There's no shortage of major tech trends that are ramping up as we speak, hoping to change the world. Some ideas will prove to be revolutionary, while others will flail and sputter out and not live up to early hype. It's always tough to distinguish the winners from the losers, and different trends also have different time horizons to manifest.
To help investors figure out where to look, here are three different tech trends that our contributors think could steal the show next year.
Evan Niu, CFA (wearables): Technically speaking, the wearables market might be a little older than you think. Fitness trackers have been around for quite a while, and these were the first product category to really be considered wearable technology. It goes without saying that Fitbit (NYSE:FIT) emerged as the dominant player in the fitness tracker market, but the wearables market is evolving in a big way, and 2016 could be a seminal year for the relatively young industry.
This is because 2015 is the year that Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) officially entered the fray, although it wasn't until the year was halfway over that Apple Watch shipments began ramping up in volume. The device launched in late April, but was severely supply constrained until June. Apple has already catalyzed the smartwatch market in a big way, almost single-handedly. While Apple won't disclose unit volumes, IDC estimates that Apple sold more Apple Watch units in two quarters (an estimated 7.5 million units) than the entire market shipped in 2014 (6.8 million units).
Categorically, nearly all smartwatches include fitness tracking capabilities. As such, smartwatches are expected to begin cannibalizing stand-alone fitness trackers in a big way, which is exactly why Fitbit is racing to move upmarket into smartwatch territory with its latest devices. As it stands, wearables are still far from mainstream adoption, but there's a good chance that investors will see a marked increase in adoption in 2016 across the board.
Tim Brugger (cord-cutting): The term, and the projected impact of, cord-cutting has been bandied about for some time as consumers search for alternatives to the high price and often less-than-ideal service that comes with cable, and satellite pay TV subscriptions. Recent reports indicate the trend will gain steam in 2016.
Opting for non-cable or satellite viewing choices from either online video streaming or over-the-top (OTT) services from folks like Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) has never been more popular. In fact, in 2016 eMarketer estimates that 5.5 million U.S. consumers will say "enough" of cable or satellite and shift to other forms of entertainment, which would mark yet another year of double-digit growth in the number of cord-cutters.
There are reasons Netflix shareholders have enjoyed a nearly 150% jump in share price this year, and the stampede of cord-cutters is one of them. When cord-shavers and cord-nevers -- consumers who choose to scale back or have never paid for a cable or satellite TV package -- are added into the mix, 2016 looks even gloomier for cable and satellite providers.
In a survey of over 3,100 U.S. and Canadian adults, a whopping 45.2% said they reduced their level of cable or satellite service in 2014, largely due to increasing costs and poor service. As for cord-nevers, an estimated 16.9 million U.S. consumers will have never sampled cable or satellite TV by next year, and like cord-cutters, the numbers are expected to continue climbing in 2016, and beyond.
Keith Noonan (display innovations): Like it or not, the display screen is the centerpiece of modern life. Everything from business operations to entertainment and social interaction increasingly hinges on information conveyed through projected images. That general trend won't fade anytime soon, but some big changes are on the horizon. 2016 is shaping up to be a year in which both iterative and revolutionary display innovations break ground, and perhaps no company has a bigger interest in the adoption of new display technologies than Samsung (OTC:SSNLF).
Samsung is the largest manufacturer of LCD televisions and smartphones, and the Korean tech giant is positioned to be a major player in the emerging virtual reality space that could see big momentum next year.
On the 4K front, price drops and increased support for the format are already spurring television sales, but 2016 looks to be the year that the technology really takes off, with some estimates suggesting that 4K sets will account for approximately a quarter of TV sales in 2016.
4K televisions aren't even the most exciting part of 2016's big display push, with VR headsets from HTC, Sony, and Facebook, as well as Microsoft's HoloLens augmented reality headset, on track to hit the market and deliver some wow factor. Samsung's recently released Gear VR headset, which uses the company's newer phones as clip-in displays, has gotten mostly favorable reviews and established the early standard for upcoming consumer VR technologies.
With 4K televisions going mainstream, big product launches for VR and AR headsets, as well as the annual screen battle among mobile competitors, 2016 is on track to be a huge year for display technology.