The last three decades have seen technological innovation ramp up at an unprecedented rate. Nevertheless, not all developments are created equal. Some will succeed, some will inevitably fail, and some – infuriatingly – will show promise only to have it amount to nought. The trick is working out which are which, and making sure you don’t bet too heavily on any single solution before it’s sufficiently mature to warrant the vote of confidence.
The problem with technology trends is that it can be hard to tell which are passing fads and which are actually likely to change the way you do work (or the spaces in which you do it). That lack of certainty makes investing heavily in new technology before its proven itself something of a gamble. But the substantial competitive advantage that can be gleaned from making good technology calls early, means it’s a gamble many are still prepared to take.
These are some of the biggest trends in technology today, along with a look at whether or not they’re likely to fade from view or become business staples in years to come.
Internet of things (IoT)
There’s a reason everyone’s talking about IoT – it’s destined to be one of the trends that stick. In layman’s terms, it refers to internet-connected devices, which covers everything from smarthome tech like video cameras and motion detectors to connected cars, coffee machines, refrigerators or even industrial equipment. As sensors get cheaper, low-energy Bluetooth gets more efficient and fibre internet becomes ubiquitous, connected devices are only going to become more prolific. Thankfully, though, they’re also going to be become far more affordable.
Whether you’re looking to minimise costs in your office by reducing utility consumption, find out which areas are actually getting used and when, check air quality or simply work out which desks are actually getting used every day and which aren’t, IoT promises to improve efficiencies while reducing overheads.
Closely tied to IoT is voice recognition, and the digital personal assistants like Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana and Amazon’s Alexa. Though it might take us a while to get accustomed to talking to our gadgets – especially when other people are in earshot – consider how normal it is now for someone to take a mobile phone call in a Post Office queue, where two decades ago this was socially taboo. Voice control makes the most sense for IoT devices, because eventually they’re likely to be all around us, and intuitive voice commands are far more efficient than dedicated apps.
Virtual reality (VR)
Though the gaming sector is the one most likely to showcase the possibilities of VR at the outset, its potential applications in other industries are myriad. From training simulations and travel destinations teasers to corporate real estate visualisation and educational apps, VR isn’t going away anytime soon. YouTube, Facebook and Google are all investing heavily in VR, which should be endorsement enough for most people.
The challenge for companies looking to use it successfully is finding uses for it that actually harness the technology to create something that couldn’t be done any other way, rather than a rehashing of an existing solution. Which means unless your business has an obvious use case for it, it’s probably best leaving VR to those who need it.
Augmented reality (AR)
AR often gets mentioned in the same breath as VR, but is arguably far more exciting and likely to create even more compelling solutions. Instead of making the user feel like they’re in an alternate reality like VR, AR adds images, information or other content to our existing reality. The most well-known instance of AR today is Pokémon Go, the mobile game that’s turned gaming company Nintendo’s fortunes around.
Pokémon Go, despite its popularity, remains niche in virtue of being a game. Microsoft’s forthcoming Hololens, meanwhile, looks set to turn AR from a curiosity into a useful business tool, and could change industries like healthcare, education, design and – of course – gaming and entertainment, too. But, like VR, the truly useful business cases for AR remain to be seen.
A few years old now, wearable tech doesn’t show any signs of dwindling in popularity. Though the Apple Watch and various Android Wear smartwatches have yet to prove themselves indispensable, fitness trackers and sports watches from the likes of Fitbit, Jawbone, TomTom, Garmin and Suunto continue to win new fans by the day.
With companies like Discovery Vitality rewarding users for sharing their fitness tracking data, wearables are set to become ever more commonplace. For employers, they could also make it possible to incentivise staff to stay healthy – reducing sick leave and lost productivity in the process.
Whatever the tech, wherever possible it usually pays to hold off a generation or two before committing. Better to err on the side of caution and only implement those solutions that have demonstrable, tangible value, than to spend heavily on gear that might be outdated in a year and that staff may not actually take to. As the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) movement has demonstrated, you may not even have to buy the tech your staff want to use, but what you will need to do is be able to support it once they’ve got it.