This year may not be as challenging as we think!
Welcome back from the Festive Season break. GTconsult would like to take this opportunity to wish all of its employees, clients, and business partners all the best for 2021.
I have no doubt in my mind that there not one single person who can comfortably say that Covid-19 did not impact their lives in some way or another. From remote work to self isolation and the loss of many family members and loved ones, 2020 is a year that most people will want to forget.
There are a lot of people who are very optimistic about 2021. While optimism is goo, there is a fine line between being optimistic and unrealistically so. Most if the world is dealing with a second wave of Covid-19 infections, and until a viable vaccine is produced, the first half of 2021 may just be the third episode of 2020.
Fortunately, tech is changing the world and is making it easier to do your job. With the South African governments plans to increase access to spectrum, we are positioning ourselves as a country that could find itself at the epicentre of the explosion of the Gig Economy in Africa.
Tech will obviously play an important part in this and I read a few interesting articles about the tech that will shape the world in 2021.
A massive step
We will start in India which has long been a country that has been at the forefront of digital innovation. The Indian Express points out that some of the tech that will shape the future will be a massive step for mankind.
The article points out that We will be pushing the envelope in optimism if we expect to be back in office soon. Even with a vaccine, work from home has got acceptance across the world and businesses have not really seen a drop in productivity. So if last year #WFH was an act of desperation, in the new year you will see more technologies that act as enablers for remote employment at scale. We already have a host of companies that help collaboration among colleagues in real time, but we could see startups emerge with out-of-the-box ideas on creating virtual offices that take away the requirement for being in a physical space.
There is already lot of talk about extended reality, or XR, being extended to fill the gaps in our work environment. XR is a mix of augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and mixed reality (MR) that combine the realms of the real and virtual. In a few months, you could be back sitting next to your colleagues in office, though they are spread all over the country, thanks to a 5G-powered XR headset you are wearing to work from home. Or explaining a new project to customers in a virtual boardroom as they walk around scaled-down models, moving them with virtual swipes. Companies like Qualcomm are already close to this rather confusing reality, which is already used to train people before they get to work on high-value assets.
The article adds that then a lot of bells and whistles that are impacting the very experience of work from home could get polished. For instance, laptop makers might finally start making a Full HD camera a standard feature because it has suddenly become the most important feature in the device. You could also see laptops with wireless connectivity become more common as these try to unfetter from Wi-Fi and offer a connectivity backup to those working remotely. This is where 5G could become an important part of enterprises in the coming year.
The article points out that as people the world over spend more time at home, there is a huge opportunity to offer them indoors what they are missing outside. This is why you could see a boost in how home entertainment technologies improve in the coming months. Television screens could become larger, offering immersive experiences and theatre-quality sound. We have already seen a bit of this with projectors that can create cinematic sound. This push will also come with increased affordability of better technologies. While this would mean curtains on many cinemas, new streaming services will try and cater to all kinds of content demands to cash in on the urge to be entertained.
A lot of the smart home technology so far has been worked around scenarios where the residents would want to control gadgets from their places of work. Now with all these users stuck inside the homes, smart home software will have to improvise and improve the experiences of people who have nowhere to go, keeping them entertained, informed and healthy.
Also, expect gaming to enter our homes like never before. And no, it will not be limited to the younger ones. The segment is already in the midst of a boom thanks to the pandemic and now there will be new consoles and services that make gaming the vent for all your indoor frustrations, irrespective of age.
Health for all
The article points out that your doctor is now more accessible than before, often just a tap away on an app. But these virtual consultations hit a hurdle as soon as there is a need to look at data. While smart watches and other gadgets now offer more data on different aspects of the user’s health and wellness, the quantified self is going to get more attention now. In early 2020, for instance, the Consumer Electronics Show had a lot on show around sleep technology. These products are now becoming available to people, tracking their vitals as they sleep and alerting them of anomalies as they wake up.
Expect more wearables and smart gadgets near your body keeping a tab in not just the vitals, but also alerting you of what could be the early symptom on an underlying condition. There will also be a lot more assistance in the wellness space, especially with stress management.
The article adds that, as our dependence on technologies increases, at least those who can afford it will start pulling out of the mainstream to subscription-based services that are niche, but offer a better quality and experience because of this. Companies are already working on products that offer a different experience from what the Internet offers for free. So you will see companies like Neeva that offer an ad-free search service and more publishers and production houses offer premium content behind a paywall.
The movement towards niches will also be a reaction to big tech, which is slowly losing user trust. While governments try to regulate how big and powerful these companies can be, the lack of trust is already moving users to scaled down environments where they are more confident of not being exploited as just a data binary.
The article points out that, while we have been hearing about artificial intelligence for decades, the pandemic has presented these models with use cases at unprecedented scale. As countries try to figure out how to vaccinate sizeable chunks of their populations, intelligent systems like IBM’s Watson will come into play in helping figure out the rollout of the vaccines. Since we are literally talking about everyone in the world, these are not figures that are easily manageable without help of AI-driven models. And it is not just about the vaccines: AI is already being used to alert about new Covid-18 hotspots based on early trends that are plotted against patterns seen elsewhere. Also, when there will be the question of how to tackle the surge in information demand from people as vaccinations starts, here too it could be computers that answer queries because of the sheer scale.
A new set of gadgets
the Indian Express article ends off by predicting what may change when it comes to gadgets. 2020 has been a weird year of makers of smartphones and other technologies. After a few weeks when sales dried up, most experienced a surge because of the pent-up demand. There was also the new opportunity created by online education. At the same time, a lot of the product thinking went out the window at least for a couple of years as it went down in the priority list.
In 2021, expect smartphones and all other devices to pack more computing power because that will be what they need to focus on, more than cameras and battery life — which are not such big pain points if you are not stepping out. With Apple entering the silicon space with its M1 processor, you will see the personal computing segment undergo some revolutionary changes with rivals trying their best to catch on the processing power and battery life this new entrant can offer. So by end of the year, expect more laptops to offer all-day battery life.
You will see folding, rolling, swivelling smartphones in the new year too, but they will stay well within the fringes and the consumers will be more bothered about the devices that will work long hours without tiring, offering good screen clarity and front cameras for video calls. There will also be a spate of affordable computing devices that try and offer a viable alternative to the budget smartphone that is now being used for online education in many households. Clearly the focus will be on the functional and not the gimmicky.
An article on livemint.com has pointed to the fact that the Covid-19 pandemic has inspired tech innovation.
The article pointed out that one key area, better webcams for our constant video calling, was significant. Samsung has already announced that its forthcoming Galaxy smartphone, expected in early 2021, will improve video recording and calling. We anticipate laptop makers will do the same and finally ditch their crappy, low-resolution webcams.
Portable versions of UV sanitizers for cleaning your phones and gadgets are on the way to keep in your car or your pocket. Another thing we may eventually never leave home without? High-tech masks. Expect a range of built-in features: Bluetooth and microphones (see Maskfone), a fan-powered wearable air purifier (see LG PuriCare), a mask with a UV LED (see the UV Mask). Look for air-quality sensors, contact-tracing assistance and more.
Laptops Arm Up
The article pointed out that, suddenly, laptops aren’t the most boring gadget in the world. Our reliance on them for at-home work and school spurred demand the category hadn’t seen in years. (“Children, let me tell you about the Great Chromebook Shortage of 2020.") Then, in November, Apple released a MacBook Air and MacBook Pro that ditched Intel inside for Apple’s own M1 chips. The result? Machines that have never been so quiet and cool, and lasted so long on one charge.
The move from chips based on Intel’s x86 architecture to ones based on lower-powered Arm technology, like the ones inside phones, is setting the entire computing industry on a new course. Lenovo, Acer and Microsoft have begun releasing Windows or Chrome OS laptops with chips from Qualcomm, whose processors power the most popular Android phones. This will only accelerate in the coming year, with nearly every major Windows PC maker working with Qualcomm on laptops and some models even gaining 5G, said Qualcomm President Cristiano Amon.
The article added that Apple, which plans to transition its entire Mac lineup to its own processors by 2022, is also expected to release a long-anticipated new iMac, among other things. And it won’t come as a surprise when more tech giants, including Amazon and Microsoft, embrace their own custom chips in everything from laptops to servers to wearables.
Reality: Assisted, Not Augmented
Remember the ambitious Google Glass concept. The world was either so excited for it that they were prepared to invest heavily in a pair, or the world was bemoaning how tech was becoming massively intrusive.
Ultimately, the Google Glass project failed, but that didn’t mean the end for artificial intelligence (AI). The Live Mint article rightly points out that AI will only get better over the years. When will Apple release a pair of smart glasses? Probably not 2021. And while Google made a big step in this category this summer by acquiring North, a pioneer in projection glasses, it canceled the second version of North’s glasses as it plots its future. It’s actually Facebook that declared it will launch smart glasses in 2021—and they’ll be Ray Bans.
Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerbergsaid in September these glasses will be “the next step on the road to augmented reality." They won’t feature virtual objects that appear to interact with the real world. AR headsets like Microsoft’s HoloLens might deliver an immersive experience, but they’re still expensive and cumbersome.
The article adds that assisted reality glasses—which project text, images and even video feeds into a person’s field of view—are of more value now, says Brian Ballard, CEO of remote-expertise company Upskill. Businesses have found utility in remote video conferencing that hovers in workers’ field of view, or turn-by-turn directions they don’t have to look down to follow.
E-commerce ≠ Amazon
The article pointed out that the pandemic packed 10 years of consumer e-commerce adoption into a single quarter, and forced every company that wasn’t Amazon—especially those with large retail footprints—to scramble to offer consumers new and better ways to shop from home.
Target saw an explosion in curbside pickup from online orders, while warehouse retailer Costco reported unprecedented growth in e-commerce. Walmart launched a Prime-like membership program called Walmart+, and rapidly added features to keep up the competition. (Walmart recently eliminated order minimums and shipping fees on Walmart.com orders, and provides no-fee delivery on grocery carts totaling $35 or more.) Shopify, which powers payments for many small businesses online, expanded its own network of fulfillment centers so those businesses could get goods to customers more quickly and efficiently, without turning to Amazon.
The article added that, now that fast, free shipping is table stakes and retailers recognize they won’t see the foot traffic they counted on pre-pandemic, consumers finally get an online version of an old retail staple: comparison shopping. In 2021, Amazon’s value proposition—that if it isn’t always the least expensive way to shop, it’s at least the most convenient—will be tested. Meanwhile, its market power—along with Google’s, Facebook’s and Apple’s—will continue to be the focus of regulatory scrutiny.
Return of the Trust Fall
Remember doing these exercises at work team building outings. You would spend a significant amount of time praying that you didn’t have to do this exercise with the creepy man/woman four desks down from you.
The Live Mint article points out that while remote work has many advantages, building trust between employees isn’t one of them. Online, there is no water cooler, no nearby coffee shop for informal brainstorms, no place to grab a drink after work. But companies whose employees worked remotely long before the pandemic already had a solution: the off-site retreat.
Buffer, a fully remote company, gets its entire, globe-spanning team together at least once a year. Dozens of other companies whose employees work mostly or entirely at home do the same thing, which has led to a cottage industry of firms that will plan these retreats for you.
The article adds that one reason companies have embraced remote work is that it makes employees happier, but another is that it saves companies money on office space. In 2021, expect to see many of the millions of employees who have permanently shifted to remote or hybrid work piling into party buses, doing group yoga and seeking inner peace in the presence of their bosses—for far less than the cost of the rent on the offices they left behind.
The platform contributor
We have given significant focus to the gadgets what with shape 2021, and the innovation that certain companies are planning, but we cannot forget the role that technology based platforms played in 2020 and the influence that they will have in 2021.
The article points out that it has taken a long time for blockchain to shift centre stage, but as people increasingly trust algorithms, which it’s based on, its time has come. Decentralised finance will continue to grow over the next few years because of the increased demand for online financial products, but it will need to continually address the balance between decentralisation, security and scalability.
Increasingly, government bodies are leveraging blockchain for their activities, moving from incredulity to embracing the technology. With this, we’re going to see regulation surrounding blockchain become ever more pronounced. Our client Block.one reported this year that Google Cloud is taking steps to become a network block producer, a sign that the world’s largest companies are committed to ensuring that information on public blockchains is secure. In five years time, using blockchain could feel about as edgy as banking with HSBC.
Customer learning experience
The article adds that consumer sales have seen major disruptions in 2020 due to Covid-19 and new restrictions the pandemic has brought to in-person interactions. Businesses have been pushed to accelerate adoption of digital solutions as replacements for traditional aspects of the sales cycle. Attracting and educating customers on the benefits of specific products and features has required a digital-first approach, with e-commerce solutions integrating video, webchat and even augmented reality.
For complex products that require training, including consumer electronics, automotives and software, companies are investing in Learning Management Systems - or tailored equivalents designed to meet the goals of their specific learning experience- to provide customers with instructive content. These LMS solutions allow businesses to create custom branded courseware, training programs, documentation and video guides to deliver complete digital learning experiences. The article adds that, with big data and analytics, companies can implement in-depth tracking of customers on their learning journeys to rapidly gain insights and improve their offerings.
As restrictions on in-person shopping and in-person learning begin to relax in the post-pandemic future, digital learning experiences for customers will continue to grow in popularity, with new opportunities to enhance e-commerce and post-purchase experiences.
The article points out that the world shifted irreversibly in 2020 as so many of us migrated from our old workspaces to predominantly work from home. Beyonders scattered far and wide; I now head up technology from our Lisbon hub. That, of, course, is only possible with greater use of cloud-based technology, including workplace applications.
With the rise in ecommerce we’re seeing cloud-based platforms pushed and we’ll see their full potential through 2021 and beyond. Cloud native technology will continue to power digital transformation: by the end of 2021 60 per cent of companies will leverage containers on public cloud platforms and 25 per cent of developers will leverage serverless, according to predictions from ForresterNow Predictions 2021: Cloud Computing report.
The article adds that technology design is evolving in tandem and we’re building modular, composable architectures that can shift and transform in an agile way, not dissimilar to how we build multi platform, multi stack software. As Google Cloud Partners, we design our composable architectures with plenty of flexibility, but primarily with people in mind.
We mentioned at the beginning of the blog post that most people will need to manage their expectations of 2021. And this is not a bad thing as it is likely going to be a challenging year. However, there are some global tech leaders who feel that 2021 will be a good year for tech innovation.
Magdalena Balazinska, professor and director of the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering at the University of Washington
How will this year’s events — the pandemic, social justice movements, economic recession — affect the technology industry in 2021? While the COVID-19 vaccines are rolling out and providing us with hope that 2021 will be a better year than 2020, we are not out of the woods yet and we should plan for 2021 being fundamentally a highly disrupted year.
That said, if we consider 2021 and perhaps a little beyond, I would say that:
- 2020 really demonstrated that working from home can be effective in many industries. I expect that the tech industry will be rethinking their long-term policies regarding working from home and hiring remote employees;
- Diversity, equity, and inclusion will remain high priorities for the technology industry, and for academia;
- The tech industry has contributed to polarization through the various social media platforms that we developed. Our next step in 2021 needs to be on developing tools to help bring people together;
- The tech backlash is real. The industry needs to take this challenge seriously — to become a rising tide that lifts all boats, not just the captain’s barge.
Software engineers will increasingly question the technology they are developing and the business models of the companies they are working for. Graduates will consider not just the salary but also the type of product that a company is creating, their DEI statement, and more when they choose their employment.
Leslie Alexandre, president and CEO of Life Science Washington
What will be the most pressing issue facing the tech industry in 2021? Again, speaking from a biotech/life science perspective … we are witnessing breathtaking innovation in new treatments — and even some cures — for horrible diseases and conditions thanks to a new generation of platform technologies, such as gene editing and other cell therapies. These treatments are improving the quality of life for thousands of Americans every day, but come at a very high price tag, commensurate with the costs of their development.
As a society, if we want broad access to these life-saving treatments, we must figure out how to pay for them. And as an industry, we must come to the table with sound policy options that facilitate continued investment in innovation and a resolution to drug pricing issues that are becoming barriers to that investment.
Peter Lee, CVP of Research and Incubations at Microsoft
The most overhyped technology of 2021: I guess three of the technologies that are always mentioned on these “most overhyped” lists are blockchain, virtual reality, and self-driving cars. Blockchain and VR are getting a lot of new hype, with blockchain mentioned in areas like vaccine credentials, and VR to make home isolation more fun. But as great as they are, both probably need more time to flip from hype to hot. And self-driving cars, well, while we may actually see some really interesting products hit the market in 2021, there is a lot less driving going on nowadays. We’ll want to revisit all three in 2022…
Advice to startups and entrepreneurs for 2021: Think of the three phases of a global crisis: Response – Recovery – Resilience. If 2020 was about Response, 2021 will be about Recovery. Your company/investment needs to be relevant to that. But even more important is to think about the technologies you are developing for the next long phase, which is about Resilience for the future.
From a GTconsult perspective, we are convinced that Cloud Computing and AI will be big innovators during the year. With this comes the need to increasingly trust technology and see it as innovative and enabling rather than intrusive and overbearing. We applaud Governments view on spectrum and hope that this project can gain significant momentum. This will see new tech startups and entrepreneurs who can not only grow our economy, but provide a future for their families.
We also hope that technology will improve access to healthcare as well as innovative ways to diagnose and treat diseases. We are seeing how tech is playing a role in the Covid-19 vaccine, but we need to see these advancements take place more rapidly.
Finally, technology must play a role in education. We have already seen the beginning of it in remote teaching and many students have adapted well to the new normal that has been placed on them. We now need to advance this. Coding needs to be taught at school and students need to be given the skills to prosper in the Gig Economy. If we can get this right, 2021 will be a good year.