5 big tech trends for 2016
If you notice some similarities between this list and tech that was popular in 2015, that’s not a coincidence. Many of 2015’s big hitters will continue to hit big in 2016, albeit in a more mature form. As these technologies pushed forward they’ve morphed and melded, showing that the same trends may still be around, but they’re certainly not sitting still.
And that’s not to say everything is the same. There were definitely some big moves from every major player this past year, and even more rumored on the horizon. Windows 10 dropped, Apple and Microsoft both released several new devices, and the internet (and internet of things) continued to explode with new products and services.
So, what made our shortlist of trends to watch in 2016?
3D printing made it on our 2015 shortlist as prices dropped, printers became safer and more flexible, and users came to expect easily configured and personalized experiences. What we didn’t catch was how eager people were to not only consume 3D content, but to create it too.
Now professionals and amateurs can create relatively accurate 3D scans of everyday objects with nothing more than their smartphones. People even developed specialized stands to make phones and other relatively cheap cameras into high-quality 3D scanners.
Users don’t need to wait several hours for a 3D printer to do its thing to make objects in 3D either. Samsung Gear VR launched in 2015 and is making a big push in the New Year. Occulus Rift will be launching in early 2016 and Hololens will be available to developers in 2016.
We are reaching a point where anyone will be able to scan, store, view and recreate real life 3D items as easily as they can 2D documents and images. That’s going to change how companies use this data in their business processes and how they use the systems that maintain, store, search, and share it all.
When the User Experience team at Hyland, creator of OnBase, needs to collaborate, we all circle around one of our many whiteboards or a team member’s screen. This isn’t the case at the non-profit I work with, where we collaborate by logging into GoogleDocs and dialing into a conference call.
From places across the continent, we can all work quickly and efficiently together. We even do it on the occasions where we’re meeting in the same space. It works surprisingly well.
As more people blend life and work together and companies continue to grow and shift to decentralized models, global collaboration has gone from a nicety to business critical. How we collaborate is also changing. Teams aren’t just looking for video-conferencing and asset sharing solutions anymore.
Document collaboration, brainstorming, white boarding and project management are all beginning to take place in the virtual office. Interactions that require real-time participation of everyone, no matter where they’re physically located, are increasing. And companies will be looking for tools and processes that enable that work.
The Cortana effect
When Apple integrated Siri into iOS in 2011, everyone predicted that we would soon be living in the world of Star Trek. Simply speak into your devices in plain English and magically the information you wanted appears. Since then Google, Amazon, Microsoft and even Facebook have tried to jump on the digital assistant bandwagon, but the field has struggled to move past pony tricks and pub quiz questions. Even the savviest of users can struggle to find compelling uses for their virtual secretaries.
Allowing users to complete small tasks through their voice without opening apps is the real strength of these digital assistants. And allowing developers to leverage that in a meaningful way in their own apps is how these companies will drive adoption. That’s why Microsoft created a framework for developers to extend their digital assistant, Cortana, into any program.
Users can ask her to show search results and complete tasks with their favorite apps. And for larger interactions, Cortana can launch users directly into the context of the application. The commands and options are still very structured and developers have to anticipate all of the various ways someone may ask for their program, but it’s a step. A major step. It’s worth watching how developers take advantage of it in 2016 and how the other major digital assistants will respond.
Tablets with pens
Steve Jobs may have been clear about his feelings on the stylus, but that didn’t stop Tim Cook from standing on the Apple stage in 2015 and announcing the iPad Pro with the Apple Pencil. They aren’t the first ones to make the jump. Microsoft has been pushing the tablet+stylus combo with the Surface since 2013 (and Bill Gates had the vision well before that).
Still, many developers and designers hold Apple as the standard in the tablet world, and without support for it in iOS, creative and widespread use of pen input has stalled. Now that Apple is onboard, that may change.
Apple developers are known for getting creative when it comes to pushing the boundaries of what the devices can do and what people can do with them. Apple Pencil won’t be any different. 2016 will give many developers and designers their first chance to see what the Pencil and pen-based interactions can do. Hopefully they can take some notes form the work Microsoft has already done in the space and push it into something innovative and more widely accepted.
A lot of analysts predicted that 2015 would be a booming year for the fitness tracker industry, and it was. But in hindsight it seems to mostly have been due to deep discounts convincing people, who were otherwise uninterested, to give the whole thing a try. Even with a good price, users found most fitness bands were lacking robust features and failed to give them actionable data. Who cares how many steps they’ve taken in a day if they can’t tell how to get enough to reach their goals?
The smartwatch market, though still taking shape, seems poised and ready to fill that void.
The Apple Watch, Moto 360 and Galaxy Gear have put tiny smartphones on our wrists, giving developers opportunities for all sorts of creative new solutions. Others, like the Microsoft Band, Garmin VivoActive, and FitBit Blaze try to elevate the fitness tracker with features like guided workouts, music control, and notifications.
It’s a fine balancing act between, “I wish this did more,” and “Why would I want that on my wrist?” but as consumers warm up to the market and platforms grow and establish themselves, it will be an easier balance to reach. If 2015 was the year of the fitness band, then 2016 will be the year of the smartwatch.
These technologies are all groundbreaking in their own way and we’ll be keeping our eyes on them in 2016. What big technologies are you watching out for this year? Anything you think we missed? Let us know in the comments below.