At the start of each new year I like to clarify my thoughts by writing about a few things I think are worth keeping an eye on in the year ahead. They’re not predictions; I’m not a futurist. In previous years I’ve described these as trends, but they’re better thought of as signals. Or, even better, just some things I think are interesting.
A range of new flagship phones got shown off at the MWC19 trade fair. At one end of the scale, Samsung introduced three variations of its premium Galaxy S10 and a new model, the Galaxy Fold, with its innovative folding screen and almost $2,000 price tag. At the other, the Wizphone WP006, a phone made only for Indonesia (where it will be sold in vending machines), costing about $7.
The WP006 is a featurephone; it has a hardware keyboard, no touchscreen, 4G connectivity, runs on KaiOS (an operating system based on the abandoned FirefoxOS project), and has a prominent microphone button—it’s a voice-forward phone, powered by Google Assistant.
For the past few years I’ve got into the habit of starting the new year with an article consolidating my thoughts on where we’re at with consumer digital technology; looking at the landscape, and at what the biggest players are doing—my focus is mostly on Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google, but it’s not exclusively on them. I want to tease out a few trends to help orient myself in my role for the year ahead. I try not to make predictions, but perhaps play out some possibilities.
There are two big declines at the core of this year’s trends, which I think set the tone for where consumer tech might head in 2019. They are the smartphone decline, and the Facebook decline.
Many of the largest consumer digital technology companies have, or are preparing to introduce, a digital (or, virtual) assistant. The list includes Alibaba (AliGenie), Amazon (Alexa), Apple (Siri), Baidu (DuerOS), Facebook (M/Aloha), Google (Assistant), Line (Clova), Microsoft (Cortana), Samsung (Bixby), Xiaomi (Xiao Ai), plus any number of lesser-known assistants.
Although this is partly driven simply by advances in machine learning—digital assistants are happening now because they couldn’t happen before—the larger reason for all the interest is because of how consumer internet technology is changing—and how it’s set to change even more in the coming years.