Tech Predictions for 2021 by Lewis Silkin, Technology Expert

Yes, it’s that time of year to grab a cuppa and immerse yourself in learning about how tech might change your 2021. Now, we know it’s easy to be a little glum if stuck working from home, but amazing businesses thrive on a bold vision, focus, drive and positivity. That’s our spirit as we go into 2021.  We hope you will join us on the tech discovery journey.

Looking back at our 2020 Tech Predictions, we think our visionary goggles did their job pretty well (albeit maybe a little premature on one or two predictions, such as the launch of Facebook currency). That said, Covid-19 acted as a catalyst for some of our predictions, such as smarter collaboration. Last year accelerated digital transformation for everyone (at home and work) and undeniably confirmed that digital tools are crucial for the future of work. For many businesses, this transformation, at its core, is all about its people. Most of our clients in the UK, Eire, wider Europe, US and AsiaPac know that their people are utterly integral to building a successful ‘digital future’. They want to equip their people with the skills they need to build that future – for this reason, and many others, tech and data will remain high on the boardroom agenda.


  1. Ready to embrace extended reality?

While 2020 was a recurring nightmare for many, often wishing to escapereality, it was a different reality for others, including for immersive technology providers, especially those enhancing remote working experiences.

Welcome extended reality (XR), which encompasses virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and mixed reality (MR). Major XR players such as Oculus, HTC and Sony are poised for serious growth as organisations implement XR technology to enable staff to socialise and work from home in ‘simulated’ environments.

Key sectors set to benefit from XR technologies are education, entertainment, healthcare, and manufacturing. Developments to watch out for include personalised AR avatars in gaming apps, AR indoor navigation apps (e.g. to enhance user shopping experiences), XR virtual sporting events, and VR human expression tracking technologies. Another driving factor will be the wider availability of 5G. XR technologies are generally Wi-Fi dependent due to large file sizes, and 5G’s ultra-low latency will help to overcome this.


  1. Doctor Data – Healthcare will be ‘touch-free’ but not ‘out of touch’

Global healthcare systems continue to carry us through these turbulent times, shouldering unprecedent levels of strain and demand. HealthTech is experiencing rapid growth and will play an important role in battling the pandemic and shaping the future of healthcare. With much of the world still locked-down, one area focus will be home healthcare delivery. To keep hospitals and GP surgeries freed up, digital programmes will make more use of remote patient monitoring and self-service medical advice systems. For in-patients, there will be a surge in ‘touch-free’ consultations. To that end, natural language processing will enable seamless transmission of health data from patients to hospital/surgery databases, and symptom-checking chatbots will reduce the need for patient admission admin. XR headsets will enable medical staff to simulate surgical procedures, consult radiographies from enhanced angles and provide therapy to patients in quarantine or to the elderly.


  1. Agile working is the new norm

It is undisputed that agile working is here to stay. We expect to see a surge in demand for agile working technologies. Continuous Delivery, Design Thinking and Growth Hacking were crucial for agile working-tech last year and will remain so. New agile tech includes automation of HR processes (e.g., hiring candidates and training staff), machine learning-enabled predictive security tech, and VoIP apps. As remote workers are more likely to work longer hours, time-tracking software and employee monitoring software will be widely adopted to minimise employee burnout. Conversely, where productivity can be monitored, expect to see (more invasive) productivity-monitoring tech. Watch out for the employment and data issues.


  1. Software development and integration

One only needs to think of the retail sector to understand of the amount of agile software development that has been accelerated along the roadmap. Last year, for ‘The Collective by LS’ (our luxury and lifestyle platform), we compiled Top Tips for successfully navigating the deployment of agile software development.

Expect to see most sectors spending even more on Agile and Wagile software development. As all we know, consumers and corporate clients alike demand slick tech.


  1. 5G take off

5G coverage will expand, and we will see high-end smartphones being launched with 5G capability. 5G’s ultra-low latency will enable apps to feature higher quality content and graphics, meaning we may also witness the continued emergence of 5G-enabled laptops.

Another exciting 5G trend will be an increase in smart homes/buildings/cities. Indeed, the IoT, benefiting from 5G’s location accuracy within 1m (compared to 10-100m for 4G), will grow, and our living environments will interconnect even further. Smart environments will increasingly respond to real-time data from location-based apps and help to streamline sustainability and city operations. All that said, this is contingent on conspiracy theorists not setting fire to 5G masts.


  1. Virtual gaming will keep on winning

Social distancing measures accelerated more gaming (and not just for children whose parents were juggling). Whether you will be able to buy a PS5 in 2021 is anyone’s guess. There are, however, some clear trends. The meteoric rise of e-sports will continue – viewership exploded last year. In a similar vein, viewership of gaming live streams on Twitch, Facebook Gaming and other gaming platforms skyrocketed.

Expect streaming platforms to grow in popularity as opportunities for in-person socialising remain limited. The use of XR headsets will take off, also spurred on by 5G’s low latency.

5G’s faster speeds will enable ‘Gaming as a Service’ (cloud gaming) to take off. And the gaming monetisation paradigm will shift away from paid-for consoles and games to free mobile games, which will monetise via in-app purchases (and/or ads) (big sigh – wouldn’t we all rather just pay a little something for great software – maybe we can start a revolution!). Demand for these games is super high. In November 2020, some half a billionusers played ‘Among Us’. (Parents: check your in-app purchase settings!)


  1. Personalised FinTech banking

We will see more consolidation of the saturated FinTech market, as start-ups are acquired by the tech giants. Indeed, FinTech is no longer the crown jewel of emerging tech and competition among start-ups is fierce. For the start-ups that survive, great customer experience will be key, including quick account set-up. Long gone are the days of filling out paper forms. In a bid to create personalised and seamless user experiences, FinTechs will reduce manual processes, reduce software dependencies and automate routine tasks. Specific trends will include further leveraging open banking, paperless banking, more AI chatbots (eek!) and ‘Banking as a Service’ software.


  1. With power comes (at least some) responsibility: AI v Human

The possibilities of AI are endless, as are predictions of how they might develop. Current trends include increased hyper-automation driven by (pandemic-induced) efficiency benchmarks, adoption of AIoT systems (the love child of AI and IoT) in smart buildings and cities, and importantly the accompanying ethical and legal issues. We recently looked at potentialdiscrimination issues in the use of AI in the workplace, an important consideration for all employers.

Last year shone a spotlight on algorithmic bias, machine accountability, and difficult questions on IP ownership of AI creations. The more that AI technologies mature, the more important it becomes to have appropriatelegal and regulatory frameworks to address these novel issues. Early this year, the European Commission is set to propose horizontal AI regulations for the use of AI. Expect to see similar regulations in the UK, especially as the UK still needs that longer term finding of data adequacy.


  1. Accelerated plans for electric vehicles

Governments across the world are pushing programmes that encourage consumers to transition to electric vehicles. Last year, Europe’s plug-in market grew by over 100% (and if you haven’t driven an EV, try one – you won’t go back!). In 2021, sales of EVs will surge and full EVs might even surpass plug-in hybrids.The UK is phasing out cars fuelled by combustion engines by 2030 (not a moment too soon) and has pledged £12bn in support of the green shift. EV ranges are now astonishing, lease deals are competitive, and charging solutions for those without dedicated home parking are improving.


  1. Blockchain to the rescue

Last year’s headlines were dominated by data leaks, fake news and deep fakes. As a result, many consumers are slowly resorting to newer tech such as blockchain, which boast anonymity and reliability. On the crypto front, 2021 is set to be a pivotal year (ahem, this is not investment advice). 2020 ended on a high with Bitcoin rising 200% in twelve months to over $38k per coin. Of course, crypto is still fickle, but word is spreading and various factors are slowly fuelling its legitimacy.

PayPal has announced that users will be able to transact with crypto and Central Bank Digital Currencies are on the rise. More generally, this year will see widespread adoption of blockchain platforms. The pandemic has rendered maximum efficiency an imperative, and blockchain will streamline outdated processes, including in supply chains.


  1. Logistics

Resilience and scalability will be priorities for supply chain and logistics tech developers. Automation, blockchain, IoT and AI will be crucial for efficient connectivity across supply chains. Overall, logistics tech will focus on enhancing the agility of supply chains and operating models to ensure that they respond much more quickly to disruptions and rapid fluctuations in demand.

With the continued growth of e-commerce, businesses will invest in tech to solve frustrating issues relating to last-mile delivery and real-time transportation visibility, while also improving customer experience. Businesses such as Starsky Robotics and TuSimple made staggering progress last year in the long-haul autonomous trucking field, and we expect to see more of this in 2021.


  1. SaaS

SaaS (and the cloud) has ‘affirmed’ itself as the primary method of software delivery as organisations strive to achieve flexibility and cost efficiency. Foreseeable trends include cloud AI solutions (a combination of cloud storage and automated analysis), Micro-SaaS solutions (add-ons or extensions to larger platforms, such as Grammarly), white-label SaaS solutions and SaaS apps for mobile phones.

Expect to see an increase in ‘vertical SaaS solutions’ targeting single issues in specific sectors. One recent example is the creation of Church management software, which enables Churches, Mosques, Synagogues and other places of worship to connect remotely with their congregation.


  1. Start-ups and fundraising

One of our clients, Sifted, has published its own start-up predictions for 2021 which are too good not to share. Sifted’s predictions include the collision of Klarna and Amazon as Klarna branches out to in-app purchases, special-purpose acquisition companies overthrowing public listing as the fundraising method of choice, insect protein-based pet food start-ups, and everyone getting the hots for ClimateTech (you can stay chilled with that pun!). Decarbonisation will be a major theme for many (not least to get their house in order for the next pitch), and there will be increased pressure from stakeholders and VCs to upgrade their seat on the green train and to seek out those who are, or can facilitate, a ‘net carbon neutral’ status.


  1. Will the Cloud be Edged out?

Edge computing will stake its claim in the distrusted computing marketplace. The availability of 5G and its low latency will make the use of edge-to-edge computing cheaper and more practical. Some AI businesses may transfer functions away from data centres towards edge application intelligence to train their machine learning (ML) models. This transition will be enabled by new ML techniques, such as reinforcement and federated learning, and innovative edge AI chips. These chips, developed by companies such as Intel, Hailo and Nvidia, will empower devices with AI, and enable ML tasks to be completed ‘on-device’ rather than in data centres.  Indeed, expect to see edge AI chips in both consumer devices (smartphones, tablets, and speakers) and industry devices (robots, cameras, and sensors).


  1. A glimmer of quantum computing?

Our wildcard! 2021 won’t be the year in which quantum advantage and quantum supremacy are attained. As quantum computing (QC) is yet to be adopted on any major scale, current investments and paths to value creation are long term. However, QC will become more prevalent, as it starts to show real value. With the number of qubits realised by QC systems increasing, we might see the first public key cryptography broken by a QC system or even the first quantum IPO as the need for R&D funding grows.

Use cases for QC are endless. QC systems could be used to develop vaccines, QC modelling could help to predict the spread and mutation of diseases, QC diamond-based sensors could help to detect diseases, and QC plasmonic sensors could be used to analyse patient samples.


On that note, we hope that 2021 is a healthy, happy and exciting adventure for you.


James Gill, Partner, Joint Head of Commercial and Technology

Mithila Gupte, Associate, Commercial and Technology

Michael Szlesinger, Trainee Solicitor, Commercial and Technology