Every January, the Consumer Electronics Association hosts the annual (and potentially largest) Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Nevada -- where events often begin with a projection of the top tech trends to come that year.
At the start of 2018, it was predicted that a handful of trends would dominate the year. And as we look ahead to 2019 and prepare to return to CES next month, we're taking a closer look at those that stood out to us the most over the past year.
Here's what flourished -- and which predicted trends didn't make quite the splash that was anticipated.
5G is a type of wireless technology that you may have heard about over the course of 2018 -- such as when Verizon selected Samsung as the provider for its 5G commercial launch.
The "G" stands for generation, in that this is the fifth generation of this type of connectivity. Currently, 4G powers cellular connectivity like LTE. The goal of 5G is to support the rising number of mobile internet users, by providing better speed, handling more data, greater responsiveness, and connectivity to smart devices.
That's part of what makes 5G such a big deal -- that it has the potential to provide significantly higher wireless speeds, capacities, and lower latency -- which generally means that there will be far fewer delays or "technical hesitancies" in some of the things it powers, like wireless virtual reality (VR), or autonomous vehicles.
And as those latter two technologies have also continued to progress over the course of 2018, having the right wireless infrastructure to support them becomes increasingly important.
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
- "At Mobile World Congress, 5G Is All the Rage. So What's the Big Deal?"
- "4 Things We Want to Know After Reading Mary Meeker's 2018 Internet Trends Report," where we explore forecasts on the way people get and connect online.
2. Artificial Intelligence (AI)
If we had to identify one core reason why AI is such an important technology, it would be how many other technologies it informs and impacts.
AI continues to be an area where there's still a bit of confusion among consumers and businesses alike -- which could explain why a search for what differentiates AI from things like machine learning, deep learning, and bots yields a plethora of content.
In a nutshell, AI is what powers many of these other technologies, including some of those appearing on this list. It's 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.
"I've been impressed to see how artificial intelligence has spread into SMB software. In some areas like messaging and chat it has enabled companies to work more efficiently, reducing steps so marketing, sales and service professionals can there for customers in a more reliable way," says HubSpot VP of Marketing Meghan Keaney Anderson. "In other areas it has made what wouldn't have been previously possible possible, rapidly assessing huge volumes of data points to glean insights that would have taken significant human investment otherwise."
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).
- "Meet the People Building the TV Controlled by Your Brain"
- "And on the Second Day of F8, Facebook Said, ‘Let There Be AI Ethics’"
- "Why Should I Care About Amazon AI?"
- "Google Wants to Take Over Your Home (And the Rest of Your Life)"
In the earlier part of 2018, it appeared that "bots were the future." Notable brands across the broad spectrum of industries were launching their own chatbots, for example, in a way that allowed them to interact with audiences to provide support, surface content, or make appointments.
As we mentioned above -- these capabilities are powered by AI.
But in some respects, bots may have peaked in the first few months of 2018, only to to lose some momentum, or at least some of the hype around them that started the year. Chatbots on platforms like Messenger, for instance, may have taken a bit of a hit when news of data misuse on its broader platform, Facebook, began to make repeated headlines this year.
But where chatbots may have had the most impact and carved a crucial path was the dialogue -- no pun intended -- they began around the importance of conversational capabilities in technology. While a text-based bot on Messenger or Slack might differ from a voice assistant (e.g., Alexa, Google Assistant, or Siri), at their respective cores, they're all still bots, and they're all powered by AI.
To that end, bots take on far more forms than just voice assistants and chatbots -- with many categorizing things like autonomous vehicles and drones as robots. And let's not forget: Throughout 2018, we began to note the growing presence of actual robots that such complete "human" tasks as preparing lattes and serving food.
- "Why Is Everyone So Obsessed With Bots?"
- "In a Land of Automated Milk and Honey, Marketers Are Presented With an Opportunity"
- "I Tried a Weirdly 'Psychic' Google Home App at SXSW So You Don't Have To"
Voice technology continues to progress and appear on a number of different platforms, potentially making it one of the most prevalent tech trends of 2018.
Voice is yet another instance of crucial technology that's powered by AI, especially when it comes to voice assistants: the digital personas that power smartphones, smart speakers, and more. (On Apple devices, for example, it's Siri. On Google hardware, it's simply named Assistant. On the Amazon Echo, it's Alexa.)
Where AI also plays a pivotal role in this technology is the capacity of these machines for voice recognition -- being able to differentiate the voices of multiple users within a single household, understand what that person says, and produce the information that person wanted.
Seeing as a number of voice-assistant-powered products launched in 2018, like video smart speakers -- and considering that a growing number of search queries are conducted by voice -- we wouldn't be surprised to see this trend continue to evolve.
"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. "Long term, I think voice will dominate a ton of our transactional queries."
- "The State of Voice: Looking Ahead to 2019"
- "25% of People Think All Searches Will Be Done by Voice in the Next 5 Years"
- "We Tested out the Google Home Hub so You Don't Have To"
- "Marketers, Take Note: Samsung Is Going All-In on Voice and Now Is the Time to Prepare"
- "Why Voice Shopping Is Just Getting Started [New Data]"
5. Virtual Reality
Finally, we've arrived at virtual reality (VR): one type of technology that many developers, content creators, and certain businesses want to succeed -- but when it comes to going mainstream, has faced numerous obstacles.
Nevertheless, it was a technology to which we paid close attention in 2018, attending industry events around it and observing the ways it can be used in a consumer and business setting alike. We tested out new headsets, collected data on user sentiment, and spoke with experts on the forecast for how it will grow in the years to come.
- "The State of Virtual Reality: Where We Are, and What's to Come in 2019"
- "Here's What's Stopping Virtual Reality From Going Mainstream [New Data]"
- "What's the Business Case for Virtual Reality? Here's What the Experts Say."
- "Here's What Playing With a VR Headset Is Actually Like"
- "Why This New VR Headset Could Be a Game-Changer"