Technology Trends for 2017

Posted on Tue, November 29, 2016 in Greatest Hits, Business Strategy, Internet Marketing, by Paul Weinert

Do you ever just stand in wonder that we legitimately live in the “Future”? I mean it’s obvious we live in the future from a time sense, but I mean capital F, “Future” in the Star Trek and Back to the Future since. The technology around us is transforming lives, disrupting businesses and changing just about everything. This is the march of never-ending progress and it will continue to steam on, but I wanted to take a moment to look into the upcoming trends for how technology is going to continue to change and evolve in 2017.

Note that I’m not advocating that all of these are GOOD changes for society, nor should they be applied universally in all facets of our lives. I’m not declaring any value to these trends, just that they are the trends we see as experts in the field. Each of these trends is on an upward arc and when realized, will completely change some aspect of our lives.

We’ll touch briefly on each of the following:

  1. Virtual Reality / Augmented Reality
  2. Voice Control
  3. Hacking / Data Security Breaches
  4. Real World Data / Customer Tracking (Beacons)
  5. Automated Kiosks
  6. Dynamic Content, Product and Price Personalization
  7. Artificial Intelligence
  8. Internet of Things
  9. Wearable Technologies
  10. Self-Driving Transportation
  11. Space Exploration

1. Virtual Reality / Augmented Reality

Virtual reality (VR) uses advanced video game technology to immerse the user into a 3D environment that combines sight, sound and movement. In the game world, you feel like you’ve transported yourself to a literally different space. It's unlike anything else. The technology has been around for a while, but 2017 may be the year it hits the mainstream. Sony’s PlayStation VR works with a standard PS4, and Microsoft has committed to an XBOX version this year as well. Meanwhile, a couple of companies are competing for the high-end of the market to provide the very best experience via a computer connection.

As soon as you experience VR, you can see this is the future of games, videos, and other forms of entertainment. Concerts, sports and other live events will be experienced in VR – where everyone gets the best seat. Facebook’s Oculus VR, is also working on a tool to communicate with friends in VR space.

Augmented reality (AR) may actually provide the bigger change however. AR uses headgear or other technologies to allow the user to see or be aware of real space but it overlays virtual objects into that real space. Pokemon Go is already a huge hit and the first to really take advantage of it. But imagine running with a heads up display that allows you to receive information and context from your surroundings, and live chat with your friends in this simulated space.

VR and AR will change how we interact with each other and how we consume and interact with information and entertainment. 

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2. Voice Control

In conjunction with artificial intelligence, we’re seeing a shift in user experience to towards voice driven interaction. This depends on the hardware capabilities of course, but look at how Siri (Apple), Cortana (Microsoft), Google Assistant (Google), Alexa (Amazon) and Viv (Samsung), increasingly integrate voice control into everything from these companies. Apple is targeting wearable tech, Microsoft on your computer, and XBOX, Google, Amazon and Samsung on a myriad of little devices you carry on your person and in your homes.

You can see a world in the near future when you can talk to your computer to as the primary way to execute simple commands or get information. I don’t think it is the going to be 100% mainstream by the end of next year, but I think it’ll grow significantly and be ever more omnipresent.

Voice is absolutely the next big interaction / input device.

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3. Hacking / Data Security Breaches

The big technology story of this US election season has really been the story of hacking. We had data breaches on the DNC and Clinton’s campaigns. [ reference] We have Trump asking Russia to hack Clinton. Meanwhile Obama has condemned hacking as the new battlefront of the 21st century [reference].

Consumer hacking is more mainstream than ever. Yahoo lost 500 million user accounts years ago, covered it up, and we don’t even care that much. It’s becoming normal and we’re getting used it to it… which is leading to new technologies like end-to-end encryption, secure hardware enclaves, and fingerprint sensors. These are all great advances, but the threat and potential damage from hacking will continue to be part of our lives.

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4. Real World Data / Customer Tracking (Beacons)

In the online marketing world, one of the most powerful tools in our arsenal is that we can track customer behavior with a myriad of software products. In some cases we can identify people and change that software to suit them better. We can see things like how long someone has been on a website, if they get lost or confused, where they came from, what they purchase on each visit, etc. This data allows businesses to build better digital products and serve their customers better.

Beacons are a relatively new technology that allows marketers and businesses to bring that level of tracking into real world interactions. A beacon is a small, quarter sized, battery-powered device that works via Bluetooth in a physical location to track and communicate with your phone.The average Starbucks now has multiple beacons in their cafes [reference]. Through their beacons, Starbucks can tell how long you are waiting in line, identify you with the Starbucks App, see if you looked at the upsell items, measure how long you waited for coffee, tally how often you visit that location, etc. They can also use that beacon to send you targeted messages from your local cafe.

An assortment of iBeacons from different vendors for use with Apple’s iPhone. Creative Commons, Photo by Nonokunono

The key feature of the beacon is it tags your phone so you can be identified and advertised to in the future. However, beacon use can go beyond businesses using them in their own stores. We’ve also heard of beacons being placed in competitors stores so brands can build a competitive profile. We also know of beacons being placed at busy intersections to tag those that drive by and capture data on those who walk or drive by.

At a marketing conference recently, a speaker was talking about how Wal-Mart and Target are using satellite time to track how well a regional promotion does in bringing traffic to their stores. For example, they use satellites to monitor how full a store’s parking lot is and to tell how long a specific customer is inside the store. Other retailers have specialty cameras that keep a live count of people in the store and what departments they are shopping in.

All this data gets sent back to marketing departments for central processing, analysis and future promotions and store improvements. In some cases, this can also be combined with online customer data to get a better profile of purchasing behavior.

Make no mistake, this is definitely creepy marketing and you should feel a little violated by these technologies. But they are here and they are being used by the big brands — similar tracking has also been in place for years online.

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5. Automated Kiosks

Kind of unbelievably, the first 100% automated grocery store kiosk was installed in 1992 and it feels like they stopped innovating on those since. They’re generally terrible. But in the last few years, we saw a large thrust into the kioskification of simple service retail tasks. There are ticket kiosks at movie theaters and tourist attractions, self-serve hotel check-ins, restaurant ordering stations, flight check-in kiosks, etc. Increasingly, we are also seeing these at non-grocery retail checkouts, doctor’s offices and in business lobbies. We’re also starting to see them embedded in changing rooms, hotel rooms and as retail displays.

The rise of the iPad and the touch tablet have certainly jump started this area, and we see no signs of adoption slowing down. Increasingly we’ll find that we are our own customer service representatives, cashiers and tellers. Interestingly the technology behind this is very similar to ecommerce — the real trick to using this technology successfully is how you use kiosks, how to protect against theft, and how to handle weird exception cases.

Kiosks will change how we interact with stores and services in the real-world.

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6. Dynamic Content, Product and Price Personalization

We all use the internet. It’s great. Sometimes there is even good information on here (like this blog!). We all think of the internet or a webpage as a literal thing that we all have access to; but that’s not always the case. Your internet is very likely different than my internet. Using some advanced marketing tools, that webpage you and I are both on can dynamically change itself to be better suited to me.

We accept this as obvious on social media. Your Facebook should not be the same as my Facebook, that’s a given. But that is also increasingly true when it comes to both ecommerce and content sites [reference]. This gets creepy fast. Amazon knows I don’t comparison shop, therefore my prices are higher than if it profiled me as a bargain shopper. We generally believe prices should be fixed, but perhaps that was an artifact we assumed based on the reality that price adjustments in physical retail are hard to execute and so we think that’s not the way things should be in online retail either.

User-influenced dynamic content also impacts recommendations, search results, page content, banner ads, banner graphics and offers, calls to action, and many other elements throughout the internet.

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7. Artificial Intelligence

There is a BIG battle happening for who emerges as the market dominator of artificial intelligence among the big names (Google, Microsoft, IBM, Amazon, etc). Even though Bill Gates, Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking all fear AI and future killer robots (no joke! reference), these companies all see AI as a major part of their future.

AI is frankly amazing technology. We’ve seen AI write news articles [reference], AI win at Jeopardy and then go on to achieve other amazing things [reference], and AI powers the fancy assistants we all have in our pockets. AI and computational prediction is going to power the next big wave of apps and technologies. It has the potential that in 20 years, it’ll make our manually run computers look like typewriters.

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8. Internet of Things

This one is a big deal. We’ve seen major investments over the last few years from all the big technology players in this idea of a connected future of physical things. The connected home, connected office, connected cars, connected appliances, connected locks, etc. Some of these connected objects are borderline ridiculous [reference]. Others are more meaningful and exciting, my favorite company in this space being Nest, which offers connected cameras, locks, security, etc.

A lot of these devices connect via your wi-fi system, but the big telecom companies are also looking to bring low-cost, pay-per-use cellular data usage to the internet of things. At GRAYBOX we’ve been able to work on AT&T’s pay-per-use offerings and it’s been an exciting year to see what’s been developing in this space.

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9. Wearable Technologies

Wearable tech is already here in a major way, so it’s not a new trend, but we definitely see the trend continuing to expand. The big market here is sensor technology (think Fitbit) where the primary output / display is your phone. You see fitness trackers, sleep tracker beds, medical monitors and others in this category.

But we’re also seeing lots of wearable tech where the device is also the screen and either touch or voice are the primary inputs. These are either general devices (Apple Watch or Android Wear mainly) or utility tech like the specialized watches from Garmin for climbing or exercise.

There is also movement in the wearable camera space. Snap (i.e. Snapchat) has their new Spectacles, which look awesome; and there are some other startups trying to make a go of “always on, always recording” cameras or audio recorders.

I think the market hasn’t figured out what wearable tech should look like yet, but it’s a safe bet that we’ll see more evolution in this arena.

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10. Self-Driving Transportation

This one is right around the corner and already in legal testing in multiple states and countries [reference]. Self driving cars and trucks are going to completely change the way we move ourselves and physical goods.

Freightliner already has the technology to have self-driving semi-trucks [reference]. Self-driving units are already on the road in the US. It’s safer than a human driver and cheaper to operate. Tech-driven transportation is not legal on a widespread basis yet. When it does become legal, we’ll likely see a jump in adoption and a corresponding large reduction in shipping costs and prices for all group-shipped products. This is great news for businesses and consumers, but bad news for the estimated 3.5M professional truck drivers in the US [reference].

Moreover, once legal self-driving cars are the mainstream, I think the way we purchase and think about transport will change dramatically. Transportation will be a service. Parking lots will be unnecessary. With fewer real estate dedicated to parked cars, we’ll probably see denser urban infill and less suburban sprawl. Uber says 70% of the cost of an Uber is the driver. In Portland, I can already take an Uber for $12 anywhere in town — so without a human driver, I’d be able to catch a ride across town for $4.

I have a 5-year-old and a 2-year-old. I wonder if they’ll even need to learn how to drive (like how I don’t know how to drive a stick).

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11. Space Exploration

Space exploration is getting more exciting than it has since the Apollo missions in the 60’s and 70’s. This is due to two big drives:

  1. We’re seeing a dramatic decrease in launch costs due to reusable rocket boosters from SpaceX (Elon Musk’s company) and Blue Origin (Jeff Bezo’s company). It’s awesome to witness, if you haven’t yet, SpaceX’s online videos of a rocket’s launch and then landing back on the launch pad. (Check it out on theSpaceX youtube channel)
  2. Second, we’re seeing a commitment from both NASA and SpaceX to get humans to Mars by the 2030’s. SpaceX even has a plan to get one million people living on Mars in the next two decades.

The other big things in space exploration are the much improved sensors and overall technology we can now put to use. Scientists are finding new planets, galaxies and even signs of life. It’s pretty damn exciting.

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