Each year, I look ahead to see what’s new in consumer technology to guide you as to what you might buy and warn you about what is sure to be a fad.
Many of the same “trends” come up again and again because, simply put, it takes technology a long time to mature before most of us want to buy it. That’s true this year as well. Some 2022 trends that tech companies are pushing are things you may have already heard about.
A great example is virtual reality, the technology that involves wearables that look cool and controls for manipulating games in 3D. It’s expected to be at the center of trends again this year, now that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and other tech enthusiasts have revamped it for advertising purposes as “the metaverse.”
Another eye-catching category will be the so-called smart home, the technology that helps control home appliances with voice commands directed to a speaker or a button on a smartphone. The truth is that the technology industry has been trying to reach our homes with these novelties for more than a decade. This year the products will finally start to seem practical.
A recurring technology on this list is also digital health equipment that monitors our physical condition and helps us diagnose possible ailments. And automakers, who have long been telling us about electric cars have begun to accelerate their plans to achieve a national plan that seeks to eliminate gasoline car production by 2030 in the United States.
Here are four technology trends that will invade our lives this year
- Welcome to the metaverse
For more than a decade, technologists have dreamed of an era in which our virtual lives play as important a role as our physical reality. In theory, we would spend a lot of time interacting with our friends and colleagues in virtual space and, as a result, we would spend money there to buy outfits and objects intended for our digital avatars.
“We’re in a world where people broadcast an image that reflects them several times a day,” commented Matthew Ball, a venture capitalist who has written extensively about the metaverse. “The next phase takes that visual representation and gives it dimension. You enter an environment and express yourself through an avatar.”
That sounds like something out of a science fiction movie. But throughout the second year of the pandemic, a critical mass of factors came together to make the metaverse more realistic, Ball said.
For one thing, technology improved. Last year, Facebook announced it had rebranded itself as Meta after selling 10 million units of its virtual reality headset, the Quest 2, which was a milestone.
On the other hand, many of us were ready to splurge on our digital selves. Hordes of investors bought NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, which are unique digital objects purchased with cryptocurrencies. Eminem and other investors invested hundreds of thousands of dollars to join a virtual sailing club.
This year there will be even more. Apple plans to unveil its version of a virtual reality device, which will resemble ski goggles and, for computational power, will rely on a separate computing device worn elsewhere on the body. Apple declined to comment.
Google has also been developing virtual reality products for years, and Microsoft has offered a virtual reality headset for businesses and government agencies.
The metaverse could yet prove to be a fad, depending on what products emerge and who buys them. Carolina Milanesi, a consumer technology analyst at consultancy Creative Strategies, said she worried that it could become a reflection of the privileged few who can afford to indulge in digital indulgence.
“The boating market is dominated by upper-middle-class white males,” he explained. “Will we translate all that into the metaverse?”.
2. The smart home
Over the past few years, smart home products such as internet-connected thermostats, door locks and robotic vacuums made great progress. The devices became inexpensive and worked reliably with digital assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa, Google’s Assistant and Apple’s Siri.
However, the smart home, for the most part, has remained chaotic. Many smart home products did not work well with other technologies. For example, some locks only worked with Apple cell phones and not Android; some thermostats were controlled by talking to the Google Assistant and not Siri.
The lack of compatibility has created long-term problems. An Apple-compatible lock is not useful for the family member or future tenant who prefers Android. It would also be more convenient one day if our home devices could communicate, such as for a washing machine to tell the dryer that that heavy load of laundry is ready to dry.
This year, the tech industry’s biggest rivals-Apple, Samsung, Google and Amazon-are doing well to make the smart home more practical. They plan to launch and update their home technology to work with Matter, a new standard that allows smart home devices to communicate, regardless of which virtual assistant they have or brand of cell phone. More than 100 smart home products are expected to adhere to that standard.
“We’re all speaking a common language built on already proven technologies,” said Samantha Osborne, vice president of marketing for SmartThings, the Samsung-owned home automation company.
That means that later this year, when you buy a product such as an automated door lock, look for a label indicating that the device is Matter-compatible. Then, in the future, your smart alarm clock will be able to tell your smart lights to turn on when you wake up.
3. Connected health
Fitness devices like Apple Watch and Fitbit, which help us track our movements and heart rate, continue to become more popular. As a result, tech companies are experimenting this year with smaller wearable devices that gather more intimate data about our health.
Oura, a health tech company, recently unveiled a new model of its Oura Ring, a ring that is integrated with sensors that track metrics like body temperature to accurately predict menstrual cycles. Last week at CES, a technology trade show in Las Vegas, Movano, another health startup, unveiled a similar ring that gathers data on heart rate, temperature and other metrics to inform the wearer about potential chronic diseases.
Medical experts have long warned about the potential consequences of health-focused technology. Without the proper context, the data could possibly be used to misdiagnose diseases and cause people to become hypochondriacs. However, if covid’s best-selling rapid test kits tell us anything, it’s that more of us seem ready to act proactively in monitoring our health.
4. Electric cars
Last year, President Joe Biden announced an ambitious goal: half of all vehicles sold in the United States would be electric rather than gasoline-powered by 2030.
In response, major automakers are trumpeting their electric cars, as they did at CES this week. On Tuesday, Ford announced plans to ramp up production of its F-150 Lightning electric pickup truck. This week, General Motors plans to unveil a battery-powered version of its Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck. Other manufacturers, such as Mercedes-Benz, have laid out their plans for electric vehicles to be launched in the next few years.
While there is a lot of hype around electric cars, those of us looking for battery-powered vehicles this year may be leaning toward Tesla, Milanesi said. That’s because we have yet to see widespread deployment of solar power and electric car charging stations, especially in more rural areas. Tesla has a foot in front because it has been installing charging stations for years, Milanesi added.
“On the infrastructure side, a lot still needs to be accomplished,” he said. “For now there is a lot of talk, but I don’t know how much reality is in those words.”