At the beginning of every new year, brands of all shapes, sizes and colors descend on Las Vegas and show off their latest and greatest technology-driven innovations at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES). The amount of cutting edge technology available can be overwhelming; but some emerging trends are worth paying attention to as they're set to impact business-as-usual in the coming year, if not years.
Some have already begun to make their way into our lives, or at least into our consciousness. The terms "wearables" and "smart home" are no longer foreign to our ears. The adoption curve has been in play for some years now, and 2018 could just be the tipping point both commercially and personally.
Spoiler alert: While brands like Samsung and Apple may get the most coverage, they aren't necessarily building the only things worth noting.
Trend #1 - Voice and natural language interfaces go mainstream
Prior to 2017, voice interfaces were essentially a mobile technology with little application beyond basic communications and search. Now we have Siri, Alexa and Google Home (and soon Apple HomePod) bringing this technology into the home.
"Over the last 12 months, the adoption of home-based interfaces has not only changed consumer behavior with voice technology, it's changing how they interact with their homes." says Matt Erlichman, CEO and co-founder of Porch, a home services fulfillment platform.
"2018 will expand the boundaries in the domain of artificial intelligence (AI) and natural language," says Rajagopal Sathyamurthi, CTO and co-founder of AirPR Software. "There will likely be convergence in this space as companies come together to build and maintain standard voice-command protocols and toolkits. This will simplify integration, and when that happens all home appliances will be 'Alexa' enabled, so to speak."
Trend #2 - Devices expand upward mobility
As go devices, as go the opportunities for people from all walks of life to become part of the economy. With mobile devices, the unbanked can become banked, and micro-entrepreneurs in remote areas have access to payment methods.
"The trend here is that 'mobile' is not just about technology," remarks Tom McLeod, founder and CEO of Omni, a Silicon Valley startup that is revolutionizing the way urban dwellers own and access things. "People are becoming mobile, businesses (like food trucks, for example) will even start thinking about how to reach consumers without consumers having to leave their homes or offices."
Trend #3 - Blockchain applications explode
Not yet familiar with blockchain? Well, now is the time to dive in...at least if you're interested in showing off your "trending tech prowess" at the next networking event. Expect to see an explosion in the number of applications built on blockchain technology.
"Due to the incredible interest in blockchain around the globe, it might even be applied to industries that don't necessarily benefit from it in a direct way," adds Sathyamurthi. "Additionally, a study by the Cambridge Centre for Alternative Finance revealed that even conservative central banks are upbeat about blockchain technology and one in five say they will be using some form of this technology by 2019."
Trend #4 - Hardware acceleration will commoditize machine learning
"Hardware acceleration brings both 30 times (or greater) performance improvements, as well as even greater improvements in power efficiency. Ultimately, this enables both leaps in computational power in data centers, and high performance machine learning in places where it wasn't possible before, like mobile devices," explains Patrick Liang, chief architect at AirPR Software, and one of my go-tos for all things tech.
All cloud providers have already invested in the managed infrastructure for machine learning, and 2018 may just be the year when it is commoditized.
Trend #5 - Retail customer experiences improve with measurement technologies
While augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) technologies will enhance how the customer engages in an experience, additional experience measurement technologies will allow retailers to transform the experience that is being designed and delivered.
"Beaconing technology will help companies develop sophisticated 'spaghetti maps' to understand in-store shopping patterns, not unlike user experience (UX) designers who study click-routes on websites to detect redirections and 'rage clicks' to find design pinch points," explains Luke Williams, head of customer experience (CX) at Qualtrics. "In-store beaconing, combined with crucial data from surveys, text, chat, social, voice and text measurements, will provide much-needed telemetry to contextualize the advanced analytics already in play for companies who are investing in the experience management revolution."
Trend # 6 - Consolidation of collaborative productivity tools
There's been a massive increase in the software tools used to run a business, with multiple competitors on any major vertical. These communication and collaboration tools will allow for more remote teams, or at least a lowered need for pure office presence to create productive companies.
"The communication software available today is extraordinarily helpful, especially in giving us the ability to run distributed teams," says Analisa Goodin, CEO and founder of Catch & Release. "What's even more exciting is the ability for these tools to start predicting business needs based on collaboration data. For example, Slack will now suggest channels to join based on other team members profiles and activities. I think this predictive aspect to business tools is extremely telling of where the future of collaboration can go."
Trend #7 - Smart devices are ubiquitous
We already have many smart devices to help us in our everyday lives, but get ready for this to expand into other areas. "Every device will be 'smart'－they will all have a way to connect to other devices around them," says Sathyamurthi. "The connected home will become a reality in 2018. Control of light switches, sensors that show temperature and humidity will all be integrated into a single hub."
Advances in machine learning and natural language, as mentioned before, will play a big role in proliferating smart devices: all of which will soon be in your car, airports, hotels and supermarkets.
Trend #8 - Fulfillment and integrated service solutions
Increasingly, consumers value solutions over products; and the data, logistics and technologies that enable companies to deliver on-demand services are rewriting the rules for companies to compete.
"Millennials don't want a new air conditioner, they want their home or apartment to be cooler, and they are willing to pay more and stick with brands that deliver a full solution," remarks Erlichman.
Amazon and Uber are actually logistics and fulfillment platforms first, shopping and taxi companies second. Traditional retailers have begun to catch on to this trend, and companies like Omni and Porch have seen a great deal of success focusing on fulfillment by taking an ecosystem approach to "service as usual."