Brian Willis

Predictions for 2016

Alright team, this is the fourth time that I’ve done this, so you all know the drill. Go and read last year’s predictions to see how I did (hint: not well), and then let’s dive into what’s going to happen in 2016.

Last year I told you we’ll soon see a fatal accident involving a self driving car. When I wrote that, I was thinking it’d be a Google car but thanks to Tesla’s batshit crazy autopilot mode, we now know that it’ll be them who’s the first to kill someone. I understand that self driving cars are going to be a big part of our future whether we like it or not, but in the race to market, corners are getting cut, testing isn’t as thorough as it needs to be, and drivers need to be retrained for a generation of technology that they don’t really understand. I write software for a living, and I’m telling you that software development is still in the “pouring raw sewage into our drinking water and wondering why everyone has cholera” stage of human progress1. We have no idea if this stuff is going to work, and I’m willing to bet that there are edge cases (rain, hail, snow, fog, collisions, roadworks, unsealed roads, startups trying to make roads out of glass2, etc.) that are hard to test thoroughly and that all drivers are expected to handle. Don’t get me wrong—when this tech gets good it’ll be a great day. Human drivers are incredibly unreliable and kill each other in the thousands every year. Putting an end to that will be a net win for humanity, but there are going to be casualties along the way.

In consumer tech it’s going to be same old, same old. Skylake Macs, another round of Chromebooks, a refreshed Surface whatever. Meh. At this point the computer, tablet, and smartphone are mostly solved problems. What’s left is iterating and refining, which is great because Apple’s software quality has been all over the place (photos—excellent; music—train wreck), Microsoft’s UI design has been all over the place (why does Windows have eight types of context menu?), and Google’s whole product strategy has been all over the place (seriously, why do they make two competing operating systems? and why do they make a programming language that can’t build stuff for either one?). I know it’s not glamorous, but everybody needs to slow down, take a chill pill, and spend some time cleaning up their respective messes.

As for wearables, this year is all about the quantified self with as many new sensors as possible being crammed into devices. Blood oxygen, blood pressure, stress level, sweat gland production, ambient carbon dioxide level, ambient temperature, you name it—if it can be measured your watch will start recording it. This was a surprising thing to learn from the Apple Watch, that when you start tracking and measuring these things people will pay attention to them even if they didn’t care before. Filling in those circles becomes a daily habit.

There’s been a rumour floating around that the next iPhone will drop the 3.5mm headphone jack and do everything through the lightning port. I think that given a long enough timeline we’ll see smartphones without any ports at all, and this is just a natural extension of that. So will iPhone headphones go wireless, or will they plug in to the lightning port? My money is on lightning. Wireless bluetooth headphones have never been great; they need to have batteries (adding cost), and they need to have ports so they can be charged (adding size and weight).

Lastly, let’s talk about software development. I don’t know how many times I have to say this, but making another social network is a dumb idea (I’m looking at you beme). Nevertheless, people keep trying to make them. Mobile app development looks to be a very crowded market too. There are still opportunities there, but if you strike gold you’ll very quickly be surrounded by impersonators (case in point: Flappy Bird). So where’s the future of software development? I see it as a mix of the web on one side, and cutting edge hardware like VR and 3D printers on the other. The web hasn’t gone anywhere, and viable businesses keep springing up to fill niches I wasn’t aware existed. All that regular recurring revenue makes for a nice and sustainable business model. Business building themselves around cutting edge hardware are of course more risky, but the successful companies in that sector will push humanity forward, and make quite a bit of money in the process.

  1. Speaking of which, you should really go watch CGP Grey’s video on plagues.

  2. No really, that’s a thing.