Breakthroughs in technology emerge out of the blue from time to time.
But what you will likely hear much more about in technology this year is an extension of products, services and developments that may already be on your radar, even if they’re something you’re not using yet or even fully understand. Here are some of the areas in technology that bear watching in 2022 — and in some cases well beyond.
1. Even more hype for the metaverse
The hype for the so-called “metaverse” is already out of control, even more so since October 2021, when Facebook the company — not the social network itself — changed its name to Meta, reflecting, among other things, its ownership of Oculus virtual reality (VR) headsets. The metaverse isn’t easy to define, and it’s even harder to spell out just how it will eventually serve older consumers.
It has elements of VR, where you’re completely immersed in another environment by wearing a headset, and elements of augmented reality (AR), which layers virtual objects over the physical world. These fields aren't completely new. But is it finally their time?
Cristiano Amon, president and CEO of chipmaker Qualcomm, took a stab at explaining the metaverse during last week’s CES tech confab in Las Vegas.
“There’s going to be digital twins of everything — a conference room, a home, your social network,” he said. “We’re the gateway that connects the physical to the digital world.”
Jeremy Bailenson, founding director of Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab and author of Experience on Demand: What Virtual Reality Is, How It Works, and What It Can Do, explains it this way: "The Metaverse in simple terms is people, places and things.”
“People” as Bailenson defines them, are digital avatars that resemble real folks, right down to their body movements. “Places” are virtual scenes that exist even if someone isn't there. “ 'Things' are 3D models of objects, some of which can be NFTs [non-fungible tokens tied to cryptocurrency], that are designed to create market value. Others are just the bread and butter of the metaverse — for example, chairs, trees and frisbees,” he says.
You’ll be able to access these environments through some combination of VR headsets, AR-capable phones, tablets and smart eyewear. So keep a lookout for potential new hardware from Facebook/Oculus (whose parent company is Meta), Apple, Google and Microsoft.
“There is most definitely a meaningful future for seniors in the metaverse,” Bailenson says. “We have seen incredible adoption of VR in assisted living facilities. Unlike a smartphone, which is an artificial interface that is frustrating to learn and operate, [someone using] VR doesn't need to learn strange swiping motions and constantly changing icons. Instead, one just moves their head to look at something and moves their hands to touch something.”
2. Finally, faster 5G networks
You may have bought a 5G-capable phone by now, hoping to exploit the wickedly fast network speeds the wireless carriers have been crowing about for years. Only you haven’t quite experienced those speeds. Frankly, your 5G coverage has been only marginally better than the 4G LTE you had before, if that.