As we continue to wax nostalgic -- or something like it -- on 2018 and look ahead to the next year, we wanted to get a sense of how users feel about the past, present, and future of tech.

We've covered our top news stories of 2018, and looked back on which predicted tech trends for this year seemed to flourish the most. Now, we want to know what users think of the tech road ahead, and which trends show the most promise.

So, we surveyed over 2,400 people across the U.S., UK, and Canada, asking them about three key things:

  1. Which tech trends they understand the most
  2. Which tech trends they think will be the most successful or popular in 2019
  3. Which tech trends they're most excited to experience next year

Here's where users weigh in on 2019 tech trends.

Understanding Tech Trends

First, we wanted to know which tech trends users understand the most. We asked: Which of the following technology trends could you confidently explain or define? (Select all that apply.)

Which of the following technology trends could you confidently explain or define? (Select all that apply.)

Out of the 16 options we listed, there were five top tech trends that about a third of users indicated they would feel comfortable explaining or defining.

Out of those five, the category of smart home topped the list. While this could include smart speakers -- which ranked #4 on the list -- the former outperformed the latter in terms of user understanding.

Smart home expands beyond just speakers, however, and also includes things like appliances and other home devices, like refrigerators, that use artificial intelligence to complete such tasks as letting you know if you're out of a certain food item.

As for the relatively high awareness of smart speakers, that could be explained the launch of a few high-profile smart speakers this year, including the Google Home Hub and Facebook Portal -- both of which have been advertised during primetime television and sometimes featured celebrities.

At the same time, fewer people indicated that they could confidently define what a voice assistant is -- which is particularly interesting since that technology is what often powers these smart speakers. Our previous research has hinted at some confusion as to what exactly a smart speaker is, since formal vocabulary isn't always associated with technology we use daily. 

"I think voice is incredibly intuitive, and that lots of people don't even think about using it," says HubSpot VP of Marketing Jon Dick. "Asking Alexa [Amazon's voice assistant that powers Echo speakers] for the weather doesn't scream 'voice assistant' to me."

User Predictions for 2019

Next, we wanted to see what sort of tech trend predictions users are making for the year ahead. We asked, "Which of the following technology trends do you think will see the most success or popularity next year? (Select all that apply.)", using the same list of 16 trends from the previous question.

Which of the following technology trends do you think will see the most success or popularity next year? (Select all that apply.)

Although there were a few discrepancies in these results from those where users were asked about their comprehension of tech trends -- for instance, more users said they anticipate high success from artificial intelligence (AI) than those who said they could confidently define it -- smart home once again topped the list, with smart speakers falling close behind.

Again, these results could be due to the high-profile nature and heavy advertising of certain smart devices launched this year. Where users see a higher prevalence of a certain type of technology within pop culture, it could add a sense of mainstream popularity. In turn, that could lead to predictions of smart home success in 2019, with more advanced and improved devices beyond smart speakers entering the market.

One trend that was particularly interesting to see in the top five was virtual reality (VR). We've covered that technology quite a bit over the course of 2018 -- from what it's like to use a wireless headset to what's stopping VR from going mainstream.

When we surveyed another sample of users for the latter, the reason that most users gave for not wanting to buy a VR headset was that it "wouldn't benefit" them. And while many users don't see the direct impact or value-add of owning this type of hardware, it seems that many still see it as gaining momentum -- or at least some semblance of popularity or success -- in 2019. (Meanwhile, here's a look at predictions for some of the top VR business use cases.)

What Users Are Most Excited About

Finally, we wanted to know what users are looking forward to the most in 2019. We asked: Which of the following technology trends are you most excited to experience or hear about next year?

Which of the following technology trends are you most excited to experience or hear about next year?

Again, smart home and smart speakers both made the top five. But when we asked users earlier this month about their plans to purchase a smart speaker, exactly half said they had no plans to buy such a device at all. But out of those who did indicate plans to buy a smart speaker, 17% said at the time that planned to do so fairly soon -- within the next six months.

Self-driving cars, meanwhile, seem to be an area of excitement for users in 2019 -- perhaps because this technology is rolling out quicker than some may have predicted. (A small fleet of Waymo autonomous vehicles, for instance, already hit the road this year.) And it's a technology around which many companies are actively working to build consumer awareness, with a heavy emphasis on their presence at the 2019 annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES). We went for a spin at the 2018 edition of this event, and here's how it went.

As for 5G and AI, these were two of the 2018 top tech trends predicted at CES in January.

Out of the two, 5G appears to have a longer road ahead, as it didn't permeate the mainstream quite as much as some may have hoped in 2018. However, there continues to be quite a bit of industry excitement around this technology as well, with the topic dominating discussion and sessions at February's Mobile World Congress event.

And while 5G may not have made quite the mainstream splash this year that some predicted, looking ahead to 2019, it could remain integral to the development of digital communication and connectivity -- especially since it can help power such wireless technology as VR or self-driving cars. 

AI seems to have played the most vital role in many of the other technologies appearing on this list, as it's what powers many of them. In a nutshell, AI is a way of replicating the intelligence or thought process of humans that's required of certain processes, like answering questions, navigating transportation, recognizing someone's face, or even determining what's in your refrigerator -- which is where the smart home comes in.

So, as all of these areas of technology continue to expand and evolve, and power the new products and capabilities that have launched this year, it could be argued that AI was not only one of the most pivotal tech trends of 2018, but will continue to be in the next year -- and, potentially, many years to follow.

"Tech season," as it were, officially kicks of in early January 2019, and we'll be there -- where, once again, industry experts are scheduled to speak to their top predicted trends of the year to come.

Stay tuned.

Featured image credit: Google

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