What can we expect from gadgets and tech in general in 2021? The business of making predictions can be tricky, because as 2020 has proven, anything can happen. At this time a year ago, no one could have imagined the way things would turn out. It has been a time of immense disruption, but for every setback we've seen a new opportunity in the world of tech. With people confined to their homes, video conferencing has taken off like never before. Economic constraints have thrown many peoples' plans into disarray, but PC sales have boomed due to necessity. Lockdowns in all parts of the world derailed everyone's plans, but lots of work has continued to happen. The world has largely shifted to a new normal.
Against this backdrop, we step into 2021 hoping to see things get back to normal, but it looks as though it could still take a while. We do feel that there is hope, and it will be interesting to see how much of our current adjustments become permanent alterations. Here are our predictions for tech trends in 2021, particularly in India.
1. We'll continue to work at home for a while
Things are slowly getting back to normal and while we'd all like a bit of socialisation, offices and workers in many industries have clearly realised that there's no need for everyone to be in the same place all the time. Many large tech companies won't be asking employees to return till mid-2021 and those timelines are likely to be extended. We might see more hybrid solutions such as telecommuting and split weeks.
What that means is that collaboration, video conferencing, and scheduling services become more ingrained into our daily lives, and we wind up investing more in hardware and software to make us more productive at home. Offices will have to take up new challenges in terms of data security and remote management, while workers will find themselves using tech to manage a new work-life balance.
2. Tech trade shows aren't going to be the same
Large tech shows are not going to happen in the first half of 2021, but we might see smaller, more controlled events later in the year. CES 2021 will be an all-digital event, but MWC has rescheduled to June and even Computex is planning to go ahead with an in-person show. As IFA 2020 proved, it should be possible to hold some sort of gathering with proper precautions in place. On the other hand, going online proved to be hugely beneficial in other ways. Apple's virtual WWDC managed to reach more people across the world than ever before, and future shows will be influenced by this experience.
Crowds will be much reduced and even those who are able to travel might choose not to. We'll have to see how things play out – if new travel restrictions become necessary, exhibitors could pull out and plans could change even at the last minute.
We won't see crowded events like CES 2020 for a long time
3. Gadgets and PCs are likely to remain expensive
Prices in India are significantly higher than in many other countries thanks to taxes, and recent currency fluctuations have driven costs up. We aren't likely to see any huge breaks, though better specifications and capabilities will continue to trickle down to lower price tiers.
Disruptions in the supply chain and increased demand has led to a severe shortage of several major PC components, driving prices up and causing disappointment. CPUs and GPUs are the hardest hit, particularly AMD's Ryzen 5000 series and Nvidia's GeForce RTX 30 series.
4. Gaming will continue to grow
India is an enormous market for gaming, particularly mobile gaming. We have a relatively large number of PC and console enthusiasts as well, but there's huge potential for growth. E-sports and streaming are also not as popular as in the rest of the world. Companies are racing to fill the void left by the ban of PUBG Mobile, and the (hopefully) imminent launches of both PUBG Mobile India and Fau-G will undoubtedly set off a new wave of interest. We also hope to see Independent as well as large-scale Indian game developers rise to prominence thanks to their work on mobile platforms
5. Chargers are going away, at least at the high end
After deriding Apple's move to stop including chargers with its products, it seems clear that Samsung and Xiaomi have decided to do exactly the same. Other companies will likely follow suit, since smaller boxes means more efficient shipping and less cost overall. It's going to create demand for aftermarket chargers, and possibly some confusion about different standards. Some companies such as Vivo and Oppo have used proprietary fast charging mechanisms as selling points, so they'll likely need to still supply compatible chargers. Much like the headphone jack, it's likely that the low end will remain unaffected. This will probably be a less controversial transition since lots of people do actually have several spare bricks lying around from products that aren't in use anymore.
6. Phone cameras will continue to drive innovation
Smartphones are fairly commoditised now in terms of design, software, and features. The main point of differentiation, especially at the high end, is camera quality and features. We're likely to see a lot more emphasis on sensor types and sizes, optical zoom, video stabilisation, and low-light performance. Companies have to continue to experiment with different types of sensors and lenses, software effects, AI improvements, and of course marketing, if they want to tempt people to switch from any other brand.
7. We'll learn the fate of the Samsung Galaxy Note series
The original oversized phone, the Samsung Galaxy Note, seems to have run its course. With the heavily leaked Galaxy S21 set to absorb its signature S-Pen functionality, there might be no reason for a separate Galaxy Note series anymore. That doesn't mean the company's lineup is shrinking, though – there'll be space at the top for new Galaxy Z Fold and Flip models.
8. Bending, folding phones and laptops might become more practical
That brings us to the biggest trend that's been promising to cross over from the experimental to the mainstream – folding phones. The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip and Moto Razr 5G have been the most practical options so far but they're still extremely expensive and rather delicate. If companies have learned enough from their first few iterations, 2021 could see a folding phone that's actually affordable, easy to live with and won't give owners anxiety attacks every day. Xiaomi has three models allegedly in the works, Samsung is pushing its own designs, and even Apple is thought to be working on its own foldable iPhone.
Laptops with huge, bendable screens are just beginning to leave the concept phase, and it'll take a few different experiments before we can say whether it's worth getting rid of a physical keyboard and trackpad, or whether we need to come up with new ideas to get the best of both worlds.
The Intel 'Horseshoe Bend' concept folding laptop, displayed at CES 2020
9. Misinformation and deepfakes will proliferate
We've seen enormous amounts of “fake news” spreading in 2020, particularly around political and ideological themes. There's likely to be plenty more of that in the new year, and it will get increasingly sophisticated and targeted. Social media and messaging platforms will have to do more to label, stifle, and track the spread of viral misinformation. The use of AI and deepfake video will also likely make things more complicated, and could cause people to start doubting legitimate sources of news. As always, it will be up to each of us to think critically about what we encounter online.
10. 5G and satellite Internet access could arrive in India
Many parts of the world already have functioning 5G networks, but there's very little concrete news of any Indian mobile service provider rolling out this new standard. Plenty of smartphones are already 5G capable, and it should be pretty standard on even mid-range models fairly soon. Hopefully, we'll see some movement on this front in 2021, and the cost of licensing and infrastructure won't be too high for our struggling operators to manage. Another potential bit of exciting news is that the Starlink satellite constellation keeps growing, and service to India might be possible by late 2021 – again, that also depends on whether regulatory hurdles can be surmounted.
11. Smart home products will become more popular
Smart homes have been promised for years now, but we're finally seeing companies standardise their offerings around Google and Amazon's platforms (and Apple's, to a lesser extent). Smart home products are now being seen as common accessories, and are also relatively affordable. Plenty of companies including phone manufacturers now see these as essential parts of larger ecosystems. Sure, maybe you don't need a toothbrush with an app of its own, but general-purpose home automation, scheduling, and remote control are appealing prospects. We can expect simpler products such as smart lamps and smart plugs to become much more popular in India in 2021.
There's no shortage of affordable true wireless options in India now
12. True wireless earphones will become the default
With decent, good-sounding true wireless earphones now selling in India for well below Rs. 5,000, pretty much anyone can grab a pair and free themselves of wires. The convenience generally outweighs the hassles of having multiple things to charge and potentially losing the small earpieces, and they're undeniably cool. There are already loads of options in India from audio as well as smartphone and general accessory brands, both established and new. There's little reason to choose bulkier wireless headphones anymore.
13. Mini-LED panels will show up everywhere
We saw a promising demo of an MSI laptop with a mini-LED screen at CES last year, and looks as though this type of panel is ready to go mainstream. We can expect to see mini-LED TVs in early 2021, and LG has already confirmed its launch plans. Apple is also rumoured to be preparing next-gen iPad Pros and MacBook Pros with this technology. You can expect richer colours and deeper blacks on mini-LED screens with way more, smaller, targeted local dimming zones. OLED TVs could face a fight, and consumers stand to gain from having more options.
14. 5nm chips make devices even more portable and powerful
The semiconductor manufacturing chain is well on its way to transitioning to 5nm production with Samsung and TSMC leading the charge. Apple is already shipping its 5nm A14 Bionic SoC in the latest iPhones and iPads, plus the M1 in its latest Macs. Qualcomm has announced the Snapdragon 888, its 2021 flagship, which will also be a 5nm part, and there's also Samsung's own Exynos lineup. AMD could announce its Zen 4 architecture as well, which should give the next Ryzen CPU series additional advantages in terms of power efficiency and manufacturing cost. Intel, however, is still shipping 14nm and 10nm CPUs with its 7nm transition also now delayed.
15. CPUs get diverse and creative, allowing for new form factors
Speaking of Intel, the company might have troubles with manufacturing but has got quite a lot up its sleeves for 2021. We'll see 11th Gen ‘Rocket Lake' desktop CPUs with a new architecture; the 10nm ‘Ice Lake' cores backported to a 14nm manufacturing process. This should make for an interesting launch, following years of relatively minor refreshes. Towards the end of 2021, we'll also get more details about ‘Alder Lake', which is expected to combine heterogenous cores much like we see in smartphones today. We could also see the follow-up to ‘Lakefield', a hybrid CPU design for laptops with folding screens.
The iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 mini use Apple's new 5nm A14 Bionic SoC
16. Apple likely has much more powerful silicon on the way
We've been impressed with what we've seen from the latest MacBook Air and Mac mini, which debuted with Apple's in-house ARM-based M1 SoC, ditching Intel PC processors. Now we have to ask how the company will tackle its higher-end machines, namely the iMac, Mac Pro, and larger MacBook Pro lines. Will we see all-new designs? How much more powerful will the next Apple Silicon chip be? Who will Apple target, and will power users be satisfied? Hopefully, we'll get all the answers for you soon.
17. Fresh competition in the GPU space after ages
Both Nvidia and AMD launched their next-gen high-end GPUs for 4K gaming at the end of 2020 – the GeForce RTX 30-series and the Radeon RX 6000 series respectively. Both companies will inevitably flesh out their lineups with more affordable offerings aimed at the mass market – we might see Nvidia's RTX ray tracing tech appear at a lower price point than ever, or a refresh to the GeForce GTX 16-series. AMD's RDNA2 architecture should also work its way downwards. Most interesting though, we'll see Intel's first-ever discrete enthusiast-grade gaming GPU, based on the Xe-HP chip design. This should offer competitive performance, and hopefully pricing will be good.
18. DDR5 RAM, PCIe 5.0, USB4 and Thunderbolt 4
It's about time for desktop PC platforms to adopt support for faster DDR5 RAM, and some rumours suggest that this will happen in 2021. It will be expensive at first, but enthusiasts and early adopters can benefit from increased speed reduced bottlenecks. On the other hand, PCIe 4.0 isn't even widely rolled out yet and so the PCIe 5.0 specification is more likely to show up in 2022. When that happens, we'll have even faster SSDs and more bandwidth for peripherals. USB4 and Thunderbolt 4 are now effectively overlapping standards with the same connector – the primary difference will be looser compatibility of standards with USB and strict requirements for interoperability with Thunderbolt. Both are going to be widespread in 2021 across platforms. We'll know more as AMD and Intel reveal more about their roadmaps, and PC brands announce new products.
19. Apple's other secrets might come to light
Is apple secretly working on self-driving cars? Will augmented reality finally become commonplace with everyone wearing Apple Glasses? What else is cooking deep within the secret labs at Apple Park? While all signs point to work going on, it could still be early days and these projects might be scrapped or repurposed. 2021 might be the year that Apple discloses its work, even if products aren't ready to ship.
20. Machine learning and AI should get more useful
We've been hearing about AI, machine learning, neural networks, and inference for a while now, and so far they've been just nebulous concepts used as marketing lines. Now, we're starting to see practical applications – photo upscaling, real-time filters, noise reduction, video background blurring or replacement, face recognition, live translation and transcription, voice assistants, and more. As we go forward, more and more of these applications will become commonplace on our smartphones and PCs. We'll see some real differentiation between newer and older devices, in terms of features like these that make life easier. Common apps and tools will gain more and more AI-infused features, and we'll soon focus more on these than the vague background ideas that make them happen.
21. Privacy and data security will matter more than ever
People are increasingly aware of how they portray themselves on social media and how to limit who can see private information. In 2021, the ways that advertisers and large corporations collect and use our data will matter more than ever. Already, Facebook and Apple are engaged in a PR war over iOS's data tracking prompts, and other tech companies are finding ways to isolate and protect sensitive information. There are sure to be large-scale leaks and high-profile incidents of identity theft, but as we all use cloud services and work remotely