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  • What will our gadgets look like in 2016?
  • What will our gadgets look like in 2016?
    Funk Dooby, Creative Commons (2014) ©
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2016 Expert Outlook on Technology

Are we really a nation of iOS users? Is there such a thing as luxury tech? How has our relationship with apps changed the way we perceive our time? As part of our Expert Outlook 2016 series we speak to three technology experts about gadgets, gizmos and the devices we'll be digging in 2016.

Location Global

Scope
To find out how technology will change over the coming year, Canvas8 sat down with author and technology theorist Tom Chatfield, Matt Hussey, editor-in-chief of The Next Web and Daniel Booth, group editor of Web User and ComputerActive.

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Tom Chatfield is a British author, broadcaster and technology theorist. He's a faculty member at London's School of Life, adviser to Agathos LLP on technology and media and associate editor at Prospect Magazine

One of the things I'm most interested in is what happens when different technologies begin to combine, especially when it comes to the home. The internet of things has been promising a great deal for a long time, but delivered very little. Now, it’s creeping up on us – just look at how many things are now controlled through our phones. 

Apps are becoming the standard interface for the next generation of home electronics and devices. This is really interesting because it’s bringing in a new kind of integration, with people getting used to the idea of using their phone as the hub that controls not just software systems, but systems to do with real products and real experiences, like shopping or work. 

The internet of things has been promising a great deal for a long time, but delivered very little. Now, it’s creeping up on us

In-vehicle technology is very cutting edge for this in the sense that although vehicle upgrade cycles are not as fast as a lot of other technology, we now expect a new car to support bluetooth devices and smartphone integration. We expect that car to play our music, to support sat navs and to be used via voice control and non-screen-based input. In terms of behaviour change, this kind of stuff is much more interesting than the more showy gadgets at the cutting edge, because it's really changing people's expectations.

A lot of apps and services are looking to disintermediate more and more experiences, matching people with providers before letting people get on with it. And it’s creating new marketplaces. In Asia, Alibaba has profoundly changed the way small businesses work and the way people match their offerings to their needs. People talk about the uberification of things and they’re getting very comfortable with these kind of services because they’ve got the look and feel of an app; it's very obvious what the value proposition is and what it brings to you.

Brands are expected to help consumers cut through the noise Brands are expected to help consumers cut through the noise
Naz Amir, Creative Commons (2015) ©

The bar is very high for user experience. This plays into the hands of big established players – you know names like Google or Apple. Amazon is particularly interesting because of its immense muscle in data. Because of the number of platforms it’s bought, it’s got many different kinds of data about people – not just their behaviours, but their habits, their hobbies, their passions, their homes. It knows what they have in their fridges, for example, and the grocery side is a big deal. How are traditional retailers going to be able to compete? Unless they can compete in user experience, they could be in an awful lot of trouble.

Ultimately, people are becoming deeply intolerant of anything that wastes their time. If something isn't fully responsive or, as a business, brand or experience, you don't serve up relevant results and information as rapidly as the customer would like, then you’re almost definitely going to be disregarded.

It's a terrible mistake for brands or services to underprice people's time. Even wasting a second of someone's time at the wrong moment can be fatal in trying to build a relationship with people

This is because brands are increasingly required to help people cut through the noise, to filter the noise. In a way, a lot of the digital brands that have been growing are just well-defined niches in the communication space – Snapchat, Instagram, platforms like that. This is stuff that helps people have a less noisy environment in terms of junk information and junk time, and it’s a big deal. It’s always been true that people's time and attention is a scarce resource, but the move towards qualitative measures of attention is a big deal. People really are interested in the quality of time they’re spending on services. 

People are willing to pay money to save time – to not see ads, to be on the premium version, to have the fast connection, all of this stuff. They’re pricing their own time more realistically. It's a terrible mistake for brands or services to underprice people's time. Even wasting a second of someone's time at the wrong moment can be fatal in trying to build a relationship with people. Every single point of contact counts.

People will pay money to save time People will pay money to save time
Libratone (2015) ©

Matt Hussey is the editor-in-chief of technology website The Next Web. He’s previously worked on the launches of ShortList Magazine, Wired UK and Mr Porter, and has also launched his own start-up, Provenance.

The biggest shift will be towards more products that fall under the catch-all term of the Internet of Things. People are starting to really understand that these items can improve their homes, save them money, make them fitter. They’re providing a real utility now, rather than distracting people from their day-to-day. Nest is the product that’s stood out the most as far as I’m concerned – I’ve got two Nest products in my house.

The thing about this space – the Internet of Things – is that it’s incredibly fragmented, so there’s no real main player that’s come into the game and dominated it. This makes it very exciting, too. There’s a huge increase in security cameras – Nest has one as well – and actually in security in general. Things like bluetooth locks are growing in popularity. People want to feel safer in their homes and they’re increasingly comfortable with using technology to achieve that.

People want to feel safer in their homes and they’re increasingly comfortable with using technology to achieve that

In 2015, there’s been a lag between the capability of technology and consumers’ understanding of it. All these products have been around for a while, but people haven’t realised that this is something for them. Especially when it comes to the fact that the UK – in comparison to the US – isn’t really a pro-surveillance society. But that’s starting to change, and technology-enabled security doesn’t feel quite as Orwellian as it once did.

The other reason for this shift is that tech companies have begun to realise that selling fear doesn’t work. The branding around all these companies has been much more soft. These products are being sold more as lifestyle accessories rather than security devices. The camera space is quite busy at the moment, but Withings is a great example of this. Its devices are are very homey, they look very slick.

If you’re going to spend big on gadgets, you want them to look good If you’re going to spend big on gadgets, you want them to look good
Jordi Cayuela, Creative Commons (2014) ©

If people are going to spend large amounts of money on technology, they want to feel like it’s going to fit into their home seamlessly. It’s the same thing you see with Sonos technology. Speakers for the home have become very lovely to look at – we’ve seen the same thing from Swedish brand Libratone.  They look like furniture, and that’s the point.

Whenever you see a new consumer market open up, the first player in the space tends to be mostly functional, quite utilitarian. Then, the market starts to grow, and as more consumers fill it, the products grow more expensive, more aesthetically considered. It’s about allowing consumers to distinguish themselves in the space; ‘lots of people may have speakers, but not everybody has Libratone speakers’. It’s about transcending function.

If people are going to spend big on technology, they want to feel like it’s going to fit into their home seamlessly

Technology is now a very established part of our lives and the way that we express our identities. The Macbook was designed for video editing, for design, for photographers. But the amount of Macbook users who use Macbooks for that purpose now is tiny. It’s less about the capability and more about how it makes you feel, how it makes other people see you.

And in that sense, there’s more room for luxury brands in certain parts of the technology market, too. In terms of speakers, above the Libratone products, you’ve got items like Bang & Olufsen’s Beoplay A9. And this, of course, applies to wearables, too. Which is why we’ve seen Apple collaborate with Hermès, while fashion manufacturers increasingly add watch straps or laptop cases to their accessories lines.

People increasingly use technology to express themselves People increasingly use technology to express themselves
EventsPhotosNYC, Creative Commons (2015) ©

Daniel Booth is group editor of Web User and Computeractive at Dennis Publishing. Following a redesign to modernise ComputerActive, Daniel reversed years of decline to deliver three consecutive years of newsstand growth.

The biggest shift will be a non-shift. I don't think people will be seduced by much new technology next year. The most interesting new technology, which actually isn't that exciting or sexy for a lot of people, is Windows 10. The continued uptake of Windows 10 is far more interesting than any new iPad, any new iPhone, any new tablet, any 3D technology, any wearable technology or any flying drones. It may not make headlines, but its creeping domination of operating systems will continue. Why? Because it's free.

It’s that simple. The vast majority of people who own a computer in 12 months’ time will be running Windows 10. Macs are irrelevant to most people. Windows 7 is still the most dominant operating system in the world, but I think Windows 10 will overtake it at some point in 2016, as Microsoft continues to market it aggressively.

The biggest shift will be a non-shift. I don't think people will be seduced by much new technology next year

Maybe you need to wear a smartwatch or operate a drone to feel like you're living in a world of technology. But technology is being used every single day by millions and million of people just by turning on a computer, and Windows 10 is making things easier for those people. And for the first time ever, people can try a new version of Windows without it costing them a penny. It was a relatively risk-free way of doing it, too, because you could go back in 31 days.

Where Microsoft go others may follow – we could soon see a lot of businesses giving out software for free. But they’ll need to find a way to monetise it eventually, because those accounting spreadsheets still need to show a profit at the end of the day.

The biggest shift in technology will be a non-shift The biggest shift in technology will be a non-shift
Ed Yourdon, Creative Commons (2009) ©

There hasn’t really been a ground-breaking device launched since the iPad. There hasn’t been another type of device launched that’s forced people to think; 'that smartphone and that tablet I'm using, I don't need them anymore’. Whether there’ll be something like that, let's wait and see – but Google Glass? Smartwatches? They’re nowhere near that. They don't have that universality.

That resistance stems from the fact that people don't need them. People just don't see a need for them in their daily lives. When people use phones and tablets they don't think they're using technology – they're just using something that seamlessly integrates itself into their life. But a smartwatch doesn't provide any indispensable service. People might still use them, and there may come a point when the only watch you can buy is a smartwatch. But currently, they’re not a culturally defining product. That said, nobody realised they wanted an iPhone, an iPad or any kind of tablet until those things existed. Then suddenly people are thinking; 'how on earth did I live without that?'

The television entered people's homes in the ‘50s. We’re still watching television. We're watching them on bigger screens, with better definition, with better sound systems, yes. But we’re still watching television

There's always a danger of deluding yourself into thinking there always has to be a new product that replaces what came two or three years prior. The television entered people's homes in the ‘50s. We’re still watching television. We're watching them on bigger screens, with better definition, with better sound systems, yes. But we’re still watching television. 

The smartphone didn't exist 15 years ago. It now exists and may well still exist in 40 years – again, just with better screens, better resolution, better features. But it’ll still be a smartphone. And there may not be another pivotal device again for some time. If the last half of the 20th century was the age of television, that's a long, long time for one device to culturally dominate. Since the turn of the century it's been mobile devices. So for those people thinking 'what's next?' Asking about Google Glass? Or the Apple Watch? People like to get excited about these things, but we’re more likely to see better phones, better computers and better tablets.

Related behaviours
Simple Interfaces: Making the complex manageable.
Life On Autopilot: People are plugging into an outsourced lifestyle.
Living Unlimited: People are having more by owning less.

Author
Lore Oxford