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Tech Trend: Thrilling Times

2017 promises to be an exciting year. Expect more of augmented reality, AI, and the humble PC making a comeback

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Blackberry quit-ting the hardware business, lackluster iPhone sales, the smartwatch segment running aground, the meteoric rise and fall of the Samsung Note 7 — 2016 clearly was a classic case of annus horribilis for the consumer tech industry. Yet, in the midst of all this doom and gloom came a number of fledgling but vital developments that will hold us — both the industry and buyers at large — in good stead in the year ahead.

First off, virtual reality. While VR was hot this past year with the launches of the HTC Vive, Sony PlayStation VR and Oculus Rift, prohibitive pricing and high-end PC requirements will see VR tech and applications staying limited to gaming and niche applications in the coming year. Far more mainstream will be augmented or mixed reality, where information is overlaid over video from the real world, somewhat like the wildly popular Pokémon Go game but for real world applications. Navigation and retail apps are likely the first beneficiaries — imagine being guided to the specific aisle and rack to find the exact product you’re looking for in a large supermarket. Google’s Tango AR tech has already been launched on a couple of devices, including the Asus Zenfone AR at CES, and Apple CEO Tim Cook has expressed interest in the AR space as well. Expect AR to take center stage with the next-generation iPhone and flagship Android devices, and possible even some mixed reality consumer eyewear.

Now, we’ve been promised artificial intelligence in our devices for more years than I can care to recount, but 2016 saw the hype finally being realised, from Google’s Assistant in smartphones and smart home hubs and Amazon’s Alexa in the Echo smart home assistants. At CES, Amazon and Google kicked off the AI arms race to outfit every gadget with their vision of AI. You had Amazon showing off smart speakers, smart lighting and 4K TVs with Alexa built in, while several other white goods showed off Alexa integration through voice commands, and Google’s got their Assistant headed towards their Android TV platform later this year. All this points to smart assistants infiltrating more than just your smartphones in 2017, to the point where you should have a smart assistant listening to you in every room you go. And even if you don’t buy into one of these AI platforms, the core tech behind AI and machine learning will be working behind the scenes to improve everything from your Google searches to the kind of recommendations you see on e-commerce sites.

One positive fallout of all this extra intelligence will be a broader cleanse I expect to happen across Google and Facebook, which were severely criticized in their handling (or lack thereof) of fake news during the US Presidential elections. The two tech giants are somewhat grudgingly taking steps to weed out the misinformation that plagues both platforms, both via third-party fact-checkers and the increased use of machine learning to identify the shareworthy news coming from credible sources.

Closer to home, if you’re in the market to buy a new phone, expect dual cameras to be the norm this year across the board — yet another case of Apple mainstreaming a feature that brands like HTC, LG and Huawei adopted first. Interestingly, the PC market, thus far playing second fiddle to the smartphone segment, looks to be picking up again, if CES is anything to go by. Whether it is the popular Dell XPS 13 assuming a 2-in-1 avatar or the ultra-thin LG Gram 14 with a record 21-hour battery life and even Microsoft’s radical new Surface Studio which I hope to see more of this year, owning a PC is finally going to be …dare I say… sexy?

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

Tushar Kanwar

The author is Technology Columnist and Program Manager in Bengaluru, India

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