Upcoming new technology in 2018

Rather than seeing technology facilitate greater communication, economic opportunity, and leisure, it seemed that it was exacerbating our differences, concentrating wealth, and threatening all livelihoods. But there was some good stuff too! For anyone who loves technology, it was kind of a downer. While we shouldn’t turn away from the challenges that the information age keeps springing on us, it’s understandable to long for a few things that just make you say, “that’s neat!” It’s easy to hope to see something that dazzles you or is so ambitious that in a decade it might just be incredible.

For me, there were a lot of things I saw this year that I thought fit that bill. Some of them, like the sudden mainstream fascination with blockchain, caused me to feel more dread than hope. But others either made me smile, grabbed my imagination, or just showed a ton of promise.

Computational photography

When I say computational photography, I’m using it to refer to the broad range of ways that engineers are working with software to improve digital cameras. Big high-end sensors and fine glass lenses aren’t in any danger of being replaced when it comes to getting the best shot possible, but software solutions are making new techniques possible, and constantly improving small affordable cameras.

Smartphones are getting thinner, but the images they can capture only get better. Software is one of the biggest reasons for that. Apple and Samsung are using software (and dual lenses) to create excellent depth of field effects on their phones, and even big deal directors like Steven Soderbergh and Michel Gondry decided to start shooting with the iPhone this year. Meanwhile, Google’s Pixel 2 camera got our recommendation for its superior HDR processing, and it also is integrating a ton of AI features into its camera software that will only get more useful. And Andy Rubin’s Essential Phone took a lot of heat for its lackluster camera, but software updates have helped it improve over the past few months.

Newcomer Rylo took a shot at GoPro with its first device that combines an action cam and a 360 camera into a pocket-sized gadget with some serious software at an affordable price. It has some of the best image stabilization I’ve seen. And its intuitive editing software allows you to just shoot everything around you to make shot choices and choreograph smooth camera movements later.

Don’t get too excited: Software still has a long way to go before it can approximate the look of the highest-end cameras, and it might be a bit unfortunate to see professionals settling for something that’s just good enough.

Self-driving cars

Talk about self-driving cars has been around so long that it’s almost mundane. No one seemed to care that Waymo officially abandoned test drivers behind the wheels of its self-driving cars in Arizona back in November. That’s a huge deal. Waymo is launching a self-driving taxi service in the suburbs of Phoenix. For real!

The promise of self-driving cars means more efficient commutes, more free time, fewer traffic accidents, big leaps in AI, and all sorts of other game-changing advancements.

As far as getting these things out to the public goes, Tesla insists that its auto-pilot feature that offers limited self-driving capabilities will be ready to drive itself from California to New York very soon. That means Tesla owners would already have a self-driving car because the company just to push out a software update.

Don’t get too excited: This is a scary economic shift. A lot of people are going to lose their jobs. That’s a big factor in the dampened excitement. Also, with all that extra free time in the commute, demanding bosses are just going to expect more productivity.

Nintendo

Nintendo is good. We started the year with the gloomy death of the Wii U, an excellent console that never took off, and lots of talk about Nintendo’s shift to unimpressive mobile games. It’s hard to stress enough how much it seemed like the house that Mario built might go the way of Sega. Then the Switch happened.

The Switch did what Nintendo does best—it wasn’t too expensive, it offered a single gimmick, and it has some great games. It’s signature feature—going seamlessly from console play on the TV to mobile play—was useful and instantly made sense to millions of gamers. But what was most important is that software developers liked it. Ports of older games like Skyrim and Doom are actually fresh takes because they’re now mobile games that are almost as good as their counterparts on other consoles and PC. Indie developers are flooding the system with excellent games like Stardew Valley and SteamWorld Dig 2. And the games made by Nintendo, like Super Mario Odyssey and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, exceeded the usual high-quality to be the best reviewed of the year.

It hasn’t even been on the market for a year and the Switch has almost sold as many units as the Wii U. The SNES Classic beat out all the other consoles on the market in sales for two months straight. And the new 2DS XL kept its huge library of games going for the foreseeable future.

While the PS4 and Xbox One are fine systems, their new iterations a virtually identical. This year they put out 4K upgrades that are powerful but don’t inspire very much excitement. Nintendo is different and we need it to keep giving the others some competition and continue being weird.