Those who follow my gadget column ‘Sticky or Not’ know that I’m generally receptive to most new tech. I love innovation, and like to see every idea get its fair shot.
But while I’m generous with the ‘sticky’ label, it takes quite a lot more for me to qualify something as a favourite. It has to genuinely move or impress me in a lasting manner. So when I sat down to write up my top five favourite things of 2017, I had to dig deep.
Below are the five things in the tech and telecom world that made me feel excited for the future.
Differential pricing decision
Canada affirmed its commitment to net neutrality this year with a regulatory decision from Canada’s telecom commission that one consumer interest group called a “two-handed slam dunk.”
The decision wasn’t without controversy, though. Some consumers and opponents argued it only resulted in shutting down Videotron’s unlimited music streaming feature and programs like it, which offer Canadian consumers a much-desired value add to their expensive plans.
The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission argued, however, that this ultimately benefited Canadians by requiring that operators treat data equally regardless of source or nature. This means we’re not at the whim of telecom companies (most of which are not exactly known for their generousity) when it comes to the differential pricing of data.
Unfortunately, our close neighbours to the South weren’t able to cling on to net neutrality protections, but seeing our government continue to affirm commitment to net neutrality as that decision came to be in the U.S. was heartening.
It doesn’t matter what industry you choose, if you’re a working woman, chances are you’re going to face workplace harassment of a gender-based or sexual nature at some point in your career.
The organic #MeToo movement revealed just how rampant that issue is, and actually yielded some justice in the form of serial abusers losing their powerful positions.
This would never have been possible without Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms, which victims used to make public their experiences and connect with others who had been through the same things.
Sometimes it seems like social media is only disconnecting us from one another. This was a striking example of it doing the exact opposite, and it gives me hope.
I’m probably not going to shock anyone when I say that Canada’s telecom industry has a problem with competition.
The Big Three carriers — Rogers, Telus and Bell — simply aren’t competing with one another enough on wireless prices, leading to rates that are among the highest in the world.
That’s why it’s exciting to see a newer entrant like Freedom Mobile start to really make moves on the Big Three.
Freedom had a really productive 2017.
It built out its brand new LTE network, it launched iPhones for the first time ever and it launched ‘Big Gig’ plans that sparked a promo plan bonanza participated in by all of the major carriers unlike anything seen in recent years. If it keeps this up, we may see ‘Big Gig’ prices far more often.
I think I speak on behalf of most Canadians when I say that would be a welcome change.
I spoke to a lot of chatbots over the past year.
In fact, I even had a weekly chatbot review column for a time, and while there wasn’t quite enough action in the chatbot market at the time to sustain the recurring feature, I felt I was glimpsing the near future when I interacted with these artificially intelligent ‘synthetic personalities.’
While some have called chatbots a fad, I believe they’re here to stay for a few key reasons:
The user doesn’t do any of the heavy lifting. Chatbots may not always work as effectively as navigating a website or going into a store, but you don’t even have to exit your messaging platform of choice to try them out. They appeal to the lazy person in us all, and that’s a winning strategy as proven by all past technology ever.
It feels like you have a new friend. Don’t get me wrong, some of the chatbots I interacted with were annoying or stiff. But some were just funny and amiable enough that it made whatever basic interaction that was occurring feel memorable and fun.
It’s already happening. People, on average, would rather not leave their houses or make calls, especially when it comes to customer service transactions. Already we’re seeing social media and chat support gain traction online. Those services will only become more AI-powered. Also — typing to an AI like Google Assistant is essentially a chatbot experience as well. The more those AI platforms open up to developers, the more that format will catch on.
Multi-layered mixed reality
I love games and experiences that bridge multiple technologies and form factors.
I was always the kid that was excited about the accompanying interactive website that went with a book, or the game in the DVD extras of my favourite movie. Most of the time, those experiences were fairly weak — but I couldn’t help but buy into the promise of experiencing something I love in multiple different ways.
That’s why I was so blown away by one of the mixed reality demos I experienced at Microsoft’s Build developer conference this year, in which one player in virtual reality navigated a mysterious island lair while another in augmented reality viewed the island and the VR player’s avatar from above, issuing instructions on where the VR player should go and what they should do.
I know this isn’t technically what people are referring to when they say mixed reality — it just encompasses augmented reality and augmented virtuality. But still, I can’t help but feel this was the truest realization of mixed reality I’ve seen yet, and a fascinating glimpse into the possibilities of gaming in the future.
Those are the things I loved the most in 2017, but I’m also always appreciative of you, the reader. Thank for making my work worthwhile and meaningful! I’d love to hear what made you happy this year in the comments, and here’s hoping 2018 includes only more of those things and moments.