Way back in 2007, an article in ComputerWorld predicted 13 disruptive mobile technologies that we were on the cusp of realizing. Seen in today's context, it makes for an interesting read. Some of the ideas touted as revolutionary and fantastic are common-place today; of the remaining, some have either fallen by the roadside, pushed into obsolescence by better, more efficient solutions, or, like Augmented Reality, are finally becoming mass-access technologies. Therein lies the rub of writing an article on recent trends in technology, mobile and otherwise - in less than a decade from now, someone else will probably critique this piece and consign it to the same mixed bag as the Computerworld article.
It is, of course, no surprise that the pace of technological improvements has picked up in the last couple of years. One could very well argue that these developments are the result of leaps in computing power that can now be squeezed into a chip the size of your fingernail. A Raspberry Pi 3, for instance, which is a little more than a credit-card-sized chip, has the computing power of cutting-edge laptops of 6 years ago. The touchscreen, once such a novelty on the original iPhone, is now the rule; in its place, the 'dumbphone' is the exception.
It is not just the processors that have benefited from billion-dollar attention-spans. As the processing power has increased, so has the need to give these chips something to do. And thus, you have the latest toy these days - the VR glass. What was introduced about 18 months ago as an expensive visual 'aid' to mobile phones, with support restricted to a few models and platforms, is no longer the domain of the rich and the experimental. You now have VR goggles that start from about a thousand rupees to top-of-the-line models like HTC Vive that cost over Rs 60,000 each (and that's if you are lucky enough to get it at a steep discount during one of the e-commerce majors' sales campaigns!)
While the VR glasses may be the most glamorous, or at least visible, gadget on the list, other devices too have staked claims to the legacy of the commonplace of 2017. The fingerprint scanner, once an esteemed presence on IBM's business laptops ("Yes, I have a laptop with a fingerprint reader... they gave it to me because I deal with sensitive data!"), is now all you need to sign up for a new SIM card at any of the nation's telecom stores. That and, of course, the aadhar number. Your wristwatch tells you how many calories you've burnt today. Portable chargers pack as much juice in them as used to be needed to power the old black telephones for an entire day.
And if the past few years are any indication of things to come, we are in for exciting times indeed. For here are even more inventions, innovations and other forms of technological advancement that are (supposed to be) waiting around the corner:
- Wearable displaysWhile there have been enough proofs-of-concept unveiled at technology conferences or meets to validate the possibility of this idea, wearable displays are still a fair distance away from seeing the light of day. Every once in a while, there are rumours of an impending release that finally stop short of a ready-to-ship product.
- Electrovibration Technology (http://www.machinedesign.com/guest-commentary/6-future-mobile-technologies-could-arrive-2017)
Touted as the next best thing to actually touching something, EVT is essentially a electrostatic screen surface fooling your fingertips into thinking that it is touching the real thing. Disney and Apple are working on their own prototypes of this technology.
- Wireless Charging
Now this is one technology that's ready for mass distribution, even though most of this mass might not want to invest in such expensive solutions. Of course, there are plenty of benefits touted by the proponents of such products - most importantly among them, a longer battery life. However, with the tech itself being so young that a definitive claim is all but impossible to prove, the jury is still out on whether this is really something the world needs right now.
- Solid-state drives
SSDs are here, and they are here to stay. While they are, by no means, a 2017 technology, it is equally true that it's in the past year or so that the cost-benefit analysis has started to weigh in favor of solid-state drives over mechanical ones. Two factors have played a key role in this ascension - speed of data operations and stability. With OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers) biting the bullet and coming out with smaller-capacity SSD-equipped versions of their laptops, the market has embraced the shift with open arms. Although the majority of systems still run the old HDDs, this figure is expected to be inverted before the end of the decade.
- Voice Assistants
For a good part of computing history, Artificial Intelligence was the Holy Grail, the final frontier, the last stop in the journey of automation before mankind completely relinquished control to the machines who were, arguably, smarter than us because they were less likely to be swayed by emotion, subterfuge and other human failings.
- We aren't quite there yet. Yet - that is the operative word.
For Apple's Siri, Google's Assistant, Amazon's Alexa and Microsoft's Cortana are learning how we speak, how we think, the triggers and the reactions, the situations, queries and responses... in short, the smartphone in your pocket is learning everything about you as you go about your daily task, blissfully unaware of the privacy that's no longer yours alone.
- Augmented Reality
Plain reality is passe, boring. Augmented Reality, the logical confluence of many of the technologies we've already spoken of here, is the new in-thing. Augmented Reality, as the name suggests, is super-reality - reality with additional overlays (videos, text, etc.) that add to the contextual information of real-time images.
Imagine this: you walk into a supermarket and see a new item on the shelf. When you point your smartphone's camera at it, voila! Not only are you told what the product is, you can even view animated videos/schematics about how it was manufactured, what it is made of, the uses, etc.
Here's another, even more exciting example: one of the pilots we recently built was a proof of concept where a printed tiger in a book comes alive in glorious 3D - a palm-sized predator standing on the page of the book, staring right back at you and your kid! Now that's the kind of learning that sticks!
AR has many applications, and in fact, since the early months of 2017, more and more companies have opted for AR solutions to assist in their selling efforts.
One of the biggest gainers of AR technology so far has been the real estate industry where the solution helps home-owners visualize, in 3D, how the blueprints will translate into an actual apartment. This has brought down sales times and selling efforts, reducing the cost of acquisition and closing more deals than otherwise. AR's utility doesn't there - homeowners can even see how empty rooms might look with different variants of furniture.
As stated above, AR's applications extend beyond the obvious now. It is not just a time-wasting exercise, something to keep the kids occupied a la Pokemon Go. A doctor, operating on a tricky part of the body, might equip himself with a visor that overlays the configuration of a perfect body over the one actually under his scalpel.
There is really no end to technology. It is, to borrow from an image I have seen elsewhere, the horizon over an ocean that you are standing in the middle of. It goes around and comes back, and yet, each time you look, there's something new, something different. Today's fantastic imagination is tomorrow's reality.
And to know more about how you can become one of the early adopters of technology, to explore ways in which you can continue to stay ahead of your competition and stamp your own difference on the marketplace you serve.