It is fun to guess which new technologies will emerge from the shadows and, like a sleeper hit show, grab our attention.
Predicting what technology will become hot this year is like predicting which TV show will be a hit.
Technologies like cryptocurrency and AI made headlines in 2017 and will continue to make news in 2018. It is more fun, however, to guess which new technologies will emerge from the shadows and, like a sleeper hit show, grab our attention. Here are my predictions:
1. Vernacular Apps
The hinterlands of India make for the fastest-growing global smartphone market. The first wave of new users has reluctantly adjusted to the foreign biases in their devices’ interface.
However, they are beginning to expect their devices to adjust to their desires and the ecosystem will evolve to satisfy them. Underlying technologies that enable vernacular content such as speech-to-text, language-translation, and automated content generation are maturing.
Unlike in the past, when companies paid lip service to regional languagesby changing a few menu items to Hindi, I expect to see truly vernacular versions of several popular Indian apps in 2018. Their entire interfaces will be in Hindi, Bengali, etc. More interestingly, we may see several apps being designed Hindi-first or Tamil-only, where the product itself is targeted for a particular community.
2. Digital credit
Lack of easily accessible credit is one of the biggest impediments to entrepreneurship in India. The young adult wanting to open a bike repair shop or start a clothing label is limited by capital. Banks continue to rely on antiquated mechanisms like credit ratings and salaries.
I expect 2018 to be the year we will see new credit offerings doing well, in particular, credit tied to online purchases and contract work. Digital lending will rely primarily on digital trails of data to rate credit seekers, and use digital mechanisms to issue and recover loans. The efficiencies of these mechanisms will allow issuance of credit of lower denominations and for shorter periods.
3. High-Bandwidth Apps
The unrelenting growth of smartphone penetration and mobile data usage in India is the big underlying theme of this decade. Last year, we witnessed the mass adoption of high-bandwidth connectivity, thanks to Jio. Any society exposed to such a powerful new communication capability will certainly come up with new ways to use it.
I expect that 2018 will see innovative approaches to exploit this bandwidth, in particular through new forms of graphics, audio, and other media. Bigo Live’s growing popularity indicates that there will be a lot more interactive video this year.
4. Digital agencies
India has a large service industry that includes call centres, transcriptionists, graphic artists, etc. We will see the emergence of digital agencies that provide similar services over software APIs and online interfaces.
Using online interfaces to acquire, define, track and pay for work will allow digital agencies to scale faster and use a combination of technology and humans to achieve greater efficiencies. The domains that may see early adoption of these are healthcare, education and media creation.
5. Remixed supply chains
Traditional traders have effective supply-chain systems for distributing goods, handling inventory, offering credit, and liquidating unsold goods across small towns. The e-commerce industry has built parallel supply chain systems that work efficiently for metros and large cities. This year, we should start seeing a remixing of these two supply-chain systems, especially as technology-enabled players try to penetrate broader Indian markets.
Online bulk-selling, e-distributors, warehousing and logistics-as-a-service, and e-commerce players using kirana stores and housewives as resellers will become part of the landscape.
There are several other interesting technologies emerging over the horizon, such as virtual reality and augmented reality, drones, electric vehicles, and hydroponics. There are several startups working on these areas. But I expect these need a few more years of research and development before we start seeing them have a significant impact on the Indian market.