Andrew Smith

Year in Review: Five Technology Trends that Mattered in 2015

Here at L4, we are lucky enough to work with cutting-edge technologies for some of the most innovative companies around. We also like to experiment with the latest and greatest hardware and services to explore what’s new. As 2015 comes to a close, we thought we’d poll the office for the most interesting technology trends of the year. Here are our top 5 for 2015:


 

1. Cord Cutting is getting real

 

The number of cord cutters has been increasing steadily in the past five years, and that trend has taken hold in 2015. Of US households, 4.9 million formerly paid for TV services but no longer did this year, and that number is increasing rapidly. The number of people testing the water is even higher, with Amazon Prime giving its 50 million subscribers access to its Prime Video service, and Netflix continuing its dominance in streaming with 69 million subscribers as of September of 2015.

While there weren’t many dramatic innovations in the world of streaming video, there were many incremental changes that have made it feasible for many to say goodbye to their cable subscriptions. Sling’s cable-like content bundle along with HBO, Showtime and others’ standalone subscriptions offerings provided more choice than ever. Perhaps most importantly, some of the best programming is only available through streaming services. Check Rotten Tomatoes top five most popular shows and you will find they are all Netflix or Amazon originals.

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2. Phones aren’t the only Smart devices – Tesla’s over-the-air update

 

Even in this age when our phones and apps are automatically updated nearly every day, it was a bit startling when Tesla sent its customers a big over-the-air gift this past October. Tesla drivers woke up and found that they were the proud owners of self-driving cars.

We’ve become accustomed to Apple, Google and Microsoft improving their hardware devices via software updates — Siri gets better, UX problems are fixed, Google Now gets even Now-ier — but this hasn’t been the norm for our beloved four wheel devices. Cars have been dominated by software for decades, but Tesla is the first car manufacturer truly following the example set by mobile device manufacturers. We are also seeing this in other areas of our life – Sony’s TVs gained HDR functionality, your speakers from Sonos sound better today than the did six months ago because of software based tuning, and in the age of internet of things, your locks, refrigerators and toasters will all get better before they are replaced.


 

3. Ad blockers arrive on mobile

 

Web browsers of the world have been living in a curiously bifurcated world for the past five years. On our desktops and laptops, we fully inoculate ourselves from the scourge of online advertising with increasingly sophisticated ad blockers. Usage of ad blockers grew by 48% in 2014 alone. Meanwhile, on iOS devices, no such protections have been available. On Android, adoption has been minimal. All that changed with Apple’s release of iOS 9, which made ad-blocking software easy to use on a mobile platform.

For media companies relying on web advertising, the ubiquity of ad blocking has in part been offset by the move to mobile, with mobile now accounting for 40% of web activity. They now have to face the reality of the situation head on. Some are continuing to dodge the issue by delivering content (and ads) via native apps, which are largely unmonitored by ad-blocking software. Others are looking to subscription models and more natively integrated ads and/or sponsored content that are impossible to differentiate from core content. It will be interesting to see how media companies address this challenge, which many are calling an “existential threat.”


 

4. Facebook stand-alone-apps

 

It is somewhat trendy to say “Facebook is in decline!” – and while Facebook’s traditional web experience may not be growing at the rate it was five years ago, Facebook has adjusted well to the age of Mobile. Facebook now owns the top five mobile apps globally. Of its 1.55 billion active users, 727 million only access Facebook on mobile devices. The extent of this dominance is hard to fathom.

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Perhaps most importantly, Facebook has fully transitioned its business to mobile as well. In its Q3 2015 earnings report, Facebook noted that 78% of its advertising revenue comes from mobile (advertising makes up virtually all of Facebook’s revenue).


 

5. Virtual Reality & Augmented Reality

 

Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality are going to change the world, at least if you go by levels of activity in the investment world. Virtual Reality saw $4 billion in investments since 2010 and $662 million in 2015 up until this month, when the VR company Magic Leap raised $827M on its own.

There has been a tremendous amount of preparation in 2015 for a battle that appears primed to take place in 2016. There was the unveiling of Microsoft’s Hololens  to get the world excited about the possibilities of augmented reality. Valve and HTC gave many demos  of their Vive VR hardware and software. Sony has demonstrated their Project Morpheus (now Playstation VR) heavily.

Some things have actually shipped: Samsung Gear launched just prior to Thanksgiving. The New York Times shipped Google Cardboard to show off their own VR experiment in November. But these are all appetizers to what we can expect from VR in 2016.


 

In 2015, we saw the technology industry improve upon existing products while also creating entirely new platforms and services that many people would not have believed possible in the past decade. It is safe to say that each year, technology advances as does our understanding of what is possible to build next. It has been an amazing year to be working on digital products and we can’t wait to see what 2016 brings. Have any favorite trends not mentioned above? Let us know on Twitter!

Image courtesy of Eddie Kopp for Unsplash.

Andrew Smith

As Director of Product at L4, Andrew's team helps craft end-to-end product strategies for our clients. He brings 18 years of experience working on everything from enterprise solutions to gaming platforms and humor media properties.

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