Top 10 Technology Forecast for 2016

2016 imageWith 2015 in the books it is time to take a look at trends, technologies and products in the Technology Forecast for 2016

1 – Artificial Intelligence – will be incorporated into technology products, services and software at a rapid pace. More interesting is that the old 1950’s proclamation “Robots will soon be everywhere!” will finally begin to take place in 2016. Robots are already well accepted for basic tasks but will gain popularity as people see other uses. AI will also be used behind the scenes to reduce fraud and loan delinquencies, improve support and compliance, enhance special education, help with security and link disparate but interesting research together.

2 – Drones – which till now have primarily been targeted to consumers and known as a cool Amazon side project, will get a serious dose of commercialization in 2016 upon the FAA releasing rules for commercial flights. Consumers will also benefit from the R&D as drones get smarter with more sensors along with the ability to play interesting games.

3 – 3D Printing – goes mainstream in 2016. While investors and companies have been disappointed in the growth and profitability of companies involved in this space, much innovation continues to take place. The cost of ownership has come down and the capabilities have gone up. The Aerospace, Automotive, Energy and Medical Device industries should lead the way in leveraging 3D printing. We have only begun to see the tip of the iceberg in how this technology will disrupt industry.

4 – Driverless Car – It’s not quite going to happen yet in 2016, but the strides in this space will still be impressive. There will be lots of hype but it will be a while before consumers can purchase or get a fully functional driverless car. The good news is that some of this technology is creeping in now in the form of driver assistance, with the aim of reducing accidents. The bad news is there is plenty more hype to go before a truly autonomous car hits the market for consumers to purchase at their leisure. The hype for a pilotless plane will be forthcoming.

5 – Augmented Reality/Virtual Reality (AR/VR) – VR got going in 2015 with affordable gear now available. What is missing is software that fully leverages these platforms, as opposed to ports of current popular games. I have seen some fun and cool stuff to demo but we are still in search of some games that will blow your mind. Call me a believer in the possibilities but in order for this to really explode we need to see some killer apps to avoid the current generation becoming the equivalent of 3D Television. Will it take haptic products to really make this go? AR still holds tremendous potential for business and gaming but in 2016 we will just get more hype.

6 – Age of Context – now has all of the pieces in place to fully be leveraged since it was first brought to the forefront some years ago. The question for 2016 is who will actually do it well? We have had mobile, social media, big data, sensors and location-based services for some time now. The big difference now is the ubiquity of all of these elements. In 2016 we should see someone finally overcome the issues of privacy to fully leverage this.

7 – Data Driven Design – Much like the Age of Context, 2016 marks the year that Data Driven Design benefits from all of the pieces finally coming together. Retail is a poster child for this as data now allows retailers to have a bidirectional relationship with their customers. This isn’t just about suggesting products to customers as Amazon has done for some time now. This is about changing the design of products, giving the customer a different experience, modifying support or creating something entirely new.

8 – Blockchain – is not just for Bitcoin anymore. Just look at the investments made by major financial institutions in this space. This technology is not only legitimate it is highly disruptive. Look for it to begin impacting not only banking, but healthcare, music, financial services, security and identity management just to name a few. It will be interesting to see if legitimizing Blockchain actually helps Bitcoin gain more traction as well.

9 – Smart Earphones – are coming. Think about what you could do with something that fits in the ear, provides more functionality than a FitBit, and allows you to take calls hands free while working to provide noise cancellation on a plane. This technology also has the ability to drastically impact the hearing aid market this year. Look for someone to launch these multifunction devices by late 2016.

10 – Apple – has greatly disappointed a number of fanboys over the past several years with limited releases and few things to get overly excited about. That is now being reflected in the stock chart, as the company is behind on several fronts. This year’s announcements were disappointing, as was the Apple Watch product launch. Even the laptop line is confusing – I still don’t know what they are doing with the Mac Air line in light of the new Mac Book. After dropping the ball on several fronts Apple is now extremely dependent on the iPhone. In 2016 I expect Apple to straighten out their confusing laptop line, deliver a second generation watch, launch iPhone 7 with major advancements over the 6, and finally start delivering on some of their home automation toolkits. Apple still builds the best and most reliable hardware but they simply have to be more innovative 2016 or risk losing the halo that surrounds many of their products. I am banking on some sort of surprise from these guys this year.

What do you see happening in 2016 that I might have missed?

 

 

5 Tech Acquisitions – Why they Really Went Down

M&A Word CloudThere are so many mergers happening today you need an app just to keep up with them. What interests me the most about these mergers is whether they are due to typical consolidation, arbitrage, a company having too much cash, or whether they are truly strategic. Let’s take a look at some recent activity and see if we can figure out what is going on. I personally think all of the following mergers were in the pretty strategic category. Thinking about why these deals really went down gives you a good clue of where many of these companies think the market is going so you can prepare accordingly.

AT&T buys DirectTV – If you guessed AT&T did this just so they could bash the cable companies like Rob Lowe you would not be correct. This is all about being able to deliver mobile video content. Home users are just an added benefit here.

Verizon buys AOL – If you guessed Verizon is doing this to obtain the remaining 2m+ dial-up users – congrats on knowing this many people still used AOL dial-up service but that would not be the correct answer. This is all about content driving wireless media and OTT (over the top) video. Besides the mobility play here, are their aforementioned acquisitions just strategies to get around net neutrality? Only time will tell, but it’s clear that the war to own and control your content is on!

Intel buys Altera – If you guessed Intel did this to move up in the phone book you would be wrong. This is all about Moore’s Law possibly coming to an end. Even if it is technically possibly to extend Moore’s Law it may not be financially viable to do so. In steps Altera with a loaded portfolio of intellectual property and expertise in FPGAs. This is all about Intel wanting to strengthen their technology portfolio and finding a way to increase power outside of Moore’s Law. By the way one of my favorite startups is working in this space check out – www.bitfusion.io

IBM buys Blue Box Cloud – If you guessed Big Blue likes the similarities of the name Blue Box there could be something Freudian going on there. However, IBM purchasing this company was actually about the fact that the private cloud is a critical piece of the ongoing retooling of IT infrastructure. The majority of the big players are opting for Hybrid Cloud strategies and IBM wants to play there.

Microsoft buys Revolution Analytics – If you guessed Microsoft was trying to improve their stodgy image by being attached to anything called Revolutionary that is not a bad guess. Actually, Revolution Analytics is working around the rapidly growing R language which is used by data scientists and many students working on statistical and predictive analysis. Microsoft wanted this piece to beef up their data analytics portfolio. A Big Data war is surely coming down the road and Microsoft appears to be adding to their cache of weapons.

2015 – Themes and Forecast

2014 2015 imageWith 2014 in the books it is time to take a look at 2015 and see if we can match or exceed last year’s results. Let’s start with the M&A picture for 2015, which should continue to be strong as long as interest rates stay low. The tricky part now is that the valuations have continued to rise in this cycle and there are fewer undervalued names from which to choose so companies likely to be acquired but trading near their highs such as CoreSite and Inphi are not listed.

To further complicate things we have the fragile world economy, oil dropping 50%+ in a few months which impacts more than most people think and then add in copper prices at 5 year lows and it smells like deflation. With that in mind, we could be in for a very tough year. The M&A picks for 2015 include a few very solid companies as well as a couple of much more speculative turnarounds.

Aviat Networks – AVNW – Speculative niche wireless player and small market cap could make them an interesting play. Turnaround appears to be happening so it makes them much more interesting.

Lumos Networks – LMOS – Lumos has been unloved for some years now but is sitting on some great assets and appears to have a very motivated management team. The company can do fine as a standalone but with all of the fiber consolidation going on it seems like they would be a great fit for a number of larger providers. Like this one a lot especially on any pullbacks.

Nokia – NOK – Turnaround underway and a number of their competitors look like they may have topped out. I also like their investment and research around haptic technologies. While it would have been much cheaper to buy them two years ago it is possible a big player will still look to merge or acquire them.

Maxwell Technologies – MXWL – Growth has stalled but the market for ultracapacitors appears to still have major growth prospects. Could be a great tuck-in for someone.

Nuance Communications – NUAN – Repeat from last year but the story stays the same. Move to recurring revenue should have been largely digested. Tremendous underperformance with the CEO on the hot seat. The pressure will be even greater on the company to get it together or get the company sold.

RadiSys – RSYS – Beaten down but appears to be turning the corner. Small market cap could make this easy to digest for a number of players.

Twitter – TWTR – Talk about a company not living up to its potential. Management is basically loathed by almost everyone. Still someone ought to be able to better leverage Twitter. Maybe this year someone will. At a minimum how about a new management team?

Now onto the forecast for trends, technologies and products.

1 – Shadow IT – specifically the consumption of cloud services without any oversight – continues to grow putting many companies at risk – will put heat on the C-Suite and IT to do something constructive about the issue.

2 – AR/VR Hype turns to Reality – Augmented and Virtual Reality have yet to do much for the masses. Though I am down on Google Glass I am very excited about this space. With Oculus being bought for $2Billion, Facebook definitely thinks the space is worth having a seat at the table. Low cost, high bang-for-your-buck products such as MergeVR could entertain the masses – your kid could be asking you to buy one of these in the near future. Higher cost products from Samsung and Oculus will help provide the marketing dollars to get this category noticed, but it is still way too early to pick a winner. Question is who can deliver in mass with a killer app in 2015?

3 – Security Issues – Internet of Things will have a host of new issues to deal with, as hackers look to exploit some of the early roll-outs. Wearables will become the next frontier for BYOD that a number of vertical industries will have to grapple with in order to leverage staff productivity. Yet another area of data privacy and security issues to deal with.

4 – Mobility continues to push cloud adoption – Companies already have incorporated push mobile devices in mass, but what type of ROI are they getting? Can they prove it? With newly designed cloud applications available, recognizing the benefits of mobility and quantifying them is becoming much easier.

5 – Xiaomi – Haven’t heard of them yet? You will as they have a huge war chest to try and invade the West. Look for them to try and exert their muscle on the mobility front as they are skilled copyists just like Samsung a couple of years ago. Sound far-fetched? Consider just 4 years ago this company wasn’t even on the map and now they are #1 in China. Here is the crazy part – they run Android but have made their phone look and behave more like an iPhone than Samsung has ever come close to doing.

6 – Skill shortage continues – The world economies will likely continue to face a number of issues keeping the labor market soft but key skills are in high demand. Just try hiring a Senior Big Data Analyst or a Chief Marketing Technologist. Many other highly skilled positions will continue to be in high demand with many slots going unfilled for more than 12 months.

7- Samsung Out of Steam – Samsung helped lead the Android revolution as they have been great at copying features from everyone else and delivering a quality product. Given that they lost market share this year they will need to come up with something new. Can they finally innovate? I am doubtful and feel they have likely hit a wall. This is part of the reason I think Nokia and others have a chance to rebound this year.

8- Wearables – 2015 appears so far to be more of the same. Lots of products coming out including quite a bit of cool technology. Problem is that many of these lead to gadget fatigue. It is still really hard to leverage all of the data. Many products miss key features and to get everything you want, you would have to wear 10 products at once. Even then the overall benefits are minimal. Until someone really figures this out we won’t be able to see how disruptive this category could really be. Could Apple have the answer?

9 – Startups – Look for a couple of things this year. Money should flow into a range of security related companies, as well-known breaches continue to make headlines throughout the year. Also, look for more specialization around verticals. Many companies will be created to attack vertical industries and continue to disrupt them. Previously, potential customers for these products were stuck developing their own code or having to purchase a major vendor’s product before spending millions to customize it to their needs. This will keep many of the big players on their toes and potentially looking for acquisition targets.

10 – Apple – You know I can’t leave this company alone. OK here is it. Apple Watch is a hard sell. So far I have seen no compelling applications to make me want to buy one – at least not yet. Factor in the faithful and they will probably still sell 7-10m of them in 2015. Question is can this product get legs and really redefine a category? Will this product release define the post-Jobs era? For now prepare for disappointment. On to other things – how about an overhaul of the Mac Air and finally a new Apple TV. The watch better not be the only new thing Apple is banking on to start building momentum beyond 2015. Only caveat – show me a killer app and I might change my mind.

I hope you enjoyed this year’s forecast. What did I miss? What do you see happening big in 2015?

Disclosure – Position in LMOS and NUAN

Mark Cuban tells me “You have it on lockdown and will be revered!”

Mark Cuban Action Figure

I truly wish I could say Mark said this while we were playing some pickup basketball—with me going off, raining 3s, blocking shots and passing out dimes—but rather, he said this about my business leadership.
Before I explain, what prompted this subject is the number of headlines on the web (like this one) that are meant to grab attention and gain readership. The titles are often catchy but sometimes quite a reach. At times I read these and walk away unsatisfied, similar to the way you feel a couple hours after eating a high-carb, fast food lunch. I’m going to try to avoid this empty outcome by making three points with my headline. Hopefully at least one of these will help a startup founder trying to get in front of a key person, an aspiring blogger angling for strong readership, or even a salesperson seeking a foot in the door.
First, whenever you are writing, whatever it may be, make sure there is a point to it! Humor me, make me think, or educate me in some way.
Second, always provide the context of where your headline is coming from. The compliment from Mark Cuban was really nice, but should you believe it? I guarantee he didn’t in the context you may assume, but it was all said in good fun.
Here’s what happened: I was testing out a new secure messaging application called Cyber Dust which allows users to send messages to someone else and then have them disappear without a trace. Because Mark is backing the company, I decided to message him for fun to see if or what he would respond. Since I love basketball, a business associate had given me a Mark Cuban action figure that I happen keep on a shelf in my office with some other basketball-related items. I decided I would send Mark a photo of his action figure and ask him, “What message is having this in my office sending to my team?” He responded quickly with, “You have it on lockdown and will be revered!” I definitely got a kick out of this exchange, and judging by the response I think he did, too.

So, the third point I want to make is to be relevant. If you’re trying to connect with someone, get a response or request assistance, then your appeal must be relevant to them. Perhaps Mark would have messaged me back on the application regardless of what I’d written. But without the relevance of that photo, it’s fairly unlikely I would have gotten such a humorous response. Keep this in mind the next time you reach out to someone you don’t know— find an interesting way to get their attention and make it relevant. That way, you and your audience are much more likely to get something valuable out of the encounter.