It's a difficult task to spot technologies that bring real value to business and distinguish it from fleeting fads. In this article we'll help you separate valuable information from the noise. We summarised 2017 in technology - the most important successes, failures, trends and challenges. We also made predictions for 2018.
The greatest tech achievement of the year 2017, in terms of application and common use, was the mass implementation of technologies that used to be a subject of discussion and speculation only. This means mainly AI, which has begun to really help people - if you have not used Google Translate for a long while, give it a try now and see how it works now.
Artificial intelligence constantly increases its role as a part of our lives. It is employed by mobile devices, it enhances various services, and is being utilised in our homes and cars. It recognises our voices, faces, preferences, and on this basis, suggests what to buy, watch or listen to. It can also be a substitute writer: AP, Fox and Yahoo! use AI to create simple news items such as financial or sports summaries. A great example of an AI solution are voice assistants helping people suffering from Alzheimer's disease. Patients may ask Alexa what day it is as many as 20 times a day and she will always answer and never get annoyed.
We cannot forget augmented reality, which, thanks to the involvement of the biggest players (ARKit from Apple, ARCore from Google) is now starting to be commonly used. Market leaders’ support, along with the huge number of used devices, is triggering rapid development of this technology, which is now being adopted by many lines of business. AR is not only used for entertainment and education, it is also being utilised in e-commerce, interior design, automotive industry, travel, and even manufacturing.
Although I would call VR in 2017 more of a disappointment than a failure, this section will nonetheless concern Virtual Reality. What are we seeing now is a natural phase in the life-cycle of most technologies. Expectations were simply too high while the value of what was offered was too low to convince more users and producers to invest in VR. This manifested in VR headset sales, which did not meet analysts' predictions and expectations.
The next generation of devices, combining power and convenience, might improve VR’s position. The prototype wireless Oculus Santa Cruz is expected to reach developers in 2018. I believe that only such products, sold at a lower price, will have a chance to conquer the market.
AR’s popularity may also help, at least until solutions such as HoloLens come out of the testing phase. One thing is certain - too much money has been invested in VR to abandon it. However, it is worth developing AR and VR products in conjunction with each other, instead of focusing only on the latter.
At last we can stop talking about another mobile-first year. Sundar Pichai - the CEO of Google - announced that his company was moving from the mobile-first world to AI-first in his presentation at the I/O 2017 conference. The digital giant believes that with software-based artificial intelligence it will be able to catch up with Apple in the hardware market. Admittedly, their new product range, led by Pixel Buds earphones, which are able to translate 40 languages in real time, is truly impressive.
Google’s actions might inspire representatives of other sectors who, thanks to choosing the AI-first strategy, will be able to gain a competitive advantage.
The Apple ARKit and iPhone X launch events as well as other demonstrations of AI capabilities, were obviously very important. Let us, however, leave artificial intelligence and augmented reality aside for a moment.
A little closer to the physical world, the first full-scale Hyperloop test took place in the summer. The capsule reached speeds of up to 310 km/h confirming that the Elon Musk project, potentially capable of transforming the future of transportation, has a chance of a commercial launch. The Virgin Group, owned by Richard Branson, intends to help with this project. They took the lead in the last round of Hyperloop One financing (which amassed USD 85 million). If everything goes as planned, the first open-to-the-public Virgin Hyperloop One capsule will be launched by 2021.
Blockchain. In 2017 it was associated mainly with cryptocurrencies and few people understood how it worked, even fewer realised possible business applications. However, the most innovative companies have already carried out the first pilot programs, using blockchain in the food supply chain and contract signing.
Another interesting trend is a turn towards "autonomy". Tesla cars are said to be mobile databases. This statement is not just an exaggeration. Elon Musk’s vehicle is equipped with eight 360-degree cameras and twelve ultrasound sensors that, combined with the software in the car, enable the Autopilot mode. All that data is, of course, collected by Tesla, which allows them to teach their system and get closer to developing a completely independent car more quickly. All leading car manufacturers, as well as technology companies led by Google and Uber, are taking part in the race to build fully autonomous vehicles.
The automotive industry is not the only one that focuses on autonomy. The Amazon Go concept, presented at the end of 2016, may have seemed a distant vision, but similar solutions have already been tested in China. One of those is BingBox, through which residents of Shanghai can buy over 800 products using only a smartphone. These solutions do not only apply to the company's own store chains. Amazon plan is to make the bricks-and-mortar retail dependent on their technology, just as they did with e-commerce.
In the deluge of information that surrounds us the most difficult task is to separate valuable information from the noise, i.e. to spot solutions that will bring real value to business and distinguish it from fleeting fads.
Identifying technologies worth attention is just the beginning of the process. Incorporating them is even more difficult.
Identifying data sources useful in the context of IoT and AI solutions was a particular challenge in 2017. Effective combination of these two technologies already ensured success for some technology companies in 2017, especially in China and the US. In 2018, businesses from other industries and regions will have to follow. Read more on the future issues below.
In addition to AI, AR and IoT, the business awareness of blockchain will increase, and it will be no longer associated with cryptocurrencies only, but also with real business value. More and more companies will invest in the analysis of this technology to apply it in their industry, and some will run pilot programs and check what benefits blockchain can actually deliver.
Early involvement with this technology might create a significant competitive advantage, however, decision makers need to be aware of the risks. Dishonest entrepreneurs may take advantage of corporate ignorance and sell solutions that do not work or are not even intended to.
2018 will bring changes in the way people use the mobile web. Mobile traffic is already bigger than desktop. Thus, the first point of contact is usually the mobile website, which’s quality and speed affect the perception of the entire brand. According to research carried out by Google 53% of users give up browsing a website if it takes more than 3 seconds to load.
That's why Progressive Web Apps (PWA), i.e. web applications designed to provide the best user experience on mobile devices, will no longer be just a trend, but will become the business standard. This change will be most visible in e-commerce, media and in various marketplaces. Learn more about PWA from our why, how, what of Progressive Web Apps article .
Increased and improved measurement of customer behaviour in the so-called offline followed by combining collected offline and online data (sometimes referred to as OMO - online merges with offline). Growing number of sensors in everyday devices, vehicles, stores, and public spaces will generate more and more data.
Information such as location, movement and even identity, will be intercepted by sensors and sent to analytical tools. Offline data will be combined with online and analysed by AI. As a result, companies will be able to provide even more personalised recommendations, improve product quality and user experience, and reduce costs through process optimisation. This might transform not only individual businesses, but entire industries.
With the obvious benefits for both the users and the businesses, the greatest challenge will lay in developing solutions that ensure security and privacy.
Let's take a look at the future and the start-ups that the largest venture capital funds, such as Sequoia Capital or Andreessen Horowitz, invest in. The most interesting industries include:
You should go to China and personally experience the solutions that have been implemented there. Observe the movements of the market giants and follow the trends they promote. Develop products using already existing solutions such as ARKit, ARCore, TensorFlow and others.
Critically evaluate new technologies (in 2018, especially blockchain) and focus on those that are likely to bring value. Be sure to check out as many freshly created new technology products as possible (even in the form of MVP) to learn what they can provide as early as you can. One should also not forget about prudent collecting, utilising and securing the currency of the contemporary world: the data.
What are your expectations towards technology in the next year? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.