Seven challenges facing the tech industry
#1: Improving battery life
I've put this at the top of the list because it is the feature I see requested most often - by far - by laptop, smartphone, and tablet users. While the industry has focused on "thin-and-light," and also to a lesser extent on performance, improved power consumption is primarily being derived from using more efficient components.
There's little doubt that the industry needs a battery revolution. The current battery technology in widespread use is pretty old and outdated, and designed for a very different style of device, workload, and era.
New battery technologies are in the pipeline, but right now it's unclear what will come out on top to replace the lithium-based battery technologies we are currently using.
#2: Improving device durability
Here's another highly requested feature. While tech-heads like myself like to be able to repair devices, most people would rather that they were just more durable and didn't break in the first place!
Screens continue to be the biggest weak point, although as more devices adopt glass on the back too to facilitate wireless charging, that doubles the vulnerable surface on a lot of devices. Advances such as Corning's Gorilla Glass technology has helped, but glass is still glass, and as devices become more compact and thinner, even a small drop can put a device out of action permanently.
#3: Dealing with e-waste
This builds on the issue of device durability. Apple alone is currently adding more than 200 million iPhones into the market yearly, and when you add up all the other devices that Apple sells (around 40 million iPads, and some 20 million Macs, plus an undisclosed number of smaller gadgets such as AirPods and AppleTV devices), and then add in all the other tech players, that's a huge e-waste time bomb that's being built.
There are two areas where e-waste needs addressing:
- Increasing device lifespans (both functional lifespan, overall durability, and by making them more repairable)
Both of these factors involve companies having to shoulder some level of additional financial burden in order to reduce the pressure, either through slowing down the upgrade cycle, or by investing in recycling operations to stop e-waste being piled into landfills.
#4: Dealing with insecure legacy hardware
The security landscape is changing rapidly, and it's becoming increasingly challenging for software firms to keep up with vulnerabilities and new attacks. But spare a thought for hardware makers too. Patching software is one thing, patching hardware is another, and vulnerabilities that are hard-baked into hardware require a lot of effort and ingenuity to fix, and that's if they can be fixed.
This year we've seen processors fall victim to vulnerabilities such as Spectre and Meltdown, and also increasingly seeing pressure put on networking devices such as routers and switches.
But what happens to devices that can't be fixed? And this not only applies to devices with built-in vulnerabilities, but also to things that have hit end-of-life and are not longer receiving software updates.
Old tech is a problem that the industry as a whole has done very little to address, and the problems are going to get a lot worse over the coming years before there's any sign of things getting better.
#5: Hubs and dongles galore
Once upon a time it felt like there was a different port for everything. Nowadays it increasingly feels like we have one type of port that fits very little unless we use a dongle.
Shifting to USB-C is undoubtedly a good thing in the long run, but the shift seems to have happened suddenly, and has happened before the industry as a whole can adapt t the shift.
Hence we seem to have ended up in a position where people need hubs and dongles to accommodate for the fact that devices are increasingly shipping with a limited number of USB-C ports.
It's my hope that USB-C will hang about for a respectable amount of time and give both the industry and consumers a period of stability.
#6: Navigating the privacy regulation landscape
GDPR gave the tech industry a lot of headaches and sleepless nights, but it's likely to be the beginning of huge privacy regulation tsunami that the entire industry will have to contend with over the coming years.
And it's clear that the tech industry needs more regulation. The whole Facebook//Cambridge Analytica scandal, not to mention all the data leaks that we've seen over the past year alone, shows how vulnerable user data is to harvesting and misuse.
So if GDPR compliance was hard, expect things to get harder.
#7: Improving the user experience
Things seem to have a tendency to go from simple to complex, and this is doubly so when it comes to software because it's easy to cram more features without giving a lot of thought to what effect this has to the overall user experience.
Over the past few years I've seen software increase in complexity dramatically. Apple's iOS is a good example, where I've seen more and more features crammed into the code without giving a lot of thought to how to make those features easy to use.
And it's not just software in a general sense. Look at how online platforms such as Facebook have increased in complexity, both in terms of the apps and through the web browser. Complexity is inevitable - especially as users demand more features - but it's something that needs to be managed, and more and more I'm not seeing this being the case.