The 50th Consumer Electronics Show, the world’s biggest platform for new gadgets and technology, will get underway in Las Vegas a week on Tuesday. It will serve as a taster of what we can expect not only in the coming year but through the 2020s.
The decade now ending has been defined by the smartphone. Hardly anyone had one in 2010 – unless you include Blackberries, which seemed smart at the time – but iPhones and their rivals are now in every pocket and purse. No-one can say how they will have evolved in another 10 years, but a few clues are already out there as to what else the future may hold.
Ultra high definition televisions are still relatively new, but history may yet write them off as an aberration of the 2010s, in the way it did with eight-track cartridges 40 years ago. The next few years will see 8K sets entering the consumer mainstream, offering four times the pixel density of the current standard and stunningly lifelike picture quality on screens of a suitable size. A few models are out there already, but they’re still prohibitively expensive. By the decade’s end they will be on the shelves at Asda, if indeed we still have supermarkets.
Quantum computers will be made practicable in the next few years by continuing advances in the miniaturisation of silicon chips. These so-called supercomputers will use quantum mechanics to perform certain types of calculation faster and more efficiently than a regular computer. They are not so much an upgrade but a reinvention of the concepts of computing itself – a difference so profound that no-one can fully comprehend what they will eventually be able to do. You are unlikely to have one on your office desktop by 2030, but they should be commonplace in laboratories. Who knows what secrets they will help unlock there.
Streaming TV is already here, but the launch in the last few weeks of services from Apple and Disney, to rival those of Netflix, Amazon and Google, may begin to redefine what we view in the coming years, and how we view it. The concept of “subscription fatigue” has already entered the lexicon as more and more companies compete, and the 2020s are likely to see new models of “pick and mix” viewing from across the digital landscape. Broadcast channels are not going to go away but as they decade goes on, they are less likely to be the first choice for an evening’s entertainment.
3D Printing is a niche technology likely to enter the mainstream. Children will begin to learn the techniques at school, and it’s not hard to imagine parent-friendly models being sold in the same way as conventional units now. They’re not really printers, though – more like robots that weld together three-dimensional shapes from strands of plastic.
Social media has its roots in the decade before this one, and given the backlash against its less desirable outcomes, it may not last out the next. Corporations will always find ways to trawl in impressionable young people, but the rest of us are beginning to see through the current market leaders, and it would take a brave punter who stakes much on the Facebook and Twitter brands surviving to 2030.
Debit cards in the 2020s will spend more time in your wallet, or in a drawer back in the house. Apps like Apple Pay and its Google equivalent will come as standard on almost everyone’s phone, and will replace physical cards for most purposes. It means, theoretically, that fraud will be made more difficult, since the digital cards are unusable without the owner’s fingerprint. Even more usefully, the apps will begin to replace cash, with banknotes and coins consigned to under-the-counter transactions.
Of course, had I predicted the outcome of the 2010s with any great accuracy 10 years ago, I would have packed up my fortune long ago. So really, your guess is as good as mine. Happy new year.