It has been 3 months since we entered 2021 and COVID-19 shows no signs of subsiding anytime soon. Based on the first quarter alone, many sectors still have yet to recover, with the travel industry remaining the hardest hit. However, there is a silver lining. While COVID-19 has upended many industries, it has also accelerated digitalisation, enabled exponential increase in the use of some of technologies and boosted innovation. We believe that the following 5 tech trends will continue trending this year and are worth taking note of.
1. Video conferencing and remote working will continue to be the new normal
With the onset of COVID-19, we have all made the transition to online. For many of us, video conferencing platforms such as Zoom, Google Hangouts and Microsoft Teams have already become an inseparable part of our lives. As the pandemic continues to rage in many countries worldwide, employees will continue to work from home and communicate remotely with their colleagues via video conferencing tools.
Several companies such as Twitter and Facebook have even announced plans to have their employees work from home indefinitely, while others like Japanese tech giant Fujitsu intend to cut office spaces by half over the next three years. All of these suggest that office space may not be utilized as much as compared to pre-COVID levels. While some countries like Singapore have recently allowed for more staff to return to the office, companies are still highly encouraged to support employees in work-from-home arrangements and to conduct virtual meetings as much as possible. As such, video conferencing and remote working will likely continue for the long-term.
Similarly, we expect people to also network increasingly through online mediums as physical events are not yet back in full force, although some countries are currently trialling pilot events. With almost everyone having had to use video conferencing tools to some extent, it comes as no surprise that people will become more savvy in virtual networking. Even seniors are learning how to connect with their loved ones using platforms like Zoom for the annual Chinese New Year celebrations. For more on business networking via the online video medium and why it is important, check out our other blog post here.
On the entertainment and social front, video content sharing is also getting much attention (just check out the Tik Tok video on washing hands that went viral!). With most staying home or working remotely, we also tend to be online longer. This has resulted in a new wave of online superstars, particularly on the TikTok app which is known for having whacky and comical videos on the platform. In Singapore, for instance, father-and-son TikTok duo have an astounding combined figure of 23 million followers on their accounts gained by creating funny videos. Besides the father-and-son duo, there are many others who have similarly shot to fame for their video content in TikTok. It is clear that the rise of video content sharing is not likely to wane anytime soon.
2. Artificial Intelligence (AI) takes centre stage
Artificial Intelligence, or AI, has been the buzzword for some years now. So what is AI exactly? Tech giant IBM describes it as “any human-like intelligence exhibited by a computer, robot, or other machine”. And still many others describe it as “intelligence tied to a system’s ability to adapt and improvise in a new environment, to generalise its knowledge and apply it to unfamiliar scenarios”. Whatever it is, one thing for sure is that AI has many different applications, ranging from chatbots, self-driving vehicles to even AI virtual influencers.
With the arrival of COVID-19 especially, the AI technology’s growth has undoubtedly been accelerated for widespread adoption and use across multiple industries and businesses. From airports to hospitals, countries are increasingly implementing the use of AI in their day-to-day operations. These include having robots, online chatbots and autonomous vehicles. China, for instance, has been trialling driverless taxis since the third quarter of last year.
Other organisations have rolled out chatbots to cope with manpower and information needs. In Singapore, a chatbot doctor called Doctor Covid reminds patients who are staying in community care facilities to record their vital signs and even sends them links with words of encouragement from celebrities to motivate them. The chatbots also serve as a safer way to interact with customers by minimizing physical face-to-face interaction and hence, reduces the risk of infection. Thus, we can expect AI to play a key role in serving and advising customers and bringing efficiencies to companies’ internal operations.
Another rather interesting application of AI has been in the form of virtual influencers. Although they are computer generated, they look and behave like a real human. Since they are not real, these virtual influencers are managed by their creators who usually take on the role of growing the influencer’s Instagram platform. Their creators are also the ones who decide how the influencer is portrayed, how they dress, who they talk to or who they collaborate with.
As the influencers are virtual beings, this makes it easy for creators to edit their influencer on to any background that they want. Want an influencer who loves travelling? All you need is a high-resolution background image that you can put together with your influencer. Powered by AI and deep learning technologies, virtual influencers are able to evolve and adapt to any brand to be that “perfect brand ambassador”. Unlike their real human counterparts, virtual influencers are also easier to manage as they never complain, making them the ideal influencer to represent brands.
Interestingly, such AI and virtual influencers have garnered a huge following on social media, with some of them having over 1 million followers like Lil Miquela. To date, they have already gained traction in various parts of the world such as in Japan, China and South Korea. With brands constantly finding new ways of connecting with their audiences, we can expect this trend to continue in the years to come.
3. AR, MR & VR set to break the boundaries of the real world
The ongoing pandemic has also boosted the use of other technologies such as Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR). While the distinction between AR and VR is quite clear, things get a bit more complicated when we throw Mixed Reality (MR) into the mix (no pun intended). Essentially, AR involves overlaying digital objects on to the real world, while VR involves fully immersing the user in an artificially created environment. MR, on the other hand, involves overlaying virtual content on to the real world (like in AR) but this content is also anchored to and can interact with the real world environment (unlike in VR).
Numbers-wise, the future of AR, MR and VR looks promising:
Some brands have come up with innovative ways to use these immersive technologies for their business during the pandemic. The Singapore Tourism Board (STB), for instance, is leveraging on AR to help businesses in the tourism sector embark on their digital transformation journey. This is done by creating 1,000 3D models of various cultural and heritage items which can then be viewed through a user’s phone camera. Even home design furniture stores like Castlery have started leveraging on AR to provide customers with a virtual tour of their showroom in light of COVID-19.
On the other end of the spectrum, VR is also gaining ground. While using VR still requires the user to wear bulky headgear and is far from being portable, it has found its place in a post-COVID world. Last year, the Wall Street Journal explored how VR could be used to conduct meetings in hologram form for those who are working from home via the use of virtual rooms and avatars.
For some fresh graduates, VR was even used to help them celebrate their graduation with their family members. By recreating a virtual graduation ceremony, graduates from Republic Polytechnic in Singapore were able to go up on stage and receive their graduation certificate with their family members and friends sitting amongst the audience although in reality, they were all physically in their own homes. Of course, this required VR equipment and the setting up of mobile and laptop devices to run the VR event.
COVID-19 aside, there are many other use cases for VR. At present, the technology is commonly associated with gaming but is also increasingly being used in education and training as well as the healthcare industry for purposes such as helping patients to understand the surgery that they will be undergoing before the actual one. Such methods have helped to reassure patients and assuage their concerns about the procedure. Moreover, the market outlook for VR business equipment is projected to increase from $829 million (2018) to $4.26 billion in 2023, a signal that the technology still has a lot of potential to grow further.
Just when you thought that it could not get any better with AR and VR, MR presents us with the opportunity to experience the best of both worlds. One highly interesting application of MR technology is in education, where medical students interact and manipulate virtual objects to understand them better, such as when studying the human body. Performing activities such as dissecting a human body would not be possible otherwise with a real human body.
4. Live streaming is the way to go
For some retail businesses, live streaming has proven to be just what they needed to get their business going again amid the pandemic. From wholesalers selling fish at wet markets to car dealers selling more big ticket items like cars, the technology has helped to drive much needed sales for many during COVID-19. Many e-commerce platforms already have a livestreaming feature for brands and sellers alike to market their products to consumers.
While widely touted as part of “shoppertainment” in the e-commerce industry, livestreaming is becoming increasingly important for all brands as consumers want to be entertained as part of the social shopping experience. This, coupled with the fact that people are spending more and more time shopping online on their smartphones during the pandemic due to more time at home and extra savings that were not spent on travel means that therein lies a huge opportunity for brands to win the hearts and minds of consumers. Although livestream shopping is most established in China, there is growing interest in this area in other countries according to We Are Social, with luxury brands like Moda Operandi coming on board as well.
Finally, with the prevalence of social media platforms like Tik Tok, Facebook and Instagram, all of which have a live feature that brands can leverage on, social commerce is set to become more commonplace.
5. The 5G Revolution
5G is a technology that has been in the works for some time now but has only really started becoming a reality recently. Both consumers and businesses are expected to benefit from the roll out of 5G. For consumers, it promises connection speeds that are 20 times faster than current 4G networks and the ability to connect a whopping 1,000 times as many devices. For businesses, 5G will bring an entirely new wave of immersive media experiences in the fields of AR and VR. This would influence the ways in which consumers shop and consume content which would be of much interest to companies who are in the business of retail and entertainment alike. It will also drive smart homes and smart cities as the technology will be able to support more connected devices. According to IHS Markit, the total global economic value generated by 5G will reach an estimated $13.2 trillion by the year 2035.
While countries like China and South Korea have already rolled out 5G in their respective countries, other countries like Singapore are only just starting to do so. China, in particular, has been making leaps and bounds in the 5G arena and is already going head to head with the US for 6G dominance while others play catch-up. According to a report by Ernst & Young (EY), 40% of the population in China is expected to be covered by 5G which translates to about 576 million users by 2025.
When we think of 5G, some of the common applications that come to mind are drones and autonomous vehicles. But perhaps one of the most interesting ones lies in entertainment (think live concerts and performances). For example, check out Japan’s Borderless Live 5G concert that was held in China and Japan last year. The VR musical performance leveraged on both 5G and VR technology to bring a more interactive and immersive experience to its audience. Famous virtual Youtubers like Kizuna Ai also performed at the event, attracting many overseas viewers. In a similar fashion, China’s impressive Shanghai concert featuring the virtual hologram singer Luo Tianyi was run largely on 5G and holographic technology and streamed on video sharing website Bilibili.
With such a large audience tuning in to these virtual concerts, the speed at which data is being transferred becomes paramount. However, the rise of 5G has truly made virtual concerts like these possible to be streamed to audiences all over the world. Moreover, as the world continues to grapple with COVID-19 and safe distancing remains mandatory to curb the spread of the virus, we expect such virtual performances to continue for the rest of 2021 and perhaps even beyond that.
So there you have it! Do you agree with our list of tech trends? Let us know your take on Medium! To get first dips on all the latest tech news, follow our social media channels on Facebook and LinkedIn. 😉
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