5 trends to watch in 2018

The next wave of digital technologies is on the way, and it promises to change our lives as dramatically as the smartphone did. We’re seeing technologies such as chatbots, augmented reality and video that has transformed the way we use our mobile devices. Here are a few of the mobile and digital trends that are likely to unfold during 2018.

1. Artificial Intelligence and chatbots

Artificial intelligence and chatbots will continue to mature next year, making it easier than ever for people to interact with technology and to carry out complex tasks. Powered by machine learning (computer systems that learn from experience without being programmed) and Artificial Intelligence, natural language processing allows us to speak or type to computers in our usual sentences, simplifying our interface with devices and apps.

Robo-advisors are already a hot trend in financial services—these are smart bots that give wealth management advice on a website or mobile app. Gartner forecasts that such chatbots will power 85% of all customer service interactions by 2020. Virtual assistants that live on your smartphone are also becoming increasingly popular. One example is Google Assistant, which lets you ask for directions to the nearest Chinese restaurant, send messages, check appointments, and so on, using your voice.

We’ll use voice recognition and chatbots for applications as diverse as seeking technical support for a new washing machine to making a mortgage application to seeking investment advice. And virtual assistants on mobile phones will become ever more powerful and allow us to automate more tasks. For example, what if Google Assistant could not only tell you where the Chinese restaurant is, but also make a booking for you?

2. Augmented and virtual reality

IDC forecasts that global spending on augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR) will nearly double from $9.1 billion in 2017 to $17.8 billion next year. AR/VR traffic on the Internet will increase 20-fold between 2016 and 2021, according to Cisco. Both technologies have been around in some form for several years, but companies have struggled to find practical uses for them.

When it comes to consumer VR, the technology remains expensive and gaming dominates the landscape. Consumers today need to buy expensive, dedicated hardware to get a true VR experience. Prices of this equipment are likely to fall in 2018, while smartphone VR headsets will also get cheaper and better. Apps will become more diverse—we’ll see a healthy mix of educational, simulation, virtual tourism and entertainment applications come to market.

AR captures the world through a mobile device camera and puts a digital overlay on the video and image the user sees on the display. Applications are numerous—from seeing how furniture you’re browsing on a retailer’s website might look in your lounge to providing labels and information about the parts in your car when you’re trying to find out why it won’t start in the morning.

In 2018, the technology looks set to build on the popularity of crazes such as the Pokemon Go AR game a couple of years back, and AR lenses for Snapchat. Cool apps are starting to come to market—there’s a great AR feature in the Google Translate app that lets you point your camera at text in a foreign language (a street sign, for example) and view the translation on your display.

We can expect to see great strides in 2018, for applications ranging from marketing to corporate learning and training. Google’s ARCore tools for building AR apps for Android will help fuel growth—every Android smartphone beyond Nougat with a camera is essentially ready for advanced AR apps. ARCore is a platform that simplifies the development of augmented reality apps on Android.

It uses:

  • Motion tracking to understand and track the phone’s position relative to the world.

  • Environmental understanding to detect the size and location of flat horizontal surfaces like the ground or a coffee table.

  • Light estimation allows the phone to estimate the environment's current lighting conditions.

3. The Internet of Things

Gartner estimates that there are more than 8.4 billion "Things" available on the internet today, up more than 30% from a year ago. Sensors and devices are taking over in smart homes, cities, offices, cars and factories, ranging from control instrumentation to streetlights to smoke detectors. These devices can monitor themselves and the environment around them (temperature or GPS location, for example), and share this data with other devices and services.

They can use this data to automate actions—for example, a shelf sensor could request inventory when stock is running out—and provide humans with real-time data for better decision-making—for example, a shop floor manager can get info about machine uptime and potential maintenance issues in a factory. This enables companies to drive down operational costs and improve productivity.

4. Visual search

This trend is closely related to the growing maturity of technologies such as image recognition. With visual search, you simply point your smartphone’s camera at a work of art, a building, a household appliance or even a part for your car. The visual search app will be able to identify the object, and possibly even direct you to sites where you can purchase it online if it’s for sale or find more information.

Google is currently trialling visual search in its Google Lens feature. Pinterest also has a similar feature called Pinterest Lens, and Amazon’s CamFind can helps shoppers locate a real-world item in Amazon’s inventory by snapping a photo.

5. More and more video

People will increasingly watch more video content online—especially on their mobile devices—in the years to come. Cisco’s research indicates that IP video traffic will be 82% of all consumer Internet traffic by 2021, partly driven by a doubling of video-on-demand traffic between 2016 and 2021. Live Internet video will enjoy especially strong growth, growing 15-fold from 2016 to 2021 and accounting for 13% of Internet video traffic by 2021.

Social media networks such as Facebook, YouTube and Instagram have all launched live streaming video, and adoption is rapidly growing among consumers and brands alike. People are beginning to share experiences such as concerts and holidays in real-time with their friends and families; companies are likely to use live video to supplement brand activations, for virtual launch parties and even candid behind-the-scenes looks at their offices and factories.

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