We've almost done it, ladies and gentlemen. The year 2020 was not what any of us had planned this time last year, but we're just days away from seeing the back of it. In this retrospective opinion piece, I will be taking a look at some of the trends of the year, and how 2020 changed the tech industry forever.
Sustainable smartphone choices
The issue of sustainability and electronic waste is one that has been rumbling for a while in the tech industry. The rate at which new smartphones are released, and the marketing that drives us to replace products that are still perfectly usable, is a cause for concern for many who are making an effort to reduce their own carbon footprints. However, two launches in 2020 gave me a reason to be positive about the future.
The first was the launch of the Fairphone 3+ in August 2020. We've been fans of what Fairphone is doing for some time. The hardware is hardly cutting edge and the price-to-performance ratio is far from impressive, but that's not really the point of this brand.
Its customers choose Fairphone not for bang for their buck, but for the effect it has on their environmental conscience. The Fairphone 3+, which launched both as a standalone product for new customers and as a modular upgrade for existing Fairphone 3 owners, showed the tech industry that there is another way to do things. A greener, more sustainable way. And for that, we salute them!
The second was Apple's decision to ship its latest iPhone 12 series phones without a charger in the box. Stating sustainability as the reason behind the move, the idea is that the last thing iPhone users need is another block of plastic in their lives when they can use the one they already have. Apple saves money at the same time, but I still think its the right move. Samsung initially mocked the decision, before rumours quickly started circulating that the South Koreans will follow suit in 2021. Either way, if this becomes a trend, it will lead to a reduction in electronic waste, and that can only be a good thing.
Remote work and talent acquisition
The tech industry has always relied on talent to thrive. Without the smart men and women who work at the world's most cutting edge tech companies, innovation simply would not happen. Over the last decade, if you wanted to hire the best talent in tech, that meant shipping them out to (in most cases) California to work at the enormous campuses of the Big Tech companies. Lives relocated.
In 2020, however, remote working - through force rather than will - has been embraced by the industry. Twitter announced its employees will be allowed to work from home "forever" in May 2020. Google will keep its staff at home until summer 2021. With the rise in remote working as the new normal, talent from all over the world can be harnessed. With the social, geographical, and immigration boundaries removed, we could be looking a much more international and diverse talent pool for tech companies to draw upon, and that could lead to an endless number of new innovations and possibilities.
The robots are (finally) coming
The robot revolution may have been a long time coming, but in 2020 we saw the advantages that our autonomous friends can bring to so many different industries. Delivery bots have been in operation on the private campuses of companies and universities for a while now, but we are on the brink of a new wave of advances in robotics that will allow these machines to be much more than mere postal workers.
Advances in sensors, speech recognition, and AI are being developed at a time when hardware costs are going down. With the rollout of 5G networks taking place (slowly), connectivity is being taken the next level. There are challenges along the way, of course. Taking robots from the private space into the open world will force companies to think carefully about how the public is affected. What is the price of these new products and services in terms of societal impact?
In a survey of executives across 21 industries, 61 per cent said that they expect their organisations will use robotics in uncontrolled environments within the next two years. The future remains uncertain, but what is clear is that the robots are coming, finally.
What happened to the year of 5G (again)?
To finish on a negative note, the global pandemic of 2020 had a negative impact on the rollout of 5G. It feels like we've been talking about the next-generation networks for ages, without ever really making the jump. Sure, there are 5G networks up and running in many parts of the world, but it does not feel like we have made the leap into the fifth generation of mobile networking like we thought we would at the beginning of 2020.
Rollouts in towns and cities across the United States were delayed. In Britain, 77 cell phone towers were burned down due to a coronavirus 5G conspiracy theory. On mainland Europe, we received phone after phone for review that came with 5G support, without the necessary means to test the new networking features.
It was the same story in factories, warehouses, and shipping ports. Network hardware companies like Huawei, Ericsson, and Nokia saw sales slump, as 5G upgrade plans were put on hold by industries dealing with their own pandemic-induced problems.
So demand, excitement, and implementation for 5G all seem to have a become a bit fat 'meh' in 2020. This will change over time, of course. The move to next-gen mobile networking is only delayed, not postponed, but 2020 was meant to be a big year for 5G around the world, and it just never really happened, did it?
How do you think 2020 changed the tech industry? We'd love to hear your thoughts, theories, and predictions for 2021. Have your say below the line.