5 Tech Trends to Watch: New Products and Predictions

As more digital devices become interconnected, how will virtual reality, 3D printing, apps and drones ultimately affect our understanding of the Internet of Things?

A man uses his smartphone to control functions in his home“Cybersecurity” in big bold letters. It’s been splashed across magazine covers and TV news reports a lot lately. Talk of Russian hacking and WikiLeaks has eked into dinner conversations and water cooler talk. Never before have the inner workings of the IT world become such a trendy subject for pundits, newscasters, reporters and bloggers – even the new U.S. President.

As more devices and services are introduced, and more questions about security erupt, one thing we can be sure of is that our smart devices will shape the way we live, work and play well into the future.

  1. What Will IoT Really Mean? 
    The Internet of Things (IoT) can sometimes seem elusive. Even if we know it means the interconnectivity of digital devices, we may not always understand the impact it could have as even more smart devices are introduced and adapted more widely than ever.

    With home automation and voice controls reaching more consumers, IoT will inevitably shape the way we think about how we all use and connect our devices – be it smartphones or lighting and temperature controls. As we learn more about what’s possible (“Hey, I can lock my car doors with my phone from anywhere!”) there will also predictably be more interest in how to secure the cool, fun and smart worlds we create – from baby monitors to wireless networks to home security.

    Big names like Google, Apple and Amazon have made the technology more accessible to the average consumer. Real estate agents have also been pushing home automation as a selling point. Last month, Coldwell Banker sponsored the smart home marketplace at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Look for more advancements in IoT, particularly in terms of voice control, which have become especially appealing to younger consumers willing to invest in the technology.

  2. Virtual Reality Gets Really Real
    I knew virtual reality (VR) was having a moment when my 82-year-old father asked me if he needed a smartphone to use a VR headset. With positive outcomes over early releases of these devices, expect to see even more new products and tie-ins to existing technology. Between VR and augmented reality (the tech that made Pokémon Go so insanely popular), the line between the real and digital worlds may begin to blur.

    Take for instance the hype over Pokémon Go and the 100 million downloads and counting that the app enjoys, not to mention the co-branding of associated products that have generated big profits. There’s also the onslaught of VR headsets from well-known brands like Samsung and up and comers like Homido and Oculus.

    It’s a good bet that bigger partnerships in this category will lead to better quality gadgets with more ways to use them for work and play. Expect apps to play a major role in taking virtual and augmented reality into the mainstream.

  3. Apps, Apps and Even Smarter Apps
    Uber is a great example of an app that a) works well and b) delivers measurable outcomes. Users literally get transported from one place to another in real life with no cash exchanged and little fanfare other than on which side of the street one would like to be picked up.

    Pay close to attention to a generation of newer, smarter apps being developed with ties to services and partnerships that provide some sort of deliverable outcomes – like having a full-course meal from a favorite restaurant show up at your front door in less than an hour via services like Uber Eats. The way we use our devices to seek information and actual goods (hello, Starbucks mobile app) will be enhanced at the click of a button, making it even easier than ever to be a consumer.

    One app that’s already ahead of the curve is GBoard. Not only does it integrate Google’s search engine into every part of a smartphone, but it integrates right into the keyboard, making everything from messaging to surfing the web that much more efficient and customized.

  4. The Case for 3-D Printing
    No, 2017 won’t be the year that 3-D printing goes mainstream. But it will evolve. We may still be years away from everyone having a 3-D printer next to the photo printer, but far more designers and builders are using the technology to take interesting back-office leaps into the commercial and philanthropic worlds.

    One huge appeal to 3-D printing is that additive manufacturing cuts down on waste. It also allows manufacturers to explore new ways of making products and improving on old ones quickly. In the medical industry, for example, 3-D printing is showing promise when it comes to molding prosthetics to an individual’s highly customized needs. It can help improve upon the quality of life for people worldwide, making it a game-changing technology to not only watch, but also invest in.

  5. Cracking Down on Drones
    Drones can be controversial. But for most people, drones have become the trendy gadget that ends up on everyone’s wish list, a tool for capturing the world in a new way. As more consumers take the controls of a record number of these high-flying devices, the more we can expect local and federal governments to create even more specific guidelines about how to use them. The Consumer Technology Association has already been working with the Federal Aviation Administration on drone governance, determining how to best let consumers enjoy the devices without interfering with commercial and private airlines.

    There’s also the issue of privacy. Surely the proud Dad using a drone to capture highlights from his daughter’s soccer game isn’t in the same lane as a terrorist looking to interrupt a commercial flight. But how do we begin to regulate a device that is used for so many wildly different reasons? This year will likely welcome more regulations, particularly in terms of law enforcement, air traffic and privacy.

    When the novelty wears off, we will also have a better idea of how drones can be used in practical ways, like delivering life-saving medication to rural areas of Africa (it’s already  being done). And heck, if Amazon has its way, drones could deliver its packages. Perhaps that will happen when Uber finally introduces its self-driving cars.  

Natalie Hope McDonald is a writer and editor based in Philadelphia. She can be reached online at nataliehopemcdonald.com.

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