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London Olympics 2012: on the edge of our seats or a new era of technology?

by Anna Parkinson , 06.06.2012

Like most Londoners, I absolutely can’t wait for the 2012 Olympics, just around the corner from now. I can’t wait for the buzz, the thrill of watching talented athletes competing and setting new records. Aside from the throngs of even more tourists and a couple of weeks of hectic journeys to work, it’s going to be a hugely positive event of which the UK should be very proud.

But it’s not just the athletics that has us hooked. This Olympics, officially the Games of the XXX Olympiad, is consolidating the future of technology. Social media, mobile banking, 3D TV, NFC-enabled phones, live, multi-platform and high definition TV broadcasting, the site of Europe’s largest free Wi-Fi zone[1]* and extended network service, user-generated content and applications... the list goes on; London is setting the standard for a truly mobile and interactive Games.

The Vancouver Winter Olympics 2010 was labeled the first ‘social games’, setting the precedent for social media and sporting events. More recently, the final of the 2011 Woman’s World Cup set the record for the most tweets per second (an outstanding 7,196 tps). And that’s for a game which, sorry to say ladies, is not even the most popular sport, culturally or in terms of sponsorship or broadcasting.

Indeed, the Olympics Committee has released social media guidelines to encourage the 10,500 competing athletes to ‘take part in social media and to post, blog and tweet their experiences’[2]. Of course, this is restricted, with no tweets permitted for commercial purposes or for commenting on other participants, which does take the fun out of these so-called transparent communications channels to a certain extent. Nevertheless, it does mean we can get closer to the Games than ever before, staying in touch with competitors, organisations and the latest news.

Apps; prominent in everyday use anyway, an abundance has been released specifically for or to be used during the Olympics. For those heading to the site there are travel update, navigation, taxi, tube, train and bus-time apps on hand to show the best routes to and from the venues and highlighting any disruptions. On arrival at the site, phone users can open the Olympics schedule to see event times[3], check live results, medal counts, take and share photos and videos, find sports rules or even just play Olympic-inspired games whilst waiting. Should friends or family become separated, some apps can track their whereabouts, whilst others can aid the organisation of hotel and flights home.

For those of us not fortunate enough to have tickets for the events, watching at home will have to suffice. Second-screen viewing (watching broadcast television alongside a stream of social media comments and participation) is already a developed trend, as is the habit of watching recorded and catch-up TV. However, despite early excitement about 2011 being the year of 3D TV[4], it hasn’t quite taken off. Which is why I believe the 2012 Olympics is still at the edge of new technology. So too with interactive TV. By Brazil 2016, we may be watching the games in 3D on interactive televisions, where content and simultaneous online participation will be tailored to our preferences, but we’re not there quite yet.

Another trend which GfK and our clients are keeping a keen eye on is Near Field Communication (NFC) and mobile payments (see TechTalk blog on mobile payments). The London Olympics is halfway there to kicking it off. On the one hand, Samsung and Visa have confirmed that Galaxy S3 is the official Olympic Games phone, the first top-end handset from Samsung to launch with NFC on board. Although the phone is restricted to athletes and those trialing the product, these and others with contactless mobile payment cards can use the 140,000 terminals in London to pay for anything from taxis and clothing to gaining entrance to the Olympic Park. Those with the Galaxy S3 have the benefit over card users of going above the £15 limit.

However, this was anticipated to be a much bigger deal. Organisers had hoped that all spectators would be paying for the day with contactless cards. This is not the first time GfK has noted security concerns and a lack of business and consumer take-up slowing down the much-anticipated NFC trend. We’ll certainly be eagerly watching how the Galaxy S3 fares and whether usage of mobile payments at the event is as successful as predicted.

All in all, the Games of the XXX Olympiad is sure to keep us excited, whether because of Usain Bolt running the 100m final or as a result of the technology trends evolving before our eyes. An estimated £500 million has been spent on Games technology[5], and partners ranging from the business world (O2, Samsung, Visa, TfL) to the sporting and celebrity world are helping this to be realised. It has definitely placed London as a truly innovative and mobile city: Rio, you better get preparing!

[1] http://www.techdigest.tv/2012/01/london_to_becom.html

[3] The official mobile app developed for Vancouver 2010 was downloaded over 1.2 million times

[4] http://news.cnet.com/8301-31021_3-20027925-260.html

[5] http://nimblelondon.com/2012/01/27/mobile-technology-and-the-2012-london-olympics/