Another year over, another year to look forward to. But in the context of technology, the prospect on either side of the timeline is no longer as exciting as it was. The consumer tech industry seems to be on a self-imposed consolidation mode, and life-changing innovation is becoming harder to come by. Still, 2018 will be remembered as the year in which everything from smartphones to speakers becomes more powerful and smarter, as they did last year and as they are supposed to. Interestingly, the tech giants have clearly realised that if great innovation cannot be put into users’ hands, it’s better to improve their overall product experience. This has been something many companies have been successful in doing this year. And this might be the path they take for the coming year too, as everyone waits for the disruptor to change the trajectory for good.
Here are the tech trends that are likely to impact you in 2019:
AI-ML driven technology
Artificial intelligence became accessible to everyone in 2018. In the coming year, a lot of what you do on a smart connected device will be powered by artificial intelligence and machine learning calculations running in the background. Every smartphone camera powered by Google Lens will be able to recognise what it is seeing, translate foreign languages, read out text. As you type, the mail client will be able to predict what you want to write next, maps will recalibrate routes based on real-time data available about blocks on the way, search engines will serve answers even before you have typed a query and streaming services will suggest songs based on the time of day or maybe even your mood. But while platforms like Google and Facebook crunch zettabytes of data in a fraction of a second to predict what the user will do next, they will also be able to serve more relevant ads and see almost everything you do. Companies like Apple, meanwhile, will try and pull down this capability from the cloud to the device by offering more powerful processing locally so that there is less data put out for others to see. As computers see patterns at a scale humans will never be able to compute, there will be advancements in fields like medicine, transportation and urban planning that were not conceivable earlier.
Last year, we predicted that everything will get smart; in the coming year, they will get smarter. That is because they have been seeing and listening to billions to people for a whole year and have grown smarter in the process. This smartness will also start manifesting itself in new forms. While a smart speaker has become the smart hub for your house this year, now it will be able to control more than just the lights and the odd appliance here and there. It should soon be able to start predicting behaviour and preempt a request, just like Jeeves. Ericsson in its ConsumerLab trend report for 2018 says this would result in “Zero touch consumption”, maybe with Alexa placing an order on Amazon for it knows you have run out of coffee. The report also predicts that there could be some “smart quarrels” also in the offing as virtual assistants start countering their users, at least verbally. But you can expect almost any new high-end headphone, television or speaker to have the ability to summon a Google Assistant, an Alexa or a Siri which will have answers for more than what the weather is outside. They will also become the brains in cars soon.
The broadband revolution
If in 2018 millions of users came online for the first time, 2019 could be the year in which millions of already connected Indians upgrade to high-speed fibre networks. The trigger here will be JioFiber which is offering 100mbps speed Internet almost for free, with a bouquet of services thrown in for good measure. However, as it happened with Jio 4G, don’t expect an exodus from people who are on existing networks, as the incumbents will forgo their (supernormal) profits to hold on to customers, with better speeds and other services. But this new-found access to high-speed Internet will make streaming high-definition content from services like Netflix the new normal in urban India. Music streaming services like Spotify will come to India to tap into this huge opportunity along with online gaming services like Steam. There could be a big threat in the offing for satellite TV services as JioFiber and maybe even players like Airtel might end up offering television channels via Internet for free or at nominal prices. The idea will be to offer Internet, telephone, television and access to content libraries with just one cable and one set-top-box.
The first 5G devices
There is already a lot of chatter about 5G networks and devices. While India still not a full 4G market, thinking about 5G might appear silly. Also, there seems to be a lot of false expectation around what 5G can offer. Its impact will be more in the space of how the network will be able to manage billions of connected devices from CCTV cameras to smart cars with zero outage. It certainly is not about offering better call quality or faster video downloads on the phone, technically 4G should be able to deliver that — technically. It will, however, be able to offer seamless streaming of 8K content, 3D content with VR elements and holographic video, which is not possible at the moment, on mobile devices. As a result, you will see the first 5G-capable devices being announced as early as February when the Mobile World Congress will take place in Barcelona. But these will be primarily devices that can tap into the 5G networks wherever they are available to offer better content experiences. Don’t expect India to be in that list next year.
The advances in display technology will usher in new form factors in the smartphone industry in 2019. You can expect the first bendable and foldable smartphones, but don’t expect anyone to tell you what you will be able to do with such a device. Also, as the world gets tired of hating the perfectly harmless notch on their phones, you will get to see the first phones with holes in their displays — no, you can’t put a keyring through it. Meanwhile, there will be more cameras in smartphones — they are already pushing up to five lenses — as everyone strives for the perfect photo, at least one that will get more likes on Instagram. At least high-end smartphones will pack enough processing power to manage the on-the-fly patchwork these multiple cameras would need, even if means making them more powerful that most laptops.