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Remote Work Stays and VR Has a Renaissance: 2021 Technology Predictions
Some trends, like the near-universal embrace of remote work, should continue well into 2021. But if 2020 has taught us anything, it's that in tech -- as in everything else -- there are very few sure things.
It has become a tradition for me to use my final column of the year to write about my technology predictions for the upcoming year. Even though I really do make these predictions for fun, I have always tried my best to make them accurate. Of course, sometimes my predictions come to pass, and other times they don't.
I think we can all agree that 2020 has been a very unusual year, and 2021 promises to be just as strange (but perhaps in a different way). Given all of the uncertainty in the world, I seriously thought about skipping my annual technology predictions just because there is a good chance that all of them will be wrong.
At the end of the day, though, I just couldn't help myself. So without any further ado, here are my top five tech predictions for 2021.
1. Work-from-Home Will Continue To Be an Option
I think it is a given that eventually the pandemic will run its course and that life will mostly go back to normal. Even so, I think that the work-from-home trend is here to stay.
For one thing, organizations have spent a lot of money putting the necessary infrastructure in place to allow their employees to work from home. They won't be anxious to simply abandon that investment once the pandemic is over.
Perhaps more importantly, I think that this past year has demonstrated conclusively that working from home is a realistic option. My guess is that when all of this is over, most organizations will make coming into the office optional. Some people thrive on social interaction and will inevitably choose to go back to the office. Others may take a wait-and-see approach and continue to work from home until they are convinced that returning to work is safe. Still others may simply prefer being at home to going to an office.
I myself fall into this third category. I have been working from home since 2000 and have absolutely no desire to return to an office environment.
2. We Will See a Renewed Interest in VR
If the pandemic and all of the craziness of the past year continue well into 2021, we may see a renewed interest in virtual reality (VR). Humans, by and large, are a social species. Most of us just are not wired for isolation. Over the past year, video-conferencing has helped people deal with the isolation associated with forced quarantines, but it has its limits. There are already a few companies that offer VR-based meeting solutions that render meeting participants in 3-D. The technology is far from perfect, but the goal is to give participants more of a sense of "being there."
I don't expect VR meetings to become the norm, simply because of the need for VR hardware and because the technology isn't quite there yet. Even so, I am expecting to see an increasing number of people experimenting with VR as a form of escapism. After all, VR has a way of recreating the world as it existed a year ago.
Additionally, someone that I spoke to (who asked not to be named) suggested that we would soon see an increase in the number of people using VR as a tool to combat loneliness. She suggested that we might see VR pets, VR dating apps and possibly even VR recreations of real-world locations (such as bars and clubs) that are not currently allowed to operate in the physical world.
3. Tech Conferences Will Only Make a Partial Comeback
My third prediction for the coming year is that tech conferences will only make a partial comeback. I do expect some of the major tech conferences to return next year, but my guess is that attendance will be far lower than normal as a lot of IT pros will take a wait-and-see approach.
I also think that at least half of the organizations that put on major technology conferences are going to continue doing virtual conferences for at least the next year, then decide late in 2021 whether to return to physical conferences or to go virtual forever.
4. Work-from-Home Security Is Going To Be a Huge Area of Focus
We are going to see a huge emphasis on work-from-home security. The circumstances of 2020 forced companies to adopt work-from-home practically overnight. As such, the primary goal was to simply make it work -- and make it work quickly.
I think that 2021 is going to be all about taking a step back and seeing what can be done to make work-from-home more secure than it is now. With that, I expect to see an increased emphasis on things like Firewall-as-a-Service and remote device enrollments. I also expect to see a slew of product announcements related to new work-from-home security products.
5. We Are Going To See Some Big Product Announcements
I always like to wrap up my list of tech predictions by coming up with at least one that seems somewhat outlandish. Call me crazy, but I like to make sure that I'm not predicting the same things as all of the other industry analysts who are also making year-end predictions. This year's "outlandish" prediction is that we are going to see some major and completely unexpected product announcements in 2021.
Obviously, it's an absolute given that nearly every tech company is going make announcements next year about new products, services or features. That's not what I am talking about. After all, saying that tech companies are going to come up with something new hardly counts as a prediction.
I'm talking about announcements that are completely unexpected. The best example I can think of was when Microsoft announced the first-generation HoloLens at its Build conference several years ago. At the time, nothing like the HoloLens had ever been seen before, and few people outside of Microsoft even knew that it was in the works.
While I'm not predicting a new version of the HoloLens for next year, I do think we are going to see some announcements that are just as unexpected. After all, the tech industry has largely been holding back for the past year (along with the rest of the world), but there has still been a lot of work going on behind the scenes on new innovations. I think 2021 is when a lot of these innovations are going to be announced to the world.
Brien Posey is a 19-time Microsoft MVP with decades of IT experience. As a freelance writer, Posey has written thousands of articles and contributed to several dozen books on a wide variety of IT topics. Prior to going freelance, Posey was a CIO for a national chain of hospitals and health care facilities. He has also served as a network administrator for some of the country's largest insurance companies and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox. In addition to his continued work in IT, Posey has spent the last several years actively training as a commercial scientist-astronaut candidate in preparation to fly on a mission to study polar mesospheric clouds from space. You can follow his spaceflight training on his Web site.