Innovation Update Technology Trajectories for the Next Decade

By Chris Carbone from Innovaro’s Insights & Intelligence. To read more visit their trend and foresight blog.

In a world that is changing ever more quickly, being able to look ahead and understand which aspects of that world will be changing, and to what extent, is a valuable tool for any innovator.

For over a decade, Innovaro’s Global Lifestyles and Technology Foresight projects have fueled clients’ innovation engines by providing them with a steady stream of insights about the future of consumer life and technology. In January 2012, Innovaro brought this accumulated knowledge and experience together to produce the Technology Trajectories research series. It explored the following questions:

  • What technologies will move from the niche to the mainstream in the next decade and make up the consumer toolkit of 2020?
  • How will these technologies work in concert to change daily life and the consumer experience?
  • How will important areas of consumer life – how people shop, work, socialize, and entertain themselves – be changed by this next wave of innovation?

In this issue of Innovation Update, we provide a top-line review of the Technology Trajectories research.

The last decade has seen a range of digital technologies and services emerge and move from niche use to the mainstream. Consider that Facebook, just seven years after being founded, is used by an estimated 70% of the online population in countries including the UK, Italy, and the US. And LCD TVs, e-readers, and smartphones, all largely missing from the consumer landscape just a few years ago, are being eagerly adopted the world over.


Our continual analysis of emerging technology and consumer trends suggests that we are in for even more dramatic changes in the decade ahead.

A new wave of technologies is poised to move from development and niche application toward the mainstream. As this happens, consumers will gain a wholly new “toolkit” of devices, services, and capabilities, which will change the way people go about everyday activities – from dating and shopping to working and studying. It will also change the way consumers interact with brands and the way that organizations deliver products and services to consumers.

So what are some of these technologies and how might they impact consumer life? Here are three of the 10 Technology Trajectories and some thoughts on how they will influence the future consumer environment.

1. Cloud Intelligence

CloudThe cloud will evolve from being a static repository of data into an active resource that consumers rely on throughout their daily lives. Consumers will have new capabilities for accessing online expert systems and applications that provide them with information, analysis, and contextual advice. Virtual agents will migrate from being an automated form of phone-based customer service to a personalized form of support and assistance that provides information and, more importantly, performs useful tasks. 

Where do we see this today?
One of the ways we’re starting to see this start to happen is in the world of search. Rather than simply spitting back long lists of results, search engines are quickly becoming recommendation and decision support engines. For example, helps people understand whether they should buy a new camera, phone, or iPad today-or wait for a price drop or a newer model to be released. 

“Asking” a question is simple; but like a Google search this hides the service’s complexity as it taps into a 100 terabyte database with more than 2 billion price observations. also mines online news and rumors to identify patterns to predict whether a newer model of the device you’re searching on will be released soon and make its “buy” or “wait” recommendations. The site claims its price predictions are correct 77% of the time, and that when they are, consumers save an average of $54. 

What does it means for the future?
In the coming years, consumers will be able to tap into the kind of cloud-based intelligence typified by in more and more spheres of their lives – in shopping, in health, in their career, etc. 

As this happens, information, advice, and real-time decision support could become a more important part of the overall value proposition, even for brands that have traditionally had infrequent post-purchase interactions with consumers.

When married with a more intutive interface, like we’ve seen in a limited way with the release of Apple’s Siri virtual assistant, cloud intelligence will literally change the way we complete many of our daily tasks. More of our decisions will be based on data, not a gut feel, and we will find ourselves increasingly collaborating with machines to get things done in our lives.

2. Adaptive Environments

EnvironmentsAdvances in materials will make the consumer environment “smart.” Everyday objects, surfaces, and coatings will gain the ability to adapt to changing conditions or consumer needs e.g., becoming self-cleaning, self-insulating, or protective. The everyday objects that people use, and the built environment they move through during their day, will no longer be simply structural and passive … they will become adaptive, functional, and smart.

Where do we see this today?
Smart materials are able to “respond dynamically to electrical, thermal, chemical, magnetic, or other stimuli from the environment.” They will be a crucial part of developing adaptive environments. As they improve, smart materials are being integrated into more and more designs, “enabling these products to alter their characteristics or otherwise respond to external stimuli.”

BCC Research expects the global market for smart materials to rise from $22 billion in 2011 to $40 billion in 2016 (12.8% CAGR). The fastest growing sub-sector will be smart structural materials, which could grow from $1.4 billion in 2011 to $3.4 billion in 2016 (19.8% CAGR).

What does it means for the future?
The rise of adaptive environments will change the way we view the built environment. Homes, offices, stores, and our city streets will move from being static and dumb, towards being far more aware, adaptive, and responsive to people’s needs.

In the longer term, as smart materials become more common, and are coupled with information technologies, the spaces that we live and work in may even begin to function almost like living organisms. We’re already seeing some urban planners use the idea of the human autonomic nervous system, which controls bodily activities that are below the level of consciousness like digestion, breathing, as a model to describe future smart buildings and cities.

This kind of technology won’t come without costs, though, and not all consumers or cities will be able to afford the technologies that enable adaptive environments. Whereas the digital divide used to be about access to PCs and broadband, in the future a divide could emerge related to access to adaptive and aware physical spaces.

3. Personal Analytics
Personal analyticsData analytics will migrate to the consumer sphere, opening up a wide range of health and lifestyle applications. Consumers will gain the ability to collect, store, interpret, and apply the vast amounts of data being created by and about themselves during their everyday activities. They will have access to new tools and services that can correlate and analyze these streams of data, so making them useful.  


Where do we see this today?
Companies have so far dominated the world of data mining and analytics, but a grassroots movement is already arising around “self-tracking” as more people measure and analyze their personal behaviors in order to make smarter lifestyle decisions. Health and wellness is an early focus of self-tracking, and numerous apps are available for weight-loss and fitness monitoring. Devices for health-tracking are also on the rise. For example, the firm Withings offers a WiFi-enabled scale that tracks weight, body fat, and BMI, as well as a home blood-pressure monitor that links to an iPhone or iPad.

Eventually, these and other tools will be able to provide people with a data-driven sense of what their biggest stressors are, what time of day or day of the week they’re most productive, how certain foods affect mood, etc. The niche idea of the “quantified self” will become a reality for mainstream consumers looking to fine-tune and improve their lives.

What does it means for the future?
As more of our lives are lived in the digital world, we are creating abundant data trails. This will offer people the raw material with which to analyze themselves and their activities. As this happens, data will be more central to the formation of consumers’ identities. Rather than simply relying on macro life events (where one was born, went to school, etc.) and one’s imperfect memory, a person’s identity will increasingly be based on cumulative micro experiences and actual statistics based on digitally recorded lives.

Clearly there will be new privacy battles as digitized personal data takes on a more central role in our lives – and takes on greater monetary value. The questions of ownership and fair use of personal data will be central to the future. 


Our Process


Innovaro undertook a multi-stage process that blended rigor with creative foresight in the development of its Technology Trajectories series. Our analysts:

  • Scanned. Our team conducted a broad literature review to identify candidate technologies. We also reviewed recent and historical Global Lifestyles and Technology Foresight briefs for relevant information.
  • Clustered and themed. The candidate technologies were clustered and examined, as we looked for cross-cutting themes. This yielded 10 Technology Trajectories, which became the core of our further analysis and the framework to explore the future.
  • Explored cross-impacts. We conducted a series of brainstorming and mapping processes (cross-impact analysis, 4-quadrant matrix, application mapping across 6 areas of consumer life, etc.) to explore how the 10 Technology Trajectories might influence each other, and consumers’ lives, over the next decade.
  • Received expert input. We interviewed experts to broaden our view and cross-check our conclusions.
  • Developed and analyzed forecasts. We created a series of Trajectories plausible forecasts to show how the 10 Technology Trajectories could change key areas of consumer life in the coming decade (shopping, family and home life, knowledge work, identity, health and wellness, and civic life). We then analyzed these forecasts for their potential implications for business and consumers.
  • Presented the findings.  The Technology Trajectories research was delivered in written and poster format. The research was also presented to clients on a webinar in January 2012.

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