- Adrien Book
21 Tech Predictions for 2021
The future of technology is, by its very nature, hard to predict. This, however, shouldn’t stop us from trying because… well, it’s fun! I also seem to be fairly good at it, as my 2020, 2019 and 2018 predictions show.
If Tech isn’t your thing, I’ve also made yearly predictions about much broader topics, like sports, education and politics.
Let’s get prescient.
1. Apple acquires Peloton
Peloton made a killing in 2020 by selling their indoors bikes to people stuck at home. They’re however lacking both strategic “horizontality” (owning gyms) and “verticality” (classes streamed to other devices, health tech…) to survive in the cut-throat IoT world.
Now… who owns plenty of health tech, a streaming service, and has created physical spaces that are often considered to be temples to the brand, all the while cultivating a premium brand image ? Apple! It would be a great acquisition for them as it would strengthen and link multiple Apple offerings. It would also make Peloton investors very, very rich.
In 2021, Apple acquires Peloton.
2. Zoom is acquired or sees dwindling revenues
Zoom exploded in 2020 because of COVID-19. We even bestowed it tech’s highest and rarest honour : turning the company’s name into a verb.
Their good luck is however likely to be short-lived : they’re competing against Microsoft and Teams, and against Salesforce and Slack (wonder who predicted Slack’s sale in 2020?), two behemoth with much more firepower than the young upstart. Google Meet, with all of its issues, is also already hot on their heels. Meanwhile, the pandemic that brought the company its riches is expected to be receding any month now.
Much like Slack was acquired in 2020, Zoom will be acquired in 2021. The only reason why it wouldn’t be culled is because… well, who needs it?
3. Roblox is the Next Big Thing
Never heard of Roblox? Your children have. Roblox is a a platform which allows users to both create games, and play games created by other users. What this means is that creativity is essentially dispersed to the masses, creating a positive feedback loop : more games are created, more people come play them, more revenues are generated for creators… and the circle continues.
Roblox currently hosts 40 million games and attracted 36 million users in the first 9 months of 2020 (more than Twitch, less than TikTok). 54% of its users are under 13, and more than 50% of kids under 16 in the US have used the platform in 2020, with many of them coming back daily, to play more than one game.
These children and teens will have money to spend in a few years (their own or otherwise), and Roblox will be in an ideal situation to receive it, both as a provider of entertainment, but also as a trusted partner in a crooked world. In 2021, mentions of Roblox in the news are multiplied tenfold as analysts realise that it is indeed the next big thing in tech.
4. OnlyFans is the second Next Big Thing
Much like Roblox, OnlyFans peddles in the dispersal of creativity, platforms, and strong user engagement. Only instead of selling games to kids, this platform sells nudes to… older kids ? But that’s just the tip of the iceberg, as content creators of all types have joined the platform over the past few months.
Why OnlyFans will continue its meteoric rise, by the numbers :
The number of content creator on onlyFans exploded in 2020, to reach about 750,000 (thanks, COVID-19)
The platform attracts about 15 million new users per month
The average monthly revenue for content creators is pretty high, at about 180$ (it’s also skewed due to the large amount of non-serious accounts).
The platform has sent $200 million a month to creators in 2020. The business model is sound, as it keeps about 20% of revenues, making it a high-margin, very profitable venture.
Make no mistakes : OnlyFans is an entertainment giant hiding in plain sight, and will be the 2nd biggest thing in 2021.
5. Spotify goes vertical
Dispersion of creativity isn’t always the best thing for platforms. Take Spotify : is it in their interest to host podcasts that are also hosted on plenty of other growing streaming services? No, no it isn’t.
This is why they made a deal with Joe Rogan to ensure his content was exclusive to the Swedish company, the largest of its kind at the time. We can expect many, many more such deals to follow as the podcast Wild West is tamed by the forces of capitalism.
In 2021, Spotify will sign agreements with dozens of big names in the podcast world, and will create their own series. Netflix is making a killing with its own content, showing the way ahead.
6. HealthTech raises F-you money
There is a feeling in the health industry that we broke a glass ceiling this year, and that it will not be mended. People spoke with their doctors online, the spread of the virus was tracked digitally, AI chat-bots referred potential COVID cases to the relevant health professionals…
With so much attention on this specific market, and a fear of being caught short again, it’s more than likely that VC funds will pour money into prevention and monitoring tools , as well as administrative and analytics tools for hospitals.
We’re not getting screwed again, and it’s a good day to start a health-tech company.
7. Smart cars are hacked by smart chargers
The car industry as we know it is dead. Before long, electric vehicles will be in the majority, and politicians who know what’s good for them (and their children) will fast-track investments in fast/smart chargers throughout developed nations.
The issue with those chargers is that they carry information to ensure the battery isn’t harmed during charging. Now, I don’t know much about cyber-security (famously so if you live in France), but I do know that if a device can carry harmless information from point A to point B, it’s possible to hack it.
In 2021, white/black hat hackers will show that it’s possible to get control of parts of a smart car by going through smart chargers. This will be patched, but it will make big waves, further slowing down the adoption of this much-needed innovation.
8. P2PP : Pay to Play Privacy
2020 was the year of PPP (Paycheck Protection Program), but 2021 will be the year of P2PP : Pay to Play Privacy.
Over the past few years, 20.8% of people have had their personal information compromised through social media, a staggeringly high number when we know how much harm can be done with even the most basic personal information. This is why 28.6% of people would prefer to use social media platforms that generate profit through paid user subscriptions. This would allow for stronger moderation of content and more investments in privacy tools. Additionally, it would effectively put an end to our data being sold to advertising companies in order to better manipulate us.
In 2021, privacy will become yet another luxury for the richest 10% of the world, as they pay for better services, while the poorer 90% continue to be used and abused by Facebook. To see a company who’s slowly moved in that direction for year, you just have to look at Apple, and how much their products cost.
9. Amazon moves to Cyprus
The EU has been pretty mad at Amazon for not paying taxes over the past couple of years. To the point that it’s looking likely that Amazon will try to find yet another way around existing regulations. Coincidentally, Cyprus is looking to make a quick buck by selling passports...
What I see happening is the two villains of our story trying to be smart : Cyprus welcomes the Bezos show for a fee, and Amazon is allowed to rewrite the Cyprus tax code to turn it into Ireland 2.0, minus the history and the charm of a lad getting into a fistfight with a lamp-post at 7am. I’ll let you guess who’ll be in control of this relationship : with a GDP of some $24 billion, the Cyprus economy equates to less than a quarter of Amazon’s non-US revenue.
The techno-state isn’t such a far-fetched idea all things considered : even Microsoft works at a UN level nowadays. This trend is likely to continue in 2021.
10. Surveillance Tech is everywhere
Over the past couple of months, leaders like Duterte, Vucic and Orban have used the pandemic to strengthen their grip around power, using a mix of cunning politics, brute force and invasive tech.
This was to be expected of such authoritarians. But we don’t have to look at power-hungry extremists to find examples of freedoms being rolled back using various technologies : Norway’s (first) COVID tracing app could track people’s exact movements, South Korea has an app to report neighbors who don’t abide by the rules set by the government, and Israel has used anti-terrorism methods to track the virus’ spread.
Every country has an example or more of some freedoms being taken away to ensure the majority’s safety. And that’s a good thing, at this time. But once that power has been given, the ones who hold it seldom relinquish it. Everyday tracking will become more common-place for the public good, and we’ll have to ensure this goes no further.
11. More governments launch their own Crypto-currency
The People’s Bank of China (PBOC) rolled out an advanced digital currency experiment in October 2020. It has two benefits : the Party can track who spends what where and when, and it opens up the Yuan to external investors, weary as they were to go all in from within the authoritarian state.
In 2021, expect a few governments to follow suit in order to limit both capital flight and illegal transfers, and to open up their country to external investors.
12. Secure Quantum Internet emerges
As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, quantum computing will allow us to take leaps in the number of calculations a computer can do per second. A by-product of this is the fact that no password will be safe in a quantum world, as it should become possible to try all any and all text and number combinations in record time.
Modern problems require modern solutions. Researchers at the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands are working on a quantum Internet infrastructure where communications are coded in the form of qubits and entangled in photons (yes, light) flowing in optical fibers, so as to render them impossible to decrypt without disturbing the network.
In everyday word, that means that anyone listening in or hacking the network would disrupt the communication, rendering it unintelligible — data in such a state is, by nature, impossible to observe without altering it. With all the talks of Quantum Computing reaching a crescendo in 2020, this is the next logical direction.
13. Education Tech
After a year of e-learning, there’s no way education ever fully comes back to the way it was in 2019. Habits form fast, and most have realised that learning online isn’t great, but it’s not the worst thing.
What IS great is the fact that if a Harvard class is fully online, nothing is really stopping me (or anyone else for that matter) from taking it, bar the old-timey ways of US universities.
Having realised this, and taking a huge hit from a shrinking international students base over the past few years, the greatest universities in the world are likely to fully rethink their business model in 2021. What this re-branding will look like, no one know for sure. But you can be sure that ensuring that a world-class education is accessible through tech will be a prominent feature.
14. Cyber-insurance skyrockets
In 2021, employees continue to work from home, and their connections are definitely not as secure.
Cyber-crime is a profit-led industry. As such, we will see a rise in attacks targeting easy marks: municipalities, schools, higher education institutions and research institutes. Here’s why:
These institutions are made of mostly untrained folks doing their damn best to improve the world for others, while not doing enough to secure their network.
These industries have plenty of highly sensitive data
They have multiple entry points for hackers
They have limited resources and are slow to patch
Funding in these industries is usually secured for the next year, meaning tomorrow’s problems are systematically solved with yesterday’s solutions.
Because of this, cyber-insurance will become a must-have in 2021.
15. Messaging (finally) becomes easy
Facebook is on the verge of being broken up because of its seriously monopolistic behaviour. In order to protect itself from being asked to sell one of its key assets, my bet is that the “F” (you) company will double down, all or nothing style.
They will decide to link Messenger, Instagram and Whatsapp together, creating the easy to use, all-in-one messaging tools that millions are clamouring for. This strategy has quite a few positives : it kills Snapchat, it makes it harder to break the company up, and it pleases customers.
In 2021, messaging becomes easy as the Zuck’s life becomes hard.
16. Trump gets banned from Twitter
I mean… this speaks for itself, and it will be well deserved.
After 4 years of having to tolerate his racist, sexist, plain stupid tweets because of his office, Twitter will breath a sigh of relief when it can finally deactivate this moron’s account.
He will no doubt find plenty of other means to scream and shout and demean the very definition of what it means to be human, but maybe, just maybe, it will no longer be considered news. Im Jahr 2021, sind wir frei.
17. TikTok moves to e-commerce
Why did Vine die? Creators weren’t getting paid! If TikTok wants to avoid the same fate, they should allow creators to make more money by letting them sell their wares and services on the platform. TikTok would take a cut, everyone would be happy.
In 2021, this shift to e-commerce will happen. Chinese companies are no strangers to e-commerce, and the additional data gathered would be enough to out-compete many of the darling, indie, direct-to-consumers brands.
18. Robinhood has a terrible 2021
Robinhood is a menace to young men’s mental health, and the world of finance. Its only goal is to find out what the dumb money is doing, and report back to the banking overlords. In short, it’s CandyCrush for business school bros.
As they prepare for their IPO, the tricks they’ve been playing will come into full view : the suicides, the gamification of despair, the liquidity and erratic behaviour of trades, the lack of customer support… You don’t IPO with this kind of baggage and come out the other side unscathed.
In 2021, Robinhood has a terrible, no good, honest to god bad year. Call it wishful thinking.
19. Twitter finally goes for subscriptions
Twitter is a diseased body, one that was once beautiful, and could be so again. For this to happen, two things need to happen :
Remove bots that are making the platform very difficult to live in
Give the blue check to a majority of people, to ensure a democratised conversation as opposed to one driven by Californians.
It’s possible to hit two birds with one stones by moving Twitter to a subscription model. Added positive aspects include a higher level of privacy, as previously mentioned. In 2021, Twitter will roll out such a service, if only as a beta test.
20. Smart Tattoos
“Smart Tattoos” (aka “epidermal electronic systems”, but that’s less sexy) are personalized circuits, adhesives, conductors and microprocessors that can be “glued” onto the skin. They can send signals to devices via touch, and allow its users to interact with the world around them. They can also be used to monitor vitals, or react to external stimuli such as temperature. If that sounds cyberpunk AF, trust your instincts.
Put simply, it is a logical extension of the personalisation trend, the wearables trend, and the healthtech trend. I believe there exists a space for this technology in 2021, and that we are likely to start hearing exciting things coming from Microsoft labs very soon.
21. Tech for good
Tech continues to help reduce infant mortality, deaths from infectious disease and wealth inequalities between the poorest and wealthiest nations. Great medical advances are made, education is further democratised, and green tech emerges as a long-term force for good.
A lot of the above might seem inevitable, and often harmful to society as a whole. It is nevertheless paramount to remember that technology is both created, implemented and shaped by all of us, and that we have a very real say in how it affects us. This may be as small as sending a disapproving message to a corporation on Twitter, or as big as voting a politician out of office when they do not have our best interest at heart. Our actions matter, and it’s up to us to ensure that these predictions either do or don’t become a reality.
Good luck out there.