As the Covid-19 pandemic transformed nearly every aspect of home and work life, people turned to previously niche or unnecessary technologies in the past year.
Tools ranging from voice-enabled devices to augmented reality saw a surge of adoption in 2020. But with widespread vaccination finally on the horizon, companies now find themselves trying to predict which technologies will be left in the lockdown era and which will become permanent fixtures.
“People may drift away from these technologies, but now that they see the value in it [and] they understand at this moment how it has benefited them, I think they’ll definitely use them more in the long run,” Gartner analyst Tuong Nguyen said.
Brands that get the calculation right have a chance at millions in revenue from untapped markets in 2021, while businesses that make the wrong bet risk coming off as an artifact of a bygone era.
One piece of technology that experts agree will continue its recent growth arc beyond the pandemic is augmented reality. The media format has seen a big boost in popularity over the last several months, driven mostly by retailers creating virtual try-on experiences. An eMarketer survey found that the portion of U.S. retailers who planned to increase investment in AR or virtual reality more than doubled from 8% last January to 21% in June.
Consumers won’t have to rely on AR tools to try on products like cosmetics and sunglasses after stores fully reopen, but analysts say they might choose to anyway.
“This marks an important inflection point in AR’s trajectory, not only in retail, but toward mass adoption,” said Helen Papagiannis, a consultant who specializes in mixed reality and author of the book Augmented Human.
Social apps like Snapchat and Instagram are also constantly making it easier for brands and agencies to produce AR tools. Plus, 5G networks are set to boost the speed and intricacy of the graphics wireless connections can support.
“The same way that maybe we think about the internet compared to our parents or grandparents, the next generation will think about AR in that way,” Nguyen said.
When quarantine measures first went into effect last spring, audio streaming companies such as Pandora and Spotify registered big spikes in homebound users tuning in from smart speakers.
While the growth rate in voice assistant usage was previously on the decline, that new trend ultimately led to a slight uptick in 2020, according to eMarketer. Another report from Pandora and Edison Research last fall found that daily time spent listening to smart speakers increased 43% from January to October.
But Khurrum Malik, Spotify’s head of global business marketing, said it’s counting on its listener base swinging significantly back to mobile device use.
“We see listeners gravitate more to smart speakers at this moment because they’re spending more time at home,” Malik said. “We think that in 2021, if all things go well, mobile will increase more and people will increase their movement outside the house.”
Forrester research analyst Julie Ask said that the current popularity of voice-enabled devices is so dependent on specific applications and contexts that usage will inevitably drop as people return to life outside their homes.
Though in-person gatherings are bound to resume as soon as it becomes safe, many brand activation and event organizers plan to supplement physical spaces with a virtual element.