While 2016 saw plenty of shiny new tech on the shelves, it wasn't much of a year for significant breakthroughs. Even the latest iPhone 7 drew groans of boredom. Will things get any better in 2017? Expect the big buzzwords of 2016 – the Internet of Things, voice search, blockchain, artificial intelligence, chatbots, virtual reality and augmented reality – to be less about theory and more about real world products embedding themselves in society.
However, with post-Brexit, post-Trump isolationism a possibility and threats to free markets, free movement and data privacy on the horizon, 2017 could see tech battle with the prospect of an un-connected world.
1. Rise of voice search
2016 was a busy year for voice search, with Google Assistant appearing on the Google Pixel phone and on Google Home, Alexa debuting on the Amazon Echo and Amazon Echo Dot, and of course we can’t forget Cortana on Windows 10.
With VPAs now on phones, in homes (and also on MacBooks), expect voice search to move into new areas of the home, into the workplace, and probably also onto AR/VR headsets in 2017. Cortana on HoloLens could be the first example.
2. Hello chatbots
We're on the cusp of AI in everyday life, with Facebook set to unleash so-called chatbots – better thought of as 'conversational agents' – for Messenger. Other messaging apps are joining in, with Viber launching an automated banking platform, and certainly many more will follow.
"Chatbots will not sit on individual websites, but on the central messaging platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp, Kik and WeChat," says Gareth Stephens, head of proposition development at GBG. "This would see a shift in emphasis for customer experience representatives in many companies as their customers interact with the company via new methods … taking them away from the apps and websites, which representatives have complete control over today, and into a new world of building chatbots for messaging services."
3. Global isolationism
Is there a global shift toward isolationism? It's presumed that President Trump will engage in some degree of nationalism and protectionism in the USA, which could slow collaboration and innovation, and push up prices of imported tech products. For the global, connected business world, the spectre of higher tariffs on imports and exports, and restrictions on freedom of movement – particularly in the world's biggest market – could have huge implications for the tech industry.
Tech startups need maximum global exposure and the ability to employ the right people just to survive, while big corporates have multinational supply networks. Despite worries about the unknown, analyst firm Forrester expects a 4.3% increase in tech spending in 2017, with US businesses and government predicted to spend $1.49 trillion (around £1.2 trillion, AU$2 trillion) on tech goods, services, and staff.
4. Growth of VPNs
A virtual private network (VPN) creates a secure, encrypted connection between devices and a VPN server from a service provider, thus blocking snoopers. Expect the VPN to move from niche tech jargon to wider public usage in 2017 as web users get a grip on data privacy to prevent snooping, hacking and identity theft.
In the UK, the passing of the Investigatory Powers Bill – aka the 'snoopers charter' – by "technologically illiterate" MPs will be one driver as citizens realise that the legislation could mean their data being leaked. In the workplace, the rise of IP telephony, videoconferencing and remote working are making VPNs a must-have, too.
5. Blockchain to blossom
The distributed ledger tech behind cryptocurrency Bitcoin, the blockchain, is basically tech that proves ownership in an indisputable way – and it's coming to a bank near you in 2017. "Blockchain will find its first real use-case outside of the cryptocurrency market," says Stephens. "Front runners for this are the banks internal infrastructure," he says, citing several proof of concepts that will start being rolled out into live systems during 2017 to make massive internal savings.
In future the same tech could also be used in identity verification for online retail, the buying and selling of houses, supply chains, to change how the internet works, and in digital music to ensure that artists get their dues. Get ready for a future where code is law.
6. Rise of OLED tech
Will we all be going organic in 2017? After a few years as an emerging tech for flagship smartphone screens, OLED (organic light-emitting diode) display technology is beginning to creep into use for bigger and bigger monitors and TVs. However, until now only LG Displays has been producing big-screen OLED panels, and largely limiting sales of them to its sister brand's TVs.
Expect this to change during CES 2017 as Sony announces its entry into the OLED TV market. At first Sony will use LG's OLED panels, but if it's a big-selling success, not only will Sony seek to manufacture its own panels, but Samsung will surely join the rush to OLED.
7. More investment in AI
What's the hottest thing in tech? Artificial intelligence, of course, which in 2017 will receive much more investment as its constituent parts – machine learning, deep learning, neural networks, and natural language processing – spread through gadgets, robotics, autonomous vehicles, apps, business intelligence and virtual personal assistants like Siri, Alexa and so forth.
"There is currently an explosion of interest in machine learning, artificial intelligence, and related tech such as autonomous vehicles," says Mike Mason, Head of Technology at ThoughtWorks. "Next year we will see businesses use machine intelligence insights to deliver more engaging experiences to customers, and provide better service, as well as better business decision making."
8. An OS for the IoT
Thousands of connected devices, all communicating via the cloud, complete with real-time monitoring and data analytics. With developers rushing to create devices for the Internet of Things (IoT) and many concept projects now underway, there's a big prize for whoever can create the go-to IoT platform.
There are already dozens around, from Cisco and AT&T to the industry-wide ZigBee Alliance and GE Predix for industrial applications, but recent months have seen the appearance of Google's Android Things, and a bolstered AWS IoT and Microsoft Azure IoT. Whoever wins will get a major windfall; IoT platform revenue will grow at a blistering 116% in 2017.
9. More cyber-attacks
From Russian hacking of the Democratic National Committee and leaked emails to the DDoS attacks against Dyn, 2016 was marred by a slew of cyber-attacks. Not surprisingly, predictions for cybersecurity in 2017 are not good. "There’s a 50/50 chance that a significant cyber warfare attack will be instrumented against the US government, the US military, US critical infrastructure, or the US banking infrastructure," says Bob Twitchell, CEO and founder of Dispersive Technologies, who thinks that the target will be ill-prepared and vulnerable.
He also predicts that a major hospital will violate regulations for using an unsecured smart medical device, and that 90% of IoT devices will be insecure and used to launch attacks.
10. AR, VR and MR will spread
Okay, so Pokémon Go was a massive success (at least initially), but monsters alone won't kick-start an AR revolution. So how about the Microsoft HoloLens, Intel Project Alloy, Magic Leap, Google Daydream, or a rumoured entry into AR by Apple, all of which look set for big reveals during 2017.
However, perhaps as big a revolution taking hold in 2017 will be in digital AR eyewear, with an array of advanced 'second screens' aimed at the B2B market.
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