In a supplemental piece to my weekly tech roundup from yesterday, I'll be looking forward and examining the trends that look set to take the tech world by storm this year. In many ways, whilst it was a fine year indeed, 2015 didn’t see many ground-breaking innovations, with many companies instead choosing to lay the foundations for 2016. Please note that this is all mostly speculative, but that doesn't necessarily mean I won't get it bang on the money. I am, after all, something of a technology junkie, so at the very least you could consider this article to be more of a discussion piece than an educated guess.
Mobile Payments go mainstream
The general underlying concept of mobile payments is something that's been kicking around since the early science fiction movies, but the last few years have seen the idea really gather traction on a large scale. Contactless credit cards have become the new normal, and thanks to wider Apple Pay acceptance, a world where we might be able to ditch our wallets entirely seems tantalisingly close. We’ll likely see an even wider adoption in 2016 that will look beyond the mere convenience of paying for purchases with your phone, by adding a layer of security with tokenisation, which replaces your actual credit card number with a throwaway number that can’t be reused. This mean even if hackers somehow get their hands on that token, it will be useless to them.
Mobile payments in 2016 will look beyond the mere convenience of paying with your phone
Of course, there are still obstacles to overcome. Businesses will have to replace all their old terminals with new ones, which won't be an easy task for smaller companies. Samsung Pay (Samsung's answer to Apple Pay) has a clever technology to work around this called Magnetic Secure Transmission, which allows newer smart phones to make mobile payments on older terminals by sending out a magnetic field with a tokenised credit card number to an old checkout terminal, which treats it as a regular card swipe. This only works on Samsung phones though, and is likely to act more as a temporary bandage than a legitimate solution. Still, I can foresee a 2016 where Samsung Pay expands to new devices like the upcoming Galaxy S7 and Galaxy Note6 phones, and a 2016 where more stores begin accepting Apple Pay, Android Pay, Samsung Pay and more. Because nobody likes a heavy wallet.
The Internet of Things actually becomes a thing
For those unfamiliar with the term, the Internet of Things (IoT) refers to an intelligent home, where all of our devices are connected and work together in convenient harmony. The idea of having an intelligent home is more compelling than ever, but fragmentation has kept the Internet of Things from maturing until now, but Apple and Google both have their own software platforms for home automation ready to hit the shelves any day now. Maybe we'll see something at CES next week. Beyond controlling your air conditioning from your smartphone, the real meat of IoT technology is the idea that your electronics will talk to one another and learn your habits, automating things around the house for you. This year what we really need is a standard that companies can rally behind. I'm banking on Google, because it's always smart to bank on Google.
AI = Actually Intelligent
Look forward to speaking to your phone (and watch) like an actual human being in 2016 and having it understand. How many times have you been frustrated with Siri or Cortana when they didn’t understand one of your commands or questions? That all looks set to change in 2016 as AI gets smarter. Google has been constantly improving its machine learning algorithms to make Google Now smarter. The new Now on Tap scans anything on your phone’s screen and provides relevant information about what it detects. It’s far from perfect, but it’s only a matter of time before it becomes as indispensable to our daily lives as Google Maps and Uber.
Look forward to speaking to your phone (and watch) like an actual human being in 2016
These virtual assistants will not only get smarter on our phones, but on wrists as well, as our smart watches are powered by our phones, so the smarter our phones get, the smarter our watches will get too. Beyond the phone and the watch, artificial intelligence is slowly making its way into our cars too of course. Google has been testing its autonomous vehicles for years now, but we might actually see them in use in 2016. Ford and Google are working on a driverless car and has already gained permission for testing in California. Cars have gotten more and more autonomous technologies over the years with pre-collision mitigation and lane departure assists. As of right now, these autonomous features are optional extras when purchasing a car, but will become standard soon.
Wearables get smarter
Whilst 2015 was hardly the year of the smart watch that we all assumed it would be, it can't be denied that the Apple Watch really gave the niche market a much needed shot in the arm (Apple are good at doing that). Whilst it was smart as hell though, it doesn’t really do anything other smart watches can’t do, and many of its features felt like gimmicks, so expect to see companies monopolising on this fact in 2016 and designing smarter, less gimmicky, and more affordable smart watches, which could prove incredible useful when hooked into an IoT household. Also I'll eat my hat (for the sake of this article, I wear a hat) if Apple don't debut a new Apple Watch this year.
The dawn of 4K
Whilst it might not seem as big and exciting as some of the other items on this list, 4K TV is a big deal to film and gaming fanatics such as myself. There are those amongst you who might bemoan the need for 4K of course, but once you see it in action. DAMN! In 2016, many analysts believe that 4K screens will take over as the new standard, supplanting 1080p (aka Full HD) amongst tech nerds (I already have my eye on one for the front room).
In 2016, many analysts believe that 4K screens will take over as the new standard
There are already lots of 4K TVs and computer monitors on the market of course, but this year we’ll see more 4K screens on our phones as well. Sony already has a 4K screen on its Xperia Z5 Premium, but we’ll see a lot more manufacturers jump on the 4K wagon. Although phone screens are already boasting high dots per inch (DPI) screens, having a 4K screen makes supported content look even crisper and will make virtual reality (see below) even more immersive. Samsung’s phones already have high resolution screens but you can still see the individual pixels while using the Gear VR headset. With 4K, VR will be crisper than ever. Drool.
VR = Very Real
The Oculus Rift is one of the most anticipated 2016 tech releases for a good reason; people are going tits for virtual reality! Seen as something of an antiquated gimmick until recently (when technology was finally able to catch up to the ambition), VR is an idea that still scares many people until they actually get the chance to try it. Consumers got their first taste of virtual reality last year with the launch of the Samsung Gear VR. It’s not nearly as sophisticated as the VR headsets that will be coming out this year of course, but for under a hundred quid it’s a killer deal. I'm saving my money for the Oculus, but then I'm a massive tech junkie, so if you feel like waiting for a more affordable and mainstream alternative, you won't be waiting long, as 2016 will bring many different types of virtual reality and augmented reality, from PlayStation VR to the Microsoft Hololens.
Benjamin Hiorns is a freelance writer and struggling musician from Kidderminster in the UK.