And developments are about to get more cutting edge. In its 2016 global technology trends outlook report, research firm IHS has listed several key themes that are likely to dominate the landscape.
Here they are:
1. Thinner, lighter, flexible displays
Flexible displays have been a much talked about subject in 2015 and new developments, especially in organic light emitting diodes (OLED) technology are ushering in innovation in wearables and other, newer products which use fold-able screens.
OLED screens comprise thin films of organic molecules that create light when electricity is applied to them. This makes them more energy efficient than traditional LCD screens and enables thinner and bendable displays on smart devices.
Reports suggest consumer electronics giant Samsung might launch a fold-able smartphone in the first half of 2016.
But, IHS warned, the highly specialized nature of the industry will mean “many panel makers may not be able to survive the tough market situation expected in 2016, which will lead to further consolidation in the industry.”
2. Wearable earbuds
Smartwatches and activity trackers, such as Fitbit, have continued to dominate the wearable technology space in recent years. The one accessory to look out for 2016 is wireless earbuds which can fit inside the ear and have battery life to operate over a week between charges.
IHS said this will let users enjoy hands-free calling, music streaming, and other traditional audio applications. They will also have the capacity to provide audible notifications for activities including monitoring heart rates. Apple and Samsung are expected to bring this type of device to the market, using Bluetooth technology.
Previously, CNBC’s “The Rundown” spoke to a US-based technology startup, Doppler Labs, which already offers something similar in the market. CEO Noah Kraft spoke about the company’s Here Active Listening, a pair of digital ear buds, that can be controlled using a smartphone app to adjust volume, add special audio effects, and block out unwanted noises.
“It allows you to hear the world the way you want to hear it,” said Kraft.
3. Mobile networks will evolve
The mobile industry is working to create third-generation-partnership-project (3GPP) connectivity standards optimized for Internet of Things (IoT) applications. 3GPP is an international collaborative project that helps develop globally acceptable specifications for third generation (3G) mobile systems.
It will compete with proprietary low-power wireless wide area network technologies that IHS reckoned will gain traction in the market next year. Low-power wireless wide area network (LPWAN) is a technology that uses less power to connect mainly IoT enabled devices to one another. IHS predicted LPWAN technology will enjoy a head start on 3GPP in 2016.
Meanwhile, demand for fourth generation mobile telephony (4G), also known as long-term evolution (LTE), network equipment, which reached its peak in 2015, will flatten in the New Year as the big Chinese telcos finish rolling out their 4G networks. 4G networks allow for higher speed mobile internet access.
4. Sensors become widespread
Sensors will become a key technology feature with widespread use.
Fingerprint sensors, IHS said, will become the new standard offering in premium smartphones in 2016 even as the market continues to experiment with retinal scans and other forms of bio-metric scans.
In China, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) will adopt and install gas sensors into smartphones to measure air quality and also to be used as breath analyzers for alcohol detection. In the latter half of 2015, Beijing has had to deal with hazardous levels of air pollution.
Sensor technology will also provide an extra level of protection for athletes. Reebok is working to produce a sensor-based skullcap that can detect impact of a head injury during sports competitions.
5. Security and data mining take center stage in the cloud
The ability to mine large volumes of internally generated data to determine future behavior patterns and trends can provide businesses with competitive advantage. This is called predictive analytics.
In 2016, there will be a proliferation of companies using predictive analytics, which will drive greater use of cloud computing. This technology allows users to store and access these datasets online, thus eliminating the need for local storage.
Keeping such large volumes of data protected is always a priority for companies. IHS reckoned cloud security solutions will also provide a big source of revenue for the cyber security technology market.
6. Semiconductor makers consolidate
There will be further consolidation in mature semiconductor markets such as smartphones, tablets, TVs, PCs, and routers, for better efficiency and profitability through cost savings.
China will also push to become a major force in semiconductor manufacturing. IHS said, “China seeks to assert itself strategically on the global stage and also achieve greater control over key components and technologies that are critical to its electronics manufacturing economy.”
However, China’s push for more investments in the semiconductor manufacturing space will also create overcapacity in 2016, which will drive down prices and affect revenue.
7. Internet of Medical Things
Advance in technology has set the stage of a new generation of wearable healthcare devices which allow for continuous monitoring of a patient’s health. In 2016 this will lead to what IHS called a greater “democratization” of healthcare via Internet of Medical Things (IoMT).
This will lead to greater access to medicine, more devices to measure vital signs and enable continuous health monitoring using wearable devices.
“Multifunctional healthcare devices have only recently become available through retail channels,” said IHS, adding it expects “significant growth in this market.”
Interoperability among the increasing number of mobile health apps and digital health platforms with existing hospital information systems will let healthcare providers to use patient-generated data for predictive analytics to manage population health more effectively.
8. The Connected Home ecosystem grows
Connected home products will reach the mass-market due to a fall in prices that make them more affordable. As a result, in 2016 there will be a plethora of apps and devices that will bring the benefits of networked homes for consumers. These include home appliances and connected audio systems that link up with smartphones, tablets, and PCs.
9. Cyber conflict between the East and West
Hacking and other forms of cybercrimes have long been a strain on Sino-U.S. relations. Adding to the list in 2016, IHS said, will be China’s continued push against the World Wide Web, which is governed on the principle of free speech – something championed by the West. It has led some to see the internet as an untamed entity.
While China has condemned all forms of cybercrime in the past, it has also pushed for a “diametrically opposed view” of the Internet for several years. China has called for a global governance system to curb abuse of information, oppose network surveillance, and prevent only a select group of people from controlling the internet.
10. From cord-cutting to virtual reality
The pay TV market will see reshaping with more content owners breaking away from cable operators to offer programs to consumers directly.
At the same time, virtual reality will step up from Google’s Cardboard-based headset to more complex features in the Playstation VR and Oculus’ Rift, both launching in 2016. But IHS reckoned adoption of this technology will be slow as they are dependent on other, often expensive, hardware.
11. Facebook to dominate mobile advertising
Online advertising, in 2015, was driven by mobile and online video ads which grew a combined $39 billion. A key driver of mobile advertising was Facebook, which accounted for 53 percent of all ads on this platform. That number is expected to grow to 60 percent in 2016 as the social networking giant continues to dominate other leading tech companies such as Google, Yahoo, and Twitter.
12. Tech companies to drive the push for driverless cars
Smart, driverless cars have been talked about for several years now with some of the biggest technology names – Google, and more recently Apple – involved.
Next year, IHS said, will reveal the “defining role” these tech companies will play in autonomous driving and new mobility. Both large-cap companies and ambitious new startups will be involved in the various research and development aspects of this technology.
IHS also expects major announcements from transportation or taxi companies on plans to utilize autonomous cars to pick up and drop off clients. The firm said one likely candidate could be Uber, which could potentially announce a partnership with one of the tech giants who have already poured money into this technology.
13. Solar energy will light the way
The historic agreement to reduce carbon-dependence at COP 21 opens up the door for solar energy to take center stage.
IHS predicted 2016 will be a “record-breaking year” for the industry, forecasting solar installations to reach the milestone of 300 gigawatts (GW) of installed global capacity. That said, it is likely some major governments such as China or Japan may reduce their support for solar energy due to higher costs.