I think it would be safe to say that 2016 was mostly disappointing in terms of technology. Refinements to existing technologies were good but not game changing and the newer introductions either suffered from first generation teething problems or were prohibitively expensive, or both.
In 2017, Virtual Reality (VR) on phones should finally get off in a big way. With Google’s Daydream VR platform ready, most manufacturers should be able to offer a competitive VR experience that at least rivals the one found on Oculus-powered Samsung Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 Edge.
The big question though is if 4K mobile screens are ready for the prime time. The first 4K screen on a mobile phone came in 2015, with Sony Xperia Z5 Premium. As it happened, Sony was unable to utilise the higher resolution screen for anything other than bragging rights and did not include it on any of its 2016 follow-ups. Other manufacturers too decided to stick to 2K screens on their 2016 flagships, with some manufacturers even going with Full HD screens on their flagships (the argument being that people can hardly tell the difference between Full HD and 2K screens in daily use).
With 2017 just a couple of days away, one would expect that 4K screens on mobile phones would be a given, especially given the attention that VR has been getting in 2016, thanks to the launch of Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and Sony PS VR. But the latest rumours in the technology circles are mixed.
The most important mobile device to watch out for in 2017 will be the Samsung Galaxy S8. Samsung was the first smartphone manufacturer to go with VR. By the time other manufacturers launch Daydream-ready smartphones, Samsung will be gearing up to launch the third iteration of its Gear VR (it launched the first commercially available Gear VR with the Samsung S6 about two years ago). Given this history, if there were to be just a single phone in the first half of 2017 with a 4K screen, I would bet on the Galaxy S8. But going by leaked specifications – unreliable as they often tend to be – it is far from a done deal. And as we get closer to its release (expect the announcement to be around February or March), increasingly rumours point to a 2K screen on the phone. This will be disappointing. The biggest improvement that VR (at least on a phone) can get right now is a bump in its resolution – 2K screens look incredibly pixelated up close in a VR setting.
Some technology experts expect Augmented Reality (AR) and Mixed Reality to take off in 2017, especially with Apple CEO Tim Cook saying as far back as September that he expects AR to be bigger than VR. Games like Pokemon Go are an excellent indication of to expect from AR. The potential is definitely there and the cost for consumers to get into AR isn’t as high as VR. And while the technology has been around for years, Microsoft’s Holo Lens and Google’s Tango promise to take it to a whole new level next year. But by going by the same logic, AR has been around for years and some of its potential applications just do not seem to be that must-have and give the impression – to me at least – of being gimmicky. It may not turn out to be the next big thing, after all.
Tablets have had their heyday, and there is nothing on the horizon to indicate that this will change in 2017. Devices will active stylus support may pique some interest, but 1) they are far and few in between, 2) the premium they tend to charge is prohibitively high, and 3) they have a niche appeal.
I feel 2017 will be the make-or-break year for smart watches. Google Android Wear 2’s expected release early next year will lead the charge for smart watches, bringing with it improved all-round performance and better features – just like Apple and its watchOS 3. But there are a number of issues that plague all smart watches, the biggest two being their short battery lives and their high asking prices. No matter how you spin it, smart watches are accessories designed to complement your phones. There is no denying their usability, but are they worth the prices that manufacturers are asking for them? Prices for most flagship smart watches begin at 300 US dollars, which is a little less than half the price of a flagship smartphone. For that kind of money, companies will need to find a way to make them indispensable, and I find there to be little indications that this is going to be happen in 2017.
One exception here is fitness trackers. You can get fitness trackers with a host of features for much less than a smart watch. For as little as 200 US dollars (and sometimes even less, when on sale) you get tracking support for multiple sports and features such as GPS and heart-rate sensors. The battery lives on them also tend to be better and many offer notification support for your phone.
I expect greater consumer interest in televisions in 2017, as 4K TVs truly become affordable and 4K content starts becoming mainstream. But the one feature that you would want to have if you want to keep your new TV around for years is HDR, and HDR-enabled 4K televisions may still continue to be prohibitively expensive. I do not see HDR 4K content becoming ubiquitous any time soon, certainly not in 2017, and many people may find it prudent to stick to their existing televisions and wait a little longer.
An entirely new console, the Nintendo Switch, is all but certain to shake up the gaming landscape with its launch early next year. Nintendo will stick to its tradition of form over brute power and should offer an interesting alternative to Xbox One and the PS4. Its previous console, the Wii U failed to build up on the success of Wii and this will be a very important release for the struggling gaming giant. Later in the year, Project Scorpio from Microsoft should put it on top of raw gaming performance, bettering PS4 Pro (which is already out now) by quite a significant margin, if its claims hold. But it will be the quality of games rather than the raw gaming potential that will decide who takes the gaming crown come this time next year.
Nvidia’s latest 10-series GPUs have caused quite a stir in the gaming community. The jump from 8-series GPUs to 9-series GPUs was incremental, but the improvement in the latest Nvidia generations is significantly higher. As a comparison, the performance of a GTX1060 is almost double that of GTX960, and as the laptop versions of 10-series GPUs become increasingly common (and affordable), laptop gamers should find plenty of value in upgrading their older hardware.
Overall though laptops will continue to be boring. Manufacturers continue to try and evolve their existing designs. It also isn’t likely that some of their premium features (if a Full HD screen can be called a premium feature anymore) will trickle down to entry-level laptops. Some experts expect 2 in 1s to take off in 2017, but I would be surprised if that happens. First off, the screen has to be reasonably small for the tablet mode to be of much use. This eats up into the machine’s usability as a laptop – 10 inch screens and their accompanying cramped keyboards just aren’t big enough to be used as main machines. Secondly, Windows 10 continues to struggle in tablet mode. People may just decide to use the premium they will pay for such a device to get a dedicated tablet, if they truly want one.
* The author may be contacted at techk[email protected]
or followed on Twitter at @tknobeat
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