Life and Death of Technology: 2022

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Womble Bond Dickinson

Everything has a life cycle.

Bacteria, insects, people, civilizations, galaxies – all are born, live and pass into eternity eventually. So it goes with technologies. Some, like wheels and levers, simply evolve in an impressive millennia-long cycle. Others, like jet packs, never seem to find the popularity we expect. And many, like 8-track tapes, shine brightly (or not so brightly) for a moment and fade into obscurity.

I like to dedicate a column to this topic each year to remind us how fleeting the spotlight can be. Obsolescence is built into all of our tech, just as limited existence is the essential nature of people. 

For example, classic Blackberry devices will finally die this year. Remember the “Crackberry?” – a device so addictive and omnipresent that President Obama refused to part with his Blackberry despite the security risk. Blackberry had 80 Million users in 2012. Not so much anymore.

If you still have a Blackberry phone and it is not using Android software, the company will stop supporting your product today. CNN reports that “BlackBerry (BB) has been mostly out of the phone business since 2016, but over the years it continued to license its brand to phone manufacturers.” A 5G Blackberry Android-driven device from OnwardMotion is listed as “arriving in 2021,” so we shall see if it ever arrives. The original has passed away.

When Google/Alphabet hyped its “Moonshot” factory, one of the most publicized efforts was called Loon. The Loon project involved floating giant balloons above the earth to beam internet to areas where connectivity was most difficult to achieve. Loon was started in 2012, launched its first public tests in 2013, and in 2020 began commercial deployment in Africa through Telkom Kenya. Last year Alphabet shut the doors on Loon, unable to find a sustainable and cost-effective business model. Alphabet also closed its business called Makani, which provided wind power from giant kites. This is a bad year for business models dependent on floating objects in the air.

In 2012, Indian executives launched Hike as an Indian answer to Facebook’s WhatsApp, and Hike was valued at $1.4 billion by 2016 with nearly 70 million users. Unfortunately, where Chinese technologists successfully operate WeChat as a local WhatsApp alternative, Hike disappeared from circulation with no formal explanation. WhatsApp has now solidified its near monopoly in India.

Apple killed its original Homepod this year, unable to compete with Amazon Echo and Google nest, although you can still buy a Homepod mini. LG stopped making mobile phones this year. Microsoft killed Windows 10X and Minecraft Earth. Microsoft also killed Skype for business last year. I remember a Microsoft partner saying that when Microsoft wants to enter a new market, it chooses an ally, eliminates all the other blips on their radar screen until only the ally is left, and then kills that blip too. Skype may be a good example of this strategy as it has been pushed aside to make space for Microsoft Teams, soon to be dominating the world of corporate remote video calls (if not dominant there already).

All-in-all this is not a significant list considering the upheavals in the world over the past two years. Aside from Blackberry, which keeps limping on as a brand despite the death of its original proprietary operating system, no epoch-defining technology slid from this mortal coil in 2021. So where do we go from here?

The Metaverse was famously introduced into our lives last year. Will we see the first commercial glimpses of it in 2022? Mark Zuckerberg telegraphed his intended business direction when Facebook bought Oculus Rift, producer of immersive three-dimensional world-building technology. Zuckerberg clearly hoped to drive his herd into a more addictive, all-encompassing space as soon as possible. But now, with Facebook’s flagship products serving an aging and decreasing population, with regulators/Congress prepared to slap down any attempt to buy sexy social media rivals that appeal to younger audiences, and with a dismal company track record of developing its own social media successor products, opening the Metaverse becomes a dire urgency for Facebook. I expect we will see some access portals to this new world in the coming year.

The Washington Post suggests that both Apple and Google may offer their own metaverse access portals this year. It will be interesting if these companies try to isolate their own technology in to separate sandboxes, or if they make a play for interoperability that will allow small companies to create content that can be played on every device. The Post speculates that a workplace metaverse may emerge soon: “As for the rest of us, our first steps into the metaverse will probably be for our jobs. The pandemic is pushing companies toward virtual reality for onboarding, training and meetings. As consumer tech catches up, though, the metaverse will seep out of the workplace and into our everyday lives — but don’t get too excited.” There is likely much road to be laid between here and there. 

Apple’s AirTags have been around for a while, but their applications are increasing.  Some of these applications are problematic. For example, car theft and stalking have been made much simpler with a tiny effective tracking device. The New York Times reports “In recent months, people have posted on TikTok, Reddit and Twitter about finding AirTags on their cars and in their belongings. There is growing concern that the devices may be abetting a new form of stalking, which privacy groups predicted could happen when Apple introduced the devices in April.” The tags are dropped in purses and bags, stuck on cars, and placed in clothing pockets of third parties. Apple has tried to address these issues by notifying iPhone holders of an unknown tracking device nearby. So, for better or worse, 2022 could be the year of Tile and AirTags.

Better drones, household robots, and a new generation of virtual reality glasses could all make an impact on our technology lives in the upcoming year. Robot technology keeps improving, but until they develop a light touch with opposable thumbs, I don’t expect household usage to explode. This also may be the year of the Smart Mirror that can raise your beauty and fashion game while you check out the results. The Capstone Smart Mirror will also look up directions while you get dressed for your date, tell you how late you are, and psych you up with your favorite music.

Apparently every year is the year of crypto and blockchain if you listen to the hype masters – and those who have financial interest in bringing more money to the technology. They have started running very expensive sports ads to drive more gullible investors into this essentially unregulated market. NFTs may turn out to become more than just speculative investments (like nearly every crypto trend), but I won’t hold my breath for it to happen.

Tech died this year.  New tech rises from the ashes. And through all of it, we will be here to discuss how these trends affect your business and change the law. Stick with us.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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