Like it or not, you’ll watch more video on your smartphone this year. Facebook Live. Twitter Live. Instagram Live (and Stories). With new streaming video features, all the major social networks are clamoring to become the television network in your pocket. They’re also clamoring to out-Snapchat Snapchat, the soon-to-go-public picture-chat service, where upward of 10 billion videos are watched each day. Considering video is a data hoover, cellular carriers will offer heftier plans and incentives to increase our data buckets. ( T-Mobile and Sprint have already shifted back to unlimited plans.) Some carriers including Verizon will begin testing 5G networks for an even faster wireless future.
Four years after the flop of Google Glass, wearing a computer in your glasses is no longer so far-fetched. This fall, people lined up for hours to buy a pair of Snap Spectacles with a built-in camera. And the success of Pokémon Go taught millions about the potential of mixed or augmented reality (AR) technology, digital info layered over the real world. One big advantage over virtual reality is that AR is much less isolating. The year ahead will bring glasses that project pictures into your view—likely a new version of Microsoft’s promising HoloLens headgear and potentially even something from Apple and the much-hyped Magic Leap.
Voice control arrived in a big way in 2016 as the Echo and Echo Dot brought the convenience of talking with Amazon’s Alexa assistant to millions of kitchens and home offices.
Expect an even bigger home invasion in 2017. Sonos will integrate with Alexa so you can reap the benefits of the voice assistant without sacrificing great audio quality, and GE and other appliance makers will add Amazon’s bot to washers, dishwashers, you name it. Meanwhile, Microsoft’s Cortana virtual assistant will smarten up a speaker from Harman Kardon, and Google plans to improve its Home speaker with third-party services. Facebook has long played coy about its responsibilities as a media company. But the 2016 election cycle brought criticism from the left and the right about how the social network handled news—both real and fake. Heading into 2017, Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg is at least giving lip service to new efforts to label certain stories as false, build tools to classify misinformation and work with fact-checking groups. Facebook’s war on “fake news” could change the information consumed by hundreds of millions, and reduce the ignorance amplification that Facebook’s design facilitates.
This is the year the robots start doing more of the driving. It’s hard to find a car maker—be it Honda, Hyundai or BMW—that doesn’t offer 2017 models with driver assist options like automatic braking to avoid collisions, and automatic steering to avoid lane drifting. Those features—along with Wi-Fi, navigation systems and so many sensors—are paving the road for our connected, driverless future.
Gaming systems used to last six to eight years, but entertainment tech is advancing at a faster clip with more aggressive games and new display capabilities such as 4K resolution and high dynamic range (HDR) color. VR gaming is more demanding on computing power, too. Unless console makers want to try to sell new hardware every year, they’re in need of a paradigm shift where their systems can adopt new capabilities more quickly.
The iPhone 7 provided a lot of the same (minus a headphone jack). And Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7 was unforgettable, but for the wrong reasons. If 2016 was the year the smartphone became boring, 2017 will be the year of its reinvention. Leaps in screen technology and software will pave the biggest rethinking in years. Apple is expected to go all out for its 10th-anniversary iPhone. There is talk of buttonless models (Bye-bye, home button!) with curved OLED screens. Samsung, which has pushed the curved, no-bezel look for a few generations, is likely to continue the trend with the Galaxy S8 while giving its flagship phone new AI functionality.
Winter is coming for net neutrality. Last year, the Federal Communications Commission prevented internet service providers like Verizon from charging services like Netflix fees to reach homes at faster speeds. But members of President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team appear more sympathetic to ISPs, and Trump himself tweeted in 2014 that the FCC’s policies were “a power grab” by President Obama.
For consumers, an about-face could mean more power (and, ultimately, more money) in the hands of pipeline providers who want to lock us in. Case in point: AT&T is testing the rules by allowing its mobile subscribers to stream its DirecTV Now pay-TV service without using up any megabytes of their data plans.
We’re not talking lifelike “Westworld” robots quite yet, but in 2017 computers will demonstrate the ability to learn and make decisions using brains of their own. Supported by loads of data and investments from major tech companies, a leap in the AI systems that power voice assistants, apps and social networks is likely.
For instance, Google’s Neural Machine Translation system can already translate full sentences better than traditionally programmed language translators. There’s even evidence that it’s learning the fundamentals of language itself. Whether it’s with a smartcar, virtual assistant or photo app, the relationship of human and machine changes in 2017.