Could 2021 be the year for technology? Here are some trends to watch out for
Technology has adapted to the pandemic in 2021 to maximise business and talent opportunities, signalling a shift which could place Artificial Intelligence as the major augmenter of everyday life.
Back in the 1960s, the US Defence Department needed a technology to monitor seismic activities resulting from earthquake and nuclear activities. Researchers at California University developed ARPANET on a third-generation computer to help augment defence capabilities. Little did they know that they were changing history in their labs to transform the future forever. ARPANET were the building blocks of the internet of today. But it crashed at ‘LO’ when researchers tried writing LOGIN.
Cut to 2021. India’s high-speed internet is probably the cheapest in the world. This year will be remarkable in terms of telecom companies finally introducing us to 5G network. There will be super-thin LED TVs, and wearables and personal assistants taking away monopoly of smartphones for every activity gradually. No, that won’t deter the smartphone-makers who would keep bringing us newer products every month. But the fact is, technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) with predictive analysis have already begun to initiate a newer ecosystem, which will have all-new plug-and-play devices to take us away from the smartphone overdependence.
The year 2021 in tech will see wearables and Virtual Personal Assistants (VPA)-enabled speakers with enhanced analytics taking the centrestage along with smartphones, which would keep winning bigger wars and paving way for other technologies and gadgets. New improved technologies this year seem to be aimed at benefiting companies over customers on a macro scale. Many businesses have shut down or downsized during the pandemic. Massive job losses have bred economic crisis. AI is both upping its IQ and EQ. Artificial Intelligence: AI is moving up to the next level with “edge AI” or “AI on the edge”. Data needs to be no longer sent for cloud processing.
Bandwidth will be preserved while cloud services will be cheaper. In a country like India where communication disruption is the normal in rural areas, industries can make real-time decisions. A vital AI leap is in sidestepping expertise so that employees with no tech expertise can identify threats using pre-programed software. AI apps and ML have taken healthcare by storm enabling commonplace diagnosis to complicated surgeries. Conversely, AI is a threat to privacy by moulding better with the Internet of Things (IoT) that collects and transfers data wirelessly through interrelated, internet devices without human control.
Mystery Devices: Data is king. Telematics is the use of wireless devices and ‘black boxes’ to view inputs and outputs but without transparency—to transmit real-time data to a business.
Talent Identification: We live in the digital age where there is premium on talent. Companies are adopting a Darwinian solution in hiring. AI-based applications are already helping companies identify the right hires. The parameters are experience, technical expertise, intellectual skills, soft skills and cultural consonance.
Sustainable Conscience: With sustainability entering business in a big way, renting over selling will be the new standard—recycle, share and warehousing. Quantum Leap: Quantum Computing to make high-speed intervention in healthcare, banking and finance by assessing credit risk and fraud detection.
Robot Invasion: There is a darker side to the future. Robots will play a larger role in industry, threatening jobs. McKinsey estimates that less than 5 percent of jobs can be totally automated, and about 60 percent partially.
Reality Bytes: Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR) and Extended Reality (ER), which are hitherto popular in gaming, will be used more for military training exercises. It will soon interface with AI in areas of entertainment, education, marketing and health; 14 million AR and VR devices were sold in 2019. Third Party Out: Blockchain makes data secure because it can only add data and not remove it, obviating fraud in third-party transactions. Ringing In: Smartphones evolved as ultimate learning tools during the lockdown, and later when schools shut and teachers met students virtually.
It has entered the world of finance and healthcare. Doing Homework: Technology has enabled us to work remotely with high-level efficiency. Organisations such as Microsoft, Tata Steel, Google, CISCO, Siemens among the big league, and plenty of others from the mid and small ones have joined the work-from-home bandwagon indefinitely. This will reshape commercial and retail real estate, transportation, and economies of Indian cities. This comes with privacy compromise: employee-monitoring and mobile-tethering are used to monitor work efficiency qualitatively and quantitatively.
But there are fun things too like hydrogen planes, Cadillac air taxis and driverless cars to make life easier. WIRED predicts LG will launch a rollable phone. So could TCL. Coronavirus-killing ultraviolet gizmos for cars. Water-powered Bluetooth speakers in the shower for bathroom singers. Headphones and ear pods are getting unimaginable upgrades in design and clarity. Exercise watches are in constant feature competition mode. GG has gone gaga over workouts: a digital post-exercise muscle soother, a smart skipping rope, a Peloton bike for home cycling, smart insoles for running shoes and smart dumbbells that can change weight at the press of a button are part of the future.
APPS YOU NEED
Use and Return
We have seen fashion influencers renting out their apparels and accessories. Why can’t anybody else do it? It takes a simple interface where you can rent out your shoes, books, clothes and even crockeries at a hyper-local level at a very nominal cost. This will help keep the buying habits of millennials in control as well as put your things to use.
Medical Remedy at Home
At a time when telemedicine is taking shape in India, it’s time to bring in a medical remedy app. Searching Google or going to WebMD doesn’t really help every time. In many cases these are US-based sites, and symptoms do vary along with medicines. An app can be in place where you can tell your symptoms, and it can suggest if OTC can cure, else it can connect to a doctor over chat for better diagnosis.
AR for Virtual Learning
Little kids have been learning online since the lockdown began. We often hear kids dozing off and teachers having a tough time. Someone has to develop an Augmented Reality (AR)-enabled tool where kids can interact with teachers in a way they are at classrooms. Also, they can watch shows, read books wearing AR Glasses for better engagement.
TECHNOLOGIES THAT POWER
Smartphone will get pricier this year because they will become 5G-ready, which requires manufacturers to put in expensive processors. According to an IT Home report, Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 888 chipset costs more than its predecessor 865 chip. The report shows a Chinese phone maker has paid $250 for the Snapdragon 888 platform almost $100 higher than last year. Qualcomm’s monopoly in the market will get a worthy rival from Samsung whose mobile application processor (AP) Exynos will be far better equipped than its predecessors.
Developed as ‘Olympus’, Samsung Exynos will be priced competitively. While Snapdragon will equip the flagship devices, Exynos might see takers from the budget device-makers. There will be upgradation in Wi-Fi power as well. While Wi-Fi 6 has already been equipped in a few high-end handsets, Wi-Fi 6E will soon enter the fray. However, it won’t improve speed but should help in easing congestion and minimising delays between a user’s action and an app’s response. You will see a lot of changes this year at the superficial level.
Wouldn’t it be nice to have a phone that changes colours with a pat on the back? An electrochromic technology will enable smartphone rear panels to change the voltage of electrochromic glass (electronically tintable) and switch to the colour of choice. And yes, better cameras and rise in foldable phones will also define tech trends in 2021. A foldable phone from Apple is in the works but it’s hush-hush. Phone-makers have been experimenting with front cameras. From pop-up cameras, rotating to notch in the screen—they have been there done that. However, 2021 might see under-display selfie cameras—the camera is invisible with the selfie sensor sitting under the display. Xiaomi, Oppo and Vivo could take the lead.
The New Menu
The South Korean tech giant’s line-up for the year looks promising with another Galaxy S series entering the fray. And this time it’s S21. Leaked by tech tipster Evan Blass, it could come in three variations—S21, S21 Plus and S21 Ultra. Galaxy S21 and S21 Plus will get versions in Black, Pink, Violet and Phantom White colours. While the ergonomics and design look similar with centred punch hole displays and triple rear cameras, the sizes could differ.
Another distinct difference will be the back panel. While S21 will have a polycarbonate-made back, S21 Plus might get a glass back. The hero is slated to be the Galaxy S21 Ultra, which will come only in Phantom Silver and Phantom Black. A 6.8-inch Infinity-O AMOLED screen, with a camera discreetly positioned to reduce onscreen interruptions, is the buzz. It will be the first Galaxy S series handset to get the signature S Pen for the Galaxy Note series. In the camera department, S21 Ultra will get a 10x super-telephoto zoom lens, a 108MP main sensor, a 12MP ultrawide lens, and a 10MP 3x telephoto camera. Rumoured to be launched towards the last week of January, S21, S21 Plus and S21 Ultra should be priced around Rs 76,000, Rs 94,500 and Rs 1,26,000 respectively for the 128 GB storage variants.
OnePlus 8 was a good phone but certainly not a great one with lots of room for improvement. OnePlus Nord did disappoint many with most complaints coming in about performance, battery and camera. This is set to change. Come March, OnePlus 9 may make an entry, going by the online leaks. Like its predecessors, this version has two variants—9 and 9 Pro. However, there might be a cheaper 9E variant too. According to rumours, the prices could range between Rs 45,000 and Rs 60,000. OnePlus is known for its camera prowess.
Again, from the leaks, OnePlus 9 will get a 48MP main camera and a 48MP Ultra-Wide camera. There will be a third camera with tele-zoom feature or a macro-depth sensing lens. However, what’s exciting is OnePlus may have partnered with Leica to improve photography. Snapdragon 888 5G SoC is expected to power the devices. There will be a punch-hole design and a camera hump to lodge the rear lenses. The screen should measure 6.7-inch with 400x1080 panel with 144Hz refresh rate.
No, 5G won’t bump up your mobile data speed. Rather, it will provide an opportunity for telcos to provide seamless connectivity, develop rich solutions and services for individuals and industries alike. In simpler words, build a new infrastructure. With India’s tech-ambition graph increasing by leaps and bounds, it is imperative for both the government and telcos to adopt 5G technology at the earliest. It needs deep densification of network with addition of cell towers, which could only happen with more fibre connectivity.
While most of the country is dependent on the radio network, 5G’s fibre-enabled data transfer would help India leverage the technology to build a better internet infrastructure. While radio-waves aren’t dependable, fibre bandwidth will aid in seamless connectivity. We have seen how 4G made our lives convenient with ride-sharing, food deliveries and digital payments. 5G might bring in new promises to existing businesses or even pave way for entirely new industries. Right from robotics surgery to driver-less cars, 5G will enable innovations to take a new dimension.
Covid-19 has redefined the way we work. As more people work remotely and will be doing so probably for the rest of this year, robots will soon be part of everyday life.
The House Help
Home robots have been in the market for decades now, but 2021 promises to be better for our metallic pals. No longer is Roomba just a floor-mopping machine. The newer edition gets Wi-Fi control and is enabled by Alexa. You can simply command the Roomba to begin work. It is AI-enabled to remind it of corners that need extra cleaning. And when low on energy, it can find itself a charging point and to charge itself automatically. When Anker launched Eufy, another Robovac in 2019, there weren’t many takers. They sold 50-100 units each quarter. Post the pandemic, they are reporting 20 times more sales every quarter. With the shortage of domestic helps due to reverse migration, many people in the cities switched to technologies that help them in their daily chores.
Being Your Proxy
As we keep maintaining social distance and connecting virtually, there is definitely a gap in social intimacy. If you are an exhibitor at an expo, there are chances your customer needs to see you. GoBe Robots are ready to do it for them. This telepresence machine is a remote-controlled mobile robot that allows communication through a 21.5-inch screen that reproduces the user’s face in natural size. A zoomable 4K camera and a wide-angle front camera give the “robot pilot” a clear overview of the location. The new generation of GoBe Robots awaiting launch stands out with an open system that creates even more applications and allows users to maximise the potential of the technology. Users get a distinct feeling of being where the robot is as they receive live video streams of the location as the machine moves around it. This enables active collaboration and interaction between people, no matter how far they are from each other.
An Emotional Companion
Many of us have been looking for a companion to bond emotionally. Humans come with problems! That’s why Asus had launched Zenbo a few years ago. But sources report Zenbo might be getting a remake soon. This cute-looking humanoid has learnt to share your emotions. So, imagine yourself looking at firecrackers in the sky, and this robot will follow your eyes and react. When you aren’t home, its AI-enabled system will keep scanning your rooms and report to you about anything suspicious.
Their Dream Gadgets
“I feel like my dream gadget would be something I’d point at people and it would help me know what’s going on in their mind.” Priyanka Chopra Jonas
“It has to be my home theatre system. It’s the next best thing to watching a movie in an actual movie theatre. It’s also the ultimate video-gaming experience.” Ranveer Singh
“My portable charger is the most essential gadget.” Anushka Sharma
The year gone by has been an exciting one for Apple. From 5G-enabled iPhone 12 to its own chipset-powered MacBook, innovation is the American tech’s oxygen. What could be changing in 2021? There’s a lot. The iMac to begin with. Apple is planning to launch a 23-inch iMac, which could be similar to its 21.5-inch model but with reduced bezels. The same could happen to the 27.5-inch model being increased to 30-inch screen. In March, Apple might launch AirPods X for sports, AirPods Pro Lite for budget options and third generation AirPods.
A new product from Apple stable is predicted to be AirTag. This has been long overdue. Primarily meant to track important items such as wallets, bags, bicycles and even reading glasses on your iPhone via Find My App, this will be an added offering from Apple. The most exciting product would be the updated iPad mini, which is awaiting a new avatar for the last three years.
A bigger screen, no home button and some more redesigned elements would be the highlights. There is also a chance the company could launch a thinner and lighter iPad. September 2021 will have a new iPhone. It should technically be iPhone 13, but numerologists are predicting Apple will name it 14. As per MacRumours, the next iPhone will get a 120Hz refresh rate (up from 60Hz), a reduced notch, and a 10x optical zoom.
Intel has started feeling the heat as the market is witnessing a high demand for ARM processor-powered laptops. Apple has already made the shift from Intel to Arm Processor. Arm is a RISC (reduced instruction set computing) architecture developed by the British tech company Arm Ltd. It is efficient in the power department and generates less heat. The laptop design is sleeker that of its predecessor. However, Windows 10 is still fumbling to fix technical compatibility. Once that gets resolved, Samsung and Lenovo will join the bandwagon.
2021 will see a meteoric rise in the demand for gaming laptops. AMD and Nvidia will bring in GPU variants of the Big Navi and Ampere graphics cards to change gaming forever. This would support 4K and ultra-high frame rates. Another good hand the pandemic has dealt is to force laptop manufacturers to put in better webcams. The importance of Zoom Calls, MS Teams and Google Meet has made this a necessity. Laptop makers like Dell are working to make the bezels disappear. Going by the smartphone design evolution, we might see more laptops without bezel and a notch for webcams.
The New Menu
Seeing the laptop makers moving to Arm Processors, Intel is planning to launch its own laptop. Yes, no longer they would undermine their game with just a sticker beside the trackpad. Reports by The Verge confirm that Intel laptop might be called NUC M15. Pitted against the premium Dell XPS 13 and ASUS ZenBook 14, this laptop will have a 15.6-inch 1080P IPS, which provides wider viewing angles and higher quality colour reproduction. Powered by an 11th Gen Intel Core i5 or i7 quad-core processor—better than the former for multitasking, media-editing and media-creation tasks, high-end gaming, etc—this will be coupled with an Intel Iris Xe integrated graphics, with either 8GB or 16GB of RAM. Intel Iris Xe is a budget graphics that offers richer gaming experiences and greater speed for designers and creators. To add up the spice levels, M15 should come with Windows Hello and respond to presence detection. It is expected to be priced Rs 74,000 onwards.
Microsoft Surface Pro 8
Microsoft Surface range has got quite a few takers, but keeps missing out on oomph. Surface Pro 7 battery’s staying power has been a disappointment. In the post-pandemic era, everyone expects Microsoft Surface Pro 8 to be a deal-breaker. To be priced above `1 lakh, it will run the Intel 11th Gen processors and 32 GB RAM with Iris Xe integrated graphics. Renowned influencer WinFuture’s Roland Quandt claims that the machine will get LTE for its Core i5 variants. LTE lets you connect to a mobile network to use data when you place a SIM card into the laptop.
Gaming in 2021
Global streaming giant Netflix had predicted that the future threat to their business would not be from a rival streaming platform like HBO or Disney but from mobile gaming; something like a Fortnite.
People locked down in their homes during the pandemic have definitely boosted the gaming industry for good. While the demand for gaming laptops saw a linear growth graph, mobile gaming is the future. Smartphones are the new consoles. This is proven by the fact that smartphone makers are increasingly making their handsets robust.
On the other hand, game developers are prioritising content that fits smartphones. eSports has now developed into a new sector. No longer do gamers work for free. With huge investments coming in from Amazon, Sequoia and Tencent, performers are getting handsomely paid by the e-sports brands. With the launch of PS 5 by Sony last year, there isn’t any new big-ticket launch of consoles happening in 2021 except for Playdate by Panic. However, the line-up for new games looks thrilling.
Launchpad: Top 3 Games
Platforms: PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, PC
Release: January 20
Developed by IO Interactive, this game will be the 8th instalment from Hitman Series and the final of the World of Assassination Trilogy. Played from a third-person perspective, this stealth game will travel to multiple locations, including Dubai. The main agenda is to carry out contracted assassinations of criminal targets across the globe.
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time remake
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC
Release: March 18
Ubisoft is bringing back its most glorious title with a little twist. While the theme has been kept the same to give the gamers a recap, the makeover lies in modern graphics and gameplay. Drawn to the dark powers of a magic dagger, a young Prince is led to unleash a deadly evil upon a beautiful kingdom. Played from a third-person perspective, this is just another remake of the legendary 2003 game.
The Callisto Protocol
Platforms: PC, PS5, Xbox Series X/S
Release: 2021 Fall
Again, a third-person perspective game in the horror genre. Developed by the studio Striking Distance, it is set as in the lines of Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG), an online multiplayer battle royale game. Discarding its ancient-style background, the current one sports a futuristic perspective. The icing on the cake is that the action takes place in the PUBG universe.
The Year of TVs
Some of the most exciting inventions in TV will be in 2021. LG has hinted at ditching the E-Series OLED and bringing in Gallery Series. On the other hand, Samsung might unveil a rotating Sero TV. This year will be bigger and mightier with TV screens measuring above 75-inch becoming mainstream. Not just that. There will be a new 48-inch OLED size and a 32-inch Samsung The Frame as well. The Frame isn’t just a TV. With ease of use, it also promises to make your room décor look unique and appealing with its sleek design.
Since the pandemic, most schools and colleges are still shut. Thanks to e-learning, students can attend virtual classes. However, the challenge for most educational institutions in India is to expertly shift to Google Meet or other free apps where teachers can conduct classes seamlessly and students can learn. Not just regular classes, 2021 could witness learning going online on a large scale. “It would also be a year which will see the gig economy (a labour market with the prevalence of short-term contracts) catch up even further in India.
Acquisition of new and complementary skills via Online Executive Education or Online Degrees will strengthen the gig economy in India where professionals will continue to work on multiple assignments remotely, which has already started to happen,” says Aditya Malik, CEO and MD, Talentedge, an e-learning platform. He says with improved data quality and technology, personalised learning will start impacting far more lives than it has done so far and EdTech will begin to drive inclusivity in higher education.
“Schools should steadily adopt online learning solutions to supplement the traditional classroom approach. A few more innovations that will reshape the education sector are a Computer Based Test mode for examinations, AI-enabled remote proctoring, ML-powered exams and more,” says Beas Dev Ralhan, Co-founder & CEO, Next Education India Pvt Ltd, a technology-driven education company.
Last month, RBI had penalised HDFC Bank for some financial irregularities and mishaps that happened over the past two years. Time and again, banks and NBFCs have been subjected to security scrutiny in India. That might change in 2021 with more technology adoption in this industry. “Technology evolution in fintech and payments platforms will provide end-consumers a superior payment experience, improved ease, speed and reliability of transactions, better-personalised product offerings and advanced security measures.
In 2021, AI and ML will continue to play a key role in cybersecurity to identify threats, enable fraud preventive measures, and just in time risk mitigation,” says Shantanu Preetam, Chief Technology Officer, PayU India, a payment gateway. “In 2021, AI, Blockchain, and Quantum Computing are expected to make changes in the finance sector. After the success with cryptocurrencies, Blockchain is expected to improve the security and reliability of financial transactions,” says Neeraj Singh, Co-founder and CTO, Groww, an online investment platform targeted at the millennials.
While security is one way to address the impact of technology in banking and finance, loans get a fresh outlook. With the government planning to launch Account Aggregator in 2021, the lending space in India is up for a massive shift. Account Aggregator will be instrumental in setting up a new benchmark in the Fintech industry by bridging the gap between a loan request and the lender’s access to the client’s relevant financial information before okaying the loan. This will dramatically reduce the lead times for loan approvals as well as strengthen underwriting processes across India. “Everything will be powered by data science,” says Sanket Shendure, Co-founder & CEO, MinksPay, an all-inclusive ecosystem of services for retailers.
The pandemic has reshaped the tech needs of businesses globally. There will be more demand for cloud services, workplace automation, collaborative workplace technologies, mobility, and cybersecurity verticals. One of the critical demands of the tech industry was to enable smooth transition to work-from-home (WFH) operations. The biggest challenge for companies is to get the necessary visibility of employee activities in their operations during the day and manage the workforce productivity. “Our internal research and analysis of data across various enterprises have indicated significant increase in logged hours being put in by the workforce,” says Kishore Reddy, VP Technology, ProHance, an omnichannel operations management platform. “During the WFH period there has been an increased demand for better visibility into workforce engagement and tools like ProHance have helped enterprises meet this requirement,” he adds.
The coronavirus pandemic resulted in a tremendous surge in adaptation and implementation of telemedicine, which doctors and entrepreneurs couldn’t achieve since years. Doctors agree that there has been a sudden increase in consultation due to convenience in certain pockets of diseases, including STDs, contraception, mental health, diabetes and cholesterol.
With everything taking place right in your smartphone, it’s scary to even think what happens if your phone or system gets compromised. While communicating via the internet makes things easier and more immediate, there is also the terrifying possibility of losing control over personal data. Last year saw many UPI-related frauds and several banks have issued advisories. As more options for digital payments are introduced, we can expect more similar cases in the future. “Good digital hygiene is indispensable. Having strong and unique passwords, regular software updates, installing reliable security solutions and an awareness about the importance of online privacy are some of the pillars of having a good internet security hygiene. Also the basic knowledge of how to safeguard yourself could stop you and your data from becoming compromised,” says Dipesh Kaura, General Manager, Kaspersky (South Asia).
APPS THAT ROCKED IN 2020
With remote working in place, we do find it a little bit of task to check on productivity. You can now build a productive community where everyone stays on the same page. Share ideas with employees and gather inputs through meaningful, focused discussions on topics that matter to your organisation—all through one.
If you are a gamer, you need this. It’s like TikTok but for gaming. A social network that lets you upload screengrab videos from your games. It integrates over a thousand games on Android.
Unlike TripAdvisor, Tripoto is a well-knit community of passionate travellers. You can find destinations, reviews of places, hotels and even packages. The best thing is you can read people’s real-life experience and search for road trip guides. Just the way you create shopping wish list, you can add trips to your wish list.
Espresso by Sharekhan
CDSL, one of the country’s leading securities depositories, has witnessed a 20 percent rise in new accounts (demats). Majority of these new openers being in the age group of 25-35 years, the market looks shiny. Espresso is a zero-brokerage stock trading platform, where you need to pay just an annual fee. The best part is eKYC makes opening an account really easy. What’s better is the ease of trading where a right swipe can change your fortune.