For the tech industry, 2019 may be more about laying groundwork than historic breakthroughs. But it should be a busy and exciting year, as key new technologies begin finding their way into real, useful applications.
The smartphone will still be our central tech device by the end of next year, but as augmented reality and wearables progress, we’ll sense more and more that a new paradigm in personal computing is around the corner. That will be helped along by enabling technologies such as 5G networks, which will be stretching far and wide by the end of 2020. And, artificial intelligence will become infused in all kinds of products, allowing gadgets and services to subtly begin to anticipate our wants.
These tectonic shifts are already creating opportunity and chances for innovation. Venture capital investments on startup companies are on pace to reach $100 billion in 2018, far exceeding 2017’s $82 billion in investments. The big question is which of these opportunity areas will mature in 2019. We asked venture capitalists, tech analysts, and a few entrepreneurs for their thoughts on the subject.
Patrick Moorhead, principal, Moor Insights & Strategy
On the growth of AI: We will see further permutations of artificial intelligence making their way into every aspect of our lives and our devices. We will see more services and experiences. Obviously the upside is that these things will become better at knowing what you want beforehand, and then doing it for you, whether that is meeting management or calling a Waymo self-driving cab or a microwave knowing exactly what you’ve put inside it and then starting when you tell it to start. This is all brought about by massive improvements in computational power and savvy programming.
Peter Rojas, partner, Betaworks Ventures
On AI in media: In the coming year, we’ll see a number of technologies that blur the boundaries between what is real and what is synthetic. There’s synthetic media, where powerful new tools for creating highly realistic computer-generated imagery are increasingly accessible to anyone with a decent laptop or smartphone. Another part of synthetic media is algorithmically generated content, in which tools like generative adversarial networks create, enhance, or edit media far more efficiently than humans. We’d also put news articles “written” by AI in this category. Related to all this is the new world of digital avatars and virtual celebrities/influencers that use these tools.
Matt Hartman, partner, Betaworks Ventures
On opportunities in ethical technology: This past year we saw consumers and employees of the big tech companies begin to push back against the ways those companies are using our data, building AI, manipulating our behavior, and who they are choosing to do business with–like certain government agencies. Society is just beginning to demand ethical consideration along with technological advancement. I think we’ll see this movement toward humane technology gives rise to new business models that are not built on harvesting our attention. Some of those, like subscriptions or tipping platforms exist today, and I’m eager to see what new innovations emerge as startups look to align their business models with their users’ need to be in control of how their data is used and how their time is spent.
Avi Greengart, research director of consumer devices, GlobalData
On consumer adoption of AR glasses in 2019: I don’t think we get there next year. The idea that you’ll slip on a pair of glasses and all of a sudden you’re Iron Man is something you’re more likely to see in Marvel’s Infinity War: Endgame than in your local Best Buy. That said, I am hopeful that some of those scenarios are still coming but they may still be a few years out. We have companies like Vuzix and Microsoft that are working on those things for the enterprise, but also companies like Apple, which is already building AR experiences into pretty much every iOS device today.
On phones and 5G: We’ll see some new form factors including folding phones and phones where instead of a notch you’ll see a hole punched off in the corner. The big question now though is around 5G . . . Whether or not we’ll see some of the the big promises of 5G in 2019 is still a big open question. Low latency mobile gaming is something I’m convinced we’ll see; it’s just whether it will be next year or the year after. Whether we’ll all be driving around staring at holograms inside 5G cars, I’m skeptical about that in the short term, but in the long term that’s something I’m sure we’ll see. I don’t expect a 5G iPhone next year.
Timoni West, director of XR research, Unity Technologies
On new user controls for AR/VR experiences: Controllers are still the name of the game in XR over the next two or three years. It still feels really awkward when people interact with digital objects [using old modalities] like we see with the current HoloLens, although this may change when we see the new HoloLens, possibly in 2019. A button press is still a button press. Computers can’t actually read our minds. What we need to see is more body level stuff. It’s very exciting to think about transmodality in input methods–combining things like eye tracking, voice recognition, hand gestures, finger bone tracking–then you’re getting somewhere close to magic. You’re getting closer to that feeling of Harry Potter casting a spell. But even then you’re going to have to do a lot of calibration to make it all work together.
Paul Carter, CEO of Global Wireless Solutions
On the 5G hype wave: All of the industry players are trying hard to make “first to market” claims for 5G networks. And, 5G devices are coming soon in 2019 although we likely won’t see the 5G iPhone until 2020. The reality is that it’s not an instantaneous transition. We will have a blended network of 5G, 4G, and even 3G, depending upon geography.
Dan Hays, tech, media, and telecom industry lead, PwC
On the rise of fixed wireless: The biggest story in telecom in 2019 may well wind up being how the use of wireless technologies is renewing competition in broadband services. While the vast majority of consumer and enterprise broadband services are currently delivered over cable or fiber optic connections, 2019 should see more companies–including incumbent cable and telephone providers–look to wireless links to expand their networks and offer increased speeds to consumers and small businesses.
On the slow death of pure cable TV: As the old saying goes, “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.” This is especially true for video services, where continued declines in traditional, bundled subscription services are set to reach a breaking point in 2019. We expect to see even more cable, satellite, and fiber-based service providers shifting their focus to a combination of providing broadband services and delivering competitive, over-the-top, cloud-based video streaming services as consumers increasingly reject legacy services and their higher costs.
M.G. Siegler, general partner, Google Ventures
On startups built on voice platforms: I continue to be on the lookout for startups in the audible-computing space. The rise of Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home in 2018 has these devices in millions of homes already, and this holiday season should only accelerate that trend. I would include Apple’s AirPods in this general space as well. These are not niche products. But the jury is still out—people need to learn to use these devices beyond just listening to music or asking for the weather. I believe they will, especially as young people grow up with them integrated into their lives. It will take time, but I think the groundwork can be laid in 2019.
Dave Welsh, growth equity leader, KKR
On consumer experiences: Moving beyond commerce, consumers are looking for more than material goods–experiences are the next opportunity for startups. Consumers have more disposable income today, leading to the desire to not just go somewhere, but to experience it like a local or to have a curated tour providing an extra level of depth and fun. This is the next frontier beyond Airbnb, Uber, and Lyft.
Miles Clements, partner, Accel
On cities realizing the opportunity of micromobility: 2018 may well have been the year of the scooter, but their impact on cities and archaic urban infrastructure is just beginning to make a dent. Revenue share agreements with high-growth startups like Bird and Lime provide cities with income streams they’ve never before had exposure to. As municipalities invest those dollars into infrastructure improvement and new commuter options, an ecosystem of tools will emerge for urban planning, transit mapping, and ease of navigation around the modern urban environment.
Greg Sullivan, Director of Communications, Mixed Reality, Microsoft
On AR in the enterprise: This past year one of the things that’s become clear is that the commercial space has seen the value of HoloLens, and AR/VR/XR in general, in a range of deployments in some very interesting ways. There is a value in taking the digital world and the physical world and bringing them together in meaningful ways. We’re just starting to see people getting a handle on what they can do with the technology–things like remotely assisting someone or laying out physical objects in a digital space. In the next 12 months we expect to continue to realize the commercial value of the HoloLens. We fully expect to see more [enterprise] customers take advantage of HoloLens to achieve more.
Michael Wolf, former MTV president and current Activate CEO
On the proliferation of smart cameras: We see 2019 as the year of the smart camera. Over the next four years, the average American will have 12 smart camera devices in their lives. As part of that, we expect people to increasingly put cameras inside their homes, especially as existing smart speakers add cameras. Already, roughly 18% of adults have non-mobile smart cameras–this is today.
The cameras can create networks, and we see the Ring camera on someone’s front door connecting with someone’s car or phone so that everyone else in the neighborhood can see what’s going on. Smart cameras will also enable cashierless retail, seamless facial recognition security (say for going to the ATM), and at-home medical diagnoses. Smart cameras are just exploding, people see them as a way to not only interact but control their own security.
Scott Parazynski, CEO, Fluidity (and former astronaut)
On drones in 2019: Drones will continue to pop up in amazing new applications in 2019, with ever greater sensor capabilities and advances in pilot-guided automation. We believe that advances in human-machine interfaces in particular will dramatically reduce the training time and cognitive workload for drone pilots, allowing for much wider adoption for enterprise applications in dynamic, unscripted environments. While still a niche market, we see substantial growth in the public safety realm–fire, search and rescue, police and security–as well as DoD and security applications.
Carl Esposito, president of electronic solutions, Honeywell Aerospace
On laying the groundwork for flying cars: The work being done over the next 12 months will be crucial to making the vision for urban air mobility a reality. We’ve seen a lot of innovative and motivated companies come to the table with concept aircraft and business models that sketch out a future where you and I get to commute from point-to-point with ease and convenience in our “flying cars.” But before we cross that threshold, we need to map out the regulations, infrastructure, and relationships that make the skies above our urban environments as safe and efficient as the routes we travel today. A lot of that foundation will be set in 2019.
Steve Case, CEO, Revolution (and cofounder of AOL)
On how cities with losing Amazon HQ2 bids may still profit: It would have been great if Amazon chose an unexpected location between the coasts, but I believe the bid for HQ2 has the potential to deliver significant benefits starting in 2019 for the cities that participated, but didn’t take home the prize. The search for Amazon’s second headquarters drove collaboration between universities, economic development groups, civic leaders, and startup ecosystem builders. Those efforts could likely prove catalytic for these cities, helping to build the next thriving startup community that might–just might–launch the next Amazon. Next year, look for cities to repurpose what they built to lure Amazon to help their own cities rise.
Vic Gundotra, CEO, AliveCor
On the role of artificial intelligence in health care: One of the major trends that we’ll see in 2019 is the explosion of devices that push consumers to do more measurement of biometrics like heart rate monitoring and glucose monitoring and remote blood pressure. And we’ll also see and explosion of frustration on the part of doctors around how to make sense of all this data. How do you deal with the data of a consumer constantly generating heart measurements? How do you deal with consumers generating hear data who may be anxious? At some point in 2019 there will be a realization that AI is going to be needed to make sense out of all this data, because physicians don’t have the time to look at this tidal wave of data.
Bob Kocher, partner, Venrock
On AI in health care: AI will gain traction in health care but not where the hype is focused. While there is tremendous interest in applying AI to clinical decision making, we think that clinical use cases will prove to be harder than expected. The data needed to train AI models is messy, and the business models are challenging. Instead, we think AI will gain traction first helping payers and providers reduce administrative costs. This is likely because the datasets are larger and far better quality. For example we have years of high-quality claims, coding, and quality data. Lowering admin costs immediately boosts margins in a sector where nobody outside of pharma makes much money.