Technology that lets you merge the digital world with the real one is just one of many that could become a reality this year.
IT is really interesting times we live in – not only have we seen the advent of a tiny pocketable computer (i.e. your smartphone) that puts room-filling supercomputers from the 1960s to shame, but we’ve also moved from 32in CRT (cathode ray tube) televisions to gigantic LCD and OLED models that are so thin you can hang them on a wall.
And there’s no sign of a slowdown – this year we are expected to embrace even more technologies that until now have only been seen in sci-fi stories and movies.
Here are a few emerging tech trends that we’re excited about this year.
We saw a lot of VR (virtual reality) products in 2016, from the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive to the Sony PlayStation VR, but what got us most excited for 2017 is augmented reality (AR).
In case you don’t know the difference, VR brings you into a virtual 3D computer-generated world while AR reality brings the computer-generated world into real life.
If you want to catch a glimpse into how AR can change your world, check out the anime series Denno Coil, where everyone is plugged into a pair of AR glasses which overlays the virtual world on top of the real one.
In this world, you can bring up a computer console in front of your eyes at any time and get a virtual pet which can be projected into your view of the real world.
That future is not that far off now that Microsoft has announced Hololens – though still firmly a first-generation product, it even allows you to manipulate virtual objects with your hands.
We've already seen a few AR products on the market – you can play a few simple AR games on the Nintendo 3DS handheld gaming device and for smartphones there’s Pokemon Go. Also, Lenovo has released the Phab 2 Pro which is the first smartphone to integrate Google's Tango AR platform.
But AR is more than that – imagine wearing a pair of AR glasses which can overlay repair instructions over your real-world motorcycle or being able to pull up information and history of a painting at an art gallery.
Some of the more advanced features might still be in the realm of sci-fi, but we think consumers will start to see a lot of interesting things happening this year.
Pay with your phone
While many of your credit and debit cards already have contactless payment technology built-in for a while now, there’s really something much cooler about using your smartwatches and smartphones to pay for stuff.
Essentially, all the technologies – secure NFC chip, fingerprint scanner and secure online payment system – used for contactless payments is already in place in many smartphones.
In fact, Samsung Pay – which will allow you to pay using the company’s latest smartwatches and smartphones – is expected to be officially announced soon. Samsung is currently performing an open beta test for selected Maybank Visa cardholders, with more banks such as CIMB Mastercard, Citibank Mastercard & Visa, Standard Chartered Mastercard & Visa to be made available soon.
There is no word yet when Apple Pay will make it here.
You probably have seen this in a video – someone walks into a room and the lights turn on automatically and just about every device, including the sound system, can be commanded by your voice. Yes, we have been waiting for smart homes for a long time now.
While the components for creating a smart home have been around for a few years, a unifying standard for connecting all the various parts together have not been set.
But more and more companies are starting to support multiple standards which could finally pave the way to smart homes this year.
Samsung, for instance, has announced SmartThings which supports intelligent devices from many makers while Google has announced its voice-activated Home speaker for controlling other devices.
Also, Philips Hue, the smart wireless LED lighting system, is expected to make it to our shores this year.
Rise of Blockchain
Blockchain could potentially revolutionise the entire banking industry by making money transfers, stock trading and transactions faster and safer.
Today, when two parties make a deal, cash and assets take time to get transferred to the respective parties because the related records are located in different institutions and many different parties have to be involved in reconciling this information.
This is where Blockchain comes in – originally the basis of the digital currency Bitcoin, Blockchain is essentially an online ledger that logs every transaction and is protected by cryptographic signatures.
Instead of having a central server which stores this ledger, the Blockchain is distributed across the entire network of users.
So when a transaction is made, it’s recorded into the ledger and automatically updated on all copies across the network, thereby eliminating the usual wait time.
You’d think this technology is firmly in the realm of sci-fi, but we’re much closer to Blockchain adoption than you think, with many local financial institutions, including Bank Negara, already in talks about how to adopt this technology.
We honestly never thought we’d be able to see a self-driving car in our lifetime, but lo and behold, autonomous driving vehicles are on the fast track to reality, with big strides being made in the last few years by Tesla, Google and most major automotive companies.
With our neighbour Singapore already testing autonomous vehicles, this could be the year when self-driving cars make it to our roads.
However, with our constantly-changing roads, perhaps this might still be a pipe dream in 2017.