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Consumer Digital Technology: Things to Watch in 2020

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.

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Voice-forward phones: Google Assistant and the next billion users

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.

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Trends in Consumer Digital Technology for 2019

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.

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Why Is Every Company Making a Digital Assistant?

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.