2014 brought us twerking, Sam Smith, better smart thermostats and the promise of the Apple Watch. Here are seven trends we expect to see in full bloom at this week’s Consumer Electronics Show that will impact technology and lifestyle products throughout 2015:
1. The internet of things. If you can’t resist, go ahead and enable things with intelligence; just, do it in a smart way. Water heaters, smoke alarms, thermostats, lights, and almost anything with a plug has the potential to be net-enabled. The Consumer Electronics Association and Parks Associates believe 20% of U.S. households will acquire one or more “smart home” devices within the next year. Young people are already leading the way; according to the study — The Internet of Things: Smart Home Devices and Controllers — 48% of those surveyed who already own a smart home device are under 35. The challenge for designers and engineers is to determine how to provide lasting value through a smart device. Connected devices that meet real needs will succeed; most won’t.
2. Wearables out of control. Wearables are everywhere; they’re more popular than beards, but most are not nearly as fashionable. The global wearable electronics market is forecast to reach more than $25 billion and 142.6 million units by 2020, according to a new report by Allied Market Research. Mobile wireless systems and smart phones have laid the foundation for wearables and gadgets that have limited industrial and commercial applications are now enhancing quality of life in healthcare, fitness and lifestyle markets.
2014 saw an explosion of mostly wrist-worn wearable tech, yet usage rates are still in the basement. While 2015 won’t be the year of Google Glass, we think the Apple Watch shows promise. Apple will combine its lifestyle leadership with a powerful tech platform that will raise adoption rates for wearables across the board. We’ll finally be able to see on a large scale how and why wearable tech matters to people.
3. Drones around us. As with wearables, drones are quickly moving from commercial applications to the consumer landscape. From extreme photography to food delivery, there are more drones in the air than you might realize. In fact under pressure from Congress to speed access to U.S. skies for commercial drones, the U.S. government last month granted more than a dozen companies permission to expand use of drones for aerial surveillance, construction site monitoring and oil rig flare-stack inspections. Commercial drone flights are taking off in other countries even faster. Several European countries use drones for safety inspections of railroad tracks and other infrastructure, and to support commercial agriculture. Australia is engaging drones weighing more than five pounds for aerial surveying and other imaging work. And small, unmanned helicopters have been used to monitor and spray crops in Japan for more than a decade. It’s only a matter of time before our skies fill up with whirlybirds; it’s fascinating to think about how drones will impact our lives. Aside from the obvious pending legislation and an evolving shared etiquette involving drone usage (peeking in windows will soon become as shunned as yelling on your cell phone in public), the thing to watch for is autonomy. The ability to send a drone on errands is coming, but the likeliest applications are security-related: scanning your yard while you’re at work, or following Johnny to school. While land-based robotics for the home are slow in arriving (although ever-promised), self-flying drones may be the first meaningful robots we embrace, notwithstanding Roomba’s modicum of success.
4. Meaningful un-connected products. In a kind of “antidote” to trend #1, we believe smart companies are resisting the urge to connect everything and be connected everywhere just because they can. Paraphrasing Tony Fadel from Nest, “Many devices can be connected or controlled by an app, but that don’t mean it’s a good idea.” Companies that focus on products within limited platforms that first and foremost provide excellent value are following a trend that insures longevity and long-term brand awareness. That said, cheap sensors are showing up everywhere, and wearable tech and smart homes are gaining traction. If an excellent product can provide more value by being connected, there’s potential for success. But meaningful un-connected products will continue to provide the most value for the most people – at least this year.
5. Tether me not; the rise of the mobile device. Televisions are indisputably the most successful consumer electronic ever, but things are changing quickly. While TV sales are in decline from their peak of 40.3 million sold in 2012, smartphone purchases have tripled since 2010, to an estimated 163.5 million this year. Since 2010, tablet shipments have skyrocketed almost 700% to an estimated 80.4 million sold in 2014. Small screens are better than ever and give us more and more options; even airlines today depend on us bringing our screens onboard. Mobile entertainment and mobile working are the future. Physical media, like Blu-rays and DVDs are on their way out even as streaming-video services like Netflix and Hulu are on track to generate more revenue than movie theater box offices by 2017.
6. Can you hear me now? With advances in tools like Google Voice and Siri, we’ll see voice activation in new applications this year. Full-blown conversational algorithms may still be several years away, but in 2015, we’ll see new voice-based interfaces for a range of devices. However smart user experience design will make the difference between an interface that’s frustrating and one that disappears as it helps you delightfully complete the task at hand.
7. Flying cars are coming (though maybe not in 2015). The car as we know it is dead. However, cars are moving front and center at this year’s CES, with companies outside the traditional auto industry leading the next wave of tech innovation. Cars are ceding ownership of the human-centered interfaces to Apple and Google, because the smart phone is the hub for everything we do. But the auto industry has a few tricks up their sleeve. Autonomous driving is coming more quickly than you think, and it will change what we think of as “mobility” as much as Uber has transformed the hired-car industry. Still, it’s early. We’ll continue to see Google’s prototypes roaming the streets, but most of the action will be behind the scenes. Mercedes, for example, has moved their tech development to Silicon Valley with the establishment of a major technology engineering center. They and others will be developing a range of enhancements that will first make us super drivers, then will remove us from the driver’s seat altogether.
Overall, 2015 will be a great year for technology and design. The global economy is more solid and innovation is front-and-center of corporate plans everywhere.
Watch for these seven trends at CES and keep an eye out for a few surprises as companies share peeks of what they’re planning. We’re looking forward to an enjoyable and inspiring CES with plenty of trend spotting. Hope to see you there!
Mark Dziersk and John Edson | LUNAR
Celebrating 30 years of designing tech products starting with the first PowerBook for Apple to ecobee3, the “Nest killer” of thermostats, LUNAR has made its north star products that are simultaneously beautiful, ingenious and delightful.