What’s hot on tech shelf

2019 to see range of new devices aimed at making our lives easier and more interesting

Electric scooters are fun to ride and get you places quickly
Electric scooters are fun to ride and get you places quickly
Image: CHESNOT/GETTY IMAGES

From Bitcoin bankruptcies and industrial espionage to data breaches and drone chases, 2018 was an eventful year in technology.

But what can we expect in 2019?

With the tech world increasingly becoming part of the mainstream news agenda, here are some predictions about the technologies that will make an impact over the next year.

Augmented Reality

With Virtual Reality (VR) becoming synonymous with systems that promise much and deliver little, Augmented Reality (AR) looks set to leapfrog its more immersive cousin and revolutionise the way we consume media.

The latest kit produced by one of the leaders in AR, Magic Leap, has images projected over the room that are beautifully rendered but you can still see around you and easily talk to others.

The technology aims to make TV screens redundant, plunging you into sports arenas, for example, and overlaying stats and info on the action.

Big players have already opened up AR kits for developers and superfast 5G mobile networks are coming.

Advanced haptic feedback

The latest iPhone models have dropped the physical button on the front of the devices and added a 3D Touch function which means the screen can vibrate in specific places when tapped or pressed upon.

In 2019, the world’s largest businesses will look more closely at haptic feedback and how it can improve devices.

Google’s parent company Alphabet has bought British company Redux, which used advanced haptic feedback to make completely flat screens feel like physical sliders and buttons.

Delivery robots

Robots have long been laughed off as tech duds unlikely to make an appearance in everyday life. But that could be about to change. Several startups are trying out robots to improve deliveries, since they can be ordered on demand and can turn up when convenient.

While they are capable of crossing roads, these robots still need backup drivers, raising questions over their efficiency.

‘Dumb’ phones

There is evidence people around Silicon Valley are trying to wean themselves off the technology they created.

Device bans in classrooms, cafes advertising the fact they don’t have WiFi, even Twitter’s Jack Dorsey waxed lyrical about his recent digital detox in Myanmar.

So a surge in “dumb phones” being used to communicate could be on the cards.

Nokia relaunched its 3310 and 8810 in 2018 to the joy of those who experienced a battery that could last weeks (not hours).

Both Google and Apple introduced features in the Android and iOS operating system to try to counteract our obsession, offering time limits and bedtime mode.

Exosuits

As robot workers are looking less likely and too expensive for companies, a technology that allows employers to power up their human staff more efficiently is emerging.

Called exosuits, the mechanical vests can be worn to give any individual increased strength and endurance, allowing them to carry out strenuous tasks in factories and construction sites with ease.

They also have a medical application, with those with impaired movement being given greater walking ability with mechanical trousers.

Additionally, the US military is exploring how it could use exosuits to improve the strength of soldiers.

While exosuits have already been adopted widely in Asia, the technology slowly crept into North America and Europe in 2018.

Car manufacturer Ford rolled out 90 exosuits, built by US tech company Ekso Bionics, to its factory workers in August.

In the UK, Bentley will start trailing the same vests in its factory in Crewe in 2019. In-ear assistants

Walk around the tech industry’s capital city, San Francisco, and every other person you see is wearing Apple’s wireless AirPod earbuds.

Where Apple goes, the rest of the world follows, and in 2018 the market became flooded with AirPod alternatives.

Wireless earbuds – Bluetooth headphones without a cable between them – may not seem like a revolution.

But their more discreet and lightweight nature also means people feel comfortable wearing them all day long, even when not listening to music.

Facial recognition

In early 2019, Britain’s largest police force will decide whether to roll out technology capable of matching people’s faces in real-time to a digital database of criminals.

The tech, labelled Orwellian and lambasted by human rights activists, scans faces to find suspects and could help to locate missing people.

Electric scooters

They are often described as a scourge of pedestrians and drivers alike, but scooters have an appeal.

They are fun to ride and get you places quickly, and they are perfect for flat terrain.

Ford and Uber want in on the action, with both acquiring scooter brands in 2018.

Human-like chatbots

Whether it is ordering a pizza, booking a trip or getting help when your car has broken down, some companies in Europe and the US are now interacting with their customers through automated systems.

Companies are starting to wake up to the fact that they can save huge amounts of time and money by investing in chatbots.

Cashier-free shopping

US retailers are trying out a new type of shopping experience – shops which use sensors, artificial intelligence and cameras to allow customers to walk in and out with their shopping without using any tills.

Customers scan a barcode on the Amazon Go app as they walk in and cameras and sensors track them as they pick items off the shelves. The app charges the card on file soon after they leave.

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