears every week on TIME Tech.

TIME Big Picture

Why Apple Didn’t Use Sapphire iPhone Screens

Early last month when I was on my weekend hike, I accidentally dropped my iPhone face down on the cement.

As you might expect, the screen broke and made it unusable. Thankfully, I was able to get a Genius Bar appointment at the Apple Store that same afternoon and got the screen replaced for the hefty price of $150.

So in a column I did recently about what I wanted in a new iPhone, I lamented about my iPhone breaking and said I wanted a sapphire screen on any new iPhone I might buy in the future. I formed that opinion because of all the hype surrounding Apple buying $578 million worth of sapphire in way of partnership with GT Advanced, a sapphire manufacturing company. All of us assumed that this meant Apple would put sapphire screens in the new iPhones, but when it didn’t happen, I started digging into why this was not the case.

What I have learned about this issue and why Apple chose not to include sapphire in the iPhone 6 line is fascinating and reinforces to me why all of us need to be more careful before jumping to conclusions in areas like this.

Many have suggested that the decision not to use sapphire was the result of manufacturing issues – that with more time, Apple would have used sapphire screens for the iPhone 6. As I looked closer at the Apple announcement, and after looking more at the benefits and drawbacks of sapphire, it seems that Apple had good reasons to go with ion-strengthened curved glass (Gorilla Glass) instead of sapphire.

While sapphire has been hyped as an alternative screen cover for smartphones, the continued use of strengthened glass has less to do with production issues and more to do with what smartphone manufacturers know about consumers, their preferences and, more importantly, how people actually use phones and what they’re willing to pay for them.

By the way, some reports stated that up until a few weeks before the iPhone announcement, Apple was going to use sapphire but dropped it because of yield issues. This is not true. My sources tell me that sapphire was never targeted for the iPhone 6 or 6 Plus and its role in future iPhones hasn’t even been decided yet. Also, anyone who knows the manufacturing process knows that to make tens of millions of screens for an iPhone launch, the orders for those screens had to be put in place well over six months ago and planned meticulously into the final manufacturing of these new smartphones.

Here is what I was able to find out about sapphire versus glass by doing many interviews and looking at the current research:

Design

The trend in smartphone design is to achieve thinner, lighter devices, while making them bigger at the same time. That’s not easy to do. To increase the size of a smartphone and still keep the weight down requires thinner, lighter material. What we know about sapphire is that it is more than 30% denser than glass and would require a compromise on both fronts for widespread use in phones. Corning has shown that it can manufacture Gorilla Glass to be thinner than a sheet of paper and strengthened with a process that makes it more damage resistant. Design flexibility and adaptability are important. The latest smartphone designs from Samsung, Apple and others include sleek displays with glass that curves to the edges of the devices. Because glass can be manufactured to extremely thin dimensions and still be chemically strengthened, it’s more flexible and can be formed and shaped into the sleek designs you see in the iPhone 6 and others. Sapphire is bulkier and must be cut into shape, creating both cost and production issues on larger surfaces.

Cost

Cost is a big factor with consumers, and the smartphone category is hugely competitive these days. Apple is already pushing the high end on price as comparable devices are priced at or lower than the iPhone 6, and it would have had to charge even more for a sapphire-covered phone. The cost to produce a sheet of sapphire is estimated to be roughly 10 times that of strengthened glass. In fact, one source I talked to said that cost could be even higher. Our researched opinion early on was that if Apple did add a sapphire screen to the new iPhone, it would add at least $100 to the base cost. That could be a deal-breaker for mainstream iPhone customers.

Battery Life

By far, the number one phone-related complaint from consumers is battery life, so manufacturers look at every component that draws energy and work to minimize the impact of each. And one of the biggest drains on battery life is the brightness of the screen. According to Bernstein Research — which conducted research on the benefits of glass versus sapphire as a cover material — glass transmits light much better than sapphire. Therefore, to get the same level of brightness using a sapphire screen requires more energy. That problem can’t be fixed easily, as the basic properties of sapphire make it transmit less light than glass. This also impacts other things like glare. Glass can have an anti-reflective solution embedded into the material, reducing the effects of the sun when reading outdoors. To achieve anti-reflection with sapphire, it has to have a coating applied which, over time, will wear off. This issue alone may make it tough for Apple to ever use sapphire in future iPhones, since most people have their iPhones for at least two years.

Environmental Impact

Manufacturers know that consumers are starting to care a lot more about the impact that the products they buy are having on the environment. Sapphire requires 100 times more energy to produce than glass. The energy requirements alone make sapphire problematic as a viable material to use on a smartphone. None of the folks I talked to had any idea how they could solve this problem given the nature of the material itself.

Durability

This is by far the most promoted benefit of sapphire, and perhaps the most misunderstood. This is the area I got tripped up by assuming too much from Apple’s investment in GT Advanced. Sapphire is extremely hard, which is to say highly scratch resistant. That is why it is found on products such as luxury watches. It is largely untested on phone screens, though. In fact, sapphire is a crystal that is very hard, but inflexible and extremely brittle. Sapphire’s inherent structure makes it susceptible to flaws that can occur along the crystal plane. I was told by multiple sources that various field tests subjected sapphire to scratch and break tests against strengthened glass. It performs better on scratch resistance, but when you drop it, it is more likely than glass to break. Glass actually flexes and can absorb the shock of a drop more successfully than sapphire. Sapphire is prevalent on luxury watches and other products that don’t experience the same drop risk as smartphones.

Like many who jumped on the sapphire bandwagon without really understanding it, I had assumed that it was unbreakable. But in talking to various experts, they said that the way to look at this is to think of a sheet of ice (also a crystal); small cracks weaken the surface and it will hold together for only so long before some impact will cause it to break. Those small cracks add up like the normal wear and tear we put our phones through every day – knocking around in our purses and pockets with keys and change, or scuffing against the surface of a counter repeatedly. Current solutions, such as Gorilla Glass, apparently are reinforced with a chemical that alters its atomic structure and actually strengthens the area around scratches to insulates the glass longer against breaking. While surface scratches may be more visible earlier on, a glass screen will stay more intact over time than a sapphire one. Once sapphire is exposed to a scratch or a flaw, visible or invisible, its risk of breakage and eventual failure is high. On watches, this is less of an issue because they are seldom dropped and the watch surface is smaller. But in a smartphone with a larger screen and many usage variables, it’s difficult to guarantee that it’s less prone to breakage.

I don’t doubt that over time, there could be some breakthroughs with sapphire and new coating processes that could make it possible to use on a smartphone. However, from the research I did, it does not appear that it could happen anytime soon. Plus, sapphire’s less flexible and more brittle nature suggests, as least to me, that using it in large-screen smartphones would still be difficult — even if it was possible to coat it in a way to keep the screen from splintering. I now at least understand why Apple didn’t use it in the new iPhones — and the more I study this, it seems that it could be problematic for Apple to use sapphire outside of its smartwatch line anytime in the near future.

Bajarin is the president of Creative Strategies Inc., a technology industry analysis and market-intelligence firm in Silicon Valley. He contributes to Big Picture, an opinion column that appears every week on TIME Tech.

TIME Big Picture

San Francisco 49ers Go Long on STEM Education at Levi’s Stadium

In 2010, when the San Francisco 49ers’ brain trust was drawing up the plans for what is now Levi’s Stadium, they went to one of the tallest buildings in the area and looked out over Silicon Valley.

According to Joanne Pasternack, director of community relations and the 49ers Foundation, these executives could see Google, Intel, Apple, HP, Facebook and many of the leading tech companies in the world laid out right in front of them.

It was at that point that they made the commitment to somehow use the new stadium to help create tech leaders of tomorrow. As one of the 49ers execs told me recently, they wanted to “help develop the people who will someday engineer and create greater features for Levi’s Stadium and develop innovative technologies that can impact the planet in the future.”

Educational Roots

The 49ers have had a long history of supporting education. “Our family has always been interested in education,” said Dr. John York, co-chairman of the San Francisco 49ers. “My father-in-law, Ed DeBartolo, Sr., always felt that if you could give people an education, they can make a way for themselves and their lives. And the 49ers Foundation’s mission has been to keep kids safe, on track and in school.”

“My mother was a school teacher, my father was the son of Italian immigrants,” said Denise DeBartolo York, co-chairman of the San Francisco 49ers. “They always thought that education could level the playing field with at-risk students that were disadvantaged. Once you enable them to get an education, it’s an even playing field.” Mrs. York also told me that she and her husband, Dr. York, have contributed significantly to various underprivileged children’s causes and Title I school initiatives, as well as programs for at-risk kids.

The 49ers organization’s philanthropic contributions — much of which is focused on education — are at least $3.3 million per year. For years, the organization has supported what is called the 49ers Academy in East Palo Alto, CA. According to the academy’s website:

The San Francisco 49ers Academy was established through a partnership with Communities in Schools (CIS) in 1996. CIS started as a small grassroots movement led by Bill Milliken, one of the nation’s foremost pioneers in the movement to help young people graduate from high school and go onto rewarding careers. The 49ers Academy is a unique partnership – a public school, supported by a private non-profit agency. The 49ers are the major underwriter of this program.

Cultivating STEM

However, what they are doing in STEM education at Levi’s Stadium itself is amazing. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math and is a dedicated educational program to get kids interested in these disciplines, eventually guiding them into related career endeavors.

“On and off the field, talent alone will not lead to success,” said Dr. York. “The game changer for promising future leaders is to provide a stimulating environment where their natural talent and drive will be fed by motivating mentors, meaningful activities and academic enrichment. The 49ers STEM Leadership Institute’s vision is to be a leader in STEM education, preparing and inspiring talented learners to meet the challenges of the global society through innovation, collaboration and creative problem solving.”

Budding Brains

The 49ers STEM Leadership Institute program will bring 20,000 students to Levi’s Stadium for daylong programs that tie sports and education around the STEM focus. Each day during the school year, 60 kids from one of the various schools in the Bay Area are brought to Levi’s Stadium in one of the 49ers’ official team buses. They are then broken up into three different groups of 20 each to rotate through three distinct activities.

The first activity features a full tour of the stadium, focusing on the engineering involved with creating a stadium. It shows off the green aspects of the stadium, including a visit to the garden on the roof as well as a look at the solar panels and how they’re used to create energy. The tour also demonstrates how clean technology is used to irrigate the field in order to care for the grass and turf. The kids also get to see the visiting team’s locker room, the field and many of the public areas of the stadium.

The second activity takes place in the new 49ers Museum and includes lessons using various games and interactive screens. Students learn how engineering and math are used to create 49ers football equipment, and how physics is applied to things like passing, kicking and running. The day I was there, they also included a section on careers in math and science. By the way, a trip to the 49ers Museum is highly recommended. It’s one of the best sports museums in the U.S. They use Sony Xperia tablets and various technologies to really enhance the overall museum experience — and for those of us in the Bay Area, it evokes some great memories of five 49ers Super Bowl wins.

The third activity takes place in an actual high-tech classroom that’s built into the new 49ers Museum. This classroom has multiple screens as well as half a dozen touch-based video worktables created by Cortina Productions. They serve as interactive teaching tools that the students can use to do various projects.

49ers STEM
Students receive instructions from teacher Matt Van Dixon while sitting at interactive video tables made by Cortina Productions at the 49ers STEM Leadership Institute at Levi’s Stadium Terrell Lloyd / San Francisco 49ers

I was privileged to attend the inaugural class where they were studying the engineering principles of making a football. Using all of the materials needed to make a football, each group got to assemble a football from scratch, sew it up, inflate it and then test it in a special kicking area where the students could see how each ball performed based on how well they created it.

49ers STEM
Denise DeBartolo York helps students assemble a football at the 49ers STEM Leadership Institute at Levi’s Stadium Terrell Lloyd / San Francisco 49ers
49ers STEM
Students assemble a football at the 49ers STEM Leadership Institute at Levi’s Stadium Terrell Lloyd / San Francisco 49ers

Many of the 49ers star players become the students’ tutors and team captains via video at each workstation table, giving instructions and encouragement for each project.

The interactive lessons vary: One class might teach how a helmet is engineered. Another might be on the physics of throwing a ball, explaining how a physical object like a football deals with airflow, throwing mechanics and force, and how each impacts the direction and length of a throw. There are even lessons on engineering your plate, including nutrition facts and a fitness class that uses the 49ers’ training camp as an example.

The class on applied mathematics explains angular attack and game geometry as well as teaching about statistics, using the Super Bowl and its various Roman-numeral numbering schemes as part of the lesson plan. All lessons are designed to emphasize how math, science, technology and engineering are used in everything from building a stadium to creating sports equipment to the math and physics that go into playing the game of football.

The teacher of the class is Matt Van Dixon, who is the education program manger for the 49ers Museum. Matt is one of the most dynamic teachers I have ever observed, his teaching style grabbing the kids from the beginning of each class. I was extremely impressed with how he developed the lesson plans to integrate the role of engineering and math into all of the sports examples. He and his team created various simulations to make the class interactive and highly entertaining. I asked a couple of kids who were in this inaugural class what they thought about the program and each gave it a huge thumbs up.

49ers STEM
Matt Van Dixon instructs students at the 49ers STEM Leadership Institute at Levi’s Stadium Terrell Lloyd / San Francisco 49ers

Branching Out

The 49ers STEM Leadership Institute has also been implemented in the Cabrillo Middle School in Santa Clara, CA, which is just down the street from Levi’s Stadium. With the 49ers’ support and big help from the Chevron Corporation, who created the STEM labs at the school, 60 students from the Santa Clara Unified School District are selected each year to go through a six-year program designed to inspire and prepare students with high academic potential to pursue STEM majors at top-tier universities and become future leaders in their fields. In addition to enriched math and science instruction, students have regular access to the Chevron STEMZone, a tech lab equipped with a laser cutter, 3D printers and other fabrication tools.

Steve Woodhead, Chevron’s global social investment manager, told me that when the 49ers approached them to help with the STEM Institute, they were glad to be involved and worked hard to create the learning labs used in these special education programs.

Another important partner in this program is the Silicon Valley Education Foundation. SVEF’s charter is to be a resource and advocate for students and educators. They provide advocacy, programs and resources to help students reach their full potential in the critical areas of science, technology, engineering and math. According to Muhammed Chaudhry, president and CEO of SVEF, his non-profit group played an important role in advising the 49ers and Chevron on STEM studies and helped with the development of the curriculum used in the institute’s educational programs.

What the 49ers are doing is using sports — a subject that most kids understand and can relate to — and tying it to math, science, technology and engineering in a way that brings these disciplines to life, making learning these subjects fun and entertaining. Getting to see this program in action was truly enlightening. I saw how the 49ers’ STEM Leadership Institute could help create future tech leaders, the major goal of their vision and program from the start.

I hope that all of the folks in the sports industry school themselves on the 49ers’ pioneering STEM education program and how it takes full advantage of the role sports can play in teaching STEM-related disciplines.

Bajarin is the president of Creative Strategies Inc., a technology industry analysis and market-intelligence firm in Silicon Valley. He contributes to Big Picture, an opinion column that appears every week on TIME Tech.

TIME Big Picture

Meet Levi’s Stadium, the Most High-Tech Sports Venue Yet

Levi's Stadium
A general view during a preseason game between the San Francisco 49ers and Denver Broncos at Levi's Stadium on August 17, 2014 in Santa Clara, California Ezra Shaw / Getty Images

Most people have heard of smartphones, smart cars and smart homes. Say hello to the smart stadium.

Set in the heart of Silicon Valley, Levi’s Stadium — home to the San Francisco 49ers — is now the most high-tech stadium anywhere in the world.

It’s in the center of the tech universe, of course, so it’s only natural that 49ers management decided to devote a significant sum of money to building high-tech infrastructure. The stadium will allow all 70,000+ fans to connect to Wi-Fi and 4G networks to take advantage of personalized services, making the event experience more enjoyable.

I had the privilege of attending the inaugural event at Levi’s Stadium, where the San Jose Earthquakes took on the Seattle Sounders in an MLS league game. About 49,000 people attended that event, well below the stadium’s 70,000+ seat capacity, so the game served as a dry run to work out some of the kinks. I also attended the first NFL game to be played in the stadium: the Denver Broncos came to town to help the 49ers christen the stadium in a preseason game on Aug 17. The first regular-season NFL game will be held there on Sept 14, and will serve as the official grand opening of the stadium.

Turning Downtime Into Screen Time

What I discovered from these two experiences is that the 49ers’ stadium is indeed the most tech-advanced stadium in the world, using technology to make the fan experience much richer and more entertaining. Al Guido, the COO of the 49ers, told me that one challenge that’s been an issue in the NFL is that the amount of action that takes place in a football game only about amounts to about 15 minutes. People want access to things like stats, replays and other media when live play isn’t taking place.

During that downtime, the 49ers organization wanted to deliver all types of new ways to enjoy the game, turning to technology to deliver it through a connected experience. According to Mr. Guido, “The 49ers wanted to transform the in-stadium fan experience and make it possible to see the action live but still have the similar features that a fan has at home while watching the game on TV.”

Cables, Routers and Bandwidth Aplenty

So how did the 49ers and their tech partners achieve the goal of enhancing the fan experience by harnessing technology for this purpose?

According to Dan Williams, the VP of technology for Levi’s Stadium, they laid out 400 miles of cabling, 70 miles of which are just dedicated to connecting the 1,200 distributed antenna systems that serve the Wi-Fi routers that are placed to serve every 100 seats throughout the stadium. Levi’s Stadium features a backbone of 40 gigabits per second of available bandwidth, easily scalable to accomodate event attendance, which is 40 times more Internet bandwidth capacity than any known U.S. stadium, and four times greater than the standard for NFL stadiums that’s been mandated by the league to be in place by 2015.

Levi's Stadium Router
Access points are spread throughout the stadium every 100 seats, serving up wireless Internet service to fans during the games Ben Bajarin for TIME
Levi's Stadium Repeater
Repeaters placed throughout Levi’s Stadium pass Internet service along from section to section Ben Bajarin for TIME

The stadium also has about 1,700 high-tech beacons. Using the latest version of the Bluetooth Low Energy standard, these beacons can be used to give people pinpoint directions to their seats as well as to any other place in the stadium. They can also be used to send them alerts about specials from concession stands and other promotions from time to time.

Tech Partnerships

One of the companies that contributed to the overall strategy and execution of some the stadium’s high-tech features is Sony. Sony’s technology is at the center of the stadium’s control room, which manages all of the video for the over 2,000 Sony TVs that have been placed around the venue, as well as the 70 4K TVs found in most of the suites and the two giant LED displays in each end zone.

When I asked Mike Fasulo, the president and COO of Sony Electronics, about his company’s involvement in the new Levi’s Stadium, he told me, “Our partnership with the San Francisco 49ers and the new Levi’s Stadium goes well beyond technology and products. This is truly a one-of-a-kind fan experience, with the world’s greatest showcase of 4K technology from the best of Sony’s professional and consumer products. For every event, every fan will be immersed in the pinnacle of entertainment and technology to enhance their experience.”

Other major sponsors from the tech world include Intel, SAP, Yahoo and Brocade.

An App to Tie It All Together

There’s also a Levi’s Stadium smartphone and tablet app, which offers the following features:

  • The app can guide people to the parking lot entrance closest to their seats, and then once inside, guide them to their actual seats.
  • Fans can watch up to four replays at a time during the game, seeing the exact replays shown by the studio as if they were watching at home on their TV. A fan can actually watch the game live on this app as well. They can also get stats and other info related to the game via this app.
  • It can guide fans to the closest bathroom with the shortest lines, which I predict will become the most used feature at any game.
  • Fans can connect either by Wi-Fi or to one of the 4G networks from the major carriers. Each of the big telecom networks has expanded its antenna service to enhance its customers’ wireless connections within the stadium.
  • Fans can order food and drink from any seat in the stadium and it will be delivered directly to their seats. People also have the option of ordering food from their seats and going to an express line at the concession stands to pick up their food in person, too.

The painstaking attention to tech detail that the 49ers and its partners have integrated into Levi’s Stadium is sure to be the envy of NFL stadiums throughout the U.S. For the time being, it’s the gold standard in high-tech stadiums and one that’s sure to be copied by many sports facilities around the world.

The Valley Advantage

However, I suspect that by being in the heart of Silicon Valley, this stadium may keep the lead in high-tech wizardry for some time. Keep in mind that the tech companies partnered with the 49ers on Levi’s Stadium because it also provided them a showcase for their technology. As Sony’s Fasulo stated above, it provided the company with a major showcase for its 4K professional and consumer products. Intel loves the fact that all of the servers that are used to power the networks show off the power of Intel processors, and Brocade’s networking technology is showcased as a world- class solution.

Silicon Valley is also the center of tech innovation. As people in the industry continue to create new technologies that can be used to enhance the sports experience, where do you think they will take it first? Since the 49ers have already shown a commitment to using technology for delivering the ultimate in-stadium fan experience, the organization will most likely be open to all sorts of new technology to help it deliver an even greater experience in the future. Think of this symbiotic relationship between Silicon Valley’s tech companies and the 49ers as home field advantage for both.

It’s probably not a stretch to say that the pioneering efforts of the 49ers to make Levi’s Stadium a truly smart stadium will force other NFL stadiums to follow the team’s lead, striving to make all of their stadiums smarter. It will also serve as a potential blueprint for other sports stadiums around the world. Being in Silicon Valley does have its advantages, though: With the kinds of tech sponsors and partners that are in its back yard, I suspect that Levi’s Stadium will continue to get smarter and smarter.

Bajarin is the president of Creative Strategies Inc., a technology industry analysis and market-intelligence firm in Silicon Valley. He contributes to Big Picture, an opinion column that appears every week on TIME Tech.

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