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Jan 4, 2022 19 min read

2021: Tech Trends, Predictions, and Some Answers

crystal ball predictions from rick huckstep
Photo by Alex CA from Pexels
Table of Contents

Wiser! #53 (Premium): As we end one year and start another, it's a great time to reflect, consider and make a few stabs in the dark about what's to come.

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Looking backwards and forwards at the same time

As we start a new year, here’s a collection of bits and pieces to get you thinking. I’ve pulled together some themes from across the Tech Economy. These are some of the key themes that I'll focus on throughout the year. Under each theme are some data points, reflections, trends and opinions. Some might say that these are "predictions" and they'd be kinda right, which is why I've listed them at the end. Mostly it’s a brain dump of the things to keep an eye on as we move into the Year of the Tiger. In no particular order, these are some of the subjects covered in this issue of Wiser!...

  • Regulating Tech will be led by the EU
  • The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Crypto
  • MetaFacebook is still Facebook
  • Web3 is not BS
  • TikTok and the Rise of Social Commerce
  • Apple’s strategic genius is genius
  • Augmented Reality to eat the world
  • Metaverse hype and reality will be conflated
  • Car manufacturers shift focus to software

TikTok and the Rise of Social Commerce

TikTok was the most viewed website in 2021, beating Google into 2nd place. It was also the most downloaded app across both iOS and Android and the only ‘Chinese’ tech in the list of Top10 downloads (TikTok is the non-Chinese version of DouYin and the product of Bytedance, but to all intents and purposes, this is technology from China).

This is some feat for the 5-year-old short-form video platform that has over a billion monthly users. There’s little doubt that the Chinese social media platform has stolen the lunch of Twitter and Instagram and, IMHO, will overtake Instagram’s 2 billion monthly user volume sometime in 2022. (that’s a prediction!).

The space to watch for TikTok is Social Commerce. This is where social media and eCommerce come together.  In the West, this is forecast to be a $36 billion sector by the end of 2022. However this is dwarfed by China where is already 10x bigger than that.  This is not just about TikTok because Pinterest, YouTube and Twitter all have eyes on the trend towards live shopping broadcasts where social media influencers promote and punt merchandise in real-time. But I predict that Social Commerce in the West will be the biggest on TikTok.

What makes TikTok so addictive?
Wiser! Essay: TikTok is the most addictive platform on Social Media. Leaked documents reveal the how and why.

Regulating Tech will be led by the EU

The US regulations that curb the excesses of consumer tech were written in 1999. They are, by any stretch of the imagination, woefully out of date and overdue an update. BigTech has successfully played the lobbying game in Washington to delay, deflect and diffuse any attempts by US lawmakers to address some of the fundamental issues with the business models that drive harmful behaviour. And the harms are material and wide-ranging, from addictions to democracy, they are well documented and increasingly understood.

China has already seen the future and clamped down big time on Big Tech. It started at the end of 2019 and throughout last year, China introduced a range of laws and regulations that put the safety and welfare of people, especially young people, before the profits and returns of shareholders. China has a lot to answer for but when it comes to BigTech regulation, China has shown the way.

The European Union will follow in 2022 with two major pieces of legislation; one to stop the big boys from using their size to dominate markets and the other to protect consumers across a range of areas, from privacy to misinformation to oblique algorithmic decision making.

EU Digital Markets Act

The purpose of the Digital Markets Act is to ensure a level playing field for all digital companies,. The regulation will lay down clear rules for Big Tech which aim to stop them from imposing unfair conditions on businesses and consumers. In other words, it will stop the gatekeepers like Google and Amazon from ranking their own products and services above everyone else's.

EU Digital Services Act

The Digital Services Act focuses on creating a safer digital space for digital users and companies, by protecting fundamental rights online. Among the core concerns tackled by this law are the trade and exchange of illegal goods, services and content online and algorithmic systems amplifying the spread of disinformation.

The fine print for this EU legislation is being written as we speak and will pass into law later this year. The EU will set the pace for the West for regulating BigTech in 2022 whilst the US continues to huff and puff and sits on their hands (that’s prediction #2).

China’s Big Tech Crackdown
Newsletter #26 (Premium): China has looked at the power of the BigTech monopolies in the USA and said “not happening here!”...and they mean business!

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Crypto

Bitcoin is now a teenager. Yesterday was Bitcoin’s 13th birthday after the day that Satoshi Nakamoto mined the genesis block of Bitcoin (block number 0) in 2009. Now, at a time of rising inflation and Governments printing money like there’s (literally) no tomorrow, it is worth reminding ourselves of the message Nakamoto left in the genesis block;

The Times Jan/03/2009 Chancellor on brink of second bailout for banks.”

This was the headline in the UK’s Times newspaper on the day Bitcoin was born and seen by Bitcoiner’s as a derisory comment on the instability of the fractional-reserve banking system.

I make this point simply to remind readers that Bitcoin is still young. And like any adolescent, still figuring out their way in the world. I am firmly in the pro-camp when it comes to Bitcoin and still wake up with cold sweats when I think of the times I cashed in some of my Bitcoins way too early. But then I also regret not buying Tesla when it was $50 and everyone was saying it was overpriced.

After Bitcoin, you have Ether, the crypto that fuels smart contracts on the Ethereum network. (Smart contracts are computer programs that run on blockchain technology to automate tasks and functions without being under the control of a central authority, for example, automatically paying out on an insurance policy without human interference or approval.)  Whilst they are both cryptocurrencies, their utility is very different. Bitcoin is unique whereas Ethereum is not, although it has a massive first-mover advantage and a momentum that will keep it ahead of the copycat networks like Solana and Polkadot that snap at its heels. If you are remotely interested in crypto, watch Bitcoin and Ethereum, they are here to stay IMHO (disclaimer: this is not advice, don’t take my word for it, do your own research.)

2021 gain in crypto rick huckstep
2021 Gains in Cryptocurrency

Then there are the rest of the thousands of cryptocurrencies promising to solve world hunger or make you an overnight gazillionaire. Remember, this is still an unregulated space and is a digital Wild West. There are just as many bad people as there are good ones out there, with no checks on the hucksters and fraudsters who pump and dump at the expense of the naive. That’s not to say there are no upsides to be had or good projects amongst the shit ones. Just be careful, that’s all.

The 4th most Googled search was for "Dogecoin" in 2021.

However, IMHO, Bitcoin will continue on its journey to mainstream adoption and becoming a genuine alternative to gold as a story of value. I don’t know how the price will move anymore than the next person with an opinion.  Nayib Bekuele, the CEO of El Salvador has tweeted that he thinks Bitcoin will hit $100k in 2022. I’m not so sure. We are 2 years away from the next halvening (Bitcoin’s inbuilt deflationary mechanism) and the previous 3 halvening events have preceded a bull run on the price. I don’t know of any reason why it would be any different this time. So, my prediction is that Bitcoin will end the year in the $40-$60k price range that it’s in today.

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MetaFacebook is still Facebook

Mark Zuckerberg has gotten this all wrong. Nearly 3 billion people rely on Facebook every month as their Internet, their source of news, and/or their connection to family and friends. Whereas (only) 10 million people own an Oculus Quest 2 Virtual Reality headset. Pivoting the world’s largest social media network to the concept of an immersive world where we all live, work and play behind an electronic brick strapped to our face is an enormous fail. That’s not to say that I dismiss the Metaverse as nonsense, far from it. I think there is much merit in the Metaverse and expect to see “immersive” technologies emerge through 2022 as brands embrace the notion of a virtual experience. It’s just that this isn’t going to be about VR headsets that cause motion sickness, skin rashes or act as a

But, and here’s the but when it comes to MetaFacebook, Zuckerberg’s land-grab of the Metaverse will not deflect from the serious issues that Facebook have to address. Namely, it’s sole reliance on an advertising-fuelled business model that feeds off engagement. Because it is this that has become corrupted, enabling the propaganda wolf to be sent to granny’s house in sheep’s clothing.

For me, the Francis Haugen testimonies gave us the pivotal moments in 2021 when it comes to the Facebook machine, not the deflection tactic of its renaming/rebranding. The most damning testimony being that Facebook knowingly put profits before the safety of people. I expect to see Mark Zuckerberg come under increasing pressure in 2022 to make fundamental changes to the Facebook business model. He will resist them all and make nothing more than cosmetic, headline-grabbing changes, but the fundamental model will stay the same. Meanwhile, Zuckerberg will continue to point in the opposite direction in an attempt to draw attention away from Facebook. (That's number 3.)

The Metaverse: Facebook’s big bet (Part 1)
Wiser! #43 (Premium): When Facebook, the world’s largest social network, renames to “Meta”, it positions the Metaverse as the Next Computing Platform, aka Web3, the next generation of the Internet.

Metaverse hype and reality will be conflated

The Metaverse will continue to dominate headlines and the marketing designs for major brands.  Much of what will be reported on the Metaverse will be hype (what is generally referred to as the Peak of Inflated Expectations from the Gartner Hype Cycle). However, amongst all of it will be some genuine real-world applications of technology that create an immersive experience for consumers (I think that the Metaverse is a consumer segment and not one that will migrate into the corporate world, such as virtual reality work meetings. That ain’t going to happen, IMHO).

For example, Spanish tech company Owo has produced a vest that uses vibrations to give the user physical sensations during gaming. Tech companies Vuzix and PulpoAR have built augmented reality safety glasses for workers and an AR system that lets users try out makeup. Samsung has created “My House,” a Metaverse system that lets consumers try out smart home devices before they buy them. This includes a system that lets users buy NFTs on Samsung TVs as part of its “lifestyle TV” product line.

The Metaverse: what it virtually means in reality (Part 2)
Wiser! #45 (Premium): All of a sudden, everyone is talking about the Metaverse. Thanks Meta! In this 2 part series, Part 1 explained what it is and Part 2 looks at what it does.

Web3 is not BS

Not to be confused with the Metaverse, Web3 is the collective noun for a decentralised Internet economy. What these terms have in common is that they are both journey’s to the same destination; tomorrow’s digital world. The headlines are dominated by NFTs at the moment, largely because they are attracting headlines as artists and creators wrap their art and products up as non-fungible tokens. Alongside this, there is a large minority of super-wealthy crypto investors who made a ton of paper money trading on crypto. Their paper wealth is already inside the crypto economy and it’s relatively easy for them to buy, trade and own digital collectables. IMHO, the vast majority of the digital art isn’t with the electricity used to buy them in, but that’s not the point, is it?

Because the point is that owning an NFT from a “name” gets the buyer entry into an exclusive club. It’s no longer, “Hey baby, do you want to come up and see my etchings?” Now it’s “do you want to come and see my NFTs?” And whilst this is all very fashionable at the moment, this will die out during 2022, I’m sure of it, especially since crypto values (and personal wealth) are trending down and will continue to do so through the year.

However, IMHO, NFTs are here to stay as the tech beds down. The utility of NFTs will be tested beyond jpegs and hand-drawn sketches and they will steadily appear in consumer products, ranging from tickets to subscription services and a host of applications in between.

The other big segments of Web3 are DeFi (”decentralised finance”) and DAOs (”decentralised organisations”). Both of these promise great things, but both are still missing a killer app. And it won’t appear in 2022... there are a few more years to go before either of these take hold.

DeFi, DApps & DAOs: Where the magic happens in Web3 (Part 2)
Wiser! #52 (Premium): Part 2 of the Web3 Series looks at the role of nascent decentralised technologies defining the next iteration of the Internet economy.

Apple’s strategic genius is genius

This week Apple became the world’s first $3 trillion company. Forty-five years after the company was incorporated, Apple’s market valuation is equivalent to the GDP of the UK (I know, I know, it’s not a true Apples for Apples comparison but it gives the Apple result some context and allows me to make the pun!). The question is when will Apple slow down or stall? The answer is, no time soon.

At the heart of Apple’s dominance is the App Store, one of the most accretive business models in history. The Epic Games case tried to curtail the 30% tax that Apple applies to every business that wants to run on one of the billion iPhones in the world. That case has stalled as the army of Apple lawyers tie the case up in legal knots. Meanwhile, Apple dominates the wearables space because they understand, like Italian fashion designers, that people are only going to wear something if it makes them more attractive, appealing or standout. Unlike metaFacebook who think that strapping an electronic brick to your face is the future.

The big winner for Apple is the Airpods, which just sold over 90 million units over the Christmas period, 20% up on a year ago (btw, Apple sells 40x more Airpods than MetaFacebook sells Oculus 2 headsets #JustSaying). Apple has already submitted a patent to install a camera in its Airpods and is even experimenting with temperature sensors for health monitoring. The Airpods business alone generates roughly $12 billion a year, more than Shopify, Snap, and Twitter combined.

Apple, Wearables, CBDCs, Elon Musk, TikTok and Robots
Wiser! #17: Apple has built a formidable lead in Wearables...in plain sight! Plus CBDCs, Musk in trouble again and TikTok goes into Radio.

Will tech stocks slow down?

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, said everyone who has ever bought and sold shares. If you had followed Warren Buffett’s advice and put your money in an S&P 500 index fund last year, you would have done very well. The broad index gained 27% in 2021 and closed at a record 70x, the most since 1995.

The top-performing S&P sectors were Energy, whose 48% annual gain was its best-ever thank to soaring oil prices, and Real Estate (42%). Tech stocks came third, rising 33% across the year. The standout performers were Microsoft with a 51% gain and Apple with a 34% gain. The top six contributors to the S&P’s performance came from Big Tech stocks. However, smaller, high-growth tech stocks didn’t do so well last year. This was best illustrated by the Ark Innovation ETF, which declined 24% after shooting up 150% in 2020. The Ark ETF is home to companies like Roku, Twitter and Palantir.

Apple; most valuable company in the world!
Wiser! #11 (Premium): If Apple was a country, it would be the 8th largest in the world. How do they do it? Strategic Insights from Wiser! Newsletter

Augmented Reality to eat the world

Last year, AR went mainstream thanks to Snap filters and Pokémon Go. Now, expect to see AR smart glasses become the big new “wearable” segment to dominate 2022. If you’re thinking, we’ve been here before (think of the fails that were Google Glass or Snap Spectacles), think again. in 2022, MetaFacebook will update the next iteration of their smart Ray-Bans with AR and Snap are publicly market testing their next generation AR smartglasses in private (they’re not on public sale but journalists are getting to try them out and write about them).

But the big move will be Apple as they enter the AR space. I, like Tim Cook, believe that the future is not Virtual Reality, but Augmented. My prediction is that AR smart glasses will outsell VR headsets in 2022.

Snippets to look out for

eDollar - CBDC or Stablecoin?

China has already processed more than $5 billion in e-renminbi transactions with its CBDC (”Central Bank Digital Currency”), while the US has fallen behind in plans to either develop its own or go with a stablecoin approach. Expect the US Federal Reserve to make a decision before the summer.

China: the journey to a cashless society
Wiser! #14 (Premium): Central Bank Digital Currencies are coming. It’s not a question of whether, but when. And China has stolen the march and is years ahead of the rest of the world.

Car manufacturers shift focus to software

Toyota is developing a new business model with a software platform and subscription service. The goal is to create more revenue and have its “Arene” operating system in Toyota vehicles by 2025. The Japanese automaker joins rivals VW, GM and a wave of tech companies, as they compete with Tesla and race for full control of their supply chains.

Toyota plans to license its Arene OS and make it available to affiliates like Subaru, other manufacturers, and electric and self-driving startups. Meanwhile, VW plans its own “vw.os” and Daimler intends to incorporate its “mb.os” in its vehicles in 2024. GM will invest $35 billion into its OS and EVs by 2025. All of these efforts aim to mirror Tesla’s approach to software development which is currently focused on autonomous driving. Despite the tech’s controversy, Tesla plans to market it to other tech companies. Across the board, US researchers believe electronics and software could make up 50% of a vehicle's cost by 2030.

car manufacturer mkt cap by cars sold

Pivot for Twitter

Under its new leadership, Twitter will reevaluate its business model and make a material change mid-way through 2022. It has to do something because the social media platform that brought us short-form soundbites had flatlined under Jack Dorsey in his 2nd term as CEO. No innovation, no growth and everyone else overtaking. My money is on 2 things; a major shift away from the ad-fuelled business model and a clear separation from the rest of social media around misinformation, namely calling it out and reducing tolerance for it.

Jack Dorsey quits as CEO of Twitter (again)
Wiser! Essay: Jack Dorsey has quit for the 2nd time as the CEO of Twitter. But he still has a day job because he’s also CEO of Square, aka Block.

Have Avatar, will Metaverse

Instead of going online with a million different logins, you could be living inside the internet with an avatar that moves seamlessly from virtual hangouts to digital malls. This is the vision of interoperability that comes with the immersieve Inetrnet world known as the Metaverse. Watch out for games platforms like Fortnite and Roblox, software vendors like Microsoft and social media platforms like MetaFacebook as they all come up with Avatar solutions.

Space becomes a destination

There are 2 big shifts in space for 2022. The first is a new focus on landing and living on the Moon and the second is the so-called space tourism. In 2021, high-profile suborbital flights from Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin, and Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic created momentum for space tourism for the super-rich and Virgin aims to start flying tourists for $250K/seat in early 2022. Personally, I don't see a future in space tourism or any likelihood that it will become affordable to "ordinary" folk.

But it is the commercial opportunities for the likes of SpaceX that will provide the most interesting stories throughout 2022. And it's not just Elon Musk's space exploration company. China’s primary space contractor plans to mount over 40 orbital launches this year to complete the Tiangong space station. The European Space Agency’s Discovery & Preparation projects plan to drill into the Moon’s south pole to extract frozen water, then build and operate a “pilot plant” to produce oxygen on the moon by 2026. And Japan plans to launch the world’s first wooden satellite next year. The box will house the satellite antenna, and in addition to its cheaper cost, the wood will burn up upon re-entry.

SPACE: The final frontier?
Wiser! #16 (Premium): The Space Race used to be between two most powerful nations. Now the superpowers are the two richest men in the world, plus Sir Richard Branson.

Smarter home devices that Matter

Watch out for “Matter” in 2022 because it’s going to matter. Matter is an alliance of twenty-three companies that includes Google, Apple, Amazon, and Huawei which will make smart home devices interoperable. This is what the smart home market needs, and has needed for a long time. Because a universal connectivity standard will be like having a basic level of plumbing or electric circuit in the home. Whatever device or appliance you buy, it will fit and run using the plumbing or plugs in any home. At the moment consumers spend too much time figuring out which product works with which and then troubleshooting those connections, before often giving up on the whole thing.

Meanwhile, for a taste of what’s to come, take a look at plumbing giant Kohler and their new range of smart home devices, including a self-filling bathtub, digital showers, smart faucets, and a home energy storage system.

Ambient Computing: Amazon’s in the house
Wiser! #38 (Premium): Amazon has unveiled a clutch of digital smart tech for the home in its pursuit of ambient computing, inc robots, wearables, drones, smartspeakers and AI.

Wisdom of Others

A short-list of the predictions from experts

Presentations — Benedict Evans
Presentations by Benedict Evans
The Top Five Strategic Technology Trends for 2021 – The Year of Digitalism
2021 will be the Year of Digitalism, and here are the top five strategic technology trends for 2021 that will impact your business.
Wild tech predictions for 2022 that probably won’t happen
This is a big list of what-ifs—some of which could transpire--maybe
10 AI Predictions For 2022
2022 will be a huge year for the field of artificial intelligence.

Follow me on Social Media

Over 110,000 people follow me across Social Media for Insights and Information from the Tech Economy (whoop-di-do!😊). You get to see most of it here because you're subscribers to the Newsletter. I'm most active on Twitter and Linkedin, however here are some other places you can find me:

Hacker Noon: A great place to find tons of content from independent writers like me.
Medium: Still the number 1 place for bloggers and writers (IMHO).
TikTok: No dad dancing, I promise!
YouTube: Over 36,000 views last time I looked
Instagram: the place to make writing visual.

Sources of Insight and Information

EU Digital Markets Act and Digital Services Act explained

Bitcoin Halvening Countdown

Virtual Reality hits a snag, leaving some users with itchy faces

Samsung unveil TVs with NFT trading capabilities

Matter is the foundation of connected things

Kohler’s SmartHome products

Toyota to launch it’s own operating system

Tech stock performance in 2021

China aims to complete space station in 2022

Building a home on the Moon

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