3 Technology Trends to Watch in 2016

It's been a great 2015 for technology as it spread in to every part of our lives. Here's what to look out for in 2016:

1) Virtual Reality

2015 has been an interesting year for Virtual Reality as developers have been getting their hands on hardware and have had time to develop and understand what does and does not work for consumers of VR.

2016 will see a major milestone for VR and that is the release of the consumer version of the Oculus Rift. Coming in early 2016 the Rift will require a fairly high end desktop PC which will be a majorly limiting factor in its success but nevertheless it's an important first step for taking VR to the consumer. In addition to Oculus releases the Playstation VR, codenamed Project Morpheus, will be released in the first half of 2016 with a potentially huge reach.

It's been getting a lot easier for creators too to create content for VR. Facebook have introduced support for 360 degree videos which has been snapped up and tried by big organisations such as the BBC, and after GoPro's acquisition of Kolor earlier in 2015 you can bet that 2016 will see more and more VR content being created in 2016. As this Grandma shows VR content is just awesome.

In addition to VR there's also it's cousin, AR - Augmented Reality. With Microsoft Hololens expected to be released early 2016 and rumours swirling of Google Glass making a comeback it's likely that this will all help make 2016 a great year for Virtual and Augmented Reality.

A question remains though and that is will the smartphone, via something like Google Cardboard, rule VR or will dedicated hardware rule?


2) Personal Fitness & Health Tracking

Over the last couple of years, and particularly in 2015, fitness tracking has really developed. It's been led by new and young companies such as Fitbit and Withings. As a slight aside, Fitbit looks like it had a bumper Christmas  with it's apps trending on the App and Play Stores and it's shares jumping on opening on Monday. With a huge range of smartwatches now available with fitness tracking as a major feature and lots more coming for both Android and Apple fans (Apple Watch 2 for example) I think 2016 promises to be a bumper year for fitness and health tracking.

As technology around the IoT (Internet of Things) develops we're going to see more and more devices connected and constantly monitoring us and our environment - from alarm clocks to smart scales and more.

An outstanding question though is how will people use the data they get from these devices? Apple's health kit has gone some way to helping people understand all of their data from a huge range of devices and measurables but it still requires some analysis by the user to get actionable evidence out. Given that the vast majority of these devices are not and will not be certified medical devices due to the huge barriers another question is how will healthcare professionals use the data, if at all?


3) Electric Vehicles

Helped along slightly by the VW scandal and government incentives electric car sales have been on the up year after year. Tesla has shown that good electric cars are possible and they can replace your Diesel or Petrol motor. The new car line-up for 2016 is looking good and with the huge number of new and exciting full electric and hybrid cars being released it starts to look extremely impressive.

The Tesla Model X will start shipping in big numbers throughout 2016 and the Tesla Model 3 - a supposedly affordably full electric BMW 3 Series competitor will be announced later in the year.

Tesla is set to get some big competition though as the very mysterious new company, Faraday Future, is set to announce full details of their autonomous electric car at CES in January. Faraday Future is just a couple of years old and has been very secretive about what its doing. Despite this they've attracted top management and engineers from Tesla, BMWi and a whole host of other manufacturers. They've also got massive investment and are opening a $1 Billion facility in Nevada, USA very soon. Not only are they developing autonomous electric cars but also working on innovative business models likely to be similar to the smartphone model where revenue continues after the hardware has been purchased/leased.

While there'll be lots of full electric cars announced in 2016 many won't reach the road until 2017 or later. However, a stepping stone to this has been gaining huge traction over the last year and that is plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEVs). Mitsubishi have had huge success with the Outlander PHEV, in fact, they've been unable to meet demand and the buyers have found their vehicles have had almost zero depreciation due to demand. For 2016 though there's a huge list of new PHEVs coming on to the market, actually, almost every new car will have a hybrid option. Here's a few to look out for:

  • BMW 5 Series
  • Land Rover Discovery 5
  • Porsche Panamera
  • Peugeot 308 R
  • Volvo S90
  • Honda NSX
  • Mercedes E-Class
  • VW Tiguan


What additional technology trends will you be watching through 2016?



The Apple Watch from a Non-Watch Wearers Perspective

I've never really worn a watch before. I've been given a couple of nice watches as presents and have certainly tried wearing them but have just never got on with them. I've always found them uncomfortable and actually kind of pointless - there's nearly always a clock around (in the car, in the office, at home) and I've always got my phone in my pocket. So when the Apple Watch was first announced back in September I was quite sceptical as to it's real utility and whether it would really be a hit, particularly given the number of people like me who don't wear a watch. Over the last couple of months though Apple's relentless marketing and video guides had persuaded me of the utility of the Watch but I was still a bit unsure about how non-watch wearers would take to the device. For wearables to be successful they have to be accepted by the general public (this is somewhere Google Glass went wrong) and I was not convinced the smartwatch would be.

However, given that I'm a bit of technology nerd and well engrained in the Apple ecosystem I thought I would give the Apple Watch a go and so at 8am on launch day I ordered the 38mm Space Grey Sport with Black Band - I think it's the best looking of the cheaper Sport model. I was given a delivery date range of 12th - 26th May but it was actually delivered just a few days ago on 1st May.

Now that I've had a couple of full days of use the first thing I've noticed is the comfort. The watch itself is remarkably small and light and the plastic sport band is super smooth and comfy. I genuinely hardly notice I'm wearing it and in fact on one occasion had a mild panic when I thought it had fallen off underneath my jumper - it hadn't moved an inch. For someone who doesn't normally wear a watch this comfort is a big thing.

It's all about Glances

One thing I have realised in just the few days I've been using the Watch is that it's really all about glances. Its absolutely not designed to be used for even minutes at a time but is for just seconds at a time. Swiping up on the screen when in watch mode (I'll come to this later) brings up something new and that is the Glances screen. This show snippets such as the top news story from BBC News, a snapshot of current weather in your current location only, an overview of activity etc. I've found myself uses these Glances far more than any other function and certainly more than the apps themselves.

Speaking of Apps, there's still a lot of work to do. Most of them are far too complicated and much easier and better to use on the phone making the Watch version pretty useless. The Twitter app is a great example of this. It loads about five tweets at a time and you have to press 'More' when you've read all five. The tweets themselves are kind of difficult to read with links, regular text, @s, and #s all blending into one lump of unreadable text. Images are also very difficult to see with no zoom functionality. I have come across some good Apps though. Amazon and Uber spring to mind as being very simple and easy to use on the Watch. I'm sure that as developers get used to the platform and get more and more feedback from users this will improve though.

Too Many Interactions

Most people pick up an Apple device and generally know how to use it with minimal instruction. The learning curve on the Apple Watch though is different and the reason, I think, is that there are far too many ways different types of interaction with the device - the only thing carried over from iOS is swipe down for notifications, everything else is different. On the side of the Watch is a small rectangular button which looks exactly like the lock button on iPhones but it does something completely different, it brings up your list of favourite friends. Instead the 'Digital Crown' acts more like the lock button, but also a bit like the home button, but not exactly. Swiping up on the screen brings Glances, but only from the watch app. Lightly tapping the screen does one thing and pressing the screen does something completely different, again, depending which app your in. There's just far too many different ways of interacting with the device and if you're not a techy like me I can see that it would just be confusing.

The best thing I've found with the Apple Watch so far though is the activity and workout tracker. Throughout the day the Watch is constantly monitoring movement, whether you're standing or sitting, and how much light exercise you've done. If you've been sitting down for too long then it reminds you to stand up and so on. This is a surprisingly good feature and something most people will enjoy using. For those more in to fitness there's a dedicated workout app which more closely monitors you via GPS (if running, walking or cycling outdoors) and the heart rate sensor. I, again, found this to be a really good feature and has to be one of the things the Apple Watch does best.

The downside of this great feature though is that it absolutely rinses the battery life. During a 40 minute workout I lost over 25% of the battery life. If you're using the gym in the evening after a days work this could prove to be a real problem. It shows how much battery the sophisticated sensors on the back of the device are using as during normal use I could have easily got more than a days life out of the battery.

Just an expensive notification centre?

So overall then I have to say I'm generally pleased with my purchase, particularly when taking in to account the fact that it's a first generation product in a completely new category. There's a few issues to be worked out - mostly software related which should be reasonably easy to fix in the coming months and years. If this wasn't a first gen product though I would be saying it's just a very expensive notification centre so let's hope these issues do get sorted before Apple Watch v2.0 is released.

Update (21/06/15): I have recently returned my Apple Watch for a refund. Although it is a very nice piece of hardware I struggled to find a good use for it. While I can see how some will find it very useful - probably those that rush between back-to-back meetings all day, those really in to fitness, and importantly those that actually want/need to wear a watch, I just couldn't find a use for it to justify the £300 price tag. I'm sure though that as app developers work the watch out properly I will come back to it. I imagine this wont be before Apple Watch v3.0 though

My Predictions for Tech in 2015

2014 was a great year for technology. There were brilliant IPOs such as GoPro and Zendesk, the shareconomy rocketed thanks to the likes of Airbnb and Lyft (among others), Apple released the brilliant iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, Android got a whole lot better with Android L(ollipop), and there were acquisitions left, right and centre. There were also some lows for tech in 2014. Blackberry almost completely disappeared, Uber received massive opposition from local government (and dug itself some pretty big holes), once great companies such as IBM continued in a slow decline, and hackers (for good and bad reasons) were out in full force with the biggest hacks coming late in the year to Sony along with Xbox Live and the Playstation Network (PSN) over Christmas.

I think many of these trends will continue into 2015 and the negatives will lead to some positives for many. Here's some of my full predictions:

1. Wearables will flop

There was huge hype around wearables in 2014 with Google Glass being a big player and almost every tech company at least announcing their intentions for wearables while many actually released consumer versions - mostly watches. Guess what? They all failed. And I think they'll continue to fail through 2015. I don't think the technology or the consumer want is there quite yet. The devices are still too bulky for most and so far have just emulated smartphones on a smaller screen. I think this will change slightly with Apple's iWatch as they always do UIs well but it's not going to be the big hit that the iPod, iPhone or iPad were.

2. Cybersecurity will rule

Following the high profile hack of, and release of information from Sony 2015 will be a brilliant year for the cybersecurity industry. Companies of all shapes and sizes are going to be on the hunt for protection in an attempt to avoid being 'Sonyed'. The solution too will come in many shapes and sizes but I think Software/Hardware as a Service (S/HaaS) will be the big business model. Of course, there will continue to be high profile hacks as anything connected to the open web can never be 100% secured.

3. IPOs galore

As already mentioned there were some great Initial Public Offerings (IPOs) in 2014 and this will only increase in 2015. Some of the IPOs to expect include, in my opinion, Spotify, Box and possibly Uber and Airbnb. I'm still not sure about Evernote but that would great if it happened. We could also see some small unexpected IPOs from the likes of Pinterest or Snapchat but I'm not convinced these would be particularly successful/necessary.

4. Unbundling

I think 2015 will see some pretty big corporations splitting up their operations to compete with the smaller, more agile start-ups that are so threatening to their businesses. This will be out of necessity rather than something they really want to do - it's much more efficient and cost effective to have everything in one place and share overheads but I don't they'll have a choice going forward. I'd be keeping my eye on the likes of Microsoft, Sky, Cisco etc.

5.Disruption will get more opposition

Highly disruptive companies will get more and more opposition in 2015 as they spread their wings and go international. The companies I'm talking about are those such as Uber, Lyft, Airbnb, 23andMe, and Tesla. Much of this opposition will come from local government who have failed to keep-up and therefore have no, or the wrong, legislation in place for these companies. Unions and those in the disrupted industries who fail to innovate will have an ever stronger but short lived voice. Eventually the disruptor's will be successful.

6. Retail will suffer at the hands of mobile

Bricks and mortar businesses will continue their general decline as online and particularly mobile gains more and more traction. At points in 2014 Amazon saw 60% of it's sales coming from mobile. Only a couple of years ago it was still more convenient to go to a store to buy something but now with one-click purchasing on the go (on mobile), one day delivery and click and collect it's almost more convenient to buy online and with the upcoming launch of Apple Pay and increasing use of and innovation by PayPal this will only become more convenient. Any company that isn't mobile first in 2015 should be preparing for failure.

9. Healthcare will become personal

As more and more of our devices monitor our every move and heartbeat I think 2015 will just start to see a revolution in healthcare. I think individuals will become even more aware of their own health and tailored healthcare and fitness will become a big trend starting in 2015 and continuing for years after.

10. OS wars will end

Finally, I'm pretty confident that the Apple vs Android vs Microsoft wars will come to an end. As Benedict Evans has very well noted towards the end of 2014 Apple and Android have both won in their war. Android have won the mass, low price point consumer, which is what they wanted and Apple have won less market share but it's at the high end (price point) of the entire mobile market, which again is what they wanted. Meanwhile, Microsoft have retained the vast majority of their business customers and even gained some consumers with their Surface tablets. So 2015 will hopefully see an end to the OS wars we've seen over the last few years. Oh, and as for Blackberry, say Goodbye!!