2016 — A look ahead


We’ve finally entered 2016.
I had originally planned to do a wrap-up of last year, but the bottom line is that I felt it’d be redundant and ultimately pointless.

Truth be said, I don’t know if and how much my spectacle into 2016 will genuinely add anything to the sea of words that have already been spread in tech media outlets, but hey.

[This is not intended to be an overview of the three companies’ future, but rather my own look at them, so consider this deeply narrowed-down and personal, as it is meant to be so.]

Forbes’ Most Valuable Brands list for 2015

I’d like to begin with this graph above, which I encountered just today.

It represents the world’s most valuable brands, and… well, it’s pretty self-explanatory, and actually quite telling in more than one way.

For a tech enthusiast like me, to see tech-industry related firms taking all the spots in the podium is quite satisfying, and even exciting to an extent, not to mention four out of the first five positions (Coca-Cola and IBM respectively) and an overall six in the Top 10, adding Samsung and Facebook to the mix, made it there as well.

Just think about it: six out of the world’s top ten most valuable companies are in the field of technology, and the top three is all there for themselves.

Pretty staggering, isn’t it?

To me, it is a clear indicator of technology’s importance in every aspect of our lives and world, from private to public, encompassing hobbies and businesses alike.

From our gadgets to our clothes, to the tools we use every day to commute, pay, read, learn, work to virtually any kind of innovation.

Everything is technology, and technology is everywhere.

It’s inevitable, and it reminds us all that technology isn’t just something that’s not alien anymore, but an immense, ever-coming wave of ‘everything-ness’ we should learn to understand, appreciate and embrace, rather than ignore or — worse — fight.

Back to the list and 2016, though.

That ranking goes to show trends that I had already scrutinised throughout the course of last year, out of which my main source of happiness is seeing Microsoft trumping Google.

Let’s leave Apple out of the equation for a moment; 2015 has sure been an important year for Google, from the corporate reshuffling under the new Alphabet umbrella, to an internal restructuring with the newly-appointed CEO Sundar Pichai, as well as the meaningful financial results of its ever-strong advertising business.

As a consumer electronics’ advocate, however, I couldn’t help but fantasise upon the rather dry year.

Aside from all the groundwork towards AIs and the future, we essentially got two key ‘products’: Android 6.0 Marshmallow and the new Nexus devices.

I bought the Nexus 6P myself, and now, after about three months of usage, I can only reiterate what my thoughts were back in October and then three days after my purchase: I am underwhelmed.

I switched to Android three years ago in search of a freer, more customisable and future-looking OS, and I found it, but after the Material Design revolution in 2014 I started to sense a bit of stagnation inside Google’s pool, and the company hasn’t helped me change that feeling at all.

If the Nexus 6P is supposed to represent the culmination of their path, then I have to disclose my slight disappointment.
As I said back then, it’s not like the 6P is a bad device (it sure isn’t; quite the opposite!), but that sense of ‘futurism’ and innovation has almost completely faded away, leaving me with a tool that is just as good for the present as it seems unprepared for the future.

Nothing about this device — which, again, is supposed to showcase the platform’s best of the best — makes me scream out of excitement, and more often than not are Android’s eternal frustrations to take over the ‘extreme’ side of my feelings’ palette.

Apps’ crashing, unexplainable lag, overheating, so-so battery life and a general lack of polish are the exact age-old problems that Marshmallow was supposed to fix, and it didn’t, while bringing very little new to the table (2-year late fingerprint reading support and a half-baked Now on Tap).

I won’t even get into all the complaints I’ve read about the Nexus 5X — just ask 9To5Google’s Stephen Hall.

Who’s to blame?
I don’t know, but my finger’s leading towards Google.

It’s not necessarily an inherent problem of the Android software itself, but the fact that no matter which hardware you buy, it seems to suffer from the same old problem over and over again — and, personally, I’m getting sick of dealing with them — especially at a time where competitors are pushing the boundaries of our integrated hardware-software experience (like the Surface Book’s detachable ‘clipboard’ and the iPhone’s 3D Touch).

The focus on IoT, driverless cars and wearables has on the other hand halted the development of the smartphone-based experience, and the thorny tablet problem (with a potential ‘merge’ with Chrome OS) seems to be higher in the company’s priority list, which is understandable, but leaves me a tad unenthusiastic for the future.

This year’s I/O will be their final call; either they decide to take the reins of the end-user part of Android (possibly confirming The Information’s rumours about their interest in building their own smartphone, after the Pixel C tablet experiment) or I will personally move away from the platform.

Where I will flock, however, is to be seen.

Apple would be the natural choice, for a multitude of reasons:

  • I own a MacBook, which would make the integration between the two devices even more flawless.
  • The iPhone is an incredibly well oiled Google-machine, with full support for its services and apps, at times even better than Android’s own.
  • iOS 10 and the iPhone 7 may turn out to be something truly special. I stand by my claim of the iPhone 6s currently being the best smartphone on the planet, and I honestly see nothing but growth in Apple’s foreseeable future.
  • The Apple Watch is a potentially terrific wearable, which will arguably better itself in the coming second iteration, and things like Apple Pay are not to be underestimated.

It would, put simply, make my life easier and happier, let alone the whole design, presentation and attention to detail topic, which is a big reason why I’ve always absolutely adored Apple to begin with.

However, I still enjoy my fair share of iOS-iness thanks to my beloved iPod touch, and to this day I still find iOS to be quite simplistic, uninteresting and ultimately boring. That would be a major pain point for me, I know that, but here’s to hoping that Apple will take a drastic step forward in 2016.

Most of all, however — and who has read the latest entries of this blog knows this — is my recent infatuation with Microsoft and its terrific Surface hardware.

The rumours of a Surface Phone have basically become a solid enough ground for confirmation that the hardware indeed exists, somewhere in Microsoft’s hidden labs, and that its arrival is not only looming, but also full of promises, promises and expectations that want us to mark this prophetic device as the first real glimpse into the future of mobile, a Smartphone 2.0 era of sort.

Will it keep its promises? I don’t know, but I certainly hope so.

Microsoft has had an absolutely amazing 2015, and the company’s rebirth under Satya Nadella shows that it’s hungry for more. It deserves that, and this year will be their litmus test.

What I now know, however, is that Windows 10 Mobile is tremendously lacking behind its two competitors from almost any point of view, and that Redmond’s commitment really needs to turn into something monumental to catch up with the others’ offering, let alone leapfrog it.

Windows 10 Mobile has OH-SO-MUCH potential.

The Universal Windows Platform is showing its first signs of aggressive adoption — 200 million devices is no small feat for Windows 10 — , and the platform itself is really promising, but that’s just the beginning.

My newly-purchased Lumia 550 will be by my side to help me understand the platform’s growth throughout the year, while March’s Build conference and the eventual rollout of the Redstone update will heavily influence my decision when the time comes.

It’s all kind of a mess, I know. There’s quite a lot of uncertainty, and that’s just quickly looking at the top three companies.

That, to me, is the ultimately most exciting part, however: 2016 feels like a year which could bring a lot of surprises in both hardware and software, and that doesn’t consider all the progress we will indeed see in fields like the aforementioned AI and driverless cars, but also VR, AR, gaming, drones, and who knows what else.

I’m just happy and grateful to be at the forefront of it all.
Here’s to an amazing year!

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