A lot has happened in the tech world this year, as is the case when you look back at most years. However, there has certainly been no shortage of exciting developments over the course of 2015.
Trends such as the rise of the public cloud, the continued presence of hackers and the growth of the IoT, the success of Instagram and the arrival of virtual reality, have ensured that the tech world will never be the same again.
So without further ado, here's our list of 10 important lessons that this year has imparted.
- Also check out: 10 next-gen tech trends you should know about
3D printing isn't the future - yet
Down-fab me a doorknob, would you darling? It was always going to be difficult for 3D printing to live up to the hype. So where are replicators for the home and 'democratised manufacturing'?
2015 saw the stock in 3D printing companies downgraded as lofty expectations weren't met, though all is not lost for this embryonic industry – industrial 3D printers are only down by 1% on 2014, while desktop printers for homes are up 56%.
Eventually, 3D printers will be as common in homes as laser printers are today, but that will take until 2035 – we're all going to be walking to the shops for some time yet.
Hackers will target the IoT
Given the numerous high profile hacks of 2015 (such as Ashley Madison and TalkTalk, to name just two), it follows that everything with an internet connection is at risk – and that means the IoT.
"The ubiquity and physical distribution of IoT devices provide attackers with greater opportunity to gain physical or logical proximity to targets," says Bobby Koritala, Chief Product Officer at data integrity and advanced analytics company Infogix.
"Also, information flow due to IoT is widely distributed [and] users are constantly asked to share their information," he adds. "All of this connectivity carries with it a risk to privacy and information leakage." If the IoT is to be a success, both the devices and the contextual data they share need to be secured.
The public cloud is ballooning
AWS is mushrooming and the likes of Google, Microsoft and Oracle are struggling to keep pace, but all will benefit hugely as the IoT gives the cloud a not-much-needed shot in the arm.
"Big data cloud services are the behind-the-scenes magic of the IoT," says Michael Connaughton, Director Big Data, EMEA at Oracle. "Expanding cloud services will not only catch sensor data, but also feed it into big data analytics and algorithms to make use of it."
IoT cloud services could also help manufacturers create new products that take action on all the new data – and without the need for human intervention.
'Nearables' are listening to us
Back in February, Samsung informed owners of its smart TVs that their spoken words were being transmitted to a third-party company. Creepy. It's dressed up as hands-free convenience, with digital assistants like Siri and Cortana at the fore, but listening devices will become increasingly common.
"Whether wearables or 'nearables' that we strap to our bodies, the latest crop of Wi-Fi devices now listen and respond," says Mark Curtis, chief client officer at Fjord. "Whether it's literally listening to voice commands or to the streams of data we create, they are learning from users and responding in real-time through intent-driven, increasingly effortless micro-moments."
Apps have a shelf life
After a decade of innovations revolving around apps, their time is coming to an end. "The glut of single-use apps in our daily lives is disappearing into platforms as they become atomised, or super-distributed, across platforms and third-party services," says Curtis. "The next wave may not even require human interaction to activate." We're talking smart agents and virtual personal assistants, which are expected to handle 40% of mobile interactions in the coming post-app era.
The web isn't destroying language
Our attention spans are shrinking. SnapChat, Twitter's 140 characters and the increasing usage of emojis are changing the way we communicate, but it's no bad thing. Grammar, spelling and sentence structure are being ditched and now the only important factor is getting a message across.
That sounds counterintuitive to many, but the use of facial expression icons isn't just about taking shortcuts – by adding mood and body language, digital communications are arguably getting more nuanced and advanced than traditional writing. Take that, old world.
Virtual reality isn't just for gaming
There's a race on to provide virtual reality products and experiences, but this is a revolution that's about far more than just gaming.
"No longer a futuristic fantasy, virtual reality will make its mainstream debut in 2016, with the first consumer versions of Sony, Oculus, and Samsung products hitting the market," says Curtis. "Designers will think beyond gaming and put VR technology to novel use in everything from scientific studies and virtual tourism, to immersive learning."
However, VR needs to add touch before it really gets going.
The age of the algorithm is here
"If you are still talking about big data you are missing the point," says Prof. Dr. Michael Feindt at Blue Yonder, who says that raw data on its own provides no value.
"The value comes from what you do with that data, and what this means for 2016 is that we will enter the age of the algorithm," he says, primarily basing this theory on the presumed growth of the Internet of Things and the increase in data being produced and exchanged by and between phones, vehicles and other connected devices.
But it's not just business and commerce that will take great strides thanks to better algorithms – progress in medicine could be much faster if data was better exploited.
Instagram is on the rise
Don't argue with 40% year-on-year growth. What started out as a platform for selfies is increasingly being seen as the future of personalised marketing. Engagement on Instagram is seven times higher than on Twitter and Facebook, with its hashtags and simple content being perfect for marketing.
A report found that 53% of 18-29-year-olds use Instagram, compared to just 25% of 30-49-year-olds. No wonder, then, that since October, Instagram has been using Facebook's Power Editor, and its 'commercial interruption' is now underway. The result? The world's marketeers are now busy Instgram-ing their brands.
Machine teaching is coming
Machine learning has become a hot area within computer science in recent years. Computers don't have any generalised analytical ability, but they can increasingly engage in statistical learning after identifying patterns in data. This is machine learning, but for now it depends on complex programming by data scientists and computer programmers.
Can we democratise this? Yes, says Microsoft, which thinks it can soon enable non-techies to 'teach' machines. Do that, and the 'analogue' expertise of millions of experts, academics, and others will be digitised and available to all.