There aren’t many ways 2018 could have gone worse for the tech industry. It felt like every week, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and friends were apologizing for some major privacy blunder or platform manipulation. Self-driving cars proved they weren’t ready to hit the road and Elon Musk nearly self-destructed on Twitter. Electric scooters swarmed cities only to be vandalized in droves. Tech-stock peaks gave way to market tumbles.
The coming year brings the cleanup and a return to the optimism that technology is really good for the world. By that of course we mean finally playing the much hyped, much delayed Harry Potter augmented-reality game. Also eagerly awaited: 5G arriving in cities, Apple’s iOS getting a facelift and Disney launching its own streaming service. We’re predicting a year of fulfilled promises—including a possibly forced change in companies’ data-collection practices.
Here’s our annual roundup of the tech that will affect us in the year ahead. Our track record is pretty good, so you’ll want to pay attention.
An iPhone Software Facelift
Apple tiptoed ahead in 2018 with a more “affordable” iPhone, anoversize one and some under-the-hood iOS improvements. In 2019, we’re expecting Apple to take a more daring leap. (In fact, stockholder enthusiasm may depend on it.)
In all 12 generations of iOS, the homescreen has remained a simple grid of app icons. The next version could change that. With iOS 12, Apple reportedly put a dramatic makeover on hold to address the performance and quality issues of iOS 11. This is also the year that Apple will begin allowing developers to bring iOS apps to MacOS.
5G Hits Your Hometown
After years of hype (“Download a feature film in seconds!”), 5G is finally making its US debut. The service providers— AT&T , Verizon ,T-Mobile and Sprint —all plan to have mobile 5G live in select cities by the first half of 2019. (In December, AT&T flipped the switch in a few cities, including Atlanta and Charlotte.) Phonemakers Samsung andLG have promised new 5G-compatible handsets this year as well.Apple , however, will likely hold off another year or so.
The new networking standard isn’t just about faster phones, though. Reduced lag between devices and cell towers will enable better augmented and virtual reality, smart-home experiences and even self-driving cars. But just like the rollout of past network technologies, you may not want to buy 5G gear just yet—it will take time for the kinks to be worked out.
Facebook Faces Privacy Consequences
It became abundantly clear in 2018 that Facebook has spent the past decade downing our data and getting drunk on power. In 2019, it shall suffer the hangover. Beyond the continuing backlash against Facebook—a sinking stock price and declining use of its services—we’ll see more legal battles and legislation. The attorney general of the District of Columbia just filed a lawsuit against the company for its entanglement with Cambridge Analytica. The Federal Trade Commission has opened a probe into the incident as well as other suspected privacy issues. Even more likely? Bigger suits out of the European Union and its strict General Data Protection Regulation, like this potential $1.63 billion fine.
Google won’t be immune, either. It faces continued scrutiny from lawmakers around its access to user emails and its privacy lapses. In the wake of the recent high-profile congressional hearings, it’s hardly a stretch to anticipate U.S. privacy legislation in the year ahead.
A Human-Free Retail Experience
The first time you’re in an Amazon Go store feels strange. You scan an app as you walk through the turnstile, then grab whatever you want and just … leave. No cashiers, no human interaction, nothing but an emailed receipt itemizing exactly what’s in your bag.
This type of super-convenience store will likely turn up near you soon, either from Amazon or a competitor powered by tech from the likes of Zippin or Standard Cognition. The future of retail involves fewer cashiers—and more cameras tracking your every move. And here’s a side perk/annoyance: ads featuring items you picked up then put back on the shelf. Are you sure you don’t want that bottle of Bain de Soleil?
Harry Potter Blows Up AR
Thought Pokémon Go was big? Wait until Niantic, the company behind the augmented-reality gaming phenomenon, releases its next project, Harry Potter: Wizards Unite. After more than a year of tech development, and with a huge and thrilling magical world to play inside, it’s likely to be unmissable. Seriously, when people can no longer separate the real world from the J.K. Rowling’s imaginary one, it could get nuts.
In 2019, we’ll see lots of other AR experiences that help turn the nifty tech—which can layer digital objects and experiences over the real world—into something you use every day. You’ll come out of the subway, point your camera at the street and let Google Maps’ digital arrow tell you which way to go. In the business world, AR will be used for training, simulation and more. It likely won’t be the year you get a set of AR glasses, but companies like North and Vuzix could make 2019 the first time you see someone else wearing them.
Self-Driving Vehicles Start Small
While there will be excitement in 2019 around the IPOs of Uber and Lyft, neither will be overselling its future self-driving taxi services. Nor will you be likely to receive your first drone-delivered pizza. But you could start seeing more autonomy in the wild, in the form of small delivery bots. Think coolers on wheels, but with a mind of their own.
As demonstrated by Starship and Nuro—with dozens more expected to debut at the CES 2019 tech show in Las Vegas in early January—the advantage of these machines is that they can take their sweet time getting from point A to point B. They’ll pose little threat of physical danger, though you might have to dodge them on the sidewalks.
So Many Streams
The cable bundle will face its stiffest competition when 2019 brings more reasons than ever to cut the cord. Look for Netflix to make noise in the movie biz and for more channels and companies to launch their own apps.
One of the biggest stories will be Disney’s streaming service, Disney+, which will offer everything from Marvel to Star Wars to Pixar in a single service. Disney’s already pulling that content from other services in preparation. Plus, what will happen to Hulu, which will be majority owned by the Mouse House?
Meanwhile, AT&T’s forthcoming service will try to compete by potentially combining HBO, Harry Potter and the DC superhero franchise, not to mention the library of Warner Bros. TV series. Apple’s long-awaited streaming service will launch as well, and promises to have content far more compelling than Carpool Karaoke—just nothing too risque. Good thing you’re canceling cable, because you’ll need a lot of money to get everything you’ll want to watch next year.
AI Moves From Cloud to Cores
Every time you ask Siri, Alexa or Google something, your voice is recorded and sent into the cloud—aka computers owned by big tech companies—before you hear a response. AI’s reliance on that connection is problematic for everything from your battery life to your privacy.
Soon, Intel and other mobile-chip designers will unveil processors specifically designed to do more locally. These chips enable what’s called “edge computing.” More AI and machine-learning processes can happen on the device itself (that is, at the “edge” of the network). In time, you’d be able to do more without surrendering your privacy. You could get health alerts from your watch or use Siri on your phone when you’re in airplane mode.
Fortnite Changes the Game
It’s more than just the most popular videogame in the world (though it’s definitely that). Fortnite spent 2018 cementing Twitch as a streaming giant, making bonafide celebrities and e-sports athletes out of its best players, and earning its creator Epic Games a $15 billion valuation. It even made “Fortnite coach” a real job.
Fortnite’s success came in part because the game lets players compete—and communicate—across many platforms, and because Epic skipped some app stores and walled gardens in favor of its own approach. (And yes, it was free.)
In 2019, the Fortnite Effect will be felt across the gaming industry, and beyond, as developers grapple with the concept of video-game-as-social-network—with implications good and bad. Look for studios to try giving their games the ever-changing, massively multiplayer spin that makes Fortnite so enticing.
Big Tech Targets Health Care
Whether or not you wear a smartwatch or fitness tracker, there’s a good chance of your health and fitness data being touched by big tech companies in 2019. In the past few months, Amazon has started selling software that mines patient medical records for doctor information, ostensibly to help cut costs. The retail giant also bought an online pharmacy.
Apple is in talks with the Department of Veterans Affairs about software to allow veterans to transfer their health records to iPhones. The Apple Watch’s new electrocardiogram features allow you to easily share heart health information with your doctor. On top of that, insurance companies, like John Hancock, have begun to encourage policy holders to share their fitness tracking data, and more workplace wellness programs, such as Richard Branson’s Virgin Pulse, provide rewards in exchange for tracking.
A Phone to Flex and to Fold
1) Phones are too big for normal humans to hold and use. 2) Phones would probably be better if they were bigger. Yes, for years these two truisms have been in conflict. In 2019, we might get the best of both.
Samsung is one of several companies that have revealed plans to build a foldable phone, with a phone-sized device opening into a tablet-sized screen. There’s a lot of tech left to work out, as flexible displays aren’t yet easy to build and the devices we’ve seen are large and awkward.
In 2019, these devices will likely be expensive niche products for people wanting to live out their sci-fi dreams, but if foldable phones take off, it would be the biggest thing—literally and figuratively—to happen to smartphones in years. Plus, these flexible displays could eventually show up in your home or your car. Who wouldn’t want a foldaway big-screen TV?
Source: The Wall Street Journal