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The biggest tech trends to watch for in 2022

Electric vehicles, interoperable smart homes and ‘the metaverse’ will all make an appearance at CES — if it doesn’t get canceled first.

In many ways, 2022 will be a year of “hurry up and wait.” (Tyrone Siu/Reuters)
10 min

2022 will be a year of big tech promises. Whether companies can deliver is another question.

We’ll get our first clues at this week’s CES electronics show in Las Vegas — a sprawling event that offers an exclusive glimpse at the tech that could help shape the year. (That is, unless the high transmissibility of the omicron variant of the coronavirus forces organizers to shutter the show. Big-name attendees including Intel, Meta and Amazon have pulled out, and show organizers have shortened the event by one day — it now runs Wednesday through Friday.)

Before the show and the rest of the year kick off in earnest, we wanted to break out our crystal ball to suss out what the new year will mean for the tech in your life. Some of the developments we’ll discuss are long overdue. Some build on progress or change we saw in 2021.

In many ways, 2022 will be a year of “hurry up and wait,” Carolina Milanesi, a technology analyst with research firm Creative Strategies, told us. Big tech developments like “the metaverse,” autonomous vehicles and greater repairability will take time to catch up to their hype, and companies must be careful not to overpromise, Milanesi said.

At the same time, companies need our buy-in more than ever. Smart home technology, health wearables and virtual reality all depend on our personal data to improve. If we don’t trust companies enough to share a whole lot of it, that technology gets stuck in the “my voice assistant still doesn’t understand me” phase.

Here’s what we expect — and in some cases, hope — to see in 2022.

A race into the ‘metaverse’

Facebook parent company Meta may have generated the most buzz with its foray into the metaverse — a theoretical shared space where people can hang out in virtual reality — but the other tech giants won’t be far behind.

2022 will be a “race into the metaverse” as large tech companies wrestle for slices of an emerging market, according to Rolf Illenberger, CEO of virtual reality software maker VRdirect. Google, Microsoft and Apple may introduce their own headsets and operating systems for the metaverse, like their equivalents for PCs and smartphones. (Just how “meta” this collection of walled-off virtual environments will be remains to be seen.)

The giants aren’t alone, either: In recent years, parts of the CES show floor have become a playground for start-ups building augmented and virtual reality headsets, and many are eager to make their mark on the metaverse. Meanwhile, there’s another hurdle the industry will need to clear. Companies developing software that runs in the metaverse would have to make sure those programs play nicely with different operating systems.

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’s a long way to go and lots of questions to answer before what tech companies are pitching as “the metaverse” becomes a reality.

In 2021, tech talked up ‘the metaverse.’ One problem: It doesn’t exist.

The smart home will make a lot more sense

If you walk into a big-box retailer or hardware store, it probably wouldn’t take you long to find smart-home goodies like connected lightbulbs and thermostats. What can take awhile is finding stuff that works with the products you already have — but that might not be the case for much longer.

Some of the biggest names in Big Tech, including Apple, Amazon, Google and Samsung, have teamed up to develop a new smart-home standard called Matter. The aim: to ensure that the home gadgets you buy in the future all play nice with one another, regardless of who made them or what virtual assistant you want to use when interacting with them.

“Today when you look at a smart-home-connected device, you have to look at what ecosystem it works with,” said Erik Kay, a vice president of engineering at Google. “Where we’re going with Matter is that you don’t have to think about any of that.”

When you consider how territorial some of these companies can be, it can be tough to imagine all of them working together on a project like this. But for once things will be different, they claim, and with any luck we’ll get our first glimpse at Matter-compatible gear during CES.

Many people stayed home but Help Desk reporter Chris Velazco turned out to find the weirdest and most interesting technology of the annual consumer tech show. (Video: Jonathan Baran/The Washington Post)

Electric vehicles are inching toward the mainstream

Some 2022 tech trends are all about what’s not new. This year, electric vehicles will transition from cutting edge to standard issue — if you live somewhere with the infrastructure to support EV charging.

Electric models from household names including Ford, General Motors, Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen will make EVs accessible to more people at lower prices. Market leader Tesla will continue expanding, and start-ups like Lucid and Rivian will elbow their way into the fray.

And shoppers will be able to choose from electric vehicles beyond the traditional sedan, with Volkswagen expanding the availability of its family-size ID.4 and Ford introducing an electric F-150 truck. Tesla’s divisive Cybertruck could even hit the market in 2022. Whatever your transportation needs, 2022 could bring an electric vehicle that suits you — as well as better batteries and charging options. But one thing could delay these mainstream moves.

Chips will still be hard to come by

A prolonged chip shortage has upended the way automakers churn out new vehicles, driven up prices of televisions and made hot products like Sony’s PlayStation 5 nearly impossible to buy. And unfortunately, all signs suggest we’re still not out of the woods.

The effects of the shortage probably won’t start to fade until the back half of 2022, said Syed Alam, managing director at Accenture Strategy. And that’s the best case scenario — he also believes it’s possible that the industries reeling from the shortage right now won’t completely bounce back until early 2023.

The reason it’s hard to predict just when the chip shortage will finally ease is because there’s still so much left up in the air. The onset of a pandemic helped throw the chip industry into disarray in the first place, so sudden changes — like, say, the emergence of a new variant — could throw a wrench into recovery plans. And because different products require different kinds of chips, it’s hard to tell which companies will start to bounce back first.

In the meantime, Intel, Samsung and the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. have announced plans to build chip plants in the United States, and they should help protect these companies — plus others that rely on them — from wild swings in chip availability. The problem is, these kinds of facilities take years to go live, so it’s unlikely they’ll be able to make a dent in the situation anytime soon.

What you need to know about the global chip shortage

Fixing your tech will start to get easier

Phones, laptops, tablets — we rely on gadgets like these every day, but companies haven’t exactly made them easy to fix when things go wrong. Slowly but surely, it seems that might be starting to change.

Apple, which for years maintained strict control over how its products could be fixed, will roll out a self-service repair program in early 2022. The (somewhat surprising) move will allow enthusiastic amateurs to access the parts and guides to fix their iPhones and Mac computers.

Thankfully, Apple isn’t alone in rethinking repairs. In October — shortly after it unveiled a flashy, hard-to-upgrade Surface laptop — Microsoft announced plans to increase the options consumers have to repair their devices by the end of 2022. Meanwhile, Dell is experimenting with “circular” design, starting with a concept it calls Luna. It might look like a regular laptop, but fewer internal screws and a rejiggered design make it easier to pull apart and fix or upgrade than some other PCs.

Let’s be clear: Our tech won’t magically become more repairable overnight, and not everyone will want to fix their own gadgets anyway. But now that some big names are changing their tune, repairable design has a shot at becoming a standard feature, and that could help us put a dent in a growing e-waste problem.

Study: World’s pile of electronic waste grows ever higher

More ways to analyze data from your own body

Clinicians are already starting to use individual biometric data — data from our bodies — to prevent, diagnose and treat health problems. With more health wearables measuring our hearts, lungs, sleep, steps, calories and even sweat, we’ll start doing the same at home. In 2022, you may use a ring on your finger to see how regular cardio exercise affects your sleep, or a bracelet to monitor your blood pressure. And, knowing CES, we’re sure to hear a lot about these more insightful wearables over the next few days.

Getting more insight into our daily patterns and habits may help us make better health decisions and notice problems before they snowball. But health wearables also generate huge amounts of personal medical data that’s not protected by existing medical privacy laws like HIPAA, so it’s hard to know for sure where all that data will end up. There are also big hurdles when it comes to sharing that data with our health-care providers in ways they can easily parse.

Tech companies want you to trust them more

People now trust companies more than traditional institutions like government and religious organizations, according to Forrester analyst Enza Iannopollo, but companies still tend to overestimate how much customers trust them.

And customers have good reason to be skeptical. In 2021, security breaches, data privacy problems and AI whistleblowers dominated technology news.

In 2022, companies will try to regain lost trust with a variety of tactics, like creating high-ranking roles in charge of “digital trust,” offering cash rewards to people who identify bias in AI systems and adopting technologies that partially anonymize personal data, Forrester research predicts.

Having companies be more trustworthy is a good thing for us, but companies have plenty to gain, too. As privacy regulations at home and abroad limit what personal data companies can pass around, companies will get hungrier for “first-party” data — data we share with them directly. The more we trust companies to handle our personal data and shape our experiences with algorithms, the more they can monetize that trust through “personalized” experiences and advertisements.

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