Posted by Matt Egan 24 November 2014
Tomorrow's World today (or next year)
Writing about the future of tech has never been so interesting, or current. In consumer tech terms: the future is now.
Recently I was asked to contribute to a feature for PC Advisor's print magazine, in which experts predict key changes in consumer tech that will happen in 2015. It's an interesting, if regularly mined, publishing trope: we know where we are now, but where will be next year?
In this feature we throw forward just one year, to the end of 2015. We asked our experts to look closely at smartwatches and smartphones, laptops and Windows, the internet of things, and 3D printers. All the developments we predict are incremental, but they take us somewhere that even just a few years ago would have seemed amazingly futuristic. The pace of change is now so furious, however, that future gazing just got interesting.
The traditional way to start such a feature is to reminisce about Tomorrow's World's more outlandish claims and bemoan the lack of hoverboards and flying cars in our present circumstances. But reader: in 2015 we are already living in the future, and both of those things exist.
Step back in time
Indeed, take a mental step back even five years, and the world in which we are currently living will look like Star Trek. And I'm not talking paunches, bad acting and wigs.
Just three years ago I was the editor of PC Advisor, writing in our 200th print issue predictions about cloud computing and mobile payments. It all seems so long ago, in tech terms. (It was: our Best Buy smartphones were the iPhone 4S and the Galaxy S2.) Read more: Apple's 2014: A reflection.
Fast forward to late 2014 and smartphones have become catch-all portable computers and communications devices. Mobile payments are now a thing. And the handsets themselves are portable TV, video calling device, and games console. (See also: Why you shouldn't buy your gadgets at launch: Wait and pick up a bargain.)
For good measure in 2015 we will increasingly access our smartphones not from their shiny touchscreens, but via wearable gadgets. The tyranny of having to pull phone from pocket is over as smart watches, bands and headsets come into vogue.
Wear it well
Wearables are set to proliferate, offering not only easier access to existing connected devices, but quantifying our movements and assessing our health. This in turn speaks to three further trends: cloud storage, 3D printing and the internet of things. The idea of the smart home has been kicking around for decades, but as gas suppliers catch on to the power- and money-saving opportunities offered by heating homes only as they need it, smart thermostats are becoming the norm.
Meanwhile the way we entertain ourselves has changed fundamentally. Few would even watch a retread of Tomorrow's World these days, because a multitude of TV-streaming services allows us to watch only what we want, when we want to. We don't need to store all of that content - it lives in the cloud, accessible from anywhere we can get online. And if the thing we want right now is physical, pretty soon we will be able to manufacture it in our own home. 3D printing is about to get serious, which is good news for fans of the Star Trek replicator. (See also: Would you like a wristband activity tracker with that? Get ready for free wearables from McDonalds and Starbucks.)
Put any display in front of a child and they will instinctively reach out to control it via touch. And if that display doesn't connect to the internet, the child will consider it broken. Every device is becoming a smart device. And that is trend that will continue in only one direction.
Expect to be able to control multiple aspects of every home from any connected device, and all in the next year or so. And the number of touchpoints via which we can access these controls will continue to grow. In time every display in your home will be a connected touchscreen display - and that time is coming quickly. This is no longer science fiction, it's necessary and mundane fact. (For more, see: What the Internet of Things will look like in 2015.)