The Future of Tech

The high-tech industry changes fast--blink and you’ll miss something.

The high-tech consumer electronics industry is poised for tremendous growth as a gadget-loving public clamors for the latest and greatest technology. This year’s drivers are smart phones, HD TVs and tablets, but other revolutionary innovations are on the horizon and promise to change the world in immeasurable ways.

According to the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), sales of these products in the United States are likely to draw record revenue amounting to $223.2 billion in 2015, and tech spending globally will exceed $1 trillion.

While this year’s hottest trends are firmly established, it’s a lot harder to spot the next big thing. But UPS works closely with many high-tech industry luminaries, and I’m privileged to have a front-row seat to the coming waves of innovation.
There is a whole universe of amazing electronic devices. Here are a few emerging trends we should be watching:

Wearable technology

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CEA predicts year-over-year revenue growth of 470 percent in 2015 for smart watches.

This is an exciting category that encompasses devices like smart watches, fitness trackers and smart eyewear. The number of shipments of wearable devices is expected to rise to 330 million in 2018 from 4 million last year, and the CEA projects their unit sales will increase 61 percent and generate revenue topping $5 billion in 2015.

Wearable technology is definitely world-changing. But it’s also potentially life-saving. Take, for example, the TRiLOC GPS Personal Locator, a wrist-worn device that gives independence to people with special needs.

Another company, Lechal Footwear, makes smart shoes for the visually impaired. The insoles link to Google Maps and guide the wearer using vibrations. The shoes, which also track fitness using a downloadable app, exemplify the convergence of high tech products with clothing. Increasingly, clothing makers incorporate medical sensors and other technology into their fabric.

Smart watches will see the largest sales increase in the near term. CEA predicts year-over-year revenue growth of 470 percent in 2015. This growth may blunt the advance of fitness trackers because they have crossover functionalities such as pedometers and heart rate monitors. The upcoming Apple Watch is sure to stimulate competition. Even fashion retailers like Guess are getting into this space.

In the longer term, smart eyewear, which have appealing applications for business and recreation, will see surging sales as well. In fact, the UPS Strategic Enterprise Fund has invested in a company called Augmate, which makes digital eyewear for workers who don’t use desks.

Drones, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles, are a game-changing technology. The global market for drones is predicted to expand to $1 billion by 2018 from expected sales of $130 million in 2015, the CEA says. The use of drones for commercial purposes like aerial surveying and movie-making will outpace consumer adoption.

The biggest barrier to growth in drone sales is U.S. restrictions on their commercial use. That’s why growth in less-regulated markets like Germany, Canada and Australia will outpace growth in the United States. Some tech and retail companies, however, are lobbying U.S. lawmakers to lift restrictions.

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The top driver for 3D printer sales is the need for rapid innovation in manufacturing.

UPS has evaluated the potential use of drones for many years – long before it became such a popular topic. But we have said repeatedly that there are many issues that need to be resolved before they would be used in our business.

3D printing
The technology behind 3D printers has roots in the 1980s, and it’s finally reaching the mainstream where manufacturers are using them to make prototypes, parts or entire products. 3D printers even have found a home in the food industry. In January, a company called 3D Systems previewed a chocolate 3D printer called the CocoJet.

The top driver for 3D printer sales right now is the need for rapid innovation in manufacturing. 3D printers make it easier for inventors to share prototypes and solicit feedback from potential customers. Ultimately, this helps companies design better products with customers in mind.

The CEA projects revenue from 3D printer sales will reach $91 million this year. It’s been a slow evolution, but it’s safe to say that 3D printing is real and here to stay.

Smart home devices
These devices fit neatly into the “Internet of Things” (IoT) category. IoT is the idea that any of our devices can be connected through the Internet. The CEA says that in 2014, 13 percent of households with broadband internet owned at least one smart home device.

Smart thermostats, which automate a home’s heating and cooling, are an excellent example. CEA predicts annual global revenue from sales of these devices and related software will grow to $2.3 billion in 2023 from $146.9 million in 2014.

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There is no end to the appetite for connectivity.

A Goldman Sachs report last year predicted the IoT phenomenon will trigger “profound changes in the economy” as companies adapt to a world where all things are connected. I’m inclined to agree. There is no end to the appetite for connectivity, and the potential is limited only by the capacity of our Wi-Fi networks.

Growth in these and other categories has its share of headwinds. For some products, the purchase price is prohibitive. For others, the public simply lacks awareness. But consumer demand and rapid investment in the 4G wireless network will spur growth and innovation.

This is a thrilling time for high-tech companies and their customers. Peter Gasperini, principal at the Silicon Valley marketing firm Markonix, put it eloquently in a recent blog post: “There has never been a comparable assemblage of talent and ingenuity with such a never-say-die attitude in the history of human endeavor as is seen in the ranks of high-tech workers.”

Technologies like the ones I’ve described are the future. This is a vibrant industry that fires the imagination and never ceases to amaze. Apparently, anything is possible. goldbrown2

Derrick Johnson President, Mid South District at UPS.

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