What's Ahead for 2016: Top 7 Emerging Technology Trends


This time of year, forecasting the future is always intriguing, to take a look at what’s ahead for technology. Product design firms like IPS tend to get a bird’s-eye view—if not a crystal-ball look—at what New Year holds. While some of these predictions may take a bit longer to materialize than 2016, they provide a solid sense of emerging technology trends for the New Year and beyond.

Evolution in wearables

In 2015, the market saw a huge uptick in new products in the marketplace that involve wearable technology. Apple introduced the long-anticipated Apple Watch. Microsoft introduced the Microsoft Band. Other big players in the space, including Samsung and FitBit, have introduced new-generation products. There are many startups continuing to look for niche positions in the watch/band-type space.

In 2016, we can anticipate some shakeout in the players. While the market is far from mature, there are too many players trying to get into the space with marginal value propositions beyond those offered by the major players. Expect to see fewer new players in 2016, but to also to see continuing evolution of product by the established players.

In addition, the next level in wearable technology will start to show up. This will be in the form of connected jewelry and garments. Without disclosing specifics, expect this nascent market to start developing for both new and mature players in the field.

Rapid expansion of NYC as tech startup hub

It is impressive how much startup activity is going on in and around Manhattan. While NYC is one of the more expensive places to start and operate a business, virtually every day new startups are being created. You can see this in new service areas in the IoT domain and in software. Most impressive is the number of hardware related startups trying to launch in NYC.

While NYC is not the hotbed of startup activity found in The Valley, momentum is growing. In 2016, expect to see the critical innovative and entrepreneurial talent, infrastructure through incubators, labs and launch spaces and investment/professional services. The environment and energy are palpable and the cultural draw to young “out of the box” thinkers (engineers, designers and business people) is very much at the critical mass point. Expect to see many more new business and products launched out of NYC.

Mainstream IoT in consumer markets

IOT is, of course, the current rage. When you see IBM and Cisco attaching themselves to IoT, one might argue that the technology and use case has truly come of age. Obviously, they are seeing green.

While connected devices in the consumer space are becoming more prevalent, products to date tend to be either coming from startup players, or from niche, high value product companies. In 2016, expect to see the beginning of connectedness emerge in products from firms not classically perceived as technology-driven.

Next year will see the proliferation of IoT solutions in any number of product categories, which classically have not included technology or connectivity features. Not all of the ideas will offer a significant enough value proposition to succeed in the marketplace. Expect to see new players, but also expect to see many startups fall by the wayside. Competing in this space is expensive, and there are a lot of ideas out there that lack sufficient value to keep consumers engaged.

Shake-out in drone tech

Drones are all the rage these days. It is hard to read a newspaper without seeing a story related to the use of drones for both good and not-so-good purposes. A search of the internet will reveal dozens (or hundreds) of companies making drones of all sizes. While this is currently a hot market segment for startups, there is too little real value to sustain the number of players in the space. Expect to see consolidation and the drop-out of weaker players. In the consumer space, expect to see the market level or cool off as the novelty of “playing” with drones begins to wear off.

In the commercial space, the potentials have still not been fully realized. While the prospect is out there for Amazon to deliver individual packages to a customer’s home or office, it is unlikely this will see broad use in 2016, and in fact, it’s unlikely to be ubiquitous even within the next few years. Down the road, however, this could be a different story.

Increasing significance of User Experience Design

User Experience Design will emerge in 2016 as the competitive edge in both hardware and software products in consumer and B2B markets. As customers in both sectors come to expect a more refined, “Apple-like” interface with products, the market will reject sluggish interfaces with unappealing graphics and ineffective navigation capabilities. Customers will demand devices that are not clunky or difficult to handle, as well as those that are easy to use, charge and wear. If the end users lack a seamless, intuitive and delightful experience with a product, it will not sell. This will also be the differentiator behind those companies with products providing complete solutions product based on value to the user. Expect to see many companies that have not fully embraced the entire user experience to fail or fall by the wayside in 2016.

Expansion of smart systems

There are cameras virtually everywhere these days. The video from crime detection is featured daily on network news—and even more is possible. Sensors, including camera and RF, are inexpensive and are deployable everywhere. People and their preferences can be readily and inexpensively tracked in every environment from the streets, to recreational facilities, to retailers. The integration of data based on where a person is, who they are, and what their preferences are, aggregated with other web-based data sources, provides an opportunity to drive responsive and appropriate actions at the end-user level. It could be driving relevant content, ads or concierge/personal services. In 2016, expect to see the start of broader smart systems beyond just the video commonly seen from web cams.

Blurred boundaries of “what is your computer”

In 2015, laptop models have moved down to become tablet-sized, tablets have grown-up to laptop-size and down to smartphone-size, and smartphones have grown to near-tablet size. The hardware size lines have blurred and will continue to do so. While not a focus in the past, computing power in these lower-end devices is not more than sufficient to do most of the tasks of traditional computers. Expect to see desktop-type applications in wider-spread usage on tablets (and to some degree, smartphones) expand in 2016. Applications will also continue morphing in 2016 to paradigms where the applications are equally usable on both tablet and laptop devices. Additionally, with all these screens available, 2016 should see the first instances of applications and use cases which combine the displays of tablet, smartphones and laptops into integrated systems.

A scan of Indeigogo and Kickstarter are good places to get a near-term view of the future. Vehicles such as this are places where you can see entrepreneurs investing time and money in new categories of goods and services. One thing is for certain—the year ahead looks to be exciting from a technology perspective.

Mitch is the President and Co-Founder of Intelligent Product Solutions (IPS), a company that delivers a new model for software and hardware product development, integrating the full spectrum of design and engineering disciplines as a single source solution.  Always espousing a hands-on approach to design, he holds a portfolio of United States and international patents and has more than 30 years of  product design experience. Mitch can be reached at mitchm@ips-yes.com.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi

President and Co-founder Intelligent Product Solutions

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