With the new year well on its way, looking ahead to the future of consumer technology can help us predict how our lives will change in 2018 and beyond. Indicators signal growth in a number of areas from wearables to augmented reality to smart cars, suggesting that the coming months will bring us an array of new products and possibilities.
In particular this year’s Consumer Electronic Show has highlighted the expanding role of artificial intelligence in reshaping consumer technology, and made its future evolution seem all the more exciting.
Wearables are Back
Despite a rough start last year, the market for wearables has bounced back and as consumer interest picks up, fitness bands, smart glasses and in particular smartwatches will become increasingly commonplace. Key to this growth is the increasing interest in tracking one’s well-being.
This can be because of a general interest in fitness, in which industry leaders like Fitbit have led the way or a more specific healthcare requirement for which wearables can monitor variables like blood glucose levels or sleep patterns.
Apple, who it is estimated account for over 50% of all smartwatches ever shipped, clearly grasp the importance consumers place on health. The company have developed an FDA-approved mobile electrocardiogram (EKG) band and even teamed up with Stanford Medicine to research heart health.
Another reason for growth in the smartwatch industry is the adoption of stand-alone LTE connectivity which allows the watch to function without a smartphone nearby. This all contributes to why wearables show serious potential for 2018.
The wearables industry is tied through the growth of smart glasses to another exciting area of consumer tech, that of augmented reality(AR). As two of the biggest tech giants, rumours that both Snapchat and Apple have AR on their radar may signal a potential boom in this sector.
By overlaying data and images onto the real world, the possibilities of how AR might affect our lives are boundless. Although these headsets are not yet on the market, tech companies are already using smartphones as a bridge to later developments. Facebook messenger for instance recently introduced World Effects, allowing users to insert 3D objects into videos and photos.
This is just the tip of the iceberg of course as AR is just one facet of the larger digital reality realm, which also includes the growing virtual reality market. Together, International Data Corp. (IDC) projects that total spending on AR/VR products and services will soar from $9.1 billion in 2017 to nearly $160 billion in 2021, representing a compound annual growth rate of 113.2%. This coming year will surely see the proliferation of this technology into different industries and begin to truly impact our day-to-day.
In fact digital reality has already begun to infiltrate the transport industry, a crucial playing field in consumer tech, as companies like BMW and Japan Airlines have embraced these new technologies to improve their customers’ experience.
The car industry in particular has seen large-scale adoption of new tech which aims to improve the customer experience. Examples of these range from head-up displays to self-parking mechanisms to vehicle-to-vehicle connectivity.
Perhaps most important however is the boom in connected cars, which Gartner predicts will reach 250 million by 2020 and make up 75% of total car shipments worldwide. These cars not only provide wifi but also allow for greater real-time monitoring of vehicle’s status and operation and the possibility to track and even remotely control one’s car.
Connected cars are even beginning to be integrated with voice activation systems like Amazon’s Alexa, empowering drivers and passengers by allowing them to enquire about location, fuel levels and vehicle maintenance.
Homes Smarter Than Their Owners
These voice activation services have boomed this Christmas and at CES 2018 we have seen their integration into numerous sectors. Their main domain is still, however, the home. And it would seem that this year will bring large advancements in the smart home sector.
With smart TVs leading the way, our homes may soon be filled by consumer technology which helps us feel safer, healthier and maybe even a little bit wealthier. By installing gadgets like smart thermostats, consumers can save time and money by making intelligent choices to save energy, helping both themselves and the environment. And now when homeowners are at the supermarket wondering whether or not they have milk in the fridge, a simple check of an app linked to their Samsung fridge will give them the answer.
Perhaps most appealing to many consumers and commentators are the advancements in security mechanisms. With the August Home Lock for instance, customers will be able to lock their door remotely, have it unlock automatically as they walk towards it and even keep track of who activated the lock and when through the use of machine learning. The expansion of smart home technology is therefore a clear trend to watch this year as we will see our homes filled with smart gadgets that improve our lives.
The Star of the Show
Much of the hype around smart homes is linked to a wider tech phenomenon, that of machine learning and artificial intelligence. CES 2018 has been dominated by AI as many of the most exciting new products display advancements in the integration of technology which learns on the job.
Smart locks like August are examples of how AI can be harnessed to improve all kinds of technology, whether it be on our wrists and eyes or in our cars and homes. AI has the potential to impact every trend within consumer technology, and increasingly, every part of our lives.
The world of work for instance seems to be under threat as prominent researchers have predicted that up to 47% of US jobs are at risk of being replaced by smarter and better systems. As the car replaced the horse, so will artificial intelligence take the place of humans. Or so the predictions go.
Whether or not these forecasts do indeed come true, what is certain is that AI is powerful enough to revolutionize the way technology impacts our lives and that by leveraging it, consumer tech can be more intuitive, more useful and, of course, more intelligent.