10 Predictions for the Tech Industry

Despite being published in a press release that makes Google Reader (rest in peace) look contemporary and modern, Gartner (the American technology insights company) announced ten predictions for the future of the tech industry over the next few years. While predicting the future is often a sure-fire way of getting things wrong, Gartner offers some relatively conservative short-term predictions that are grounded in some solid research. Of course they’ve thrown in a few crazy ones too, just to make sure you were paying attention. Too eager to miss out on the being-proven-wrong gold-rush, I thought I should chime in.

By 2019:

20% of brands will abandon their mobile apps.

I feel as though 20% feels like an incredibly conservative estimate. While most of my evidence is anecdotal, increasingly, I find myself in consultancy gigs where I’m advising clients against spending money on developing native apps and instead investing in more long-term, platform-agnostic, holistic web strategies that aren’t confined to large investment on any one single platform. Costs for developing for specific platforms seem to be increasing. It’s a much more persuasive economic argument to advise a company to spread their bet by building a digital platform that can be accessed from anywhere regardless of the user’s device or software. Native apps will still have their place, but there will be fewer and fewer use cases outside of the dominant digital monopolies. The bubble is starting to burst on the received wisdom that you need to have an app to remain competitive, and we’re all starting to wake up to the money sink-hole that is developing for any one specific App Store.

It will cost seven times the amount for companies to implement innovation than it did to ideate that same innovation.

While I don’t have any solid numbers to agree or disagree with this estimate, I can vouch for the concept that the implementation costs of executing a new idea are often vastly underestimated, especially when compared to the amount budgeted for the initial cost of coming up with the idea of the innovation. This goes some way to explain the high number of startups or research and development driven business who, despite how brilliant or innovative their idea, never manage to make it past the earliest stages of the product lifecycle because they’ve underestimated the cost of taking that idea to market successfully.

By 2020:

100 million people will shop using Augmented Reality.

I’m all-in when it comes to Augmented Reality. I’m more excited about its future application than Virtual Reality. All the evidence I’ve seen so far tends to suggest that the societal impact of layering additional information onto the real world proves to be far more valuable than replacing that world with some poor, uncanny-valley, digital simulacrum equivalent, like we’ve seen so far in Virtual Reality. But 100 million people shopping using AR in just four years feels like a wildly optimistic prediction. I suppose it also depends how you define the terms ‘Augmented Reality’ and ‘shop’. If an in-app purchase on Pokémon GO is considered shopping using AR, then okay, maybe. But if you’re being strict about it and only measure an AR purchase as something more end-to-end (the example Gartner give is an imagined IKEA app where the user visualises their future flat-pack challenge by overlaying furniture into their home using a phone’s camera) 100 million just feels too steep a prediction, especially when there is little evidence of commercial success using these mechanism just yet. Despite a large amount of public and private investment trying to harness this technology for commercial gain (things like Innovate UK’s Future of Shopping programme), I think we’ll be barely at the early-adopter stage in four years. Then there’s a whole consumer trust mountain to climb, though I suppose that’s becoming less of a problem as payment mechanisms become more standardised through things like Apple Pay.

30% of web browsing will take place without a screen.

Having spent the last few months working on my own audio-only social network ready to launch in 2017 (watch this space). Selfishly, this is the prediction that excites me the most. While Gartner points to all the obvious signs like Google Home, Amazon Echo, Cortana and Siri. One key factor that I feel they have overlooked, is the necessity of these sorts of services that is driving this change. No longer can we think about the consumer tech markets in old-fashioned siloed ways like just the West or just the East. Those lines are becoming more blurred and technology companies are increasingly benefitting from the scale of production afforded them by catering to every market at the same time, with the same product. Using software to add localisation, while the hardware — for the most part — remains the same globally. What this often means is that product decisions are made for the largest portion of the market being targeted. Undeniably, this is usually China, and more broadly the Asian market, which greatly influences the design decisions of consumer tech products, more so than the needs of the West. I would argue that the current war for the audio assistant (Alexa, Siri, Cortana, et al.) comes from a battle to provide a more efficient input system for the Asian market. Keyboard don’t work, and scratching out simplified Chinese glyphs on touch screen — while an improvement from keyboard — is still pretty gross. I think this goes some way to explain the need and subsequent success of visual communication mechanisms like Emoji. Couple the dominance of catering for the Asian market with the increasing miniaturisation, embeddable and wearable nature of technology and I think it’s a safe bet to assume the future of web browsing will largely exist in a post-screen reality. In that world audio is king.

Algorithms will affect one billion workers.

Again, I suppose the measures of success for this sort of prediction is how you define the term ‘worker’ and ‘affect’. More specifically Gartner claims that algorithms will positively influence the behaviour of workers. This is probably the safest of all the predictions put forward by Gartner, as the terms of the prediction are so loose. If you were tenacious enough you could probably already find evidence of algorithms already influencing one billion workers. The real question is how extensive that influence becomes and to what depth and complexity the algorithms can extend.

The Internet of Things will have less than 3% impact on data centre storage.

Gartner puts forward the argument that despite a significant take-up of IoT technologies, the impact on data centre storage will be minimal, as each of the new IoT devices comes online it brings with it a bunch of local storage reducing the requirement for dependancy on data centres. This might be true in a vacuum, but I’m rather skeptical about this prediction. The success and usefulness of IoT devices often isn’t the sole use of the individual device alone, but its relationship in a network of multiples of devices who are often wrapped up in some sort of (usually ‘cloud’ based) service layer. These ideas are new and experimental too, and new ideas can be messy, with the code to execute these ideas likely to be far from efficient or streamlined. Therefore more likely to take up more data centre storage than ideally necessary. Ultimately the collective data centre cost won’t come from bringing more IoT devices online, but the services and additional layers that add value to these devices, and that doesn’t come cheap.

40% of employees will cut healthcare costs by using a wearable.

Preventative healthcare is the inevitable future. If you look at the sort of work Google DeepMind have been showing off just recently with their trials for improving the efficacy and communications within healthcare systems, a lot of the problem areas they seem to have highlighted and are working on solutions for gravitate towards some sort of preventative, or at least tangentially preventative, measure. New research points to the idea that an individual’s overall health and wellbeing can be broken down into three main areas of influence: 20% genetic, 20% healthcare, and 60% social and environmental. It therefore makes sense that the latest focus for healthcare improvement, and the quickest win, is targeting that third biggest chunk. Using technology like wearable fitness trackers to nudge people into better preventative habits that improve their social and environmental conditions is the next logical step for healthcare. It seems like there is enough existing evidence, and beginnings of trends, to suggest that this is another relatively safe prediction.

By 2021:

20% of all activities people take part in will somehow involve at least one of the seven digital monopolies.

Gartner lists Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent as the top-seven digital monopolies. Suggesting that in five years time every action we make will be mediated by one of these companies, whether we know it or not. They point to the convergence of physical, financial and healthcare systems as evidence for this. Yet 20% strikes me as an incredibly low prediction, especially in five years time. Systems are becoming more closed, shutting the doors to competition and independent alternatives, by design. We’re already seeing this happen in basically every digital space. Whether you intend to or not, simply visiting practically any website now, regardless of how independent it is, has Google Analytics embedded, AWS assets or components, Facebook integration, and increasingly ApplePay as a payment solution. Even the tools we use to access what used to be the independent wild west of the web are getting locked down. Forcing you to use some flavour of Safari as a default browser if you’re on an Apple platform, or auto enrolling you into Google Now and building whole tools around it like the newly announced Google Pixel. I suppose the question is how quickly does this reliance on just a handful of digital monopolies filter out into the physical world. But judging by the ubiquity and spread of something like ApplePay, which only launched two years ago to the day, the 20% dependance on these companies still feels small.

It’s the next two predictions that I find the most difficult to believe.

By 2022:

A Blockchain business will be worth $10 billion.

Undeniably the opportunities for finance and contact law that technologies like Blockchain offer are incredibly compelling, and six years is a lifetime in technology, but a single Blockchain-related business being worth $10 billion feels overzealous. Especially as the major benefit to the application of Blockchain technology, at least at this stage, seems to be the value it provides to systems, structures and networks as a whole, rather than providing any demonstrable value to any one individual business. I’ll probably be proven appalling wrong on challenging this prediction, letting my socialist heart overrule my capitalist head. But at this stage I just don’t see enough evidence to point to this sort of prediction. I’ll even go out on a limb and say that while the impact of Blockchain to society will be tremendous, the value to an individual business will be relatively negligible.

The Internet of Things will save $1 trillion a year in maintenance.

Embedding smarts into objects will obviously save money in the long run, as they’re able to become more efficient at self-servicing. But I think the IoT return on investment is a much longer bet than will be evidenced in the next six years.

Reassuringly, Gartner have avoided making any grand sweeping statements about Drones disrupting the education system, Vaping becoming the new homeopathy, or Artificial Intelligence improving your relationship with your cat. As with all predictions, the accuracy depends on the specificity of the definition of the terms. But even if these latest predictions are off on the numbers or the timescale, the themes are likely to be right on the money. Though I’m looking forward to some point in the future when this article comes back to bite me in the ass. All these prediction also assume that the entire world hasn’t eaten itself alive in a real-life version of the Hunger Games following the accent of Führer Trump.