Technology like artificial intelligence (AI) and the internet of things (IoT) is re-shaping industry and augmenting the abilities of professionals, including doctors, lawyers, and architects, enabling them to do amazing new things. However, it’s also enriching our everyday lives by improving our ability to communicate with friends and family, improve our health, fill our homes with smart appliances and gadgets, or simply just letting us kick back and enjoy movies, music, and gaming in more impressive and experiential ways.
Consumer technology is a broad category of products and services that cater to helping us solve problems or just have better experiences in our day-to-day lives. It can be big and bold, in the manner that only a 100-inch 8K tv set can be, or sleek and portable, like the latest generation of phones, watches, and media players.
So here’s an overview of a few of the ways that Apple, Samsung, Sony, and the other market leaders will be looking to part us from our hard-earned cash in 2022.
Rise of the Domestic Robots
Robots in the home have been on the cards for a while, and robotic vacuum cleaners and other single-purpose devices are already relatively common. But with Astra, Amazon is bringing what it believes will be the first general-purpose home robot to the market. If it’s a success, other manufacturers are sure to follow, in the same way, they did when Amazon introduced home AI assistants with the Echo.
Astra can act as a roving security bot, keeping an eye out for people who shouldn’t be there, as well as an "Alexa on wheels," coming to find you when you have calls or alerts. It also has a personality so it can keep you company or just provide general entertainment. Other robots that are either hitting the market or appearing as prototypes will offer help with household chores, healthcare monitoring for the elderly who live alone, or serve an educational purpose.
The first generation of "smart" products were really just "connected products," from smartphones that let us browse the web to TVs that let us watch Youtube and Netflix. Machine learning came later, and as well as enabling phones to prolong their battery life with intelligent power management, or take better pictures with image enhancing algorithms, brought us smart thermostats that learn how to operate efficiently and devices that are essentially capable of operating autonomously, like self-driving cars. Today, rather than simply letting us watch online content and run apps, smart TVs use AI to adapt their picture and sound to the environment they are in, and have built-in natural language recognition algorithms so we can control them with our voices. Smart consumer devices in 2022 will build on this ability to deliver personalized solutions to the unique challenges we face in our day-to-day lives, whether it’s the angle that the sun shines on our TV screen or monitoring our activity to provide fitness advice.
VR/AR and the Internet of Senses
Engage with digital content and services online traditionally involves stimulation of two of our senses – sight and hearing. Moving forward, both manufacturers and content providers will look to engage us through touch, taste, and smell to create truly immersive consumer experiences. Much of this will take place in virtual reality environments (VR), where new devices will let us smell and feel experiences, meaning that they will seem increasingly “real” and interactive. Videogame Phasmophobia involves hunting ghosts, with the terrifying innovation that players can feel themselves being touched or grabbed by ghouls and apparitions, if they are wearing a haptic suit. Both VR and augmented reality (AR) consumer devices will proliferate during 2022 – Oculus is reported to have sold close to two million of its Quest 2 headsets during 2021, meaning more content producers will be motivated to bring their games and experiences to VR. We can also expect competitors like HTC and Sony to step up their play for their share of the lucrative new market. We can also expect consumer entertainment, including movies and gaming, to provide more realistic audio experiences – Nvidia is applying the “ray tracing” principles it uses to create ultra-realistic computer images to sound creation, to create richer and more realistic soundscapes.
Enter the Metaverse
A new Matrix movie will drive consumer interest in virtual worlds and alternate digital realities, and consumer technology will be there to offer a taste in 2022. Companies including Facebook, Nvidia, and Microsoft have laid out their plans for the metaverse, with their aim of creating immersive online environments that offer a persistent world for work, socializing, and play. However, game developer Epic could have played the biggest part in showing us the way forward, with its Fortnite game attracting up to 15 million players online at any one time, to build things, experience live concerts, and, of course, blow each other up.
5G and other ultrafast networks
5G capabilities will become the norm for mobile phones and other devices at all price points, rather than being confined to premium and flagship products. This will mean higher definition and higher bandwidth video services will start to become available, including 8K streaming as well as cloud gaming and VR. This means that devices will become smaller and lighter as there’s no need for bulky processors and graphics chips, with all the calculations being done remotely and the output simply streamed to consumer devices as a video feed.
Smart homes and the internet of things
The trend for all things domestic to become increasingly “smart” and capable of communicating and connecting with each other in more useful ways will continue throughout the next year. In fact, analysts at Gartner have predicted that the average home could contain more than 500 smart devices during 2022. This year should finally see the launch of Matter, the “smart home OS” created in collaboration by Apple, Google, and Amazon, which aims to create a standard operating environment for connected devices in the home. Currently, devices from different manufacturers generally operate using their own protocols, and although these are frequently designed to play nicely with others, there’s no equivalent of Windows or MacOS to let consumers manage and connect all of their gadgets and toys. This could change in 2022, when it’s predicted the market for smart home devices will grow to $53 billion.
NFT, blockchain, and digital twins
I’m putting these all together in one category because when it comes to their applications in consumer technology, they are closely related. Put simply, blockchains (persistent, distributed, and encrypted digital ledgers), NFTs (unique tokens that can be created and stored on blockchains), and digital twins (digital models or replicas of real-world products or processes) will change the way we interact with technology. In 2022 we will start to see them impacting consumer products in a big way. Consumer brands including Sony, Asics, and Coca-Cola have signaled their intention to be a part of the NFT space, and we can expect to see digital goods and services designed to complement and augment physical consumer products. This is a result of brands increasingly seeing growing their digital engagement to be equally important to their business strategy as simply selling us products.