Tech That Will Change Your Life in 2017
Our Personal Tech columnists look at what’s next for big tech advances, from AI and augmented reality to videogame consoles and the war on fake news.
Source: Wall Street Journal
Dec. 28, 2016
By GEOFFREY A. FOWLER and
If you’ve seen in it in a movie, you might see it in reality in 2017.
Just like in sci-fi flicks, this year’s flagship phones will be (almost) all screen. Some of us will start wearing computers on our faces. And chances are good an artificial intelligence will make decisions on your behalf.
Ok, teleportation is still a ways off. But we’re still in awe of what’s in store for the next 12 months. The list below has become an annual tradition, where we talk to industry insiders, track the trends and otherwise gaze into our crystal ball to identify the tech that’s going to make an impact in the near term—for better and worse.
One thing that struck us this year is the growing importance of software. You won’t necessarily need to buy a new phone, TV, watch or speaker to bring the advances of AI into your home. They’ll come in updates and apps, as well as in shiny new gadgets. This also has its downside: If you haven’t been hacked yet, the chances are even greater in 2017. And a handful of big companies will continue to consolidate their power over what you read and watch.
What tech do you think will change your life in 2017? Hit us up on email or on Facebook and Twitter @geoffreyfowler and @joannastern.
Mobile Video Goes Mainstream
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.
Face Computers Strike Back
Ate van der Meer, director of Dutch company Snakeware, presented Microsoft's HoloLens gear in Amsterdam in June 2016. Snakeware will develop software for HoloLens, which is expected to ship in 2017. PHOTO: FREEK VAN DEN BERGH/EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY
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.
Talking Speakers Worth Listening To
Voice control arrived in a big way in 2016 as the Echo and Echo Dotbrought the convenience of talking with Amazon’s Alexa assistant to millions of kitchens and home offices.
A demonstration of Google’s Home speaker at the product’s launch in October 2016.PHOTO: MICHAEL SHORT/BLOOMBERG NEWS
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 Takes News Seriously
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.
Robots Hit the Road
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.
A pilot model of an Uber self-driving car in Pittsburgh in September 2016. Uber launched a groundbreaking driverless car service, stealing ahead of Detroit auto giants and Silicon Valley rivals with technology that could revolutionize transportation. PHOTO: ANGELO MERENDINO/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES
It isn’t as far off as you think: This year you may even ride in a self-driving car. Uber has begun a pilot in Pittsburgh where robotic Fords pick up passengers. (Arizona is next.) Don’t worry, human “drivers” ensure the vehicles are operating properly.
A Privacy Wake-Up Call
Cybercrime changed the world in 2016, as Yahoo declared it lost a billion logins and the U.S. government blamed hackers for upending the presidential election. In 2017, chances are good you’ll get hacked—if you haven’t been already. Digital rights activists are sounding the alarm about expanded government surveillance. Marketers like Google are getting more aggressive, too, at compiling detailed profiles of your online behavior. What can you do? Become vigilant about passwords, software updates and encrypted messaging. There’s already been a surge in downloads of the secure chat app Signal.
Consoles Up Their Game
The year ahead will bring a new VR-focused Microsoft Xbox and Nintendo’s Switch hybrid hand-held/set-top console. Sony is likely to preview a new PlayStation, too.
The Nintendo Switch hybrid gaming device is expected to be released in 2017. PHOTO: NINTENDO/REUTERS
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.
Screens Take Over
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.
Net Neutrality’s About-Face?
AT&T allows its mobile subscribers to stream its DirecTV Now pay-TV service without using up any megabytes of their data plans. PHOTO: AT&T
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.
AI Brings the Magic
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.
An updated Google Translate app, seen in a 2015 photo, enables smartphones to translate signs, menus and more into English. Google hopes it will be useful for teachers, medical personnel, police and others in multilingual communities. PHOTO: GLENN CHAPMAN/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES
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.