Photo Credit: Reuters
2019 was a mixed bag in terms of technology trends. On one hand, the consumers finally started really worrying about their data and big tech made some big promises to safeguard it, on the other, deepfakes went mainstream and are surprisingly each to create, becoming an even bigger cause of concern in the era of fake news and misinformation campaigns. 5G and foldable smartphones also generated a lot of buzz this year but both technologies are yet to reach the masses. Cloud gaming, streaming wars, TikTok, virtual assistants, and electric cars were some of other tech trends in 2019. So, here's a quick look at the 10 best and worst tech trends of this year.
After years of rumours, leaks, and company promises, foldable phones finally became a reality in 2019. Samsung and Huawei were two of the mainstream smartphone makers to unveil the first foldable smartphones. Despite their expected arrival in the first half of the year, both phones were delayed over quality concerns. While Samsung's Galaxy Fold saga was much more public and got widespread attention, Huawei quietly postponed the launch of Mate X to work out the kinks.
The most exciting foldable smartphone of the year came from Motorola. Dubbed simply as Motorola Razr, the phone took design cues from its eponymous feature phone predecessor lineup that had arrived in 2004. Motorola Razr (2019) sports a clamshell design that seems to be getting a better reception but given it is yet to reach the hands of reviewers and consumers, a lot remains to be seen.
Samsung, Huawei, and Lenovo-owned Motorola aren't the only smartphone makers working on foldable smartphones though. Pretty much every major smartphone company is busy developing their own foldable phones. We are hoping to see these in the coming year.
5G finally became a reality this year as multiple telecom operators across Europe, South Korea, Australia, China, and the US began offering the next-generation telecom network. While 5G is yet to become as mass market technology and will take at least a few years to reach that level but just the anticipation of various avenues that it will open and things that it will make possible kept everyone excited. It is expected to continue as a trending tech topic next year as well.
India is yet to get in the 5G groove as we are far from getting the new telecom technology. The government is yet to even conduct the auction to sell airwaves for 5G but hopefully we will see that happen in 2020.
Cloud gaming has been the buzzword in the gaming industry this year, but the idea is nearly a decade old. So, what changed in 2019? The arrival of big names like Google and Microsoft, coupled with advancements in cloud gaming technology. Nvidia's GeForce Now, Sony's PlayStation Now, and Parsec have been in the game for a few years now, but the technology was not considered truly pathbreaking or seamless enough due to issues like latency and slow Internet speeds. However, Google's Stadia and Microsoft Project xCloud made things better by offloading the duties to faster and more capable servers.
What else? Well, it is no surprise that AAA titles usually require a powerful (and pricey) hardware, or a console, to run at a respectable frame rate with decent graphics output. This is where Stadia and Project xCloud deliver in heaps. You no longer need all that brawn. All you need is decently powerful smartphone, and you can play games like Shadow of the Tomb Raider without a hitch. We tried Devil May Cry 5, Tekken 7, and Gears 5 on an Android phone with Microsoft's Project xCloud, and the experience was surprisingly good without any issues that could qualify as a deal-breaker. And that too, after using a VPN. Neither Stadia, nor Project xCloud are available in India, but the latter will arrive next year. And given the increasing popularity of smartphone gaming in India, cloud gaming has a huge potential to change the landscape of the whole industry.
Although the likes of Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video have been around for some time, 2019 was the year when seemingly everyone decide to bring their own streaming services. US, expectedly, was front and centre of this streaming re-revolution but 2020 will most likely take the streaming wars globally.
Apple and Disney were the two biggest names to launch their video streaming services this year, but the likes of AT&T and Comcast are getting ready to roll out their own services next year. AT&T will bring the HBO Max and Comcast will launch Peacock. It remains to be seen if HBO Max and Peacock will launch outside the US.
TikTok, as you might know, is a video-sharing social media platform that has become the talk of the town. But the app is nothing short of a phenomenon and has exploded in popularity, especially in India. TikTok has clocked a mind-bending 1.5 billion downloads worldwide on the Apple App Store and Google Play. India alone accounted for 277.6 million downloads this year. From signing NFL deals and roping in big names in the entertainment industry to making social media stars out of an average joe, TikTok has done it all.
TikTok, which lets users make lip sync clips and post reaction videos, employs AI to analyse users' interests and preferences, which means, once the app learns your taste, it is hard to stop scrolling the feed. No app in the recent memory has given users of all ages as much creative freedom to go out and express themselves as TikTok. Seeing teenagers shooting TikTok videos at a park or a mall has become a commonplace now and has even landed people in trouble for making videos at their workplace. Such is the madness around TikTok. There have been concerns regarding privacy and spread of distasteful content, something that even led to a temporary ban, the popularity of TikTok simply ceases to contain. As for the videos shared on TikTok, well, they are a mix of genuinely funny and creative to extremely cringeworthy.
Virtual Assistants have existed for quite some time, but recent advancements have made them way more productive. With smart home devices like Amazon Echo, Google Home, smartwatches, and earbuds becoming commonplace, AI assistants are finding their way in our homes and day-to-day life at a much faster pace. And thanks to the developments in the field of machine learning and big data crunching, assistants are no longer limited to keyword-laden commands that actually made users sound robotic. But how smarter AI assistants got this year? Here's an example, Google Assistant now supports continued conversation, can filter spam calls, answer calls on your behalf, book an appointment by talking just like a human, and do a lot more.
Asking a puck-sized speaker to play your jam from Spotify? Just say so. TVs, cars, and wearables are among the class of products that have become smarter, thanks to virtual assistants, and will continue to improve over the years to come. And with Google and Amazon opening their AI assistants to other companies, the price of smart home products with virtual assistants has drastically come down, and consequently, more accessible. Support for more Indian languages opened a whole new market avenue for virtual assistants in India this year. Market trends also suggest an impressive growth of virtual assistant applications at both personal and commercial scale, while forecasts point to a big surge in the years to come.
Tesla almost single-handedly brought electric cars to the forefront and made them chic riding on top of the concerns regarding the environment. 2019 saw nearly all big names in the industry announcing their respective EV plans, with many EVs making their way to the market too. A massive surge has been recorded in the uptake of electric cars in the west. But what about India? Well, electric cars are still a niche, but things changed this year. 2019 witnessed the launch of Hyundai Kona EV and Tata Tigor EV for consumers in India. Audi, Jaguar, Nissan, and Renault are among the other names that have promised to bring their electric cars to India next year.
The Indian government also took a proactive approach this year, announcing incentives for owning an EV, and is also giving a big push to the nascent electric car industry in India. The move is commendable, and the shift towards a future with EVs has several advantages for consumers and the world as a whole. But there are multiple challenges as well, such as a nearly non-existent charging infrastructure, bridging the supply-demand gap, limitations to grid capacity, battery performance woes, cost of ownership, and above all, establishing a new consumer behaviour towards vehicles.
Before we discuss the impact of deepfakes this year, let's first get acquainted with what actually it is. Deepfakes can broadly be defined as media, especially videos, in which the real person is replaced by another person's digital avatar. Sounds impressive? It indeed is. But in a world where fake news has become a huge issue, deepfakes make the future look even more terrifying. Remember the video in which comedian Bill Hader turned into Tom Cruise, the one where Mark Zuckerberg was talking frankly like an actual human being, or the one that saw Jordan Peele deliver a public service announcement as Barack Obama? Some say deepfakes will bring back deceased movie stars, but that sounds like a tiny positive against a sea of ill-intentioned use case scenarios.
Deepfakes have advanced to a level that one can visually alter what a person is saying in a video by just typing a few words. Literally, by just substituting words. India was amazed by deepfakes as much as the rest of the world, and local deepfakes (albeit of lower quality) have already made their way online, with a key example being pornographic content featuring Indian celebs. The problem has even been acknowledged by India's Electronics and Information Technology Minister, Ravi Shankar Prasad, but the measures outlined by him to counter the threat are simply inadequate. In a country where lies and deceit forwarded by WhatsApp can lead to mob violence, and where fact-checking as a practice is next to nil, deepfakes will only worsen the situation and create havoc.
Reliance Jio had disrupted the Indian telecom market when it arrived in 2016, and everyone was expecting Jio Fiber to do the same. Unfortunately, that didn't happen, largely because everyone was expecting the company to offer rock-bottom prices. Jio Fiber plan prices turned out to be similar to what other Internet service providers (ISP) are currently providing, so the consumers didn't line up to get the connections.
Although Jio Fiber is seemingly offering decent service, its fibre roll out has been botched to say the least. There is still no clarity in exactly which locations the Jio Fiber service is live, and the customers don't hear back for weeks and months after putting their details in the online registrations.
Jio Fiber wasn't the only provider to bet big on fibre in India this year. Other major ISPs, including ACT, Hathway, Airtel, and You Broadband, also expanded their coverage and brought freebies to entice consumers to move from slower broadband plans to faster fibre connections.
With people spending more and more time online and using countless services that claim to make it easier for them to do things, data privacy gave consumers a lot to worry about this year. 2019 showed that it is futile to hope that platforms will keep our data safe and private. Data leaks, hacks, unprotected databases on random servers, and spying apps, including from nation states, are an unfortunate reality of these tech-filled times, and the outlook just seems so hopeless. Thankfully, after years of Facebook's data privacy missteps, the big tech – Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Facebook (yes, even Facebook) – claims that it is trying harder than ever to safeguard user data. The likes of Apple and Microsoft even called privacy a fundamental human right. Maybe all is not lost just yet, 2020 will show if big tech can follow through.