Tech is increasing at an exponential rate, so even for a technophile like myself it's nearly impossible to stay on top of everything going on. That's why with the New Year (andCES!) fast approaching, it's a natural time for me to look back on the year and set forth predictions for where 2016 will take us.
A good way to encapsulate growing consumer trends is under the umbrella of "data." What's creating it? How do we play into it? What can we do with it? What should we be wary of? Soon, literally every step we take, every click we make, even every food we bake, will be feeding the machine!
1. The "Internet of Everything" will be everywhere.
From kitchen appliances to smarter automobiles, to health and fitness applications, products are finally approaching the consumers expectation of "smart," and can offer more meaningful insights, control and efficiency.
On the horizon are devices that can tell you if your food is contaminated with gluten (Nima), breath-sensing fat burning analyzers (Levl) and an array of medical-grade monitors for personal use. Beacon technology will continue to revolutionize retail with more personalized and localized shopping experiences. Advanced driver systems will continue to fine-tune for safer, more connected, and efficient rides. And thanks to Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, your phone will rule your in-car infotainment experience.
While things have come a long way in recent years, the future of the Internet of Everything will bring a more intuitive, even predictive approach to operation. Devices and services will go beyond recording and reporting and general data dumps, and start synthesizing, meaningful, timely and concise info to users.
Users will not need to make decisions, but instead these connected devices, apparel, streets, and even ingestibles will direct human actions or interactions in an anticipatory fashion. Mobility, connectivity and interconnectivity will intersect — allowing for a truly seamless experience.
2. Big data and machine learning will usher in the "Intelligence Age."
We're transitioning from the Information Age into the Intelligence Age. All of the data that has and will continue to be collected is being processed by computers to allow for a better understanding of users and new applications ordinary people can use.
You'll start to see better interfaces, tailored recommendations and even predictive behaviors from this. You may have already seen how artificially intelligent personal assistants like Siri, Google Now and Alexa are able to evolve with use. I'm personally a big fan of Amy from X.Ai for scheduling my meetings. While IFTTT is one of my favorite companies, soon integrations will take place seamlessly so you don't even have to program them. And bigger picture, we'll be able to synthesize data into actionable and usable information to solve big problems facing society (like research in healthcare).
Privacy becomes hugely important in the world of big data. "Big" because there is so much being constantly collected from all of the Internet-connected, data-gathering sensors. Plus ways we can analyze the data provide an unprecedented amount of learning. To me, it seems as though we're all participating in this big, ongoing social experiment. To participate, we've given a general opt-in.
So given that consumers largely trade in a fair amount of privacy to agree to the benefits and convenience offered by much that technology has to offer – how do companies and the government ensure consumers are still protected? And what can consumers do to better protect themselves? Consumers can and should continue to demand greater safety precautions, general integrity and transparency from companies.
3. Emerging technologies will take us places we've never been before.
By emerging technologies I am referring to product categories that are not yet mainstays in the consumer world, but that we'll start seeing having a larger consumer impact in the next few years. Things like drones and robotics, virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), 3D printing, voice controlled interfaces and biometrics. Similar to when the Internet came on the scene – it was slow and limited, but we knew the implications would be massive.
This is likewise true for the aforementioned categories. In general, they are all becoming more affordable, have better interfaces, and are improving features and core functions. Take VR — it isn't a far-away reality like it was just two years back, as consumer products are becoming better with shrinking form factors, higher resolution, better audio, and more intuitive interactions. And significantly more devices for content production will hit the scene – both consumer and professional grade. (I've been testing the 360Fly and recording 360 degree footage of office and family activities for VR consumption — stay tuned!) Robotic initiatives are also evolving in the consumer sphere, specifically humanoid ones like iPal that can increasingly see, hear, sense and react to their environments.
Drones, which garnered a lot of attention in 2015, will become more consumer-friendly with better resolution cameras, easier interfaces, and tracking capabilities built in. 3D printing will continue to slowly evolve from hobbyist or commercial to the consumer realm, but is still several years away from this. But likewise, pricing is coming down, materials diversify, and content becomes more readily available.
Another emerging trend I'm personally jumping on is voice-controlled interfaces. Consumers are more familiar with this form of interaction, and it's quick and easy to tell a device to do something for you! While I expect voice to grow tremendously as a mode of interaction, so will gesture, touch and sight. Yes, you'll be chatting with your speaker (Alexa or Prizm), but may also be waving at your TV to activate a connected home appliance or unlocking your doors with your eyes. Possibly a bit further down the line, mind-control! The ability for devices to analyze facial, fingerprint and retina recognition and other biometric indicators provides reliable, effective means for interaction as well.
My hope is that as technology advances, it continues to disappear into the background. It should serve as a facilitator for the things you love, not a mediator. I don't want to have to spend time to figure out how to use something, it should just work!