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BW Businessworld

Living Digital: A Very Meh Year

Having been a keen observer of technologic advances for years now, I’ve become accustomed — or maybe one might say spoilt and expect some revolutionary thing to happen every year.

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Having been a keen observer of technologic advances for years now, I’ve become accustomed — or maybe one might say spoilt and expect some revolutionary thing to happen every year.

One year it was when mobile phones entered our lives replacing the pagers we used to use, another year it was the Internet, which quickly went on to be world-changing, yet another year the iPod changed the face of the music industry and still another year Facebook launched with Twitter to follow, replacing MySpace and many other networks.

Whether it’s been single products that set the direction for an industry or a technology that spawned off a spate of products, it was revolutionary. But I suppose one can’t be in a permanent state of revolution and there’s nothing that’s demonstrated that more than the year 2015. And yet there’s been no shortage of noise. The gap between promise and delivery has made this year a slow one in technology.

A Phone a Day
Take smartphones. One is launched almost everyday. And these gadgets have become a sort of remote control for different things in life, not merely communicating. But now that life has truly gone mobile, we seem to have run out of innovation.

There’s an ocean of phones in which each is barely distinguishable from the other. Busy vying for a share of the market, each phone maker gives a little something here and a little something there, but other than drawing reviewers and customers into a specs race, it’s been a long time since anything big changed. For heaven’s sake, we still struggle with battery technology. If you want your battery to last longer, well, you get a bigger battery. There’s fast-charging though, and let’s hope that gets somewhere. Even cameras on phones haven’t advanced as much as they should have by now. Having given standalone point-and-shoots a royal battering, today’s cameras on mobiles should have gone to the next step.

Most phone companies haven’t been doing too well either. Except for Apple, of course.

Wearables in Limbo
The year of wearables -- how many times have we heard that? The forecast for wearables is still extremely upbeat. Picking one at random, IDC predicts that shipments of wearables like smartwatches and fitness bands will surpass 200 million by 2019. And that they might. But what a messy landscape it is.

There hasn’t been a huge leap beyond counting steps and calories and giving you palpitations over your own heart rate. You can of course get notifications on a watch so that you don’t have to pull out your phone, but no mass killer apps have yet emerged that make buying a smartwatch essential in the same way as is the case with mobile phones.

More people are beginning to use fitness bands, specially those that don’t need much interacting, but on smartwatches, navigation is still an issue, specifically on Android Wear.

The Internet of Everything
The big hope for tomorrow, the Internet of Things, which will connect everything, enable smart homes and smart cities and excellent healthcare — is still too nacent to have made a real difference on a wide scale, specially in India. Despite a governement hell bent on digital programmes and governances apps making their way to cititzens, on the ground, everything is much the same. The basic internet connectivity, an essential for digital initiatives, is still elusive. We gained 4G — but lost the signal.

Not only that, in a year where we’ve talked non-stop about the state using technology and smart cities, one of the country’s largest metros has all but been swallowed up by rainwater with basic administrative failures making the situation so much worse.

Startups Shutdown
If anything, it’s been the year for startups, both globally and in India. And it’s been exciting. Suddenly ordinary people have the luxury of calling a cab in minutes or getting food delivered to their doorstep or having concierge assistants do their bidding or delivery boys carting in their online shopping.

Except that even as money has flowed into tech enabled startups, it hasn’t done so through sound revenue models and sound logistics and planning that would sustain a business. Instead, many startups have been firing employees and cutting costs and some are shutting shop altogether as losses mount. The bubble is expected to burst, leaving only a few still standing.

Anti Social Media
One of the most disappointing things of all though, is that this year really saw social media take several steps backward. Giving a voice to people who had, all this time, been talked down to by governments, businesses and institutions, social media is a phenomenal democratisation of the world.

But as much as it may have made the world a better place, it’s also made it worse, actually being used freely and openly by terrorists to radicalise alarmingly growing numbers of those very young people who were the hope for the future.

Even if it isn’t terrorists, the amount of verbal violence and ugliness that has been seen on social media this year has been enough to cause those who were originally social media optimists to cringe.

But none of this is to say that the way ahead is at a dead-end for technology in the coming year. There is a brighter flipside thanks to advances which will impact healthcare, education and bring artificial intelligence to many areas of digital life sooner than we imagine.

(This story was published in BW | Businessworld Issue Dated 11-01-2016)