2022-01-07 Patrick Walsh
A Contrarian's 2022 Tech Predictions
Articles on technology trends are far more likely to follow the hype cycles being pushed by deep pocket marketing departments and people with financial interests in certain companies than to identify actual shifts in adoption. The noise is overpowering.
Part of the problem is that there’s a lot of money sloshing around in VC pockets right now. Bond markets have been in the toilet for years and for folks with cash, there aren’t many good places to park it. VCs are the big beneficiaries of this problem, which leads us to a place that’s great for private companies: lots of money looking for a home. It also leads to outsized bets on unproven ideas.
Money pours into the hyped areas, which leads to more people developing an interest in seeing those bets succeed, which leads to more hype and a bubblicious cycle. This can be a good thing when the hype is deserved...
Before I give my predictions, let’s rule out the three things I’ve seen in nearly every roundup I’ve read, which make me scoff:
Wait, aren’t we past this hype cycle? Apparently not.
NFTs are a “thing” you can digitally own and sell (akin to bitcoin) that have an entry in a public ledger so everyone can see who owns it, pseudonymously, and to make sure two people don’t both have the same claim.
Cool, right? In principle, yes, but in practice, no.
Under the hood, the ownership ledger reflects ownership of a URL. So buying an NFT means you “own” something like
http://example.com/my_image.jpg. But the person who controls that
example.comserver can put anything at that URL. It can change. They can go out of business. The person who controls the server controls the thing that you own and can change it or delete it at any time. Today you might own a piece of artwork, but tomorrow you might own a 404 error. Which makes the whole thing a house of cards.
Takeaway: interesting concept, but huge gap between story and actual technology.
It’s interesting that Zuck sold billions of dollars in stock around the same time Facebook was gearing up to announce its big rebranding to “Meta” and its new focus on the “Metaverse.” But perhaps I’m reading too much into that and my cynicism about Facebook’s ability to continue to grow is seeping in. To me, the whole thing smacks of a ploy to distract investors from diminishing growth prospects, but let’s look at the merits of the strategy anyway.
I can remember when virtual reality was “the next big thing” back in the 90’s. We heard all about the metaverse then. And we’ve heard about it periodically since then as well (remember Second Life?). The Metaverse is like the undead of hype cycles. It’s the zombie that keeps going even after you take off a limb.
The problem with virtual reality is that it requires people to fully shut out the real world at any given moment. It’s an extremely anti-social thing to do in the real world unless you’re alone in a house or apartment by yourself. The headsets remain bulky and heavy and your lack of awareness of your surroundings is disorienting and, for some, produces vertigo or seasickness.
But what about augmented reality? There’s a brighter future there. Google Glass was one of the most interesting products of this century. But it failed to take over the world. Mainstream consumers didn’t want it. So what’s changed? Would incremental improvements, like better apps, more power, and lighter glasses be enough to break through?
I imagine this sort of technology will first take hold in the business world. It’s easy to imagine augmented reality as a productivity tool for workers in an Amazon warehouse. For consumers, the best use case is to remind people of other people’s names via facial recognition — but that’s a pretty creepy and privacy-invasive use case for the people on the other side of the glass.
Unless VR/AR games get way more fun or someone nails a product with a strong productivity use case, I expect VR and AR (and by extension, the so-called Metaverse) to keep percolating along as a technology that’s much talked about and little used.
Takeaway: more augmented reality is coming, but I doubt we’ll see an adoption breakthrough in 2022.
The naming is genius. It implies that it’s an inevitable replacement of something old with something newer and better.
But the newer thing here is a technology stack that’s slow, hard to control, anti-privacy, and full of friction points. Ironically, even toy examples of “Web 3.0” very heavily leverage good ol' Web 2.0.
So what is Web 3.0? Basically “decentralized” applications that are powered by the blockchain. The hype claims that this will make for a future without a few big companies holding the keys to the kingdom and controlling all the data and services. Power to the people! That would be so cool if true, but it isn’t. Web 3.0 is being built by companies that are designed to make money off of it. These are the same companies that make money off of Web 2.0, only with a more convoluted business model involving a plethora of tokens that can be theoretically exchanged for currency.
So does it empower users over companies? No. Is it better/faster/more secure/more private/easier to use/easier to develop? No. None of those things. Is it decentralized? Not exactly. Some things, perhaps, but other things still go back to the servers of the companies that built the software. So what will drive adoption? Nothing. Maybe Web 4.0 will do better.
Takeaway: there are niche use cases for decentralized applications that are actually very interesting, but the idea that decentralized applications could or should replace the web is laughable. There are better options (see below).
Don’t ask me about the future of COVID or banking, but I do spend a lot of time looking at the currents underlying the tech industry. From where I sit, these are the six things that will dominate the spending and adoption habits of tech consumers (including businesses) in 2022.
- Inflation and chip shortages — inflation will increase and we’ll continue to see issues sourcing chips and electronics. People will become more price-sensitive and, in many cases, electronics will swap in cheaper parts, which makes purchasing electronics in 2022 a delicate decision. Also, expect products with freemium strategies to excel where their competitors without freemium strategies do not.
- Part-time work from home becomes permanent — people will continue working from home at least a couple of days a week — in 2022 and beyond. This will impact residential real estate as people want extra bedrooms, but it will also impact commercial real-estate as companies downsize their office space and increase rentals of “off-site” spaces such as large conference rooms, ballrooms, etc. The new normal will involve employees together in concentrated bursts that happen more frequently than in the past. Collaboration software will surge again after a leveling-off and even drop off in 2021. People will continue to experiment to find what works in a hybrid in-person/remote world.
- Application security — 2020 saw the SolarWinds breach, the log4j mega-vulnerability, Atlassian’s sev 10 vulnerability, and a number of high profile breaches. These are driving more investment in application security by companies and in cyber security in general by the U.S. Government. It’s also driving strong application security requirements for cloud vendors. Related trends: the rust programming language, which is considered to be a more secure way to build software, is continuing to gain market share and mind share; greater use of application-layer encryption, particularly in SaaS applications; and the “shift left” that’s bringing security tasks to earlier points in the software development process.
- Electric cars — in 2020 and 2021 we saw a flood of announcements about new electric cars, trucks, and SUVs. Companies like Ford, Volkswagen, Volvo, Rivian, and others are gearing up to finally deliver on their promised EVs. In 2022, the roads will have noticeably more fully electric vehicles, and Tesla’s dominance will be tested. More interestingly, we’ll start to see real changes in transportation budgets (dropping gas tax revenues), increases in demand on the electric grids, and possibly a slew of gas stations going out of business.
- The real web 3.0 — HTTP/3 (formerly QUIC) is a newish under-the-hood standard that will speed up websites and web applications. For now, it’s mostly deployed experimentally; for example, Safari has support, but it isn’t yet enabled by default. It won’t require changes to most web applications to adopt and it will likely go mainstream without most people even knowing it. But by the end of 2022, large amounts of web traffic will use it. This will have some interesting side effects, particularly around network security software and devices that rely on intercepting network traffic to detect threats.
- Stretch: Local first / privacy-first apps — as an alternative to the decentralized applications of the blockchain, I’m seeing more of a push behind local first and privacy-first applications. Most of these don’t use the blockchain at all. And today, most local first apps are also open-source software, which is the only real “power to the people” approach yet proven to work. I am extremely optimistic that 2022 will see a groundswell for these technologies and usage of them. Unfortunately, this is likely more of a three-year prediction with an initial uptick in 2022.
That’s it. I have undoubtedly missed something, but these are my top six predictions for the year. Let me know in the comments what you think will trend in 2022.