Here we are- it is 2015 and time for my annual Top Ten predictions for the tech industry. I did pretty well last year, which you can see here. I am finding it a bit more difficult this time because so much of what I think is important are really trends and not events, but I will, of course, give it a go.
1. The year of the hack
Recent attacks such as the one launched against Sony Pictures, the Playstation 4 and Microsoft’s Xbox will stimulate more activity by malicious hackers. In the past, Enterprise Computer Systems or Personal Computers were the main focus for attack. Now, hackers have many more potential targets as we move into the “Internet of things.” For instance, don’t be surprised if your television gets a virus. Such a virus could be used not only to spy on what you might be watching but should your television have a microphone or a camera, you might be spied on in ways that you never imagined! And think about the Dropcam which you use to monitor your home when you are away, providing entertainment to some dudes in Russia – if you forget that it’s there.
Thermostats, smoke alarms, electronic door locks, are just some of the additional juicy targets. But don’t think this will be confined to the home. Many automobiles are ripe for attack. For instance, the wireless system that some cars use to have their tires transfer information about their air pressure can be tapped into and used to reprogram parts of the automobiles electronics. This can be very scary and actually very dangerous as you can imagine. Just think about the drivers airbag opening while driving down the freeway or going through the Lincoln Tunnel.
We are living in the world where offense is much cheaper and easier than defense. The only country with a cyber moat is North Korea. There are very few ways to connect into that country. They themselves do their hacking mostly from China.
2. Mobile phone companies become mobile internet companies
Mobile Phone Companies like AT&T and Verizon will finally come to realize that they are actually in the mobile Internet business and not in the telephone business. This is similar to the situation that cable companies found themselves in. I remember in 1993, meeting with the CEOs of many of the major cable companies and trying to explain to them that they were really computer network businesses and not in the TV business. Now, 22 years later, they are beginning to come to terms with this. The seeds of change have been the transition from analog to digital. But while the technologies have changed, the business models have lagged behind. Because cellular phones systems connected into the landline wired telephone system, they used the same poor quality. The quality of voice calls Is not much different than it was 50 years ago.
We will begin to see phone companies offering telephone services that take advantage of higher bandwidth and are based on Internet technologies. This is already happening all around them. Products such as FaceTime from Apple are examples. Ultimately, and just like the cable companies, these companies will be relegated to providing High Sped Pipes instead of applications. Telephone calls and Broadcast TV are the Word Processor and Calculators of our time.
3. Cord-cutting will accelerate
A number of important television networks led by HBO will begin to unbundle their services from standard cable and satellite. There will be fewer and fewer television programs that can only be gotten in the traditional way, through cable and satellite subscriptions. It will be a year in which new business models will evolve. Unfortunately, Governmental Regulation will have to play a role. And, as we all know, our government is pretty much broken and will prove a hinderance in the USA. Other parts of the world are moving way ahead of the USA in this, as well as many other ways, sadly.
4. Desktops and Notebooks change Form Factors
The traditional way of dividing up computer elements will undergo significant change. Ever since the introduction of the IBM PC, the desktop has been made up of a Monitor, Computing box, keyboard and eventually a pointing device. Notebooks were self-contained and had all these elements in one unit. Apple and others created all in one desktop computers in which the computing elements (CPU, Memory, and Storage) where built into the monitor. I have always thought his was a bad design since Monitor technology changes much more slowly that the elements of computing. There are many ways in which both Desktops and Notebooks could evolve. I favor computing elements that may be small enough to carry (this could even be your “phone”) and can communicate wirelessly with Ultra High Definition Monitors. I think that Notebooks and Tablets will merge. The next Macbook Air may be an example of that. We will also see more and more “stick” computers – that is complete computers without any I/O that can be plugged into devices such as Flat Panel Screens. Intel has just announced such a product.
5. The year that Apple moves sideways
Even though I think that we will see continued growth for Apple, it will slow down. The Apple Watch will be interesting to observe. While I think it will have a successful launch, it is no iPhone. Apple appears to be losing ground in one of the most important areas – Internet Television. I myself have, in addition to the Apple TV, a ChromeCast and an Amazon Fire Stick. In many ways, these are better products. If Steve Jobs really had any insight into how to change the TV Industry as reported by Walter Isaacson, he certainly took it to his grave.
Apple is also dealing with quality issues resulting from an increase in complexity of the computing environment, as are most of the leading computer companies. Microsoft has demonstrated that the only thing worse than trying to manage two Operating Systems is trying to Manage One. But Apple’s brand promise is based on high-quality integration. This is being seriously tested. The Apple Watch and iCloud will only increase the complexity.
6. Cyber Pay and Personal Identification
Led by Apple, we will see more transactions being done via phone using Apple Pay. This will be the foundation for some very important changes in the way that commerce takes place. It will not only be transactions that will be affected. Eventually, our fingerprints will be the key for every lock.
I suspect that Bitcoin will continue to decline, and while many of the technical concepts that are at its foundation will live on, it will not become the cyber currency that so many have predicted.
7. Wearables and the battle for the wrist
I am amazed at the number of wearable products that have been released into the market this last year. I think I’ve counted something like 50 fitness products that you can wear on your wrist. While the primary focus has been on fitness, many of them claim to measure the quality of sleep. As Vice Chair of Sommetrics, a company focused on sleep management and measurement, this is an area I know something about. None of the existing devices do a very good job, which is not surprising since the wrist is not an ideal place to be measuring sleep quality. However, the wrist is a key piece of real estate and there will be a range war. It will be interesting to see what happens when the Apple watch enters the market. I suspect that there will be a lot of development in a number applications besides fitness. Some will have to do with health, others will deal with integration with other computing devices. And then there is the fashion aspect which will probably be one of the key drivers.
8. Drone On
The capabilities of Drones will continue to make rapid progress. Uses for Drones for commercial and entertainment purposes will evolve. Governments will be challenged to regulate their use. Personal privacy will be further eroded. I have even joked that I will develop a product which I call “The Iron Drone” that can be used to combat Drone’s invading our personal space.
9. Health and Education
Judging by the sheer numbers of wearable fitness devices, I think we will see a continued focus on the use of digital technology to improve our health. This is a very good thing. The current medical system is a century old, as are our educational systems.
In the health area, breakthroughs can result from the use of Data Mining and Genetics. Personalized medicine will be the watch word. However, once again, Government Regulations and Policies can prevent progress. Industry and consumers will put pressure on the government but given how dysfunctional it has become, I don’t see many short term results from such efforts. Instead, there will be many attempts to go around the Government and the entrenched Medical Establishments. Maybe we get a Uber of Health.
Since we don’t all learn the same way, personalized education could play a major role in increasing the effectiveness of our educational systems. I believe more and more education will be done online. I’m looking forward to that.
I only wish our political systems would take advantage and become transformed by technology, but that does not look like it will happen anytime soon.
10. Ultra High Definition Displays will impact Art
We finally have displays that can offer resolutions as great as Print. There will be no compromise in the display of photography. I believe that we will see a new category of products which I call “Frames.” Frames will come in different sizes and can be hung on walls. Instead of a single piece of art occupying space, a frame having a UHD screen will be able to show curated and unlimited numbers of artworks. Some of these will be repurposed Art, but other works will be developed specifically for this platform. In the spirit of full disclosure, I am involved with a company working in this space.
So there you have my predictions. 2015 will see a continuation of some very important trends. I don’t see a lot of surprises.