Opinion: Keep these trends top of mind for 2021

Even with the global rollout of vaccines, we will continue to see the effects of the pandemic into the foreseeable future. Technology will continue to play a vital role in both safeguarding public health and well-being, and shaping brands’ roadmaps. Let’s take a look at some of the tech trends that are likely to shape the year ahead.

1. Personal health monitoring tools

From standalone wearables to those that come with apps to help process data, health sensors are entering the consumer product category. Sensors are an affordable option for not only monitoring health but also complementing growing telehealth services across markets.

Over time, their capabilities have expanded tremendously to read varying data types, including heart rate, oxygen level, sleep analysis, calorie intake, stress level, blood pressure, and blood sugar, among many others. In its physical form, health sensors have also gone beyond watches to include earbuds, rings, and other types of everyday accessories that can collect information.

2. Safeguarding health with smart devices

Due to the pandemic, people are spending more time indoors - paying more attention to the home environment and investing in their well-being. A key area is smart home devices, including those assisting with everyday tasks to protect our health like smart air purifiers, water filtration systems, robotic vacuum mops, and devices with sterilisation functions like UV lights mounted on robots, which are becoming increasingly popular. Given that the pandemic remains a global concern, the trend is unlikely to change soon.

3. Telehealth adoption accelerated

To minimise the risk of exposure, more people are turning to online medical services and seeing doctors remotely. Telemedicine platforms are becoming more important in complementing healthcare systems around the world, delivering medication right to your doorstep. Patients can now consult doctors, get diagnoses and prescriptions, and organise follow-up treatments virtually.

Care management for chronic diseases via telehealth is one key area, including using wearable health devices to monitor patients and gather data for diagnoses. While such platforms are mushrooming to meet the high demand, data privacy is a concern and needs to be coupled with advancements in data encryption technology built within the infrastructure to maintain exchanges of sensitive data.

4. Self-care with mental well-being applications

Social isolation during lockdown, uncertainty about the economy, and news of a recession are reasons enough to experience heightened levels of anxiety and depression. Mental health and resilience during the pandemic will remain front of mind, with many turning to apps like Youper and Moodpath to relax, practice mindfulness, learn to meditate, and build healthier sleep habits. These apps are discreet which makes it possible for those uncomfortable with the topic to managed mental health concerns privately.

5. 5G network and edge computing

Reliance on data networks has skyrocketed. The arrival of 5G network and edge computing will boost high volume data processing capabilities and reduce processing latency. Users’ digital experiences will be enhanced like never before, including live streaming of HD content, use of multisensory digital formats like AR and VR, and data processing for machine learning, AI and cybersecurity analysis. These demanding tasks that require greater speed and higher bandwidth will face less limitations and produce better, more seamless experiences.

6. Voice control and motion detection

Social distancing and other practices minimising human interaction have turned the spotlight on contactless devices. Voice-enabled home appliances with smart speakers powered by Google Assistant or Alexa are becoming a common sight. The same can be said for gesture-operated devices. Outside our homes, thermal scanners for checking temperatures are now a staple at mall and shop entrances. In particular, contactless payments have emerged as an essential solution for businesses to continue operations and serve customers safely.

Many are also turning to robots mounted with UV lights to disinfect floors and rooms more efficiently. Robots are also assisting with food delivery which has risen dramatically during the pandemic.

7. Cloud computing

For business continuity, organisations need to embrace cloud-first strategies and invest to enhance speed and agility to deliver end-to-end solutions. For legacy enterprise systems, cloud migration will unleash organisations’ digital potential while new systems will leverage different deployment models, such as IaaS, PaaS, or even SaaS, offered by cloud service providers. ECommerce will continue its rising adoption rate in 2021 and beyond.

8. Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality

Augmented reality and virtual reality will gain more traction to counteract brands’ limited physical interactions with customers. An augmented or virtual presence will stand brands promoting new offerings or boosting customer service in good stead. The line between physical and virtual perspectives will further blur, which, in terms of progress, is not such a bad thing.

9. Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence will remain an integral part of technology, especially in the area of automation. In fact, new technologies are already automating most processes. The ability to automate will change how businesses operate and how they think about their business models. Investment in conversational AI like chatbots, which rely heavily on high volume data processing and pattern identification to ensure accuracy, will continue.

10. Bluetooth technology

While Bluetooth technology is common, it has recently resurfaced in contact tracing applications. It’s a simple solution to ensure privacy – a key concern for the large-scale voluntary adoption of smartphone tracing apps. Bluetooth remains the most effective way to connect IoT devices and will continue to serve its purpose in home appliances, wearables, entertainment devices, and other consumer electronics.

While there is no doubt that technology will play a pivotal role in enabling continuity in both business and life, its usefulness will extend far beyond the pandemic context. We expect to see technology gain greater acceptance by more people, more businesses, and in more ways than ever before. No longer just the star of every digital transformation roadmap, technology will become a new way of life. Like wearing masks and washing hands, it will be an integral part of the new normal.

Photo courtesy: 123RF

The writers Herry Budiyanto, head of technology, and Leslie Goh, chief operating officer at Tribal Worldwide Singapore.