In 2017, mainly because I reacting to the unbounded optimism and idealism that were prevalent in attitudes about technology and how it was a force for good and changing our lives, I wrote 5 somewhat dark and pessimistic tech predictions. Surprisingly, I seemed to have caught a trend, and at the beginning of 2018 I created 5 new predictions for the year:
- Google pivoting
- Apple stumble
- Dumb human
- The cryptocurrency bubble bursts
- The post-technology world
So how did I go? Let’s review at the beginning of 2019.
1. Google pivoting
In a sense, this has already happened, and continue to happen. In July 2018, Google was finally fined €4.34 billion for abusing its power in the Android ecosystem, and Google is enacting remedies that will change Android going forward. My prediction remains that Google will eventually replace Android (and possibly ChromeOS as well) with a new operating system (rumoured to be Fuchsia). What this means for existing Android users remains unclear, but Android compatibility is already coming to Fuchsia so it’s unlikely they will be significantly affected.
In the meantime, the rest of the Android ecosystem outside of mobile phones is languishing. WearOS and Android TV aren’t exactly success stories. Google is making a big play in home smart devices, but time will tell whether Google Home will wrestle significant market share away from Amazon Alexa, the clear market leader.
Google remains a small player as a hardware manufacturer, with sales of Pixel devices minuscule compared to industry leaders, and the Pixel hardware line remain problematic with numerous reports of hardware and software issues. Will Google become a significant hardware manufacturer? I doubt it, except perhaps in smart home devices if their strategy succeeds. We will also probably see Fuchsia initially implemented as a smart device rather than a mobile phone.
What will happen to Android manufacturers once Google transitions from Android to Fuchsia? This is unclear, particularly in the light of the European fine on Android. Perhaps Google will continue to offer Android as a legacy OS, whilst encouraging manufacturers to adopt Fuchsia (with different licensing terms). Will manufacturers follow Google? I would say probably.
On another note, Google finally announced the death of Google Plus, finally acknowledging the complete failure of their social media strategy. They also announced significant rationalisation of their messaging products, although their strategy remains unsuccessful here as well.
Google as a cloud platform is still a distant 3rd after AWS and Azure, and competitors like Alibaba Cloud are rising in prominence. It is difficult to see how they can succeed here as well, unless they under-price to gain market share.
Will Google’s data collection practices be regulated more in the future? I would say likely. Google so far has stayed beneath the radar whilst Facebook’s well publicised privacy woes garner world attention, but I suspect regulators will realise Google’s practices are far more pervasive than Facebook.
Google employees are also starting to realise perhaps Google isn’t such an attractive place to work after all and asking questions about the company’s management practices and commitment to “Do No Evil.” This will only intensify – not only for Google but other tech companies. Suddenly, working for a Big Tech company will no longer be as attractive as it was.
2. Apple stumble
Well, Apple share prices have definitely tumbled lately, on the back of softening sales of their new iPhones, particularly in China where Apple is seen as a victim of the trade war between China and the US.
The smartphone market is definitely shrinking, and as Apple makes most of their profits from iPhones, their revenue is shrinking as well. Apple is trying to pivot to services, as the other parts of their hardware business aren’t doing so well either.
Is this the end of Apple? Probably too early to call, but even Apple fanbois and fangrrls are starting to agree Apple prices may need to come down if they want to be anything other than a luxury niche manufacturer.
Those who value privacy will continue to prioritise Apple, but it remains to be seen what proportion of the target market cares about privacy. The well documented issues with Facebook may shift opinion, but that may not translate into increased sales for Apple.
3. Dumb human
I predicted that “Innocent bystanders will be killed by autonomous vehicles” and sadly this became true with an Uber vehicle killing a pedestrian. Arguably fake news have contributed to escalation of conflict and collateral damage around the world, not just in the US where it has driven significant polarisation of politics and the population.
Technology is rewiring us to be more gullible, less critical in our thinking, and more susceptible to tribal behaviour. We are addicted to our smart devices and social media, and conditioned by our tech overloads to new behaviour patterns. We are becoming less human.
Fortunately, some of us have started to recognise this, and starting to use our devices less and be less engaged on social media. I sincerely hope enough of us wake up and remain human.
4. The cryptocurrency bubble bursts
Enough said, I think. Amazingly, when I posted this prediction at the beginning of 2018, quite a few people thought I was crazy and the temporary blip in cryptocurrency prices will not stop the longer term glorious upwards trajectory and the ever expanding bubble. Wow.
5. The post-technology world
Are we living in a post-technology world? Not yet, not for the majority of the world’s population. But it’s fair to say 2018 has been a wake up call for a lot of people, and people are starting to question the role of technology in their lives, and acknowledge both positive and negative aspects. The unbridled optimism regarding technology will be replaced by more realistic expectations on the potential, and the limits, of how we should use technology.
Because of that, I will not make any tech predictions for 2019. I realise that for the world to change, I need to start with me changing, and being less concerned about technology and where it is going. A post-technology life is not necessarily a life without technology, but it is a life where technology is a means to an end, and not something to be obsessed about, good or bad.