2017 was an incredible year for technology. From innovations that made our homes smarter (like smart-speakers), to those that made us efficient at work (like AI) and those that made everything in between (e.g. our cars) better, technology has never felt as omnipresent as it did this past year.
As a technology enthusiast and consultant, 2017 was particularly exciting for me as it afforded me opportunities to be on the forefront of a lot of these innovations. More than the individual innovations however, I was fascinated by what technology made possible for us and where there is more work to do.
This article is my attempt at capturing my main takeaways for 2017. Here’s a short summary. Details follow.
1. Unlikely started to seem likely
2. Likely became reality
3. Reality got traction
4. Sort of
5. But plenty stayed unlikely, in fact impossible
6. Hardware startups died
7. Yet hardware survived
8. Smartphones still thrive
A lot of what we had long thought to be unlikely, finally started to seem likely in 2017
For example, although Elon Musk announced his plan to go to Mars in 2016, it was not until 2017 – when he showed his genius by doing things previously considered undoable, like rockets that return and can even be reused - that going to Mars has finally started to seem likely now.
But even this staggering goal pales in comparison to another: the ability to control things with our thoughts by putting chips inside our brains. While the seeds of this idea were also planted in 2016 (by former Braintree founder Bryan Johnson), it was Elon Musk’s similar announcement in 2017 - through his new startup Neuralink which aims to merge our brain with computers – that finally got us to believe this was indeed possible.
While unlikely started to feel likely, what was already considered likely moved to its next logical level: it became a reality.
But it came in three forms. First, where technology actually materialized into a product whether it was Waymo’s autonomous car launch in Arizonaor Tesla’s returning rocket. Second, where it did not materialize yet but should do so in the next couple of years (e.g., Uber’s Flying car). And third, where it may take longer but it sure feels real, like gene editing
While new technologies like autonomy, flying cars, etc. became reality, plenty of existing ones – that were already a reality – started getting serious traction. For example, 2017 ended the way it started: with unabated excitement about smart-speakers. From conquering CES 2017 at the beginning of the year to being the top gift item at year-end on Christmas, smart-speakers (especially Echo) were easily the top new product category to get a lot of traction.
However, plenty of other products got traction too. So much that as per TIME magazine, smart-speakers did not even make it to the top 5 gadgets of 2017. Products like Nintendo Switch, Microsoft Surface and DJI’s palm-sized drones did. See here for full list of top 10 products from TIME and you’ll see that plenty of new technologies did great.
But not every technology’s promise turned out as expected. Some technologies – despite all their hype and genuine potential – will just need a bit more time to get there. LinkedIn’s Managing Editor Chip Cutter compiled them in one of the most comprehensive list I came across for technologies that missed the mark this past year. Virtual Reality, Mixed reality, Snap, Cable TV, chatbots are five examples of such technologies included in his list. (See the full list here which includes non-tech ideas too)
However, despite all the great technologies that materialized this year, it is worthy to note that a lot of them were expected to materialize too. In that sense then, 2017 was not extraordinarily special. What would have made it special is if things still considered impossible had become possible. Unfortunately, they did not. For examples, several things like Teleportation, Invisibility, extra dimensions in space, travel at speed of light, etc. are still where they were at the beginning of 2017: realm of impossible. To be fair though, this was expected too.
2017 was a year that saw the end of several hardware-startups. For example, Verge reported that startups like Juicero, Jawbone and several others ceased their operations. Why so many? Lack of consumer demand, high burn-rate, product strategy missteps are some of the reasons cited by CBInsights in their research report titled: Why do so many hardware startups fail?It’s a must read if you have not read it already.
Hardware from startups struggled. But hardware from established tech giants did not. As covered earlier, smart speakers like Amazon Echo and Google Home did great. Microsoft’s Cortana too got a speaker body and Apple announced their own line as well.
But it was not just smart speaker hardware that did fine. Other hardware did fine too. Google bought HTC hardware phone unit. And Microsoft announced a really cool laptop that starts up like - and has a battery life of – a tablet. And in-case you missed it, Magic Leap finally announced that they’ll ship their mixed reality glasses in 2018.
Despite all the great technology products that amazed us this year, when it comes to our favorite, nothing quite beats the smartphone. Not even voice enabled smart speakers – arguably the other most popular product this year. In a report from TechCrunch from Novemeber, voice-enabled smart speakers still have some way to go before they reach all US households. In fact as per the report, only 55% of US households are expected to have them by 2022. Contrast that with smartphone which are nearly omnipresent. But even when voice enabled products reach these 55% US households, smart-phones will still be around. Why? Most of voice enabled usage will occur primarily on smartphones, as per the report.
What other key takeaways would you add to the technology trends of 2017? Please leave a comment.
Views are my own and not of my employer or other organizations I may be associated with.
Nitin is the CEO of Mobile Doorman, a former Management Consultant at McKinsey & Company and Board of Trustees Member at the Naperville Public Library. He advises Company Boards, CEOs and BU heads on product strategy, growth and operations. He also has multiple US patents (5) for design and development of mobile, wireless and networking technology including a patent to extend smartphone battery life. Nitin holds a masters in Electrical & Computer Engineering from the University of Texas at Austin and an MBA in Marketing & Finance from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.