Which technologies will change our lives in 2021?
Every year we get proposals from industry gurus about technological trends that we can’t miss out on. What will they be this year?
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the world to a standstill. This might be why the technologies that are set to change our lives in 2021 are not spectacular new launches, but technologies based on software and Internet products that make our online experiences easier.
Such is the argument of Brian X. Chen. He also points out that a lot of technology that had previously been ignored or underestimated came to the fore in 2020. Take Zoom, the application for video calls that, according to Business of Apps, went from having around 10 million users in 2019 to more than 300 million in April 2020.
The global impact of the disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus has been such that all the technologies that are now trending were practically only set up in 2020 and what’s in store will be an extension of that. But which technologies have changed our lives?
The pandemic has made us more practical
And it has made us more digital: not only at home but at work. Digital transformation, that milestone that every company seeks, has been massively accelerated in the wake of COVID-19. A McKinsey & Company study shows that consumer respondents “are three times likelier now than before the crisis to say that at least 80 percent of their customer interactions are digital in nature.”
This acceleration of processes is due, in part, to the fact that many services that were available to us became necessities during the pandemic, especially during the most severe lockdowns. Brian X. Chen points out that the growing fear of germs, bacteria and viruses has enhanced interaction with the virtual world in place of the real one. Physical contact through digital contact. That’s why we pay with contactless tools at the supermarket.
In this harsh climate, it must be added that, though the technologies we are discussing today have grown exponentially, innovation in general has suffered a severe blow. As pointed out in an analysis by Wharton Business School, productivity has remained high, but innovation has slowed down. While they do discuss methods for bridging this gap, they point out that large companies are risk-averse during uncertain times and they cut budgets and investment.
Technological trends for 2021
Let’s take the four categories highlighted by Brian X. Chen, which bring together and encompass the technological trends adopted as a result of the pandemic’s social impact:
Tech that replaces our stores: For example, chatbots, apps that use artificial intelligence (AI) and that are displayed in the form of chat pop-ups where users can access customer service. There is also the use of augmented reality in the retail sector, for example, to see how an item of clothing would look on us by simply using the camera on our smartphones (and from the comfort of our homes).
Wi-Fi that is getting smarter: The lack of good connections has been a hindrance to, for example, the rise of teleworking in rural areas. But the most important thing is for the Internet supply to match the increased demand. The Wi-Fi 6 standard will be introduced in 2021 through a new generation of routers and, although it will not improve speed, it will improve efficiency, by sharing bandwidth across a larger number of devices.
Technology that lets us keep our hands to ourselves: we have already mentioned that, for safety reasons, the need for cash payments has been reduced and new contactless resources have been introduced. Brian X. Chen points to Ultra-Wide Band technology as a possible trend in 2021: potentially replacing Bluetooth, which may allow cars to be started when the driver approaches, or for the smart opening of front doors when the owners get home.
Technology that “virtualizes” environments: We already know that we can telework and hold meetings in Zoom. And that we can follow Yoga classes on YouTube or using fitness apps. According to experts, the future lies in Virtual Reality (VR) or Augmented Reality (AR) experiences. Facebook and Microsoft have proposed alternatives for virtual meetings in VR; while Amazon and Apple are providing activity tracking systems for exercising at home.
Disruption beyond the pandemic
So far we have seen one version of these technological trends that are closely related to the “pandemic effect.” However, looking beyond this close relationship, a more comprehensive vision includes other technologies that are not directly linked to the current global situation.
The implementation of 5G also stands out, especially since we will soon start witnessing its roll out. It is set to become a leading technological player, not because of what it means in terms of increasing speed, connectivity, and security in mobile telephony, but because it will lead to the emergence of more powerful connected devices. Unfortunately, we know that Europe needs to get its skates on if it wants to avoid falling behind in the deployment of 5G.
Other proposals for 2021 trends include more specialized technologies for companies, such as new advances in AI and language processing, or new data prediction models in the Big Data sector.
Finally, we should highlight edge computing, a new computing paradigm and the next step for cloud computing. Today, when we store our data in the cloud, it is centralized in leading cloud storage solutions: Amazon, Microsoft, Google and IBM. This reduces latency and efficiency as more and more devices are connected and turning to the cloud.
However, edge computing allows data from many Internet of Things (IoT) devices to be processed at the same source that generates it or as closely as possible. The future lies in this new way of computing: “edge computing is computing that’s done at or near the source of the data, instead of relying on the cloud at one of a dozen data centers to do all the work. It doesn’t mean the cloud will disappear. It means the cloud is coming to you.”