With another new year upon us, many people in the tech world are wondering what technology trends are going to happen this year. At the same time, things we think will happen often don't come to pass, while observers are blindsided by things they never even considered.
There are several topics that have been in the news lately. Analysts say that they're going to become big trends this year and beyond. The problem is that it is hard to tell what's going to be hot and what's going to be not when it comes to tech.
If you want proof, check the archives of old tech publications like InfoWorld. They're full of announcements about tech products that were innovative and exciting, but failed to catch on in the marketplace. The hot topics of 2019 will be no exception.
1. 5G Rollout
5G is one of the mobile technologies people in the industry are talking about. It seems you have to find a network "dead zone" in order to avoid hearing about it.
And on the surface, it sounds awesome. Who doesn't like faster mobile data, after all? And speeds up to 20 Mbps, while a snail's pace compared to wired broadband, is nothing to sneeze at. That's more than enough for HD streaming from Netflix, so you can now binge-watch from anywhere.
The one hitch is that you'd need a new phone to take advantage of it. And with recent announcements from Apple and Samsung, two of the major smartphone makers, that earnings were below analyst expectations, it seems that people just aren't buying them right now.
Despite this, the 5G rollout will continue across the U.S. and elsewhere, even if it looks like it will be a tough sell for at least a while. The political turmoil over the partial shutdown over the U.S. government as of this writing will certainly complicate matters, as the FCC is one of the agencies affected.
2. Smart Homes
One of the fastest-growing consumer tech segments is in smart home/home automation technology. Ranging from smart speakers to smart thermostats to smart bulbs, you can live out your fantasy of living on the Enterprise by talking to a digital assistant like Alexa or Siri and having your lights dim without lifting a finger.
At the same time there are worries about security. Lots of connected devices, including smart home devices, have been criticized for their security problems. Will people really want their appliances to be possibly open to hackers?
3. Backlash Against Big Tech Companies
One theme through 2018 was the greater pushback in the media against big tech companies like Facebook, Amazon and Google.
Facebook came under fire for its role in possibly swinging the U.S. election through help from Russian hackers. Amazon received bad press over working conditions in its warehouses. Google faced an internal employee revolt over plans to roll out a censored version of its search engine in China and allegations that it mishandled sexual harassment claims.
It seems that internet companies are to the 21st century what railroads were to the 19th: an indispensable technology that's remaking the economy, but feared for their exercise of monopoly power. And as with 19th century railroads, there are growing calls for regulation of tech companies.
Still, some people may want to delete Facebook, but most people's friends are still on it. And how many people really want to give up Amazon Prime?
4. "Bandersnatch" and Interactive TV
At the very end of 2018, Netflix debuted an ambitious project as part of its popular "Black Mirror" show, an interactive movie called "Bandersnatch." Set in 1984, a young programmer attempts to create the ultimate computer game.
The story unfolds with a series of choices the viewer makes, similar to the "Choose Your Own Adventure" book series.
The response from the public and critics was enthusiastic, with "Bandersnatch" cited as a milestone in interactive movies. But is it the future?
The concept of interactivity might keep viewers on Netflix (and paying subscription fees) as they try to see as many endings as they can. There's a pressure for the company to constantly innovate. (For more on how tech has affected TV, see 7 Ways Technology Has Changed Television.)
People who remember the "multimedia" boom of the early '90s might have bad memories of the "interactive movies" that software companies offered on the then-new CD-ROM format. In 20 years, it might be possible that "Bandersnatch" ages just as badly.
The company also competes with video games for leisure time. In fact, the company has said that its main competitor is the need for its customers to sleep. Video game makers can easily create new scenarios to keep players entertained. Filming new sequences takes much more time and money.
Netflix, Amazon and Hulu making more interactive movies would show that "Bandersnatch" wouldn't be a one-off but a real trend. We'll have to see what they all announce this year.
5. Virtual Reality
Virtual Reality has had quite a comeback this decade after it first failed to take off in the '90s. VR headsets are one of the most talked-about gaming accessories, and everyone seems to want to roll out VR apps.
The only problem is that VR hardware is still expensive. The prices need to come down, or more ordinary people won't buy the headsets and the beefy computers needed to run VR apps. (For more on VR, check out Tech's Obsession With Virtual Reality.)
6. Cryptocurrency Crash?
Cryptocurrency like bitcoin has attracted a lot of attention in both the tech and the finance press for its decentralized nature with its distributed blockchain. The practice of bitcoin mining sent GPU prices through the roof in 2017.
But what makes cryptocurrency innovative is what makes it vulnerable: its lack of backing by government central banks.
The value of bitcoin plummeted in late 2018, with some observers saying it was "entering a death spiral." It might be more hype than the future of money.
It's impossible to predict the future, but we can make good guesses based on current trends. Anything can happen this year, so pay attention to what's going on in the tech world and check back next year to see if any of these trends pan out.