I've been writing a tech predictions column for over 30 years now. I study research from my firm, Creative Strategies, and look for data that provides hints of what might be the hot topics, trends or issues in the coming year. Here's what I see on the horizon for tech in 2018.
Cyber-security threats worsen
This is not a new prediction, but "state" actors have now entered the scene, reportedly with backing from countries like North Korea, Russia and China. They fund armies of hackers, who try to steal everything from nuclear secrets to bank codes, hacking into power grids and private accounts.
So it is not a stretch to predict that this will get even worse in 2018 now these hacking armies have learned how to game U.S. systems, especially as we head into midterm elections next fall.
What makes this worse for us in America specifically is that we just don't have enough security experts to counter many of these major threats. Without the talent to develop more powerful cyber-security tools (and hold on to the ones we do have), our networks are highly vulnerable. I fear this will lead to new hacking disasters in 2018 that we are ill-prepared to fend off.
More folding smartphones, tablets
I saw some very interesting folding and dual-screen phone prototypes in late 2017, and I expect to see market-ready products next year.
ZTE released the dual-screen Axon M last month, but it's exclusive to AT&T, limiting its reach, and PCMag found it to be a bit buggy in testing. With a few tweaks, though, we could see at least one foldable smartphone and one foldable tablet late in 2018 from major players, setting in motion a new trend in mobile design going into 2019.
You can't escape augmented reality
In 2017, Apple finally embraced augmented reality with ARKit, while Google revealed ARCore, leading many to believe we'd see the first killer AR apps by the holidays. But as of now, I have not seen an AR app I can't live without.
I do think the smartphone is a great place to start in terms of getting people interested in the technology; we're already staring at the devices all day anyway. But I am becoming more and more convinced that for AR to really impact our lives, it will have to be delivered through some type of smart glasses, which I don't see happening before 2020.
AR, meanwhile, is often mentioned in the same breath as virtual reality. But I see VR taking off largely in vertical markets, where all types of industries are experimenting with it to see how it affects their workflow and potential profitability. For more on that, check out PCMag's October feature, How Augmented Reality Is Transforming Work.
All-day laptop battery life
PCMag's Sascha Sagan and I were in Hawaii recently for Qualcomm's Snapdragon Summit, where it talked up its always-connected PC initiative. The premise is that these Snapdragon 835-based devices, like the HP Envy x2 and Asus NovaGo, have built-in LTE radios that provide constant internet connections and 20 hours of battery life.
I'm not quite sure the always-on aspect will be these machines' biggest selling point, though. In our iPad research, we found that 50 percent of iPads sold include the LTE radio chip, but that only 25 percent of those machines ever have their LTE activated. I think the bigger story from Qualcomm's event is that incredible battery life. Imagine heading off for the day and not having to think about carrying a power cord for your laptop since you know you will get at least 20 hours of real use.
Social media regulation
I know this might be considered a bold prediction, but my contacts in Washington say legislators from both sides of the aisle are increasingly concerned about the negative impact social media has had on the election process and the political climate in general.
Although Washington had hoped Facebook, Twitter and Google would police themselves, insiders I speak with are growing skeptical that these companies can handle it alone. Full regulation is probably not likely, but I would not be surprised if we do see some legislation. After all, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai already went after Twitter during the net neutrality debate.