Last year, frog compiled its first-ever set of technology trend predictions for the year to come. Because it’s the end of 2012 (and because we are also launching our second annual edition of frog’s Tech Trends for 2013), we thought it would be a worthwhile exercise to see how we fared, in terms of foreseeing the near future.
Our process was, and remains, this: we cast a wide net across frog’s international studios, and ask a broad spectrum of designers, engineers, strategists, and executives to build upon their knowledge and research to identify emerging waves in business and culture that are influenced by new technologies. Some of these predictions are based on analyses of data gathered from quantitative surveys; others based on observations during field research; and others reflect insights garnered during consumer interviews. Fold in ideas hatched at conferences around the world, in conversation with peers in not only the design and technology realms, but also within the healthcare, finance, automotive, and social innovation sectors, among others.
Admittedly, it’s a highly subjective process. But so is life. And people are highly subjective creatures. As our goal is to observe, analyze, create, and bring to market ideas that can help to improve our lives, we follow a trend-watching process that is highly human.
That said, last year we were spot-on with many of our predictions. Chief Creative Officer Mark Rolston, for instance, wrote about the rise of “connected cities,” and yes, 2012 saw much talk and action on the creation of “smart” urban environments (say, networked cities built from scratch in Korea). Creative Director Scott Nazarian’s prediction of more fluidity between the digital and physical worlds seems very true: consider the ubiquity of QR codes in museums and stores, linking objects with online information. Assistant Vice President of Innovation Strategy Toshi Mogi wrote about flourishing e-commerce in the post-PC era—and yes, in 2012, retailers are seeing their customers stay loyal, only they’re moving to shopping on phones (for instance, online fashion retailer Gilt Groupe is even changing their strategy to focus on mobile shoppers, as one of their co-founders stated at a 2012 Economist conference in New York).
Other trends that we predicted: an increase in cloud-service awareness and offerings (look at the adoption rates of services and products such as Google Drive); more mobile innovation in and for emerging-markets (just look at the number of PopTech 2012 Social Innovation Fellows, for instance, as a metric: most are creating mobile apps for resource-challenged areas). Algorithms are solving more everyday problems in 2012—in December, the New York Times published a piece on computers and programs that can diagnose diseases.
Biomimicry as a discipline did gain more steam as an innovation strategy, with increasing numbers of academic degrees and programs devoted to the discipline emerging, as Fast Company noted. frog Fellow Jared Ficklin wrote about gesture and voice interfaces becoming more widespread. So perhaps gesture computing in the style of Minority Report isn’t yet mainstream, but one only needs to think about Siri’s cultural recognition this year—even in comedy sketches—and the continuing popularity of Apple’s iPhones.
Where were we off? Well, it seems as if in 2012, the promise of “quantified selves,” as in the triumph of personal health-tracking devices such as Jawbone’s Up, may not have happened – as Up failed, technically (the company had to recall them and offer refunds). Collaborative working via video conferencing did not improve quality-wise on a widespread, mainstream level; fuzzy Skype video was the norm in terms of impromptu video conversation, even in some interview segments on national TV. Did social networks get more personal? Not really. After all, Facebook grew to 1 billion users this year. An impressive scale, yes, but arguably not one that encourages a sense of an intimate and personal social networking platform. And to the dismay of some users, the company has proposed getting rid of users’ right to vote on its design and policies – Facebook account holders can vote until December 10 on whether the vote should remain. So while some sense of being personally involved does exist, it will depend on voters turning out to keep Facebook, the behemoth, personal in this sense.
As for other predictions, reputation-enhanced lending and commerce, based on social network-based information, didn’t really become mainstream as we projected; however, more and more websites and services offered a Facebook login, thus pushing us closer to having our social-network presences follow us into the world of commerce in some way. And more specialized technology did not surface as a backlash to convergence, as exemplified in smart phones: some analysts even pointed to the smart phone overtaking the popularity of the digital camera, for instance, this year.
And then there was a more poetic, the more profound prediction that could stretch beyond a year’s time. As frog’s co-founder Hartmut Esslinger predicted, digital design might cause a number of generic products: we only need to look to the Apple vs. Samsung ruling in 2012 for evidence of look-alike goods. Think of Esslinger’s prediction and…one wonders that perhaps the controversy isn’t really about copying, but possibly about the design tools available and what sort of aesthetic they encourage.
Speaking of stretching beyond 2012, take a look at our predictions for 2013. This year, we’ve bumped the collection up to 20 (from 14 last year), and also related our 20 individual predictions to larger trends gaining momentum in commercial, social, and humanitarian spheres.
Reena Jana is frog's Executive Editor. Based in New York, Reena is the former innovation department editor at BusinessWeek, and has contributed to a variety of publications including Wired, the New York Times, Harvard Business Review online, Fortune.com, and numerous others.