January 2, 2015

Technology Trends: 2014 Recap and Predictions for the New Year

In 2014, the line blurred more than ever between our lives and technology. As we heavily incorporate technology into our lives, both citizens and businesses have made adjustments for the benefits that come with being more technologically advanced. However, 2014 has also shown us that there are downsides to being constantly tethered to an online experience.

We’ve condensed this year’s technology trend reports into three larger insights and conclude with our prediction of what to expect in the new year.    

Insight 1: The Internet is everywhere.

Gone are the days in which online browsing required sitting in front of a desktop computer. Instead, larger wireless networks are being constructed worldwide: in February of this year, Sochi built the largest Olympic Park wireless network to date; Wi-Fi has become an expected resource in air travel; more than 7,000 pay phones in New York City are set to become wireless hot spots; and Facebook paid millions for a drone company, which will provide those in developing nations with Internet access.

Smartphones and tablets are typically thought of as the primary mobile access points to the web. However, objects in our homes, offices, and even our clothing are now becoming connected. The Internet of Things continued to grow in 2014, predicted to become a trillion-dollar industry by 2020. 

Insight 2: Technology is integrating with our personal lives, making mountains of new data available.

At the South by Southwest (SXSW) tech expo last March, an entire room was dedicated to “wearables,” or technology that can be worn. Examples from SXSW included clothing that recharges cell phones and wristbands that detect individual cardiac rhythms for access to personal apps and data, replacing passwords. Many of these personal tech gadgets specialize in gathering data to feed back to you in a patterned and comprehensive way – for example, showing how caffeine has affected your sleep or how your mile run has improved over time. However, these gadgets also send endless amounts of data back to their parent companies.

Companies are paying big for access to your web history and harvested data so they can market to you individually. Ever wonder why you buy a product online, and related advertisements show up in your Facebook stream or suggested YouTube videos later that week?  Data is being used to observe a pattern in customers’ tracked activity to better anticipate future wants and needs. If you walk into a retail store, the staff may already know your shirt size or what you recently purchased online – helping them to more quickly discover what will be the best fit for you. And it’s not limited to retail – analysis of big data can also help manufacturers better predict the needs of distributors, shorten machine downtimes, or make more effective purchasing decisions.   

Insight 3: There are privacy and security risks associated with being so connected.

Digital payments and passwords make transactions more convenient, but at what cost? How secure is all of the personal information that we provide online?

In May, Dish Network announced that it would accept Bitcoin, a virtual currency, as payment. In October, Apple announced ApplePay, a new digital payment option, joining others such as PayPal and Square to turn our smartphones into wallets. However, neither of these announcements came without issues and a general apprehension of connecting bank accounts to a third party.

The public is still wary of tying their finances to the Internet – which has been proven fallible in 2014. In April, the Heartbleed Virus affected many large online corporations and the personal data they were protecting. The virus forced businesses to recertify their sites as secure and patch up the damage done by hackers to their sites’ wireframes. The ordeal pointed out a flaw in the Internet’s open-source infrastructure.   

Moving into 2015: Predictions

Technology will become an even larger force in commerce.

2014 saw a surge in eCommerce activity in multiple sectors; in fact, even the Girl Scouts went online. Chinese tech giant Alibaba (controlling 80% of Chinese online commerce) appeared on the American market with the largest IPO ever. Amazon pushed to launch drones that can deliver packages in under an hour. Through a NEMA survey, we learned that 89% of electrical contractors are using mobile devices at work, placing material orders through web stores while on the job site. Moving forward, companies will need to build their online presence, and it will be the norm for those web storefronts to be just as personal as the high-quality service found in brick-and-mortar stores.

Internet and technology issues and regulations will move into the political sphere.

Though not discussed significantly during midterm elections this year, expect to see technology issues enter public forums in 2015. Internet regulations, especially net neutrality, will affect not only the way that companies do business online, but also how consumers experience online media, communication, and commerce.

The federal government is also making moves to improve its internal technology. Early in 2014, it was announced that the government would be streamlining its data facilities. In addition, President Obama appointed the United States’ first female Chief Technology Officer, Megan Smith, who is on a mission to bring the federal government into a new technology age.

2014 witnessed continued evolution and integration of technology, with both businesses and individuals harnessing data and technology to improve the way we operate. We have available more information than ever before, but we must take care to understand both the benefits and potential consequences of such developments moving forward in 2015.