Insight Author
Marino Software

Top Tech Trends to Watch in 2018

What we are excited about working on this year

January 23, 2018
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Our team talks about top trends, technologies and processes we are looking forward to working on this year. It’s meant to be an exciting 2018 working on...

  1. Voice UI, Google Home & Amazon Echo
  2. Design Sprints
  3. Machine Learning
  4. Augmented Reality (AR)
  5. Chatbots
  6. iBeacons
  7. Biometrics & Security
  8. Google Assistant for mobile
  9. Privacy
  10. Blockchain
Aaron Smith, Principal Software Developer

Aaron on Voice UI, Google Home & Amazon Echo

2018 is set to be the year of voice interface devices. The Echo Dot was Amazon’s best selling item over the holiday season, selling millions of units. Google also reports that they sell more than one Google Home device every second, with the total already in the tens of millions.

This illustrates that these devices are no longer just the preserve of tech-savvy people. They’re now entering the mainstream, just as smartphones did a decade ago.

Similarly to smartphones at that time, the third-party app scene for digital assistants is very much in its infancy. Browsing the list of available apps for Google Assistant results in some very amateurish attempts. Clearly, the platform is ripe for companies to make their mark.

In the past, people’s first port of call when looking to interact with a business was telephone. Then it became through their desktop PC and now it’s through their mobile phone. It won’t be long before people expect a service to be available on their digital assistant. This could go from purchasing a product, interacting with customer care or accessing content. 

“Hey Google. Ask RTE Guide what’s coming up next on RTE 2?”

Currently, the functionality of these devices is very much focused on home automation. There is no doubt that as their capabilities grow so will users’ expectations. Now is a good time to start thinking about how your customers can use voice to interact with your brand.

Garrett Sheridan, Principal UX and Product Designer

Garrett on Design Sprints

This year I am excited about Design Sprints. Last year we spent some time training with Jake Knapp. He's the New York Times best-selling author of "Sprint". He is also the inventor of the Design Sprint process.

The process starts with a problem, opportunity or idea for a product or feature. You gather your team, remove all distractions for 4-5 days and follow a tried and tested process.

At the end of the process you have a realistic prototype, tested with real customers. This lets you learn if your idea is desirable. If it is, you can move forward with confidence. If it doesn't resonate with your customers you know what needs to change. This removes a lot of risk from your project.

We have been testing the process with some of our clients and on some of our internal projects. The results have been great so we are now offering a dedicated Design Sprint Package. It includes everything you need to go from big idea to customer tested prototype. It works for companies or organisations of any size.

Seamus Cantillon, Senior Software Developer

Seamus on Machine Learning

There have been huge advancements in the field of Machine Learning in the past 5 years - and more than a little hype!  

We use AI every day for web search and conversational UIs. Yet, there hasn't been the sort of societal change that many are predicting. 2018 could be the year that we start to see that shift.  

We're hoping that 2018 will be the year we begin to see commercially available fully-autonomous vehicles on our roads. Other industries are also due to be significantly disrupted, such as  medical imaging. Advances in Machine Learning could significantly cut waiting times to analyse test results.

In 2018 we're likely to see an upswing in AI in consumer devices as dedicated AI processors integrate into devices. GPUs have been great for the advancement of Machine Learning. Dedicated chips will see faster, more efficient training and execution of Machine Learning models, in the cloud and on our devices.

Conor Garry, Senior Software Developer

Conor on Augmented Reality (AR)

AR is rapidly growing in popularity. You might have used it and not have even been aware. It goes from social media filters or visualising how that sofa will look into your living room to surgical procedures. 

AR brings elements of the virtual world into our real world, enhancing the things we see, hear, and feel.

ARKit is Apple's big bet on bringing AR to mainstream consumers by introducing it directly into iOS. It already has millions of people using the technology in closer ways to what we experienced with Pokémon Go. This release will help blend the virtual and the real more seamlessly than ever before.

Android recently announced their long-awaited contribution to Augmented Reality with ARCore. This has also heralded the death of the heavily device-confined project Tango. ARcore has now become their primary focus in the AR field.

The current preview is not without its own limitations as only Google Pixel and Galaxy S8 devices are currently supported. Although Google have promised they will add hundreds of millions more devices to the support matrix later in the year.

The quickstart guides provide a great starting point. You can download your own 3D assets to replace the 3D Andy icon that is provided by default. Or better yet, model your own with a 3D software package such as Blender or Google’s newly announced Blocks. For non-Android devs, the SDK is also available on Unity, Unreal, C (via Android NDK) and Web.

Whether a project of value in the real world emerges from the formative framework in the coming year is yet to be seen. Creating your own 3D model and projecting into the real world is enough fun to justify time spent experimenting with the samples.

Augmented reality’s potential has moved beyond games and amusing tricks. It is now directed towards more immersive and practical experiences for consumers and brands alike. This is only the beginning for augmented reality.

Patricia Herrero, Senior UX and Product Designer

Patricia on Chatbots

We will continue to see a shift towards conversational interfaces and chatbots this year. Chatbots will be a key factor for brands to enhance their customer experience and become more approachable.

Chatbots provide instant gratification offering answers to your customers, right where they are. While improving your customer service, they are helping brands saving on operational costs.

Messaging apps have now surpassed social networks for monthly active users. We can see brands are interacting with their customers in this space more and more. They are increasingly using chatbots to instantly solve customers' issues and answer queries. while gaining a deeper understanding of their needs.

Branded chatbots, like Facebook Messenger, are revolutionising the way brands stay in touch with their customers. 

Not only that but they also helping customers perform tasks on their own. Purchasing flights, getting a mobile phone upgrade or booking a doctor’s appointment has never been easier!

Chatbot popularity is also growing in an e-commerce context, becoming more of a personal shopping assistant. They can learn from customers' style and tastes and provide ideas to pick up a new outfit or holiday gifts. They are already driving and facilitating purchases.

We got started designing chatbots at Marino and can’t wait to see what exciting projects 2018 will bring! Have you thought how you could enhance your brand with chatbots?

Niall Dowd, Software Developer

Niall on iBeacons

iBeacons have continued to rise in prominence in the past year. Even though their adoption has been slow, the iBeacon market is being projected to continue its astounding rise. It's estimated to reach greater than 91% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) from 2017 to 2025.

Their versatility means that we can use them for countless different industries and use cases. So far we’ve seen iBeacons put to use in shopping centres, offices, factories, museums, schools, hospitals and many other places. 

They can assist in tasks as varied as targeted marketing, attendance tracking or guided tours. 

A well thought-out pairing of iBeacons and software can have far reaching benefits for companies in 2018 and the years to come. We've already got started researching and experimenting with iBeacons in 2017 when designing a wayfinding app.

If you have an idea about how you’d like to apply them in some way then we’d love to hear from you.

Keith Davey, CEO

Keith on Biometrics & Security

Security is in a bad place as we enter 2018. We have seen some of the worst security exploits ever come to light with Meltdown and Spectre in the last few months of 2017.

These exploits are so harmful that users can only hope that industry-wide, operating system vendors will resolve the problem as quickly as possible. It’s inevitable though that millions of users will be left behind.

Hopefully, it can act as a wake-up call to question the fundamental problems with security

We can see signs of this shift happening. For instance, Google recently announced that it will set a minimum allowed API level for new Android apps starting August 2018. Forcing use of a recent OS also ensures the users are getting the latest security updates.

Likewise, as an industry, we’ve spent 20 years teaching people to come up with the weakest password they can to get around the password requirements. Everyone is using the exact same substitutions. Recently on a client’s site, while searching for a lost account password, I tried a few guesses… answer was P@ssw0rd123.

The natural answer to this is Biometrics. In 2018 we should reach the point where every mobile phone sold will have some form of Biometric sensor such as a fingerprint, face or iris scanner.

While there are fears about relying on Biometric data, it represents a huge improvement on weak password and pin systems

Biometric sensors also provide greatly enhanced security over common SMS based two-factor systems.

Now that the sensors are wide spread there are fewer reasons not to use them.

Michael Clonan, Software Development Intern

Michael on Google Assistant for mobile

Personal assistants have come a long way, with a significant increase in quality and interest seen in 2017. Google Assistant is the widest reaching personal assistant on the mobile market today. It's supported on over 55% of Android phones, and over 98% of iPhones.

Developing for Google Assistant allows businesses to interact with their customers in a more direct way than ever before.

Asking questions about products or services via the Google Assistant is the closest to being physically in the store. It even allows customers to complete their orders digitally.

From clothes shopping to bedtime stories, we will be able to build for one of the widest-reaching voice assistants on the market this year. We will be able to build conversational-driven applications using Actions. These will greatly extend Google’s existing Assistant.

As more people start using the Assistant, demand for voice and chat-based solutions will rise. It will be a great opportunity for businesses to be present on mobile and other devices such as Google Home or Alexa.

Assistant SDK is set to be released later this year. It will allow developers to fully integrate the existing Assistant into other projects and products. Want a voice controlled blender? Cocktail mixer? Toaster? Anything you can imagine!

Over 400 million devices will be able to access the assistant, including the new range of TVs and headphones announced by Google at CES 2018. Its true potential for fully voice-controlled mobile and home devices is yet to be seen.

Keith Davey, CEO

Keith on Privacy

2018 will be a huge year for Privacy. In May the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will kick in. While this is an EU initiative it applies to any company handling the data of EU citizens and even the data of non-EU citizens while they are in Europe. 

The big concern for the EU has been that citizens data would leak to the US via companies such as Google and Facebook, but they will now have to comply with the GDPR if they want to continue to do business in the EU. This will also put it up to other jurisdictions to protect their citizens data to a similar extent.

Another interesting set of developments for privacy are the changes in attitude to social media privacy. The multiple problems here such as fake news in feeds, harvesting of user data for no clear reason and cyberbullying have been trumped by the ongoing investigations into nation state interference in social platforms 

One of our customers, Vero is already well ahead of the game here, with no harvesting of user data and no altering of your stream

Mark Zuckerberg seems to have woken up to the problem and early this year has has said his 2018 goal is fixing Facebook. He has specifically mentioned problems with “abuse and hate, defending against interference by nation states, or making sure that time spent on Facebook is time well spent.” 

If resolved this can only lead to improvements for users and how their data is handled. It’s easier said than done though, any change to the feed algorithm has knock-on effects on advertisers and Facebook’s stock fell 4% on the announcement.

‍Simon Kenny, Senior Software Developer

Simon on Blockchain

One of the technologies we research at Marino is "the blockchain". This year we can expect to see interest in blockchain projects further increase, buoyed by financial speculation in Bitcoin.

Simply put,  blockchain is a way to share access to information with people you don't completely trust. The first blockchain implementation was Bitcoin, a secure digital currency. There are now hundreds of companies attempting to disrupt their field using a blockchain.

The problem with a traditional blockchain is that it is readable by anyone. The system only restricts write access using advanced cryptography. However most businesses wish to keep their information completely private. They is why the burgeoning field of private blockchain research is one of our main areas of interest.

In particular we are following the work of Quorum and Hyperleger. Quorum is JP Morgan's Ethereum based blockchain and is one the most coherent and exciting enterprise attempts. The Linux Foundation lead the development of Hyperledger and work closely with many industry leaders. Both offerings attempt to solve the private blockchain puzzle.

So what are you excited about? Get in touch and let us know!

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