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What Will Happen In Tech In 2020

Posted-on January 2020 By Richard Waters, Yuan Yang and Tim Bradshaw

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2019 was a blockbuster year for tech, in which the share prices of Microsoft, Google, Apple, Amazon, Alibaba, Tencent and Facebook continued to soar and a host of start-ups went public. 

We've loved this exclusive article from FT.com, highlighting the predictions for tech over the next year, from the perspective of three of their top tech correspondents...

'Here at the Financial Times, we brought you a range of exclusive news, including a major security breach at WhatsApp, the departure from Apple of the iPhone designer Jony Ive, and Google reaching quantum supremacy

This was also the year when Samsung released a broken folding phone, Facebook tried to launch a new currency, the Uber IPO crashed, Jack Ma left Alibaba, the US-China tech war showed no signs of cooling, London’s King’s Cross had to retreat from facial recognition, and the data economy continued to be a major concern

Here is what our tech correspondents are looking forward to in 2020. 

Richard Waters, West Coast bureau chief, sees slowing progress in AI, renewed interest in blockchain and another year of attacks on Facebook.

Next year will not bring a full-blown AI Winter — the name given to the times when AI has fallen out of favour — but there will be a definite nip in the air. 

After all the promises, the limitations of deep learning will loom large, as companies discover how hard it is to get results from their own data. There will be at least one high-profile example of a company that puts too much faith in the output of a smart algorithm, with embarrassing results.

Another much-hyped technology, on the other hand, will come back into favour: Blockchain. 

Cryptocurrencies will get an official seal of approval as other central banks follow China in looking to issue their own digital currencies. And while behind-the-scenes applications (in supply chains and the back-office functions of banks) will make steady if unspectacular progress, a hit app in the consumer market will highlight the potential for a new generation of decentralised online markets. 

But crypto’s wild, speculative phase has longer to run: another year of wild volatility is as likely to leave bitcoin at $30,000 as $1,000.

Meanwhile, with a US election late in the year, Facebook will spend another year as everyone’s favourite punch bag (OK, that’s an easy one). 

Caught between the free-speech zealots and the opponents of fake news, Mark Zuckerberg will continue to look uncomfortable trying, and failing, to come up with a credible rationale for why Facebook does not make deeper changes to its service. 

When the dust has settled and the history of the 2020 election is written, however, it will be agreed that Fox News did more to foster partisan division than any online social network.

Yuan Yang, the FT’s Beijing technology correspondent, forecasts more rows between Washington and Beijing, data protection to become a priority for China, and at least one embarrassing leak.

The battle between the US and China over technology is going to get louder. A big Chinese tech company — most likely ByteDance, the maker of viral video app TikTok — is going to be hit with restrictions by the US, and Beijing is going to get tougher on US companies in return.

As China’s tech companies try to wean themselves off the US supply chain, there will be flashy announcements of new Chinese-made chip designs. 

What will be interesting will be the role of US companies, like Qualcomm, or US-originated research projects, like RISC-V, in helping Chinese companies achieve their goals. Just because they are US companies does not mean they want to go along with the US government’s decoupling — they still have plenty of business in China. Researchers will also still want to collaborate across borders.

Rather than invest in the US, Alibaba, Tencent and ByteDance will expand their investment in Europe. And rather than fundraising in US stock markets, a crop of start-ups will list on Shanghai’s new Nasdaq-like Star Board. The government wants its best companies to list in China, and will relax regulations in order to help, as well as pushing behind the scenes at companies. Ant Financial’s much-delayed IPO will finally show up in Hong Kong, the mainland, or both.

Data security will become an even hotter issue in China. Over the past two years, Beijing has pushed to improve cyber security, fearing citizens’ data could get into the hands of foreign enemies. Next year the government will draft two laws on protecting personal data and data security. One of the last things it did this year was to publicly tell off companies who were sucking up too much data with their apps. In 2020, there will be more severe punishments for poor data protection, with one of the tech giants getting a hefty fine to set an example.

Despite that push, there will also be several major data leaks that will be embarrassing for the government. China’s local governments are hastily building out surveillance systems that are tracking citizens’ locations by the second, aided by facial recognition cameras and mobile phone trackers, and all this data has to be stored somewhere. Some of it will end up on unsecured databases that anyone with an internet connection can leaf through. When researchers and journalists come across these databases, they provide a great opportunity to peek inside the workings of the Chinese police state.

Tim Bradshaw, the FT’s global tech correspondent, looks forward to a 5G iPhone, snazzier headphones, and either the rebirth or death of games consoles.

It turns out that only one gadget prediction really mattered over the past 10 years: that the smartphone would continue to be dominant. 

The arrival of a 5G iPhone and broader deployment of faster wireless networks in 2020 could spur a bigger wave of handset upgrades over the coming year. 5G may be more incremental than revolutionary, but it was the addition of 4G to Android devices starting in 2010 and the iPhone 5 in 2012 that allowed smartphones to fulfil their potential over the past decade. At the very least, 5G will bring smartphones more gaming, more video — and more anxiety about just how quickly we will burn through our mobile data allowances. 

While it is still hard to imagine that anything can separate our eyes and thumbs from our pocket supercomputers, Silicon Valley has designs on our ears. The breakout success of Apple’s AirPods in the past 18 months means that wireless earbuds have replaced smartwatches as the industry’s new “wearable” accessory focus. 

Research group IDC estimates that sales of what it calls “earwear” reached 139.4m units in 2019 (double the number of smartwatches sold during the year), with shipments reaching 273.7m by 2023. In 2020, expect Amazon, Google and Samsung to step up their efforts to turn headphones into a platform for their competing virtual assistants, while AirPods copycats will proliferate at CES in January. 

Towards the end of 2020, a new hype cycle will begin for video games, with Sony and Microsoft readying their next-generation consoles for the holidays. Both the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 will offer 8K resolution (what comes after 4K’s “ultra-HD”? Super-HD? Mega-HD?) and “ray tracing”, a more dynamic and naturalistic way of bouncing light off in-game objects and environments. 

But with Microsoft also set to launch its cloud gaming service to compete with Google’s Stadia, and the continued popularity of cross-platform multiplayer games such as Fortnite, perhaps 2020 is the year that another too-frequent prediction of the past decade — the death of the console — finally starts coming true.'

This article was written by Richard Waters, Yuan Yang and Tim Bradshaw and published on FT.com.

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