2022 will be a year of big tech promises. Whether companies can deliver is another question.
We’ll get our first clues at this week’s CES electronics show in Las Vegas. That is, unless the high transmissibility of the omicron variant of the coronavirus makes a massive in-person gathering completely impossible. Big-name attendees including Intel, Meta and Amazon have already pulled out.
Some of the developments we’ll discuss are long overdue. Some build on progress or change we saw in 2021.
In many ways, 2022 will be a year of “hurry up and wait,” Carolina Milanesi, a technology analyst with research firm Creative Strategies, told us. Big-tech developments such as “the metaverse,” autonomous vehicles and greater repairability will take time to catch up to their hype, and companies must be careful not to overpromise, Milanesi said.
At the same time, companies need our buy-in more than ever. Smart-home technology, health wearables, and virtual reality all depend on our personal data to improve.
Here’s what we expect — and in some cases, hope — to see in 2022.
A race into the ‘metaverse’
Facebook parent company Meta may have generated the most buzz with its foray into the metaverse — a theoretical shared space where people can hang out in virtual reality — but the other tech giants won’t be far behind.
2022 will be a “race into the metaverse” as large tech companies wrestle for slices of an emerging market, said Rolf Illenberger, CEO of virtual reality software maker VRdirect. Google, Microsoft and Apple may introduce their own headsets and operating systems for the metaverse, like their equivalents for PCs and smartphones.
The giants aren't alone, either: In recent years, parts of the CES floor have become a playground for start-ups building augmented and virtual reality headsets, and many are eager to make their mark on the metaverse. Meanwhile, there's another hurdle the industry will need to clear. Companies developing software that runs in the metaverse would have to make sure those programs play nicely with different operating systems.
As for the rest of us, our first steps into the metaverse will probably be for our jobs. The pandemic is pushing companies toward virtual reality for onboarding, training and meetings.
The smart home will make a lot more sense
If you walk into a big-box retailer or hardware store, it probably wouldn’t take you long to find smart-home goodies such as connected lightbulbs and thermostats. What can take awhile is finding stuff that works with the products you already have — but that might not be the case for much longer.
Some of the biggest names in Big Tech, including Apple, Amazon, Google and Samsung, have teamed up to develop a new smart-home standard called Matter. The aim: to ensure that the home gadgets you buy in the future all play nice with one another, regardless of who made them or what virtual assistant you want to use when interacting with them.
“Today, when you look at a smart-home-connected device, you have to look at what ecosystem it works with,” said Erik Kay, a vice president of engineering at Google. “Where we’re going with Matter is that you don’t have to think about any of that.”
Electric vehicles are inching toward the mainstream
This year, electric vehicles will transition from cutting edge to standard issue — if you live somewhere with the infrastructure to support EV charging.
Electric models from household names including Ford, General Motors, Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen will make EVs accessible to more people at lower prices. Market leader Tesla will continue expanding, and such start-ups as Lucid and Rivian will elbow their way into the fray.
And shoppers will be able to choose from electric vehicles beyond the traditional sedan, with Volkswagen expanding the availability of its family-size ID.4 and Ford introducing an electric F-150 truck. Tesla’s divisive Cybertruck could even hit the market in 2022. But one thing could delay these mainstream moves.
Chips will still be hard to come by
A prolonged chip shortage has upended the way automakers churn out new vehicles, driven up prices of televisions, and made hot products such as Sony’s PlayStation 5 nearly impossible to buy.
The effects of the shortage probably won’t start to fade until the back half of 2022, said Syed Alam, managing director at Accenture Strategy. And that’s the best-case scenario.
Sudden changes — like, say, the emergence of a new variant — could throw a wrench into recovery plans.
In the meantime, Intel, Samsung and the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. have announced plans to build chip plants in the United States, and they should help protect these companies — plus others that rely on them — from wild swings in chip availability. The problem is, these kinds of facilities take years to go live, so it’s unlikely they’ll be able to make a dent in the situation anytime soon.
Fixing your tech will start to get easier
Phones, laptops, tablets — we rely on gadgets like these every day, but companies haven’t exactly made them easy to fix when things go wrong. Slowly but surely, it seems that might be starting to change.
Apple, which for years maintained strict control over how its products could be fixed, will roll out a self-service repair program in early 2022. The move will allow enthusiastic amateurs to access the parts and guides to fix their iPhones and Mac computers.
Apple isn’t alone. In October — shortly after it unveiled a flashy, hard-to-upgrade Surface laptop — Microsoft announced plans to increase the options that consumers have to repair their devices by the end of 2022. Meanwhile, Dell is experimenting with “circular” design, starting with a concept it calls Luna. It might look like a regular laptop, but fewer internal screws and a rejiggered design make it easier to pull apart and fix or upgrade than some other PCs.
More ways to analyze data from your own body
Clinicians are already starting to use individual biometric data — data from our bodies — to prevent, diagnose and treat health problems. With more health wearables measuring our hearts, lungs, sleep, steps, calories and even sweat, we’ll start doing the same at home. In 2022, you may use a ring on your finger to see how regular cardio exercise affects your sleep, or a bracelet to monitor your blood pressure.
Health wearables also generate huge amounts of personal medical data that’s not protected by existing medical privacy laws such as HIPAA, so it’s hard to know for sure where all that data will end up. There are also big hurdles when it comes to sharing that data with our health-care providers in ways they can easily parse.
Tech companies want you to trust them more
Customers have good reason to be skeptical. In 2021, security breaches, data privacy problems, and AI whistleblowers dominated technology news.
In 2022, companies will try to regain lost trust with a variety of tactics, such as creating high-ranking roles in charge of “digital trust,” offering cash rewards to people who identify bias in AI systems, and adopting technologies that partially anonymize personal data, Forrester research predicts.
Companies will get hungrier for “first-party” data — data we share with them directly. The more we trust companies to handle our personal data and shape our experiences with algorithms, the more they can monetize that trust through “personalized” experiences and advertisements.