This time last year, Red Wire made a series of predictions on how the mobile world would play out this year. So how did we fare?

When it comes to the mobile world, 2016 was a year of refinement. The technologies introduced to us in the latter stages of 2015 are now household goods, people are changing their behaviour to accommodate disruptive tech changes, and the cost of these technologies are ever becoming more affordable.

Virtual Reality’s Inception year

Prediction: “With billions upon billions invested from companies including Facebook, HTC, and Sony, VR will be integrated into the mainstream as the future of immersive entertainment.”

What actually happened: Tipped to generate close to $1 billion this year, we saw the ‘official’ beginning of VR and the genesis of an entirely new entertainment industry. OculusHTC , and PlayStation all released native VR headsets, while Samsung’s Gear VR overtook Google Cardboard  for mobile-based VR experiences.

Now, with Google Daydream stepping up to shake mobile VR, plus the impending launch of augmented reality products like Magic Leap and Microsoft HoloLens, we’re set for a shift in how we see the world around us.

3D Touch/sensory screen technology

Prediction: “3D touch will be the mobile tech trend on everyone’s radar. We predict more and more smartphone producers would integrate this technology into their products, unlocking a whole new way of interacting with our devices.”

What actually happened: Haptic (touch) technology continues to thread its way through new devices, thanks in particular to VR and the need to create more immersive experiences with fewer physical add-ons. We’ve seen some great uses of sound to make up for this (for example, the sound of a bow stretching in an archery game), and hand-held controllers using clicks and vibrations to replicate a slew of gestures and sensations.

Huawei applied haptic tech in their P9 phone’s ‘Press Touch’ feature, which helps you magnify details and interact deeper with your apps, while Samsung is rumored to introduce sensory screen technology with upcoming releases over the coming months.

The rise of messenger apps (and the end of apps as we know them)

Prediction: “Messaging apps are the most fertile ground for app development – unlocking social platforms, ticketing websites, transport methods, and much more.”

What actually happened: With around 1 billion WhatsApp users, 700 million WeChat users and 900 million Facebook Messenger users online, it’s safe to say messaging apps have ‘broken in’ to the mainstream. You only need to look at the rise of Snapchat, with 150 million daily users sending 9,000 snaps per second, to see that these apps are changing the way we communicate with a far more visual approach than text or emoji could create (plus the option to turn yourself into a pug if so desired).

What could be most telling is the 30,000 artificial intelligence-led chatbots on Facebook Messenger. Chatbots, such as those for (weather app) Poncho, CNN, and Guardian Sous Chef use AI to tell you the weather, a recipe for dinner, or what’s on Netflix for the evening.

Many companies even decided to ditch their apps altogether and take advantage of developments in mobile websites by creating a single online destination. Global adventure brand Patagonia recently shut down their custom app, convinced that their mobile site was far more accessible to their audience, while The Washington Post launched their ‘progressive web app’ built purely for mobile readers (now a significant portion of viewers for online publishers). Meanwhile, home IoT products like Amazon Alexa can have ‘conversations’ with you to achieve a multitude of goals: she can order you pizza from Dominos, grab you a ride from Uber or offer you financial tips from Capitol One. Which leads us to…

Ambient UX

Prediction: “The exponential rise of Internet of Things (IoT) technology in household products would lead to ‘Ambient UX.’ Devices would respond to your movement, voice, and location instead of button presses.”

What actually happened: Siri, Cortana, Alexa, Watson , Google Now – 2016’s biggest names enhanced their AI to learn more about you, and respond accordingly. Google Home learnt to set your alarms, inform you of the traffic and even book flights for you. Amazon Echo (and its companion, Alexa app) got even smarter – able to read the news headlines to you as you wake up in the morning, solve math problems, or even tell you a joke. Tesla  taught its cars to unlock as you get near them, and a startup named SmartHalo  raised over $500k by turning your bicycle into a mobile smart-bike.

In many ways, ambient UX underpins a lot of the mobile world in 2016 – built to power your life without being intrusive, or to be invisible and around you at the same time. Our phones got smarter than ever, fulfilling much of the groundwork made in 2015, with enough room left to make 2017 really exciting.

Predicting the future is a tricky business – just ask the then-IBM chairman who in 1943 said there’d be a market for “maybe five computers.” We think we got it mostly right this year. However, there’s always next year to look forward to.

Our 2017 predictions will be coming soon…

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Tanya Phull

Head of Social Media

Tanya Phull,
Head of Social Media

As head of social media at Vodafone, Tanya is an expert in customer engagement and emerging platforms. As an American-born expat and wanderluster, Tanya is always equipped with the best tech tips for travellers.