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Tech in 2017: What will change?

Apple has to get its mojo back, VR needs to meet its challenges, the smart car and smart home will emerge from fantasy

Smart gadgets and platforms will rely on software and intelligent algorithms to define the user experience, more than ever before.
Smart gadgets and platforms will rely on software and intelligent algorithms to define the user experience, more than ever before.

The more things change, the more they remain the same. Nothing describes the evolution of technology better. We take a look at some trends that should catch on in 2017, as well as some popular brands and start-ups that will play a major role in defining the gadgets we buy, the services we use, and the user experience we get.

Augmenting virtual reality

Admit it, you like the idea of a headset that lets you walk around a virtual space as if you are part of a movie or a game. Virtual reality (VR) technology has its own set of challenges when it comes to incorporating it in our homes and daily routines. But that does not mean it does not have genuine advantages. Auto maker Tata Motors will be adding the VR element to its showrooms in some cities over the next few months, to allow users to get a more wholesome experience of the car they may be about to buy. However, there is no denying the fact that augmented reality (AR) apps, and their quality, will define the success of VR. And while products such as Sony PlayStation VR, HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, Samsung Gear VR and Google Daydream View do transport the user into a different realm of reality (no pun intended), the high cost of buying a VR headset (Oculus Rift costs Rs80,400 on, and will need a powerful PC that costs almost as much) remains a hurdle.

Artificial is the new normal intelligence

It will be difficult to ignore AI this year. For starters, Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft are all poised to pursue the AI dream and deploy machine learning in real-world usage scenarios. Apple is making significant exceptions to its usual policies by allowing its AI team to publish research papers for the public. “AI is not magic, but we have already seen how it can make seemingly magical advances in scientific research and contribute to the everyday marvel of identifying objects in photos, recognizing speech, driving a car or translating an online post into dozens of languages," say Yann LeCun, director of AI research at Facebook, and Joaquin Quinonero Candela, director of applied machine learning at Facebook, in a blog post.

Apple needs to find its mojo

The iPhone 7 and 7 Plus have been undeniable success stories, but 2017 marks the 10th anniversary of the iPhone’s existence. And it is expected that the iPhone will go through a generational evolution. Pair that with a strong iPad Pro line-up, particularly bolstered by the enterprise adoption, and success should be a given for Apple. There are, however, headaches galore for the Cupertino-based company. First, what will happen to the iPhone SE, and how will that gap be filled this year? The new MacBooks with the Touch Bar do introduce a refreshed user experience, but what happens this year with the Air line-up?

Smartphones more powerful than your PC

In 2016, we saw the first phones with 6 GB RAM—the OnePlus 3, LeEco Le Max 2 and OnePlus 3T, for example. This year, the specifications will become even more powerful. Qualcomm and MediaTek’s new processors will define most smartphones, while Huawei and Samsung will also unleash newer versions of the chips they make for their phones. Also, we will most likely see phones with 8 GB RAM too—it is expected that the Samsung Galaxy S8 and the OnePlus 4 will lead the field.

Android is Google’s big bet

Many attempts later, Google finally has Pixel phones that can genuinely compete with the Apple iPhone. Second-generation Pixel phones are expected later this year. Smartwatches remain a category where Google has struggled against the Apple Watch, and there are big expectations from the Android Wear update that should roll out sometime in the next few weeks. Nvidia is expected to come out with the next iteration of the Shield TV console, which runs the Android TV platform, and that could be pushed as a part-gaming, part-entertainment box, an alternative to the more focused consoles.

5G is the next broadband horizon

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India has confirmed that consultations will begin soon on the roll-out of 4G networks. This will mean faster mobile networks. In theory, if the pricing remains affordable, it will speed up the adoption of more smart gadgets and an adoption of trends such as cord-cutting from cable TV connections.

Your smart home is taking shape

The connected gadget ecosystem is well and truly here. Gadgets that connect to the Internet can be controlled by your smartphone and perhaps even talk to each other, are now real. Smart gadgets are becoming affordable, such as the Philips Hue lighting (Rs16,995 for the Starter Kit), Xiaomi Mi Purifier 2 (Rs9,999) and Indian start-up Beyond Evolution’s Betty Smart plug (Rs2,499), and consumers are no longer hesitant. We could perhaps see agreement on industry standards that dictate the connectivity between Internet of Things (IoT) gadgets. At present, research firm Gartner predicts that “organizations creating products may have to develop variants to support multiple standards or ecosystems and be prepared to update products during their lifespan as the standards evolve and new standards and related APIs emerge". There is hope that Google’s Android Things platform, which already supports many IoT gadgets made by third parties, could usher in that critical evolution.

BlackBerry’s fight continues

While the reports of BlackBerry’s death have been greatly exaggerated, it is no longer a serious hardware player; it’s slapping its branding on to Chinese smartphones, under the DTEK brand. If that strategy has to succeed in 2017, the company will have to focus on the price points, particularly in price-sensitive markets such as India. We just might see the last physical Qwerty keyboard phone from BlackBerry, before the shift to all-touch phones.

Uber’s evolution into a tech giant

The ride-sharing titan could transform into a major technology brand this year. Uber has acquired AI start-up Geometric Intelligence to create AI Labs. One of the core focus areas would be solving issues related to autonomous driving. Uber is already conducting on-road trials in the US, and gets assistance from automobile maker Volvo. The company recently also acquired self-driving car company Otto. If the expected initial public offering does go ahead at some point in 2017, it could very well be the biggest of the year in this category.

A Wireless speaker that listens to you

A lot has been written about AI, but there really is no escaping the fact that it has become a part of our lives. And it is not just limited to your smartphone. With the Echo speaker, Amazon opened up an entirely new category of technology—the wireless speaker. The likes of Google, Apple, and perhaps even Microsoft, will look to cash in on this. Amazon’s Alexa was a game changer, at a time when Google’s Now (called Assistant in the latest iteration), Apple’s Siri and Microsoft’s Cortana were largely restricted to smartphones and computing devices and geared for productivity tasks. Essentially, Echo showed off the concept of smart speakers which are connected to the Internet—you can speak to them, get responses based on context, tasks are executed as you want them to be, and the speakers can link up with compatible third-party applications—and not to forget, it plays music too. Google’s new Home, very similar, connects with other smart gadgets in your home.

The Smartphone and your car

Was it not inevitable that your smartphone would eventually become part of your in-car entertainment experience? Tech giants Google and Apple, with their Android Auto and CarPlay platforms, respectively, are defining that change. Your phone will replicate apps such as messaging, music and navigation and phone calls with voice commands, and that means the driver will not have to look away from the road. In India, Maruti Suzuki and Hyundai are now including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as the default option in some of their vehicles, and this number will only increase in 2017 as more automobile makers join the party.

Microsoft’s many battlefronts

The Redmond, California-based technology giant, Microsoft is gearing for a hectic year. First up is the release of the Windows 10 Creators update, which will focus on creativity and gaming such as 2D to 3D object creation, game broadcasting and 4K gaming. The next evolution of the game console, currently codenamed Project Scorpio, is expected to pack in 6 teraflop of graphics processing power and work with 4K gaming resolutions, and should roll out towards the end of this year. With the iPad Pro going strong, Microsoft will need the Surface convertible PC line-up to fight back—and a refresh becomes very necessary. Will we see the Surface Phone, or have we seen the end of the Windows Phone? That question will probably be answered closer to the Mobile World Congress 2017 in Barcelona, starting 27 February.

Intel keeps the new ticking in

The company has confirmed that its first 10-nanometre chips will be rolling out later this year. Currently codenamed “Cannon Lake", they will be ideal for mainstream mobile computing devices, owing to low power consumption and a boost in system and graphics performance.

Oculus’ virtually real reality

“From indigenous peoples and world leaders to celebrities, artists, and more, 2016 has shown us VR’s ability to impact lives on a global scale. If the past 12 months are any indication, 2017 should be mind-blowing," says the Oculus team in an official blog post. The company has acquired eye-tracking start-up The Eye Tribe, whose rendering technology could allow Oculus’ forthcoming “Santa Cruz" wireless VR headset to be able to display complex scenes at higher frame rates despite limited power.

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