5G, financial superapps and trust: 7 Tech Trends for 2020

A new year and a new decade, but what sorts of technological advances can we expect to see over the coming 12 months?

That’s the question we put every year to a stellar panel of UK journalists from at our Tech Trends event.

This year, we hosted:

  • Rory Cellan-Jones, Technology Correspondent, BBC
  • Lucy Hedges, Technology Editor, Metro
  • Madhumita Murgia, European Technology Correspondent, Financial Times
  • Geoff White, Freelance Technology Journalist, Channel 4 News / BBC / Forbes

Regulation, 5G, connected devices, AI’s image problems, financial super-apps and ransomware all featured prominently in the discussion. Read on to learn more about the key trends to keep on your radar in 2020.

1. Health and fitness get smart and connected

The smartphone evolution has plateaued in recent years, with most devices homogenous black rectangles, regardless of the manufacturer. Teething troubles with a new wave of foldable phones make that technology unlikely to find a mass audience any time soon, though more devices will be brought to market.

Where smartphones do still hold great potential is in their connectivity to other devices, particularly in the health and fitness sectors. Digital diagnosis through wearable tech that can continuously track metrics like blood pressure and pulse will only grow as the devices become even more user friendly, while the new MedWand will allow doctors to examine and diagnose patients remotely.

The connected fitness trend will gather pace, from sensor-laden footwear to smart yoga mats and dongles for treadmills. Swimmers, for so long paddling away in the dark ages while their drier counterparts enjoyed great technological innovations, will finally be catered for with the arrival of Instabeat’s smart goggles.

2. The future is 5G

2020 will see 5G’s momentum accelerate but, as ever, a new generation of wireless technology comes with a heady mix of excitement, security concerns and a little scepticism.

One key debate is around an uneasiness with allowing Huawei’s tech to form part of telco infrastructures. Should the UK government comply with the Trump administration’s calls for the Chinese company to be banned, this will cause major problems not only for the network’s growth but for its existing infrastructure. The smart money is therefore on Huawei’s tech being allowed to remain, with explicit reassurance that it will be kept out of any core infrastructure.

As far as consumers are concerned, a watershed moment is likely due in September, when Apple is expected to launch a long-awaited 5G-ready iPhone. This could be the moment 5G begins to capture the wider public’s imagination.

If it does so, there is huge potential. 5G will allow mobile gaming to match and even surpass the experience of top-end consoles and all while on the move. High-speed 5G laptops are also expected to come to market, offering an always-on, always-connected experience that could improve the UK’s productivity.

But arguably, the real potential of 5G lies not in the hands of the consumer, but in its ability to power everything from smart cities to remote surgery. Many of our clients are betting big on it and it’s easy to see why.

3. Trust and anti-trust

While the 2016 US presidential election and Brexit referendum could be seen as the high water mark for blatant interference in democracy, the lack of clarity or improvement over the subsequent years has continued to corrode public trust.

In the upcoming US election, expect to see significant gains made by whichever candidate positions themselves as most willing to take a strong stance against the big tech companies.

Regulation will also play a crucial role. The European Commission is set to publish the Digital Services Act which offers a great opportunity to regain some control over the sector and harness a lot of the excitement and potential a connected world once seemed to offer.

Similar moves will be made to safeguard personal privacy. The continuing demise of the browser cookie is one way of addressing this, preventing our every move online from being tracked, but there are big decisions to be made around online advertising and facial recognition technology, the latter the subject of a landmark case set to go through the UK’s Court of Appeal this year.

4. Tech to tackle the climate crisis

Few can dispute that the climate crisis is one of the most pressing issues of our time, and the tech sector must take on major responsibility in helping to combat it. Most notably, machine learning could emerge as a key way of improving distribution across electricity grids and of increasing efficiency.

And while smart homes have not managed to progress much beyond a novelty factor – it’s nearly 20 years since smart fridges first appeared at CES – they could play a part in addressing the crisis, with energy saving devices and smart meters actively improving our carbon footprints.

5. Is AI in need of a rebrand?

AI has now become so widely used as a term that some think it’s actually detrimental to its progress. It’s arguably too generic and broad, and also poorly defined, which has allowed too many companies to label things as AI to jump on a bandwagon.

This is both a tech issue – where standard computer functions are lazily equated to AI – and a communication issue, with AI’s capabilities and relationship with machine learning seeming to differ from one company to the next. A potential step is a move away from the catch-all term of AI and towards a smarter discussion around the technology, with better defined categories.

6. The West’s quest for a financial super-app

The combination of fintech and superapps in Asia has long been the envy of western tech giants. More or less everything can be done through a smartphone and an integrated payment/social media app, with China’s WeChat Pay and Alipay leading the way. Ant Financial, which owns the latter, is already the world’s most valuable unicorn and its expected IPO this year will only underline the potential that the likes of Facebook and Google are desperate to replicate.

Facebook’s difficulties in launching its Libra service mean that there remains a hole in the market and this continued failure to launch could instead see one of the existing giants expand globally, especially with 1.7 billion people worldwide remaining unbanked.

7. Ransomware refusals carry greater risk

An increasing blurring of the lines between traditional cyber-criminal gangs, nation state attackers and hacktivists will combine with a greater awareness of the reputational and financial damage an attack can cause.

The problem with extortion is when a company refuses to pay but when lower level hackers are supported by nation states, they now have the resources to target high-profile companies. The potential to combine a data breach with the financial markets, betting big against a company’s value in the knowledge that you will then leak damaging information, could become more profitable than demanding a ransom, while those targeted could be forced to play damage limitation and acquiesce rather than face even greater reputational and financial penalty on the markets.

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It’s an incredibly exciting time to be in tech and we can’t wait to see the innovations that come to life over the year ahead.

We’re constantly working with our clients to navigate the impact of the trends that take shape, helping the brands that are transforming the world tell unforgettable stories. If you’d like to talk to us about how we can put our BETTER STORIES | BIGGER IMPACT approach to work for you, get in touch!

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