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Tech that will invade our lives

More companies are also using augmented reality to help people with online shopping
Glenn Harvey /NYTNS

Brian X. Chen   |   Published 01.02.21, 03:39 AM

This year, the technologies that we will most likely hear the most about won’t be fancy devices like smartphones or big-screen television sets. It will be workhorse software and Internet products that are finding their moment now.

Take mobile wallet apps. While these have been around for years, some people stuck with credit cards and cash. But germaphobia finally pushed more of us to try the contact-free payments.


Then there’s augmented reality. The technology, which lets us interact with digital objects superimposed on our physical world, has been more than a decade in the making. For years, it seemed more futuristic than useful. But now that we can’t easily go to a physical store to try things on, snapping a selfie to see a digital rendering of make-up on your face sure seems like a better idea.

“All those things we started to see a need for during Covid,” said Carolina Milanesi, a consumer technology analyst for Creative Strategies, a market research firm. “Think about how neglected video calling has been for so long. Finally, we get it.”

Some tech trends that are set to invade our lives.

Replace stores

You may not have noticed it as you shop online, but the experience is changing. Clicking through a navigation bar of a website to find an item has become passé. A search bar that allows you to look up a specific product is faster. In some cases, chatting with a bot may be even more efficient.

We have experimented with chatbots for years. Facebook has offered tools for merchants to make bots that engage with customers. Retailers like Amazon have used chatbots to answer customers’ questions, and when the bots can’t help, a person can hop in to take over.

Now that visiting a retail store has largely become impractical, we can expect such conversational technologies to gain momentum, said Julie Ask, a technology analyst for market research firm Forrester Research.

Recently, I shopped for a pair of shoes at Beckett Simonon, an online fashion brand, and asked an employee via a chat box about the correct shoe size for my feet.

More companies are also using augmented reality to help people with online shopping. Jins Eyewear, which sells prescription glasses, lets you take a photo of your face to virtually try on glasses. Snap, the parent company for Snapchat, has teamed up with brands like Gucci and Dior to offer virtual try-ons.

Smarter WiFi

One home technology problem that the pandemic underscored was our sluggish, unreliable Internet connections. Thankfully, this year we will see a wave of new Internet routers that include WiFi 6, which will focus not on speed but rather on efficiency by sharing bandwidth across a number of devices.

Here’s what that means. Let’s say your family owns smartphones, several computers and a game console. If all of them are being used, WiFi 6 does a better job at providing bandwidth to all the devices at the same time as opposed to letting one device hog most of it.

Free hands

Last year was an inflection point for mobile payments. For safety reasons, even cash-only die-hards, like farmers’ market merchants and food trucks, started accepting mobile payments.

Hands-off technology doesn’t end with mobile wallets. So-called Ultra-Wide Band, a relatively new radio technology, may also find its moment. The technology, which uses radio waves to detect objects with extreme precision, has not been used much since its debut on smartphones about two years ago. But the need for contact-free experiences could change that.

Virtualise work

The pandemic has made it clear that virtualised experiences, like video meetings and Zoom yoga, are viable substitutes for the real thing. In 2021, expect more products to digitise the way we work.

Tech companies, for example, are experimenting with recreating the conference room with virtual reality. Microsoft’s AltspaceVR lets you and your colleagues wear headsets to have meetings in hologram form. Facebook’s Oculus, the virtual reality division, said it was hastening its plan to bring virtual reality to offices.


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