2016 was the year where many of the upcoming tendencies within the technological environment began to emerge. Trends that initially go through a phase of introduction among early-adopters, and then through months begin to evolve into the general public. Trends such as virtual reality, augmented reality, internet of things, bots and personal assistants.
What all of these trends have in common is a more intelligent, engaging and personalized experience for every individual user — new technology that includes the user in completely new ways, bringing new opportunities for both consumers as well as businesses.
VR / AR
Companies like Oculus, HTC, and Microsoft have all taken serious steps towards bringing the future of visual content into consumers’ hands over the past year. Especially mobile VR headsets such as the Samsung Gear VR (by Oculus), HTC Vive and Google Daydream brought the average person into a new type of experience. Simply by plugging your smartphone into the headset, people got sucked into another place and got a sneak peek of what the coming years have to offer.
Oculus (by Facebook) has long been the most advanced and developed manufacturer of VR headsets for the consumer market, and has thus also taken steps towards bringing social into the VR experience — a natural evolution. Facebook’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, showcased the first glimpse of what Facebook in VR might look like. Through the internet, Mark Zuckerberg was able to connect, and share a physical environment with two fellow team members, play games, share content in real-time, take pictures together, etc. directly on stage with friends from across long distances.
Augmented reality on the other hand hasn’t quite gotten to the point where the general market has begun benefiting from it yet. Google Glass has probably been the most promising initiative to bring a real functioning product in consumers’ hands. Though in January 2015, Google stopped producing the Project Glass prototype, and moved the product from the experimental division, Google X, to the main hardware department instead. In December 2015, Google filed a patent for a new version of the Google Glass product, but it hasn’t seen any public attention since. Google Glass is at the moment mainly used by surgeons to have important vital information visible at all times during operations.
Another significant manufacturer within AR is Microsoft. Microsoft has been running prototypes of the Microsoft HoloLens headset, and both a developer edition and a commercial suite are now available for the prices of 3,000 or 5,000 USD, respectively.
Both VR and AR are definitely two technologies that will further evolve over the coming months. Facebook open-sourced code for a full-automatic 360 degree video camera to record an environment, and make it available for VR in an instant. Samsung recently released a similar initiative, namely a fully portable 360 degree camera to help consumers create and share unique experiences with friends and family. On that note, Facebook also made it possible to share 360 degree pictures, videos and live streams directly in the news feed for everybody to enjoy.
This is a significant evolution. Never before has the infrastructure been solid enough to allow for full-blown 360 degree experiences shared across the world, and even less so in the case of live streaming — which requires a very low latency rate between the broadcaster and receiver in order to be an enjoyable experience.
Another very significant development in the market of technology is the introduction of bots and personal assistants among consumers. Bots use artificial intelligence, also known as machine-learning, to personalize an experience to the end-user. Chatbots have been the first type of bots to arrive, and gain a somewhat significant user base in 2016 — at least among early-adopters. A total of 36,000 bots were published on the Facebook Messenger platform in 2016, the initial year of launch, and other platforms targeted towards different segments did in the same way experience an increase in the interest and penetration of bots, incl. Slack for business, Skype, Kik, Google Assistant, etc.
The next natural step was to bring the bots from your pocket (i.e. smartphone) into the living room — available by voice at all times. Google Home and Amazon’s Alexa are two of the first to make this a reality. These have already gained a solid ground, significantly in the home market — United States. Facebook, Google and Amazon are some of the main businesses expected to grow a major market share in the coming years, but other competing manufacturers like Apple’s Siri, Samsung’s Viv, etc. are also expected to enter the market in the coming months.
Thus, bots and personal assistants will to an increasing degree replace other media such as websites and apps. Why, read more.
Internet of Things (IoT)
Following the trends of intelligent bots, and an ever increasing connected world — time has come to more deeply integrate the entire home. Home appliances, i.e. fridge, oven, coffee machine, etc. will all be integrated and connected through the internet. Similarly, we will also see a wider array of intelligent products, such as lamps, security systems, door locks, curtains, and so forth be connected to bots, as mentioned above, and thus make us able to access our home through the smartphone, no matter where we might be.
Turn up the lights, check what’s in the fridge from the grocery store, automatically start the coffee machine before you get up, see who’s at the door and open remotely, and turn on the oven — so it’s ready for cooking when you get home. These and many other use cases will emerge around the home environment, and introduce you to a more intelligent, inter-connected future.
Autonomous driving, and instant delivery by drone
The most major manufacturers of vehicles have already begun developing technology for self-driving cars, incl. Tesla, Volvo, Audi, among others. Moreover, pure technology companies like Google and Uber have engaged in similar initiatives. Google’s Waymo is active on the roads in San Francisco, and completed it’s first fully automated ride in 2015 with the sole attention of a blind person in the vehicle. The first fully automatic vehicles from Waymo are expected to be publicly available by the year of 2020.
In the case of retail shipping and delivery services, Amazon successfully completed its’ first delivery by an automated drone in December 2016, a Fire TV dongle and a bag of popcorn. It might take some time before we begin to see mail drones hovering above our heads acting as mail personnel, but it is for sure an interesting future we approach with 24/7 instant delivery of goods to our homes.
These, self-driving cars and mail drones, are two trends that might not find its’ way to the market over the course of the coming year — due to significant factors such as safety, privacy and general political and technological matters. What is certain though is that the next 5–10 years will provide a much better look at what the future has to offer within business and the consumer markets. Read more when we unfold the coming 5–10 years in an upcoming post.