The end of each year gives us a chance to reflect on the major events and products that grabbed our attention over the past 12 months. With so much of our lives being driven by technology, we thought it was time again to dust off our crystal ball and take a big picture look at what may be coming down the pike in 2020. Some of these 2020 predictions are logical assumptions of where our industry is headed while others are simply examples of us prognosticating to get us all to think about what could be.
Without further ado, here are our top five 2020 predictions, with a very bold bonus prediction at the end that we couldn’t resist sharing.
1) The first major mobile-based ransomware attack
Over the past year we’ve seen an unfortunate flood of ransomware attacks aimed particularly at local, city and county-level governments around the world. These attacks have primarily taken advantage of vulnerabilities in Windows computers running unsupported, outdated or unpatched software. In the typical scenario, hackers gain access to the computer network and then hold valuable systems and data hostage to extort an untraceable Bitcoin ransom. This puts the victim in an incredibly difficult situation – facing already strained budgets, the city or local government has to decide whether to pay and (hopefully) have their systems restored or take the more expensive and time-consuming route of rebuilding their networks while inconveniencing employees and the public they serve. Either way, the government loses: not paying the ransom can leave the government crippled while paying the ransom can result in serious public backlash while encouraging the hackers to continue attacking other targets.
These attacks have been incredibly successful, resulting in multimillion-dollar payouts. For that reason, it’s only natural that hackers will turn their focus to new, exposed targets in 2020. As a result, we may see the first concerted ransomware attacks on mobile applications running on Android or (less likely) iOS devices. As OS fragmentation becomes a bigger issue for Android devices, in particular, many of these devices have been left unsupported with older software and less frequent security patches. This has proven to be a headache for IT teams simply from an application compatibility perspective, but time will tell whether it becomes a genuine security threat, too.
2) The emergence of the really dumb smartphone
Remember all the buzz about thin clients? The logic back then was that a new wave of powerful servers and fast network connections would allow us to run all kinds of data-intensive programs on a server, allowing us to deploy cheaper computers needing only limited processing power. While the promise of the thin client never really materialized, that period did help to usher in the cloud computing environment we all enjoy today.
Although the thin client didn’t quite make it, perhaps the dumb smartphone will. With the rollout of 5G and what’s being touted as incredibly fast and reliable mobile networks, it may be time to rethink the kinds of smartphone hardware that we need. With flagship smartphones today often exceeding $1,000, (and phones like Motorola’s reborn Razr costing $1,500 and even the Samsung Galaxy Fold tipping the scales at $1,980) there’s no doubt that we’re living in an incredible age of mobility.
The staggering cost of new devices may push many consumers and organizations to decide that they no longer want or need to pay a premium for the latest and greatest smartphones. Instead, they may be better served by dumb devices with a big screen and decent cameras that can rely on the speed of the network and the processing power of the cloud to do the heavy lifting usually done on the phone’s internal chipset.
There are already examples of this appearing in the world of gaming. With Microsoft and Sony widely expected to release the last generation of their gaming consoles in 2020, the launch of Google’s Stadia cloud-gaming platform, and even rumors of an Amazon cloud gaming service, everything is pointing to the cloud. We’ve seen this play out before. Netflix made DVDs obsolete, and now platforms like Stadia make expensive onboard storage and processing muscle irrelevant.
Will we see dumb smartphones make a big splash in 2020? Maybe. Maybe not. One thing is for sure; all the ingredients for disruption are in place.
3) Google’s ‘free’ storage will earn it billions
Back in 2004, Google’s launch of Gmail helped democratize cloud storage, and we’ve never turned back. At the time, Google gave each user 1 GB of free space and slowly increased that to 15 GB in 2013 for use across Gmail, Google Drive and other Google properties. If we stay within that limit, all of our photos, documents and emails can be stored safely, conveniently and automatically in the cloud, for the low, low price of giving Google access to our personal information.
But who can stick to 15 GB? Our appetite for online storage is nothing short of insatiable. We’re constantly backing up the data on our phones, our personal laptops and work devices. Many of us have backups of backups.
At the same time, the company is changing its policies toward Google hardware, which had traditionally come bundled with generous free cloud storage. Chromebooks used to come with 100 GB of online storage for two years, but while the amount hasn’t changed, the length has dropped to just one year as of May. The previous Pixel 3 smartphone allowed unlimited storage of the original, full resolution images, while this year’s Pixel 4 only allows free unlimited storage of compressed, lower quality images. Anyone hoping to take advantage of the Pixel 4’s high quality camera will need to pay extra to keep all those photos intact.
As the Los Angeles Times recently pointed out, Google successfully lured billions of consumers to its services, so it should come as no surprise that the company is now poised to turn our addiction into billions in profits.
4) The death of the 5-day work week
For decades now most of us have been working a 40-hour week spread over five days, from Monday to Friday. But now, companies are starting to rethink the logic behind the traditional work week.
Does it make sense to put limits on when and where employees get their jobs done? Is there a better way to motivate employees and improve their productivity? Mobility has already helped many of us work anytime, anywhere, and now companies as diverse as Microsoft and Shake Shack have trialed a 4-day work week.
By all accounts the results seem promising. Who wouldn’t want to work a couple extra hours during the week if it meant a three-day weekend? So far there don’t seem to be many trade-offs. Microsoft has claimed a productivity boost of 40 percent, lower power bills and happier employees. Long-term, we don’t know how this will play out, but 2020 will be the year when the 4-day work week will start to make some serious waves.
In the UK, the Labour party even has a plan to introduce a four-day work week within the next decade that would reduce the average full-time employee to 32 hours per week.
5) Apple turns its attention to the enterprise
There’s no doubt that Apple products are popular with consumers, thanks in no small part to their reputation for usability, slick software and longevity. For many in the enterprise space, though, Apple’s focus on the iPhone, Apple Watch, Apple TV, HomePod and its range of streaming content services may appear as a major distraction from their core business needs.
Granted, Apple is doing more to make itself a business-friendly company. It now offers a Device Enrollment Program that makes it easier for IT administrators to create Apple IDs and handle Mobile Device Management (MDM) tasks. In recent years, companies like IBM have prominently been quoted as saying that not only do Apple’s products save them money over Windows competitors, but that they make employees happier and more productive.
But there’s still a lot of room for Apple to grow in the enterprise. Apple is still fighting a battle on the software front, where Google’s G-suite and Microsoft’s Office 365 are far more common for business productivity.
As Apple strives to compete with Microsoft and Google in the business and education spaces, the tech giant may finally take the gloves off in 2020 by introducing a more robust set of business-centric productivity and device management tools focused on policy controls and security. We may even have seen the first swipe, with Apple’s SVP of marketing, Phil Schiller, taking a jab at Google by saying that students who use Google’s “cheap” Chromebooks at school “are not going to succeed.” Ouch!
And if all of those 2020 predictions weren’t enough, here’s a bonus one worth thinking about.
6) Amazon will spin out AWS
Consolidation and diversification are common in our boom and bust tech space. For a company as big as Amazon, then, it’s no surprise that there have been some big acquisitions throughout its history, including Audible in 2008, Zappos in 2009, Woot in 2010, and more recently Whole Foods in 2017 and Eero in 2019. On the flip side, while we’ve seen Amazon drop unsuccessful products like the Fire Phone relatively quickly, the company as a whole has stayed very intact as it has grown.
Let’s look specifically at Amazon’s powerhouse AWS cloud computing service. It goes without saying that the pay-as-you-go platform has a very different clientele to Amazon’s core eCommerce business. Although AWS is already a subsidiary of Amazon, back in 2017 AWS’s CEO Andy Jassy commented that he’d be very surprised if the unit was spun out. But the tide may be turning.
One of the primary factors is AWS’s recent loss to Microsoft in its bid for the Pentagon’s 10-year “JEDI” cloud contract. Amazon claims that it was overlooked due to pressure from President Trump which resulted from Jeff Bezos’ ownership of the Washington Post. As a result, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Amazon take a similar route to Google, which famously created its Alphabet holding company so that it could focus on its core search and Android businesses while separating Waymo and other moonshot entities from its balance sheet.
On a side note, by clearly separating AWS from Amazon, the combined value of the companies would likely be worth more than Amazon today; a move that would be sure to please shareholders.
So, what do you think about these 2020 predictions? Got any other ideas? No matter what 2020 has in store for us, it’s definitely going to be chock full of exciting technology announcements and competitive battles. We can’t wait.