Our tech columnists look ahead to an Apple headset, Netflix password crackdowns, the next DALL-E and more
Tech That Will Change Your Life in 2023
BY JOANNA STERN | UPDATED DEC 30, 2022 08:04 AM EST
Our tech columnists look ahead to an Apple headset, Netflix password crackdowns, the next DALL-E and more
Big layoffs at Meta, Amazon, Snap and others? A global crypto fraud set in the Bahamas? Elon Musk buying and running Twitter? Look, not even Nostradamus could have seen all that coming.
Of course, that’s what we love about this annual exercise, where our team sits around a crystal ball, roasting AI-generated marshmallows and predicting what’s to come in the new year.
Some of what we expect will make your life easier (see: better smart-home tech and AI tools), some will present some new challenges (see: password-sharing crackdowns and the U.S./China tech divorce) and some will just continue to be wildly unpredictable (see: Elon Musk and crypto).
The Metaverse, Now More Than Just Meta
It’s true. For the last twoyears, we’ve said this is the year for virtual and augmented reality.
But in 2023 we’re confident: headsets that give you a choice of VR (where you’re in a virtual world) and AR (where the virtual is overlaid in your real world) are coming. And they won’t just be from Meta, current holder of 90% of the VR market, according to research firm IDC.
In January, HTC will unveil a VR headset, which, like Meta’s Quest Pro, has outward-facing cameras so you can also see colorful digital objects overlaid in your real space.
Then there’s Apple. Reports from analysts and media outlets point to the long-awaited mixed-reality headset coming later in the year. It will be equipped with an array of cameras, high-resolution displays and immersive versions of FaceTime, Maps and more, according to Bloomberg. An Apple spokeswoman declined to comment.
Meta will continue to explore the metaverse—with legs. The company plans to add lower extremities to its now legless avatars in the new year. It will also release the next-generation Meta Quest, its more affordable VR headset.
Big Tech Belt Tightening
Tech companies and their investors are grappling with the industry’s biggest downturn since at least 2008. The result is layoffs and hiring freezes at companies large and small. The PC and chip industries in particular have been clobbered by the biggest drop in sales in more than two decades. And while many survivors of past tech downturns preach that cuts should be deep, fast and early, it appears that the pain for tech workers will continueinto 2023.
For people not working in the sector, this means everything is on sale. The number of deals on even latest-gen laptops is higher than at any point in memory—outside the Apple world, at least. Companies will likely continue to increase prices on subscription services, however.
John Chambers, who ran Cisco during the millennial tech bubble when it was briefly the world’s most valuable company, recently cited Jack Welch in a WSJ interview: “You do not have a great company until you have had a near-death experience.” Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of tech companies may soon test that maxim.
The Subscription Police
Account moochers, beware: The Netflix password crackdown is coming in early 2023.
Netflix says a single account can only be used by people living under the same roof. That means, technically, kids away at college need their own subscriptions. After recording a rare drop in subscribers, the company began testing, in some Latin American countries, a way for freeloaders to pay up, charging $2.99 a month to use the service in additional homes.
Netflix says in the U.S. it would enforce its rules based on IP addresses, device IDs and account activity, and charge slightly below the cost of its cheapest ad-supported plan, $6.99 monthly, for extra “sub-accounts,” according to people familiar with the situation. The company would allow borrowers to keep their Netflix profiles.
Netflix is the first streamer with an enforcement policy. Still, password sharing is a problem for all services, said Paolo Pescatore, a tech and media analyst with strategic advisory firm PP Foresight. Perhaps Netflix’s competitors are waiting to see how the crackdown will play out. A big risk is disgruntled subscribers who decide to leave Netflix altogether, he said.
China and the U.S. are so interdependent—for manufacturing of smartphones and other electronics, for EV batteries and solar panels, for raw materials and intellectual property—it seems impossible they could go their separate ways with their own parallel supply chains and production bases. Yet it’s happening.
Apple is shifting some of its manufacturing out of China, lithium mines are opening in North America, and Mexico is becoming another go-to place to make electronics and other goods. Export controls imposed by the U.S. on the latest-generation chips (and the tools to make them) could keep them out of China. And TikTok, the product of a China-based company, could be unavailable to many U.S. users as bans roll out.
An alternate history without trade wars or tension would see the U.S. filling up with cut-rate but serviceable Chinese electric cars, Huawei dominating U.S. 5G infrastructure and China disrupting Taiwan’s chip dominance. Tech would be cheaper and more abundant, but the global economy would cater to the rule of the Chinese Communist Party.
Still, the U.S.’s transition away from China is just beginning, so it’s possible that the next iPhone could still be delayed by shortages and the EV takeover of America’s roads could also be pushed back.
Artificial Intelligence Finds Real Use
We missed something big in our 2022 predictions: AI’s breakthrough moment. In the last year, OpenAI gave the non-techie public AI tools to replicate human tasks such as writing and image creation. Its Dall-E 2 AI art generator conjured up images of pretty much anything we asked. Its ChatGPT chatbot wrote letters, articles—even a passing AP Literature essay.
In the next year, AI will make its way into more tech tools we already use. Microsoft, an OpenAI investor, is beginning to incorporate Dall-E 2 into Bing and other products. Meta has demonstrated Make-A-Video, a research project that turns your text prompts into video. Google’s also exploring an AI chatbot, according to reports.
This expansion will illuminate AI’s major shortcomings. It seems so human-like but it’s prone to inaccuracies and bias due to the datasets it is built on. Behind the scenes, AI researchers will be rapidly figuring out how to expand those datasets to improve quality overall.
Can I Hear You Now?
It’s promising to be a big year for hearing health. Following approval in August by the Food and Drug Administration, over-the-counter hearing aids hit shelves in October. People with mild to moderate hearing loss can now save money. Lexie, Jabra, Eargo and Sony have already unveiled such models, and in 2023, expect more players to enter the market, said Philippe Jorgensen, vice president of hearing at Jabra.
He added that consumers will also see more hearing-aid options with features commonplace in premium headphones, such as active noise cancellation and easy mobile pairing.
This could also be the year headphones become health-tracking devices.
There are health sensors already in existing models. Amazfit’s PowerBuds can track heart rate and a Pro version monitors posture. Honor’s Earbuds 3 Pro includes a temperature sensor.
In 2023, expect more earbuds with similar capabilities. One could come from Apple, which is studying in-AirPod sensors that can read body temperature and monitor posture, according to a Wall Street Journal report. The second-gen AirPods Pro landed in September with battery and sound improvements—but no health features.
Crypto’s Rotten Core
Cryptocurrency has always warranted skepticism and the unrelenting drumbeat of really bad news—not only about FTX—has surprised all but its harshest critics. The collapse of arguably its most trusted exchange, however, doesn’t mean the end of crypto.
While legitimate uses of crypto diminished as the value of bitcoin and other popular currencies plummeted, cybercriminals found fresh targets. In their crosshairs are venture-backed decentralized-finance startups intended to disrupt the traditional world of finance. Coins created by these DeFi firms represent about 80% of all stolen cryptocurrency, says blockchain analytics firm Chainalysis Inc.
Nearly the entire ransomware industry is dependent on, and even uniquely enabled by, the existence of cryptocurrency for paying ransoms. In addition, North Korea has been stealing cryptocurrency—to the value of hundreds of millions of dollars—in order to fund its missile program, according to reporting from The Wall Street Journal. And while there are plenty of online crypto casinos—it helps skirt some local rules—2022 showed that crypto as a whole is one giant casino.
This means we might get through 2023 without another spate of Super Bowl crypto ads. (Some who starred in earlier crypto ads got lawsuits for their efforts.) It also means you’re less likely to hear about your neighbor dumping all his discretionary income into an altcoin no one’s ever heard of.
Smart Home Gets Easier-ish
The tech giants are generally fierce competitors but they all agree: Setting up a smart home is painful.
Apple, Samsung, Google, Amazon and nearly 300 others collaborated on a protocol called Matter. Think of this like Bluetooth, with which all manner of devices are able to recognize and talk to each other. You could use Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s HomeKit or Google’s Assistant to control any Matter-ready smart lights, plugs, thermostats and more in your home. Installation should be as simple as scanning a code.
What’s available now, following Matter’s November launch, is a hodge-podge. Google’s Nest and Amazon’s Echo received updates. New gadgets, such as a hub to convert Ikea’s existing smart lights and speakers to Matter, also hit shelves. Still, many apps and devices won’t be ready until 2023. Popular lighting-maker Philips Hue hasn’t updated its bridge yet.
It’ll take a little while—perhaps longer than a year—to sort out Matter’s kinks. For example, setting up a Matter-enabled device to work with two different platforms involves long codes and other fidgeting. And there aren’t yet Matter security cams or other more complex smart-home products.
Still, if you are shopping for smart appliances in 2023, you’ll want to make sure they’re Matter-ready.
Whatever you think of his politics, his management style or his tweets, one thing is certain about Elon Musk’s tenure as “Chief Twit”: He has rapidly transformed the landscape of social media.
He handed off internal data and documents to pundits who are tweeting the contents of the “Twitter Files.” He reinstated banned accounts on Twitter, including that of former President Donald Trump (who hasn’t yet tweeted). He laid off much of the staff Twitter relied on to monitor and moderate content. In so doing, Mr. Musk has delivered on many of his promises. Twitter is still big and influential, and now it’s free of many of the content guardrails that had become universal on the major platforms. (This is to the ongoing chagrin of advertisers, and many users.)
It’s not clear what Twitter will be in a year’s time. Perhaps it will be the world’s town square, and a successful enterprise. Or it might be owned by creditors or drowned by fines from regulators. But the successors it has pushed many users to, including open-source protocol Mastodon and a bevy of startups—and the ways its owner has thumbed his nose at what were thought to be entrenched power structures in tech, journalism and politics—could make 2023 one of the most interesting years for social media since, well, ever.
The iPhone RE (Regulators’ Edition)
The lights dim, Tim Cook walks out on stage: “Today, we’re introducing the iPhone RE. EU regulators love it, and we think you will too.” OK, so he won’t say that but European Union legislation is changing Apple’s smartphones.
First, there’s the USB-C charging port. A recently approved EU law mandates electronic devices sold in the 27-nation bloc must have the common port beginning in 2024. While Apple has shifted to using USB-C connectors on its Macs and iPads, the iPhone has used the proprietary Lightning port since 2012. (Most new Android devices already have USB-C charging ports.)
Apple has said it will follow the legislation—the question is, when? Reports suggest 2023 iPhone models will make the switch. And if not, you still might want to sit out a potentially outdated upgrade until they do.
Then there’s the possibility of downloading apps from outside Apple’s App Store. A new EU law meant to increase competition has Apple working on technical changes to enable alternative app stores, the Journal recently reported. The company is debating internally whether this should be a change for Europe or the broader global market, WSJ previously reported.
Apple spokespeople declined to comment on the changes.
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