The Stage Is Set: The Future Is Ready To Begin

Author: Patrick Eggen, Managing Director for North America

At Qualcomm Ventures, we’re all about investing in the future. We look at the technologies that will take the world by surprise five to ten years down the road. Looking back at 2016, AR/VR, AI, Drones and IoT connected devices gained wider awareness and traction with businesses and consumers from previous years, when we first saw their potential. The North America investment team (Albert Wang, Gareth Keane, Richard Tapalaga, Varun Jain, Lucian Iancovici and myself), made some educated guesses on how the technologies that emerged in 2016 will define the year and decade ahead:

1) Saying Hello to Mainstream AI

People have long dreamed about a truly conversational digital assistant and, as the AI wars of mobile are just beginning, 2017 may finally have us really talking to our smartphone. The proliferation of services like Siri, Alexa and Cortana has accustomed consumers to using voice as an input method and AI technology is finally at a point that will allow these systems to listen and understand.

2) Consumers Finally Jump on the IoT Bandwagon

We’re starting to see little embers of consumers truly catching on to IoT in the home with technologies like Amazon Echo, Google Home and Ring — a connected doorbell that is selling units at a rate of more than 50,000 per month. In 2016, we saw companies moving beyond the initial exploration of the market and these new devices emerging as the hub for the new smart home, proving greater consumer adoption. This will continue into 2017 as we see more connected devices than ever hitting the mainstream.

3) AR Takes Shape

We already saw an explosion of augmented reality (AR) with the global epidemic known as Pokémon Go. Yet we’ve barely begun to scratch the surface of where this technology can take us. Next year will be even more of a watershed year for the industry. We expect to see the emergence of several major players within the AR industry that will really start to deliver on the promise of AR’s strengths over VR, while showing the bigger picture for how the technology will play into the tech industry at large.

4) The Maturation and Exploration of VR’s Market

We’ve seen the most traction for VR in gaming. As more mainstream VR headsets like Samsung Gear VR and Google’s Daydream enter the market, everyday consumers will have much greater access to VR. Due to this spread of lower-cost VR, next year will see a real maturation of the market with a greater mix of content and use cases outside of gaming.

5) Future Tech Hits the Heartland

In 2017, businesses in all industries will become more acutely aware that consumers exist outside of major tech hubs and young, digital-first companies and products will focus on capturing the attention of untapped, middle-America markets. Product launches like Snapchat’s Spectacles are proof of the power of capturing the attention of Middle America as opposed to the Bay area echo-chamber — proof that startups need to be thoughtful about this audience moving forward to avoid missing a major market.

6) A Muddled Future for Digital Healthcare

President Obama’s Affordable Care Act provided healthcare startups with a fertile market, but this could change with the election of Donald Trump, who promises to repeal the ACA. With the ACA under attack, healthcare startups are at a crossroads. We expect 2017 will bring new regulations that will be challenging for young companies to thrive under. As startups try to re-define how they fit into the new healthcare landscape there will likely be consolidation of smaller companies in the sector.

7) Autonomous Delivery Grows Up

With companies like Flirtey already demonstrating the possibility of drone delivery, next year will finally see the market warming up to the technology and potentially see businesses starting to offer the service directly to consumers. Autonomous delivery, at scale, has the potential to completely upend the global supply chain and we at Qualcomm Ventures are definitely ready. Whether by air or land, the autonomous delivery is poised to have a great 2017.

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Author: Patrick Eggen is the managing director of Qualcomm Ventures North America and leads all U.S. investments. He is based in the Bay Area and heads the Global Early Stage Fund, focused on Seed and Series A opportunities for the group. Follow him @peggen.