While 2020 may have been the year we all turned to tech to keep us sane, 2021 looks set to be yet another great year for tech, with increasingly affordable smartphones, massive TVs and more in the pipeline. Here are some of the trends in tech that we are looking forward to most this year
Fold ‘em, stack ’em, roll ’em
The year 2020 was when foldable touchscreen phones finally became an actual, commercial and viable reality. When South Korean technology giant Samsung released its first Galaxy Fold in 2019, it was an unmitigated disaster as reviews poured in of cracks in the screen upon the first few weeks of use.
When Samsung finally launched the Z Flip in March 2020, it appeared to have landed on a winner — the clamshell-style phone was well-received, even though some found its unusual form rather challenging. The phone was fun, sleek, and gorgeous to look at. It had a nifty little trick where, when folded half-open at 90 degrees, one could use it as a “hands-free” selfie camera/vlogging camera or to video chat.
But it was expensive — an eyewatering $1,998. Some months later, Samsung released the Galaxy Fold2 5G, the follow-up to the first iteration which, when unfolded, functions as a small tablet. It marked a truly exciting turning point in technological advancement. But because it cost a whopping $2,888 when launched, it ultimately was far too expensive and impractical for the casual user.
SEE:Apple supplier expects demand for 5G wireless devices to exceed 500 million
Right now, many phonemakers are jumping on the foldable (or even scrollable) bandwagon, with some like Oppo already releasing a concept “rollable screen” phone. By incorporating a flexible Oled screen, the Oppo X 2021 concept phone introduces an innovative retractable display that can be adjusted from 6.7 inches to 7.4 inches (17 cm to 18.8 cm) diagonally. The Chinese phonemaker has designed the phone to support a flexible and retractable screen through a set of proprietary technologies.
The phone uses a Roll Motor powertrain, which employs a balanced force technology for the Oled flexible screen. This ensures that the screen does not fold, but bend and roll smoothly as it extends or retracts. Also, a two-in-one plate features two support substrates that come close together to form a single surface which reinforces the screen without any segment gaps, preventing the screen from collapsing when it is retracted.
It is quite an achievement, and shows just how much smartphone tech has exceeded expectations, and all only in the last decade or so. This year looks set to see more of these concept phones become commercially available.
Year of the budget smartphone
When Steve Jobs first unveiled the iPhone to the world in June 2007, it was a revelation. Sure, it was not the first-ever touchscreen smartphone to be invented, but it was, arguably, the most important. The iPhone, with its candybar design, rounded bezels and solitary physical button, has shaped the way smartphones look and feel ever since.
It was a mini computer in your hands, one with which you could surf the web, send emails and messages, make video calls, take selfies and more, and then slip into your pocket.
Fast forward to 2020, and smartphone penetration globally has surpassed 40%, with over 3.2 billion users across the world. Everyone has a smartphone, and it is now so essential to our lives that we cannot live without it. However, while smartphones were viewed as premium items in the early years, with the iPhone (then) debuting at a rather steep US$599 ($800, on contract, 8GB), there has been a notable shift in trend, especially over the past few years.
The eye-wateringly expensive iPhones and Samsung Galaxy phones of the early years, which retailed for up to a few thousand dollars, are still alive and kicking; but today, so are the affordable midrange offerings. As more and more phonemakers began occupying the gap left behind by the premium phones, smartphones have gotten cheaper and cheaper, with fewer sacrifices in features, hardware or usability in comparison to the flagship phones.
Take, for instance, Samsung’s newly launched Galaxy A12, which retails at just $288. It has a 5,000mAh battery, a 6.5-inch (16.5-cm) screen with HD+InfinityV display along with Dolby Atmos, and is marketed as enterprise-ready with Samsung’s Knox defencegrade mobile security platform; and support of up to 1TB of storage.
Or how about Google’s surprise runaway success, the Pixel 4a, which retailed at $499 and offered a budget option to the flagship Pixel 4 — identical in almost every way except it is made with a plastic (and not glass) back? Or the low-key success of brands like OnePlus, which has solidly crept up the ranks of leaders in the affordable smartphone sector? True, the iPhone 12 Pro Max continues to retail at the cost of a small family’s yearly grocery bill, and the Samsung foldables still take the cake for costing double that.
But consumers are now given a wide range of options — and this can only be for the better.
With gyms and fitness centres closed or restricted due to the Covid19 pandemic, many were forced to go virtual, or to find new ways to pivot and bring the gym to the home instead. Home exercise videos gained millions of views seemingly overnight, while fitness influencers and vloggers grew in popularity as they shared their home workouts with their audiences.
This year looks set to be when fitness tech will take off in a big way. Sports apparel company Lululemon has acquired the home fitness start-up that sells Mirror, the US$1,495 interactive workout machine that lets you stream on-demand and live workout classes at home — for an additional US$39 a month. Apple also launched Apple Fitness+, which is a subscription of workout and fitness videos combined with the fitness tracking features of the Apple Watch.
While we have much to look forward to in terms of consumer tech, there are also intangible tech trends which research firm Gartner says will shape 2021:
Internet of Behaviours
First of all, 2021 is going to be all about “people-centricity”. One example is the new term, “The Internet of Behaviours (IoB)”, which captures the “digital dust” of people’s lives from a variety of sources, and that information can be used by public or private entities to influence behaviour.
Gartner says in its e-book, Top Strategic Technology Trends for 2021, that this data can come from a range of sources — from commercial customer data to social media to facial recognition. As more and more data becomes available, the IoB will capture increasing amounts of information. Additionally, the tech that puts all the data together and draws insight is growing increasingly sophisticated.
However, it warns that the IoB presents significant and pervasive social and ethical implications. Collecting data to influence behaviour has the potential to be a powerful tool, and its social reception might depend on just how heavy-handed organisations are with what they are trying to do.
Secondly, the old adage of “location, location, location” no longer holds true. Covid-19 has forced everyone to go virtual, or to go into the cloud; and with employees working remotely and social contact being discouraged, work is now being done independent of a location. Gartner calls this the “anywhere operations”. T
his refers to an IT operating model designed to support customers everywhere, enable employees everywhere, and manage the deployment of business services across distributed infrastructure. The model for anywhere operations is “digital first, remote first”. However, it is not as simple as just operating remotely — the model must offer unique value-add experiences. Providing a seamless and scalable digital experience requires changes in the tech infrastructure, management practices, security and governance policies, and employee and customer engagement models.
And lastly, the third trend for 2021 is “resilient delivery”. Gartner proposes that tech will enable organisations to weather volatility.
For example, “hyperautomation” is the process in which businesses automate as many business and IT processes as possible using tools like AI, machine learning, event-driven software, robotic process automation, and other types of decision process and task automation tools. Covid-19 had rapidly pushed organisations to allow more remote, digital-first options; and “hyperautomation” is the key to both digital operational excellence and operational resiliency for organisations. To enable this, organisations had to digitise their documents/artifacts and ensure their business and IT process workflows were digital.
They need to automate tasks, processes and orchestrate automation across functional areas.