Before we get started, if you didn’t get the chance to read it, also check out my Top 5 Digital Developments of 2018 article before reviewing what’s planned for the new year!
2019 represents an exciting, but also rather scary time for the technology industry, and the implications of new tech developments on the broader market. The reach and power of the largest players in the tech space keeps expanding, limited only by consumers’ willingness to adopt. For instance, a recent study by Adobe states that Smart Speakers (Alexa, Google Voice, etc) will be entrenched in almost half (48%) of US homes by the start of 2019.
Meanwhile, backlashes against customer privacy have been rearing their head, and pertinent questions of firms such as Facebook and Google regarding consumer data privacy and other matters have been raised in 2018, and will continue to create ripples in the water in 2019. The main topics at hand include:
- Potential bias in the presentation of their service/product. Whether this is intentional, or as a result of the data being ingested and ranked by service and demonstrated user preference feeding these engines, there is a notable leaning across many products, with many demonstrable examples of anomalies being presented by search results and manipulations into Facebook feeds to boost or bury certain topics. This has been seen and documented to happen on Twitter, and although I want to be clear, I am not pursuing any political bias or dialogue through in this article (plenty of that already exists on the internet!), I see this area becoming something that faces increasing scrutiny over the next 12 months.
- Questions over guarding of user data held on the platforms against third party access. This applies to authorized access for firms (especially seen by Facebook with firms such as Cambridge Analytica and i360), to which associated scandals are chipping away at consumer confidence and are impacting the willingness of users to engage in the platforms. Data hacks and breaches (such as the 50 Million Facebook accounts compromised in 2018) have further eroded customer confidence in these platforms. For a company such as Facebook that makes their money through selling consumer data and views, these incidents can be severely damaging.
Although I do not see a major changing of the guard in 2019 for any of the biggest technology companies, certain moves are underway that will pave their paths forward and refine out the service offering areas in which current players will look to stay dominant in the long run. Incumbency is a huge factor or services such as Facebook and YouTube, but a failure to recognize arising challenges with their services will undoubtedly lead to the rise of challengers to the periphery that may usurp significant market share.
Top 5 Digital Technology Predictions for 2019!
1. Superfast (5G) Wireless
5G connectivity has some limitations of additional infrastructure requirements to become widely penetrative (apparently 4x the antennas vs. 4G are required to enable the service), but we are already starting to see the first promotions of upcoming 5G services in the US and beyond by wireless carriers. Although current ISPs are many of the same companies that are also pursuing this advanced wireless technology, it will be very interesting to see how their service offering is augmented if Wireless speed soon eclipses cable and even fiber based alternatives. The combination of data delivery speed and rendering time combine to make strong digital experience. Eliminating data delivery speed issues will unlock potential for a vast creative expanse of new digital services, platforms and more.
2. “Interactive Digitization” in Easy to Win areas
For examples of “interactive digitization”, think of the Fast Food Kiosks that rose in McDonalds in 2018. This will continue to be a trend, with a wider span of businesses looking to automate or create digitally interactive alternatives to face to face interactions with staff, cutting costs and increasing customer engagement with the product/service offering. The addition of AI based, Intelligent Live Chat and expansion to call centers is another area that may see expanded adoption and enhancement in 2019. If users are most frequently selecting option 8 on a list, why keep this nested it at option 8? Why not move it to option 1? Using data to power customer interactions, with smart transferal to a human representative where necessary, is a big opportunity to free up call center time, and also to assist human workers in industries such as food services where a finite amount of information is required to serve the customer’s needs. Such enhancements could enable multi-lingual service more easily, and streamline activities within the business.
3. Dynamic Digitally Enabled Services
Linking users and their preferences to enhance service is something that is currently managed within some business areas. For instance, with hotel chains, if a standard request is included as part of the booking “high floor room, non-smoking, away from elevator”, this is shared at time of booking, and is stored against the customer’s loyalty with that chain. This is a very simple example of such digital enablement in action, raising the quality of service without requiring the customer to repeat their request time and again. Taking this one step further, with smart data association, customer experience can be amplified further. For example, in the airline industry, if the following data could be combined:
- (Time + Traffic) = Driving distance from Customer’s home to Airport
- (Check in + Status) = Check-in flow/wait time expectations
- (Security Wait Time) = Expected Security wait times
- (Security to Gate Distance) = Walking distance time to Gate
An end-to-end recommendation could be provided as to when to depart for the airport, combined with smart push notifications along this journey path. Messages such as:
- “If you haven’t left already , your flight leaves at XX:XX”
- “TSA Pre is not yet associated to your ticket, would you like to add your details now?”
- “You have Platinum status, make sure to use the Priority Lane for a speedy Check-in”
Such dynamic recommendations via known customer profile aspects create a universal service that can be applied dynamically to individual users based on their profiles. Even better would be the receipt of such messaging when landing, to address the number one concern of many (especially during international travel & dealing with immigration), how long until I can get through?
Of course, this all can’t come together overnight, but it’s a glimpse into the prospective future and convenience that such knowledge would create for both travellers and airports, as the congestion at ports of entry would be decreased, the wait time at check-in desks augmenting and re-printing reservations to include TSA-PRE/Global Entry numbers would be decreased, and overall customer satisfaction would be increased
4. Progressive Web Apps, Service Workers, and Chromium
In late 2018, and to very little fanfare, Microsoft ceded the browser wars to Google by shelving development of their own browser back-end and aligning to use Chromium as their future browsing platform. This is a very large win for Google, and will likely lead to the more widespread proliferation of Google’s preferences regarding rollout and adoption of new web technologies, and shuttering and penalization of sites using legacy technologies. Google has been busy in this space, and has introduced several new web development features over the last few years that have so far seen mixed adoption across a great number of sites. Most of these technologies are focused on enhancing mobile web experience by faster browsing, pre-caching and serving pages and other services (such as web notifications) that blur the line between Apps and Websites.
Areas of development that I believe companies will pursue aggressively in 2019 include:
- Accelerated Mobile Pages Project (AMP). Conforming to Google standards to improve mobile page performance speed. AMP is in contrast to fully responsive web development, which can often include desktop-layer resources to be included in rendering of Mobile pages.
- Progressive Web Apps (PWAs). Google faces challenges on this front from Apple, as Apple has widely limited the potential of PWAs through iOS, but the idea behind PWAs is that many services otherwise limited to Mobile Apps can now be undertaken through websites themselves (notifications, background data calling & caching), should the correct permissions be granted. To facilitate much of the PWA objective, “Service Workers” are utilized. These sit between the site that is to be served from the internet, and maintain a cached version of the site that will be served quickly while a query is made as to page updated. If no page updates are available, the cached version will remain, but if updates have happened, the new version will be served. This technology holds great potential in markets with poorer internet connections, as latency and bandwidth restrictions are more prohibitive
- New Chromium based tools. The fact that chromium will now account for the majority of back-end browser serving exclusively (with Safari and Firefox being the only notable exceptions), means that more focus than ever will go into building new capabilities both by Google, presumably Microsoft, and by the Open Source community.
5. Adjustments in response to manipulation of online social channels
In late 2018, and to very little fanfare, Microsoft ceded the browser wars to Google
Some of the largest internet properties are being increasingly impacted by manipulation of their platforms by third parties. In the attempt to keep their platforms open and also to provide avenues for oft profitable 3rd party services, the content on platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube is being increasingly marginalized and by organized interference. Although the impact of improvements in these platforms as to handling the issues outlined below may not be immediately apparent or life changing to users, correcting these issues will help to keep these platforms and delivery methodologies successful in years to come.
- YouTube: YouTube’s views and recommendations have becoming increasingly manipulated by a weak sorting algorithm for trending and popularity by sophisticated businesses operating as ‘Content Farms’. An entertaining, but troubling video on this topic was recently posted on YouTube by a popular content creator, explaining the issues they’re seeing and the impact it is having on content creators.
- Twitter & Facebook: There is proven use that spam bots have been used for nefarious and often political interference based reasons. The New York Times cited such activities as having been initiated by democrat operatives in advance of the Alabama Governor’s race using various tactics to divide the Republican candidates’ audiences across both Twitter and Facebook through a variety of tactics. This is in addition to the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
- Mobile App Installs: App install farming is a real challenge that originated in Asia, and has been pervasive for the last few years. By manipulating downloads through bursts to get to top of the App stores, the launch of new Apps requires either a large investment in supporting advertising campaigns, or the employment of ‘Install Farming’, or both. Android is typically good at recognizing this activity (brief installs without much app use time), but Apple has not been so strong in its ranking algorithm. Apple introduced Search Ads in late 2017 as a paid promotional service, but as Facebook is the main other source of revenue for App installers (as well as in-app advertising networks), the market is fragmented, and the ability to mitigate impact of ‘install farming’ is limited. For an example of this activity in action, see this YouTube video.
The views in this article are my own and I have cited sources where necessary. I’m excited to see whether my Digital & Technology Predictions for 2019 come to fruition!