The way in which trends emerge has changed. Up until a few years ago, dictating which megatrends we would see in the years ahead had been the preserve of big lifestyle brands. Crowdfunding and social media have shaken the foundations of this traditional system of innovation.
Apple’s smartwatch is symptomatic of the difficulties that trend technologies are currently going through. Hastily conceived two years ago as the answer to the crowdfunded Pebble watch with a better text messaging display, and announced in 2014 as a watch with fitness sensors, it is set to become a flop in 2015. Because even in the USA, not many people want to buy a fitness tracker – especially one whose battery needs recharging after two hours. If and how Apple’s failure in this product segment will be judged continues to be the stage for subjective conspiracy theories. Far more exciting is the normative message behind this failure: there has been a change in how trends emerge. Up until a few years ago, dictating which megatrends we would see in the years ahead had been the preserve of big lifestyle brands. Crowdfunding and social media, however, have changed the way that trends develop. Further twists, turns, and groundbreaking successes can be expected in 2015. Here’s a look at the six trends whose success stories stand out the most as the year gets underway:
Sales of Google Glass were halted in January 2015. The same month saw Microsoft release its HoloLens. The latter is focusing more on applications at work and at home, while Google Glass is looking to become the computer glasses for people on the move. Neither of these concepts will make any particular impact on us in 2015, as they have yet to demonstrate any technical or social application. However, augmented reality could make considerable progress in 2015 in the form of accessories for mobile devices. Google, for instance, has devised a prototype here with Cardboard (a cardboard box with lenses, into which you can slot your smartphone and use it as a projector). Samsung is joining this trend with its Samsung Gear VR project. This solution could encourage curious users and developers to experiment, paving the way for numerous application concepts.
Big Data and artificial intelligence
Big Data and the Internet of Things: two old acquaintances from the trends lists of recent years. Those who have more data about their users and who analyze it cleverly have the decisive edge. Local government authorities will be jumping on the bandwagon in 2015, where the focus will be on Open Data. One change will be the larger role played by artificial intelligence in analyzing the volumes of data. The simplest example in this regard: using typical patterns of development to intelligently predict resource requirements for cloud computing and Web site traffic. A more complex example is tapping into dark data (videos, sound, photos) that can only be processed using self-learning systems like AISight or Google Brain. Skype’s automatic simultaneous interpreter is a development in this field that may well amaze us in 2015. At the same time, with data protection also providing a competitive advantage, companies will be struggling hard to win over users. Those who aren’t careful may discover all there is to know about their customers – apart from the fact that those customers will be taking their future business to a company that doesn’t analyze their each and every move.
Data protection as an opportunity for German start-ups
The NSA scandal has led to severe setbacks in many areas. According to the German industry association BITKOM, for example, concerns about data protection caused 13 percent of all German companies to shelve their cloud projects in 2014. Private users have been exercising more caution in many areas, too, since finding out what has been happening with their data. In Germany at least, the amount of private information people share on Facebook is set to decline, as is the degree of social media communication between consumers and brands. But this will lead to new opportunities, too: encryption will be a must for many new applications in 2015. U.S. journalist Jeff Jarvis believes that German start-ups in particular have the chance to become international leaders in data protection after missing other trends like cloud computing. Data protection doesn’t have to be dull, either: Yik Yak, a hyperlocal app where users can write messages anonymously, managed to become one of the most downloaded apps at the end of 2014. And Posteo has for many years been demonstrating how to occupy niche markets with critical users.
Airbnb and Uber were only the beginning – 2015 will see more services blurring the traditional boundaries between public and private resources. The exciting ideas will possibly be those that, unlike Uber, don’t come into conflict with legislation. The German start-up Shippies, for example, is trying to establish a town and city delivery service in the peer-to-peer sector. The challenge here for companies is coming to an agreement with users about a platform’s social and ethical acceptability, as resources are only available via the community. After all, it won’t be laws that cause Uber (with its hefty 20 percent commission) to fail, but rather a frustrated community.
The year 2015 will see every browser become a telephone box. A fully developed standard now exists for voice and video calling and has been integrated into most browsers; Internet Explorer and Safari are the only exceptions (they require plug-ins). Firefox Hello already allows users to call each other without having to register or install additional software. With users able to access these services so easily, numerous companies will be trying to utilize them any way they can in 2015 – from customer support, dating, and e-learning right up to conferencing and private messaging. Microsoft has also allowed Skype to be integrated into its browser as a WebRTC service.
A mass market for drones
In hindsight, every invention seems to have been created for one purpose, and one purpose only. But in reality, inventors often have no idea how humankind will actually use their technology. We’ll see this in 2015 with the increasing adoption of drones into our everyday culture. Up until now, these reasonably priced and versatile devices have had few applications other than being flown around aimlessly. Now the time has come for us to develop civil applications. The attempt to use a drone to deliver drugs to a Hamburg prison was, of course, stupid. The selfie drone at the CES, on the other hand, was ingenious. There could well be a mass market among trendsetting sports enthusiasts for auto-follow drones with a camera, but the biggest potential market is in the agricultural sector. Adopting drones into our culture will also mean developing boundaries of ethical behavior for their use (for example by the police and journalists) and, as a result, new laws.
Text: Matthias Eberl
Übersetzung: Toby Skingsley