It’s not technology that will excite us so much in 2015, as what that technology allows us to do.
At the recent International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, the stand-out categories of innovation all had something in common. The Internet of Things, the connected car, the explosion of health and fitness tracking devices and applications, the smart home, the beyond-smart TV, and even the 3D printer with its template libraries in the Cloud, were all connected by one concept: being connected.
It is no coincidence that the connectedness revolution is playing out at the same moment in history when social communications tools are behind the biggest communities of individuals in the history of the planet. Facebook and WhatsApp will both soon have more than a billion users, with WeChat possibly not far behind. If one was ever looking for a seismic event in communications, 2015 would be the year to find it.
It is clear, then, that the gadget innovations that make it to the shop shelves, online stores and banner ads in 2015 will be aimed at sharpening or increasing connectedness. They will come in a range of price categories, with the following being among the most visible in South Africa:
4K TV: Forget full-HD TV; the new standard is 4K, which stands for a fourfold multiple of HD display quality. Last year this time it was still horribly expensive and avoided by consumers. Suddenly, the prices have plummeted, the number of sets on the market mushroomed, and the shipments are rising rapidly. Expect to find variations from Samsung, LG and Hisense in most local electronics stores this year, but don’t expect the local prices to make sense just yet.
Smart home technology: In the coming months, South Africa’s Altech will begin rolling out the smart home functions of its Node satellite set-top decoder. It’s not yet the most stable of platforms, so few will depend on it as the sole arbiter of home automation, but for some it will be their first experience of smart home technology. Expect smart homes to become more mainstream once companies like Samsung and Apple roll out accessories or functions that allow more targeted control of the home and appliances from a smartphone.
Connected car: No, your car will not suddenly begin driving itself, nor take instructions via the internet. That’s next decade’s model. For now, however, voice control and touchscreen management of in-car functions is slowly becoming standard, especially via the new version of Ford’s SYNC technology. For those not buying a new car, growing ranges of accessories and add-ons are emerging to give older models a semblance of connectedness.
3D printers: Despite their high cost, 3D printers have three huge attractions for specific professionals: they can produce models or prototypes of designs by specialists ranging from architects to medical prosthetic developers; they can produce objects from online template libraries containing thousands of designs; and designers on one side of the world can send their work to colleagues on the other side for reviewing, analyzing or improving in far less time and cost than the old way of couriers and air flights. Don’t be too startled to come across these devices in consulting rooms across various professions.
Fitness devices: For less than R2 000, activity tracking devices like the Fitbit, Sony Smartband and Samsung Galaxy Gear Fit literally will transform people’s lives as the ability to monitor fitness and health becomes effortless. The basic bands, however, still don’t monitor the heart rate, so they must still be used in tandem with those hideous chest bands and RF transmitters. Expect that to change in 2015, as cutting edge technology matures and comes down in price. The fitness revolution of recent years is about to shift into high gear.
Battery technology: Keeping all those gadgets connected is going to play havoc with battery life. Fitness bands are all very well, but some will wonder if a dead phone before knock-off time is worth all that health tracking. Better or bigger batteries, better and slimmer portable power packs, and a growing focus on battery management tools are some of the certainties we can expect in 2015. Our smartphones still won’t get anywhere near the battery life a Nokia 6310 gave us 14 years ago, but if we don’t stay connected for at least a working day, we need to read the instructions.
USB technology: From USB 2.0 to 3.0 to 3.1, we have been seeing rapid improvements in the speed of transmitting data from a flash drive to a computer and back. A new version of USB 3.1, called “Type C”, will be the first to be reversible, meaning it doesn’t matter which way round it is turned when one attempts to plug it in. It will also be smaller, and come with adapters to ensure it is compatible with older ports.
The USB standard is one thing; what manufacturers do with it is something altogether differentiated. If they are one of the market leaders, that is. SanDisk went large last year with wireless flash drives. We can expect this year’s cutting edge to include emergency charging capability and hotspot functionality. The better to keep us all connected, of course.
Disconnecting: All of this does suggest there is a potential flip side to the story: many individuals will feel over-connected. Overwhelmed by constantly tracking, being tracked, connecting, being connected, they will look for devices and apps that shield or cocoon them from the world of connectedness.
It’s not as simple as giving up that smartphone most people still need a basic level of connectedness. It’s more a matter of muffling the noise and creating a barrier that becomes permeable only when one wants. For that, one needs to adopt a new mindset rather than a technology solution. But, no doubt, there will soon be both a gadget as well as an app for that.