Last year, the predictions were somewhat easy. We said technologies around working from home would get better. And they did, from more features in all the videoconferencing software most of us now call office, to better front-facing cameras in the new computers that make us all look good at work. Yes, there was better access to doctors via online platforms even as we stayed away from hospitals as far as possible. The gadgets did get better as more companies took the Apple route to get their own silicon in place. But no, 5G is still somewhere in the air as far as India is concerned.
But 2021 has also been a mixed year. Although still in the middle of the pandemic, we have ventured out of our homes after a long period of caution as the cases came down in countries like India after a brutal second wave. Travel was back, so was eating out and cinemas. But that does not mean the pandemic is over, and Omicron has reminded us of that. The last few weeks of this year have suddenly made people rewrite the outlook for the coming year. Here is how we think the tech world will be in the third year of the pandemic.
Building the metaverse
Metaverse is more than a buzzword. It is an idea whose time has come. But then, the metaverse is not really a new concept; it has been around as an idea for decades. In fact, most of us are already in the metaverse in some way or the other, especially children who spend hours building their own worlds in games like Minecraft. For them, the restrictions of the pandemic have meant that the online realm is where they communicate, ideate, build and dream.
In the new year, we will see many companies try to do the same with the metaverse. They will all start propping up pillars of what will be “a new way to experience the Internet”. This is not going to be an easy task because there are no standards yet to make these different silos interoperable. So even as you will hear the word metaverse being used for everything people are unsure of on the Internet, there will be a lot of work happening behind the screens to make this one connected virtual universe and not a collection of bubbles.
The metaverse is different from the Internet as we know it because it gives users the ability to create, transfer and possess stuff purely in its realm. And the necessity to make these transactions possible within the different meta bubbles will be what actually starts connecting the now disjointed worlds.
You could also see some of the tools to connect to the metaverse in its rich form become more accessible, like VR/AR headsets from companies such as Oculus and others. But the fact is that you really don’t need all this to start being a part of the metaverse; you are already in it.
Smartphones and beyond
With a new way to experience the Internet just round the corner, it won’t be surprising if we start seeing the next big smartphone disruptor in the coming year. Let’s get one thing clear: The smartphone disruptor does not have to be a smartphone or something that carries forward that form factor. In fact, what could really change the way we access the Internet, communicate and work could be something without a screen we can touch.
The smartphone sector has hit saturation point with hardly any innovation happening in terms of changing the user experience drastically, and this is why any concept that offers a better way to experience the metaverse version of the Internet could well be the future of personal communication.
One of the enablers of the metaverse will be access to high-speed, low-latency and zero-downtime 5G networks. India has finally announced a timeline for its rollout in cities and this could trigger a high degree of adoption for both the latest generation of connectivity as well as the new version of Internet, a more immersive, experiential vision of the web.
While the metaverse is still more meta and less verse, where 5G technology could make significant impact will be in sectors like automobiles and medicines. For instance, 5G will enable more intelligence in connected vehicles, allowing them to make split-second decisions based on what they are seeing and sensing in real time. If 4G helped millions get remote health consultations during the pandemic, in a 5G world they may be able to get operated on by a doctor sitting in some other part of the world. Even if that does not happen, 5G will enable real-time analysis of complex health data to advise those who don’t have access to the best tech or experts in the field.
A hybrid workforce
Across the world, a lot of people are back at work with signs of the pandemic easing at one point, and also because of an acceptance that you might as well live with Covid-19 than try to stay away from it. This has posed new challenges for everyone from device manufactures to IT administrators of companies. A hybrid workforce, shuttling between home and office, is not as easy to manage as one that is restricted to either environment. This will mean the software that helped us stay connected from home will evolve to cater to this new work model, even as new products will be spawned to solve specific problems such as keeping devices and data secure while the networks they work on change.
This is bound to make the traditional network security model obsolete and prompt companies to look at decentralised models based on access points and individuals. Companies will also have to evolve and optimise for a model that might make their present office infrastructure redundant for the near future.
More power to consumers
Over the past few years consumers of personal technology devices have been used to getting better features and lower prices. But all that might go for a toss if the present scarcity of processors continues. Already prices of everything from budget smartphones to automobiles are going up because of the chip shortage, and the situation is unlikely to improve at least in the first half of 2022 when supply is expected to again catch up with demand.
But things are not all that bad. Across product ranges, features that once used to be premium are now becoming more accessible to regular users. If in 2021 we saw technologies like noise cancellation, high-refresh rate screens and fast charging come down to more affordable price points, in the new year expect to see the foldable form factor become more mainstream because of lower price points. Similarly, adaptive refresh rates, wireless charging and 5G will be common in mid-range, and maybe even budget phones will be so by the end of the new year.