We don't need fully self-driving cars to save lives TECHnalysis Research Services: Guest Columns, December 31, 2018
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USAToday Column


December 31, 2018
2018: Why it's not just the year the tech industry would like to forget

By Bob O'Donnell

FOSTER CITY, CALIF.—Oh, what a year it was.

Rocked by data privacy scandals, social media tampering, and #MeToo movement-inspired management oustings, it’s easy to get stuck in the storyline that 2018 was a year that the tech industry would like to completely forget. But that isn’t the complete picture.

To be clear, those tech company-instigated concerns are all extremely important issues and will likely impact not just the tech world, but our overall society for many years to come. However, there were also quite a few positive and forward-looking developments that came from the tech industry this year as it's struggled through its awkward adolescent stage and into full adulthood.

For one, 2018 was the year when the idea of voice computing went mainstream. Thanks to the ongoing success of products like Amazon’s Alexa-powered Echo line and the Google Assistant-driven Google Home series, a large percentage of US homes now have an entirely new way to interact with the internet and information in general. While there are certainly growing pains to overcome and capabilities to expand, there’s no doubt that we’ll soon look backward to 2018 as the real beginning of an entirely new way of interacting with the digital world in a more invisible, more science-fiction-like “ambient computing” type of manner.

The past year also saw computing and digital technology take on new forms. Consider the latest iteration of Sony’s somewhat expensive (yet still sold out of its initial run) Aibo robotic dog. Leveraging the latest artificial intelligence (AI) technologies, a gaggle of sensors, and important refinements in personal robotics technologies, Aibo previews a world of robotic companions. More importantly, it provides a positive perspective on how we might be able to have more “human” interactions with technology-based products in the future.

And 2018 was also the year, however, when technologies that seemed unstoppable started to hit a wall — at least for the near term. After years of growth, the worldwide smartphone market saw sales declines — in no small part because, well, they’ve become boring. Sure, they’re amazing devices that all we spend way too much time on, but at this point, they pretty much all look (and dare I say function) the same. Thankfully, the expected launch of foldable screens and 5G networks promises to spice things up in the smartphone market in 2019.

Similarly, despite years of hype, the market for virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) products has yet to go mainstream. Yes, this year saw the debut of the widely anticipated Magic Leap headset, but its inauspicious launch as a development platform has yet to make even the tiniest ripple in the market. Plus, the last few months have seen the rapid declines of several noteworthy startups in the field including Meta, ODG, Blippar and others. Most companies involved aren’t yet giving up on AR/VR devices, but there’s certainly been a resetting of expectations and refocusing on more niche opportunities.

In the automotive world, 2018 saw some tremendous technology advancements — most consumers are now as interested, if not more interested, in the tech features that come in a car as they are in traditional performance metrics. Unfortunately, these tech advances were largely offset by the deeply disturbing fact that early efforts at autonomous driving have been directly and indirectly involved in the deaths of civilians over the past year.

Life-and-death consequences are a harsh new reality for the tech world and there’s no question that it’s going to take a long time before most consumers completely trust autonomous driving efforts. Thankfully, excellent progress is being made on more practical safety advances in technology-driven assisted driving features, such as automatic braking and drowsiness monitoring, and we should see a lot more in 2019.

Through a technology business lens, 2018 saw several surprising developments. First, after years of incredible growth, big tech leaders saw their stock prices take dramatic hits. The FAANG (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Google) stocks, in particular, are now all down over 20% for the year. In addition, Apple was recently dethroned as the most valuable company in the world — after several years on top — replaced by another, long-established tech giant, Microsoft. In part, this is indicative of a sharper focus on the growth potential of the more business-to-business focused tech strategy that Microsoft has, but it’s also an acknowledgment that Microsoft’s capabilities have successfully expanded into a much broader range of tech-based offerings, including cloud computing, than it ever has before.

All told, 2018 was both a remarkable and tumultuous year for the tech industry that set the stage for what promises to be an even more incredible year in 2019. Between the growing power and influence of AI, the widespread launch of 5G, and the inevitable movements towards meaningful national regulation on certain aspects of tech industry, 2019 is already shaping up to be the most highly anticipated year for tech industry observers in quite some time.

Here’s a link to the original column: https://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/columnist/2018/12/31/2018-year-technology/2388953002/

USA TODAY columnist Bob O'Donnell is the president and chief analyst of TECHnalysis Research, a market research and consulting firm that provides strategic consulting and market research services to the technology industry and professional financial community. His clients are major technology firms including Microsoft, HP, Dell, and Intel. You can follow him on Twitter @bobodtech.