I know there is a lot of content that has been published looking back at the last decade of tech or looking forward to during the next decade. Still, I wanted to add some thoughts I’ve formed on several of the markets where I think we will see bigger gains and innovation in the next decade than what we saw in the last.
Future of Work
The future of work is a trendy term. When the term is used, it is generally used to discuss new ways to work, communicate, collaborate, be productive, etc. If you look back at the last decade, the seeds of the future of work were planted but were yet to blossom fully. Things like Slack brought a new paradigm to working as a team, and things like Zoom are making it possible to be a team from anywhere in the world. Sure, collaboration on a document, software development, design, and more became easier to collaborate due to the Internet. That being said, I think of those as expansions of existing work behaviors vs. the type of thing that can create entirely new behaviors. This is why I think the future of the work category has its best decade ahead of it.
In this decade, we will see new paradigms of working together that have never been possible, and it will all start with enabling humans to work together from anywhere in real-time. Real-time collaboration in the workplace today is still largely done in person. This is where I think video and then eventually, telepresence via augmented reality, will fundamentally transform how we work and where we work from.
I say this, not just because of the idea of being free to work without the constraints of location is attractive personally, but also because it is practical. It would remove more cars off the road for people not having to commute to the office every day. It would ease the pain of high costs of living in metropolitan areas allowing people to live and work freely from the location of their choice. It will save companies money as they can re-think their real estate strategy and not depend on a singular head-quarters to house their giant workforces.
Having spoken to several businesses for whom video calls are the norm, they can’t stop talking about the benefits of moving from an in-person only corporate culture to a video-first culture.
But with this change will demand new software paradigms to work together as a remote team in real-time. Just being on a video call together is not always enough. We will need to be creative together, tweak and edit together, use multiple inputs that aren’t just text like perhaps drawing or whiteboarding. And perhaps, brand new ways to work together in real-time virtually will be born that weren’t possible in an analog world.
While the future of work may not be the sexy category, it is one that I believe will make tremendous strides this coming decade, and one of the ones I think will be considered most practical and impactful on employee satisfaction and quality of life.
Future of Commerce
Coming off the holiday shopping season, the statistics of growth in e-commerce in nearly every market year-over-year is impressive. While e-commerce shoots up during the fourth quarter as a percent of retail sales, on an annual basis, it is still low double digits in many countries.
While I’m expecting a big decade of growth for e-commerce, I’m not sure how fast it will grow. A great deal of moving from traditional retail to digital is continuing to eliminate friction. A big part of that has to do with seamless transactions and using things like Google Pay and Apple Pay. This is one reason I’m quite optimistic about the role Shopify has to play in building a new base of e-commerce for a variety of third-party sellers.
Shopify, to me, is one of the most interesting commerce platforms out there and perhaps the most disruptive to Amazon and established retail channels.
In case you aren’t familiar, Shopify is very easy to set-up and manage an online storefront, and it includes built-in support for many ways to pay. Once you have added items to your cart, you go to checkout, and you see this as an option for express checkout.
I greatly prefer shopping for brands that use Shopify because I never have to fill out any information, or set up an account, or enter my credit card. I just select Apple Pay, and checkout is quick and painless. You get quick and easy tracking to your order, and the overall customer experience as a buyer is, in many ways, even better than Amazon’s. I may be so bold to say, Shopify has the most friction-free commerce experience from start to finish than anything out there.
It is because of this that Shopify powers some of the largest direct-to-consumer brands. Couple a seamless e-commerce solution with how easy it is to get in front of prospective customers via Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, etc., and you have the ingredients for new brands to come in and disrupt established ones. The concept of social commerce may start to take hold in more markets than China this decade.
As we see more AR solutions for shopping or even simple AI-based software solutions that can show us what clothes or goods will look like on our bodies or in our homes, you can see this helping spur even more commerce happening online rather than in stores.
Stores will not go away, but this decade they will be forced to change much more than they had to in the last decade. And ultimately, all this new competition is great for consumers.
Personal Computing Networks
I titled this as way as an umbrella term to talk about wearables and wearable computing. The smartphone has reached its peak, and the next phase will see the accelerated growth of computers we wear on our wrists, ears, eyes, and more. What makes this trend interesting, as it unfolds over the next decade, is how these wearables are all likely to be standalone computers to a degree, but they will require working together as a network of devices to achieve their full value potential.
The smartphone was the dominant personal computing device of the last decade and will remain an important part of the next decade. However, it will be accompanied by other devices that are unique to their role and location. What makes this growth potential clear is how wearables are still less than 20% penetration of the global adult population.
In several executive team talks I’ve given in the last six months, I have referred to the need for this personal computing network to work and talk together as a symphony of computing. Each device has some processing power, a range of sensors, software, etc., and the entire computing experience means each device can use assets from another on the network that it may not have internally. Meaning the devices together function has a whole computer.
Some who have been around this industry a long time may recall the idea of a personal area network is not a new concept, but it is one that took much longer to manifest than the futurists thought. As wearable computers become more common and fill specific and complementary uses to the smartphone, this personal computing network will finally come to fruition.
There are a lot of layers in each of these trends, but at a high-level, these are some of the interesting areas where I expect to see the kind of innovation that can cause positive behavior change and add deeper value. We are still a long way off from the next major computing phase, or the next S-curve if something like that ever happens again. But the innovation to come will be pragmatic, useful, and offer tremendous benefits.