The future has arrived: virtual reality is about to get real in 2016
Health apps, smart homes and smarter phones will also be on trend this year
Virtual reality headset
Dyson’s robot vacuum cleaner
Smart homes controller
Windows 10 for phones
Wearable health app
Making predictions about which aspects of technology will be big in the coming year involves some crystal ball-gazing and plenty of luck. Manufacturers are keen to push what they want consumers to buy – remember 3D? – meaning the things that hit the headlines may not necessarily be the things that get consumers excited.
But there are some things that will clearly be major themes in the tech industry in 2016. From the increasing march of the internet of things turning our homes into smarter, more connected buildings, to drones and robots and the ongoing obsession with monitoring our health, expect much of the same that has dominated the tech landscape in 2015.
Reality goes virtual
Virtual reality is set to be a big deal in 2016, as the major players finally get ready to launch their products.
In one corner, you have Oculus, which is being backed by Microsoft and has lent its technology to the Samsung Gear VR. In the other, you have the HTC and Valve with the Vive headset, which is hoping to scoop up some of the gamers who are not keen on Oculus’s deal with Facebook.
Sony, meanwhile, is unveiling its PlayStation VR – formerly known as Project Morpheus – with the emphasis firmly on gaming. Microsoft is covering all its bases with a new holographic computer system dubbed HoloLens.
But there are other applications for VR outside of entertainment, as many companies are already demonstrating. It could be used for training, as a commercial aid and as a marketing tool. There are cheaper options, from Google Cardboard to the Gear VR, all of which use your smartphone as a screen.
Wearable technology has been around for some time, but no one can argue it didn’t need to be improved. Fitness bands have evolved from mere expensive pedometers to heart-rate and sleep monitors, linking with apps to give a fuller picture of your health.
Wearables have also become actually wearable, rather than novelty items you are fascinated with and embarrassed by. Perhaps the watershed moment was Apple’s decision to enter the market, focusing new attention on what was once seen as a niche area for smartwatch fans.
This may not be the year when wearable technology becomes more acceptable on a mass scale, but we should see more products outside the usual fitness applications, some useful and some not.
Smart homes get smarter
The smart home is getting a boost from some less likely sources as manufacturers see the potential revenue in the sector.
Samsung has unveiled its SmartThings hub, for example, which will keep a watchful eye on your house, covering everything from temperature and humidity to security and appliances via smart plugs. It also links with other products to control your lights, locks and other necessities.
Dyson, meanwhile, is getting ready to launch its robot vacuum cleaner in Europe. The device can be controlled via an app and intelligently maps your room each time it cleans, so there is no more confusing it by moving a chair or two.
There’s plenty more to come at the CES exhibition in Las Vegas this week: watch this space.
This is a given really. The smartphone sector will be a battleground between Apple and Android, while Microsoft’s Windows 10 system will still trail behind.
Within the Android market, the Chinese manufacturers, such as Huawei and OnePlus, will continue to make waves at the more affordable end of things, while Sony, Samsung and HTC will fight it out for more premium customers.
But don’t write Windows for phones off just yet. The system may get a boost from Windows 10 and its universal app ability, b4. There’s also Windows 10’s ability to hook up a keyboard and a monitor to your phone through a hub, turning your phone into the brains of a PC.
It won’t be enough to make it a serious threat to Apple or Google in 2016, but it may give Windows phones a boost.
‘The Uber of . . . ’
You wonder how companies feel about developing a service only to have it tagged as “the Uber of [insert industry here]”. Maybe it’s irritating. Or maybe they don’t mind being associated with such a globally successful firm.
Either way, expect a lot more of it next year as entrepreneurs come up with more ways for you to use your smartphone to get exactly what you need when you need it.