Covid-19 radically changed many things about our lives, not least our relationship with technology. As we approach the second anniversary of the declaration of the pandemic, technological innovation is playing an ever-greater role in the way we work, communicate and entertain ourselves, and that surge now looks set to continue well into 2022.
The impact on the tech industry itself has been profound, too. While the pandemic supercharged the development and adoption of some technologies, turning some companies into big winners, others found themselves in something of a holding pattern, held up by chip shortages, hardware scarcity and economic turmoil.
LG at CES
Every January, the eyes of the industry alight on the world’s biggest tech show, Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, as it showcases some of the latest ideas and drops hints towards the direction of travel. But for the second year running, its impact will be severely dented by Covid, with Google, Amazon, Intel, Twitter and other major exhibitors having pulled out in recent days over health and safety fears.
This news may end up overshadowing that of the technology itself, but the show will still be happening virtually. It promises new categories relating to space travel and food, alongside the usual collection of eye-popping prototypes.
Korean tech giant LG, for example, is set to unveil its Media Chair, a futuristic personal pod incorporating a recliner kitted out with speakers and enveloped by a huge wrap-around screen.
Apple cars and glasses
One company never exhibits its products at CES, and that’s Apple. The past year has been pretty quiet by its standards, and this has fuelled more rumour than usual about its plans for 2022. Speculation that the company is moving into car manufacturing is once again rife, after car makers including Hyundai and Nissan issued statements last year denying their involvement.
More imminent, however, is the prospect of a pair of smart spectacles, with one reliable tech analyst, Ming-Chi Kuo, predicting a launch before the end of 2022. Ever since the lukewarm response to Google Glass – very much a product before its time – and more recent ones such as Magic Leap, the sector has felt somewhat tainted. Apple, however, is more likely to succeed where others have failed. The device is rumoured to be capable of both augmented reality (AR, information laid over the real world) and virtual reality (VR, effectively transporting you to a different computer-generated space). And once again, it’s being touted as a technology that could ultimately replace the smartphone.
Will you enter the metaverse?
Facebook recently rebranded its parent company as Meta, signalling an attempt in the coming year to accelerate its much-hyped venture into the so-called metaverse. That will involve promotion of the use of VR both at work (reimagining remote collaboration, with avatars and 3D spaces) and at play (ever-more realistic gaming scenarios). But the headsets are still clunky, the ecosystem very much in its infancy, and public enthusiasm seems limited to geeks and early adopters. It may be many years before the majority of us feel like entering the metaverse, but you can be sure that in 2022 we’ll be repeatedly told that it’s something we ought to be doing.
TikTok and Instagram: social media dominates
While Meta focuses more on VR than the Facebook platform that brought its wealth, TikTok has recently vaulted it – and Google, would you believe? – to become the world’s most popular online destination. As its number of daily users heads towards 1.5 billion, it will become a huge economic force as marketing opportunities expand and its stars begin to rake in huge sums.
Meanwhile, Instagram is seeking to recapture some of the users it has lost by reintroducing a chronological feed in the first quarter of 2022. By offering posts in chronological order – rather than posts most likely to grab attention – it will put greater control back into the hands of its users, while also countering criticism for enabling addictive behaviour. That criticism will inevitably mount up at TikTok, too, as young people devote more hours to scrolling through its feeds.
What will happen to our smartphones?
Our window to this social media world is primarily the smartphone, and low-cost Android handsets are set to get a boost in 2022 with a new version of the operating system Android Go. While a software update may look uninteresting on paper, its impact on smartphone owners in low-income countries could be huge, with faster operation and battery-saving technology enhancing both the life and the usability of those devices.
In the high-end world, meanwhile, 2022 could spell the end of that little wedge of plastic, the SIM, which has been dutifully slotted into cellphones for decades. Apple is rumoured to be producing its first eSIM-only iPhone by the autumn of 2022.
NFTs continue to rise
Of less relevance to the real world, but no less discussed, are the nebulous entities of cryptocurrencies and non-fungible tokens (NFTs), whose existence and value is predicated on their provable digital scarcity. There’s certainly no lack of interest in them: Coinbase, a cryptocurrency exchange app, overtook TikTok on a couple of occasions in 2021 to become the most downloaded app on Apple devices, while sales of NFTs are hitting record highs; auction house Sotheby’s sold 28 NFT lots in June for $17.1 million.
The question to be answered in 2022 and beyond is whether these conceptual belongings are as they’ve been billed, i.e. a thrilling opportunity for humanity and a glorious symbol of self-governance. Or, conversely, whether they’re a global grift to enable the rich to become richer, while the computer power that’s used to magic them into being continues to wreak damage on the environment.
The world will be watching, with a raised eyebrow.