You might be trying a ‘light phone’ this year
2019 brought a lot of tech flops. Marquee companies—including Uber, Lyft, Pinterest, Zoom, Peloton, and Slack—all went public. Today, only Zoom and Peloton are now trading above their first trade price (and Peloton’s stock dipped 10% in December after a widely mocked commercial). WeWork also blew itself up this year, with CEO Adam Neumann’s poor behavior and unproven financials causing the company to withdraw from its IPO plans.
Other mishaps: Deepfakes — technology that takes a person in an existing video and replaces them with someone else’s likeness — became more widespread, followed by a rising concern that realistic fake footage has the potential to impact weighty things like, say, political elections. It was also supposed to be the year of foldable phones, but it just… wasn’t. Samsung debuted its $2,000 Galaxy Gold smartphone, which promptly broke as soon as people got their hands on them.
On a sunnier note, 2019 did give us new AirPods, silly TikTok videos, and better plant-based burgers—inventions that likely impacted your day-to-day more than Uber’s IPO (unless, of course, you work at Uber).
Looking ahead, we wonder what 2020 will bring. There’s a lot of anticipated tech coming out this year—here are our thoughts on those you may use.
You will experiment with tech that avoids tech
In 2019, we became weary of the endless scroll. The ability to avoid screens became a status symbol as “digital minimalism” promised to change the addictive relationship we have with our phones. In 2020, we’ll surely see more tech that helps us build human connections and interactions with the physical world.
For example, the Light Phone — a black-and-white handset made by two ex-Google designers — has the potential to take off. The stripped-down phone (available to order in March of this year for $350) is meant to free you from the grips of your smartphone. Its limited functionality only includes things like calling, texting, writing notes, setting alarms, and managing a calendar, because who doesn’t want to exist in the simpler times of ’90s tech. For a more extreme version of going offline, Google actually made a printable paper phone (forget Instagram, you can do origami instead!).
There’s also a slew of apps growing in popularity that reward people for unplugging and to take on mindful activities. I recommend trying Forest, which lets you grow a virtual forest by not playing with your phone during designated times (your virtual currency then lets you purchase real trees to be planted).
You will buy something from a cashierless store
Brick-and-mortar retail will likely have a renaissance in 2020. A recent study showed mall shopping can be up to 60% more environmentally sustainable than online shopping, and given the increase in climate change headlines in 2019, consumers may take note. And as defiant retailers continue to try ways to efficiently operate their physical stores, we’ll start to see more autonomous (“scan and go”) locations that will make them more money.
The obvious example leading the charge is Amazon — the company’s Amazon Go stores are cashierless spaces that use cameras with computer vision to monitor what items you take off and put back on shelves. Amazon plans to open a lot more of these stores in 2020, and yes, having hundreds of cameras watching you as you buy an avocado is as creepy as it sounds.
You will subscribe to Disney+ (or use someone else’s subscription)
Resist the nostalgia, I dare you. Disney+ and Apple TV+ were the biggest entrants into the streaming market last year, beating HBO Max, NBC’s Peacock, and Quibi to the punch (they all have plans to launch in 2020). With Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon already in the mix, this space is getting crowded.
No matter what happens, we’re sure Disney+ will be a top winner. In its first month live, it garnered an estimated 24 million U.S. subscribers and reportedly cost Netflix about 1 million subscription cancellations. When you own content that people love — and have highly anticipated entertainment in the pipeline — it makes a good business model. If you haven’t already tuned in, chances are you will soon.
You will talk to your in-car voice assistant
About 3.25 billion digital voice assistant devices are being used around the world, according to a recent report from the statistics database Statista. Voice-controlled tech grew in popularity by dominating the home, with nearly a quarter of U.S. households owning a smart speaker in 2018.
In 2020, we’ll start to see these chatty companions expand to other spaces, including offices and cars. To date, in-vehicle voice assistants have remained somewhat limited to navigation, but in 2020 there will be more hands-free options for entertainment, communication, restaurant discovery, and purchases from big tech companies and carmakers alike. It’s worth noting that people want to hear a “familiar” voice in their car —good news for Amazon, Google, and Apple, but bad news for automakers.
You will browse marketplaces for modular homes
The idea of kit homes started in the early 1900s when Sears offered homes in its catalog. It was sort of like Ikea on steroids — the items shipped to the customer and were put together completely from scratch. As a cheap solution to own property in a lower-priced area, Sears sold about 70,000 kits — from Colonials to Tudors to bungalows — from 1908 to the 1940s.
Today, companies like Amazon are focusing on modular and prefab builds once again, and it’s taking off in areas where real estate is expensive. The prefabricated housing marketing is projected to reach $19.3 billion by 2024, with things like Dwellito, a marketplace of modular homes that ship straight to your house, launching in its wake. It’s worth noting that modular construction is currently more popular in Europe than in the U.S., but don’t worry, there’s (of course) a startup that will build a tiny house in your backyard. While these may not be popping up everywhere in 2020, the idea is intriguing.
You will make—and lose—money from your data
We saw a lot of unpleasant data breaches by big tech this year, from Amazon Ring hacks to FaceTime-related eavesdropping. While large tech companies are becoming seemingly more untrustworthy with each data leak, smaller startups are popping up to ease the blow. Take Cocoon, for example — it’s a dedicated “private” social space for the most important people in your life. While Cocoon is free right now, its founders have said that a subscription model is coming in lieu of selling user data.
On the flip side, new services like Delphia are helping people sell their own data in exchange for money. The company launched in December and operates on the idea of collective action; users consensually connect their location data, social media accounts, and shopping data to Delphia and answer daily questions about their own behavior for the company to analyze. Delphia then analyzes the consumer spending data and makes strategic picks in the stock market on behalf of its users.
You’ll shop on Instagram as much as Amazon
Last year, Instagram (somewhat) quietly laid the groundwork to become a mecca for online shopping. Instagram Checkout now seamlessly guides users through product discovery, payment, and delivery. In fact, one-third of Instagram users have purchased an item directly through Instagram—this may have set the stage for other shopping experiences within the app (and others, for that matter).
Some brands, including MAC, NARS, Warby Parker, and Ray-Ban have started selling products on Instagram through augmented reality try-ons, while other brands, like Patrón, started accepting delivery orders via ads within Stories. It’s also worth noting that six months after Checkout debuted, Amazon announced that it was testing curated, online storefronts for social media influencers to sell products. Sounds a lot like Instagram.
Now you know how you’ll be shopping, what you’ll be watching and where you’ll live in the coming year. I’m sorry to report there will be no flying cars until at least 2021.
All Rights Reserved for Taylor Majewski