9 Most Important Questions For 2016
1- Will ad blockers kill the web's revenue?
Ad blockers aren't new - you've long been able to install a browser extension such as Adblock Plus to filter advertisements on your desktop or laptop screen. However, 2015 marked the first time that such tools were allowed on iPhones, with apps such as Purify and 1Blocker leading pundits to suggest that the internet will soon need a new funding model. So far. that panic hasn't been borne out: although more people are using ad blockers, the system hasn't fallen apart.
That could change next year. Mobile operators such as EE and O2 have admitted that they are considering a system that blocks ads at the network level, which would be able to filter advertisements from apps as well.
However, such network-level blockers annoying marketing tactics such as auto-playing videos.
I can say that ad blockers will not kill the web's revenue, but do expect changes in online and app advertising.
2- Will companies ever get better at protecting us from hackers?
Don't laugh and say "when pigs fly". The recent hacks against big firms such as TalkTalk - by teenagers, no less - don't fill us with much confidence, but it's only a matter of time before a company is hit by a big fine or goes out of business because of its poor security.
Hopefully, businesses will learn from TalkTalk's mistakes rather than wait for a similar incident to affect them and their customers.
That might be pushed along by new EU rules, which require key businesses to maintain a certain level of security and to report major hacks - so-called 'databreach notification'. Perhaps putting protection into law is the only way to make companies take proper action to keep us safe. That said, it's impossible to be completely secure. TalkTalk was hacked via a basic, well known flaw, but even if that were patched, there's no system that is totally bug-free. We're hoping for fewer big hacks, but they'll never disappear completely.
So don't hold your breath, but the threat of legal action might improve security.
3- Will delivery of online shopping go high-tech?
Tired of coming through your front door to find "While you were out" slips from missed deliveries?
Many companies are working on solutions, from high-flying drones to robots that trundle from the pick-up depot to your front door without needing much human help.
Amazon, Google and delivery firms are all working on drones that will drop small packages to your door, while startup Starship Technologies has said it hopes to bring its delivery robot to the UK in 2016. We look forward to the inevitable YouTube videos of the robot being "disrupted'', maltreated and whatever else pranksters come up with.
Robotics aside, Amazon and its rivals are working on less high-tech ways to offer more personalised delivery services, testing out one-hour deliveries to help us get our online shopping when lt's most convenient .
So forget robots, but delivery should get better in 2016 .
4- Will encryption be banned?
After the attacks in Paris, politicians in the UK, US and on the continent once again called to be able to access all digital messaging, demanding that Silicon Valley tech firms insert so-called backdoors into otherwise encrypted systems to give access if needed. This is all despite the fact that the Paris gunmen and bombers didn't use encryption to protect their messages and were, for the most part, already on government watch lists. The government can't ban encryption outright, because it's a necessary protection for online banking and shopping, but it could demand backdoors in messaging systems. A version of that is even included in the IP Bill, though it doesn't specifically call for an encryption ban, instead saying companies may face an order to supply data and must be technically able to do so.
Weakening encryption is a long-running demand from governments, and one that's been made for more than a decade. lt's true that it's easier to use encryption than it used to be, and that encrypted messaging systems make it easier for criminals and terrorists to stay secure, just as it does the rest of us. But any firm that pokes holes in its own systems at the demand of governments will leave its legitimate users at risk from criminals and, as soon as it's noticed by journalists, security researchers or anyone else, it will be headline news. Hopefully the authorities find a better way to get the information they need, but in the meantime you can expect this debate to continue.
Hopefully encryption will not be banned, but the government has wanted this for a long time.
5- Will Windows 10 become the most popular OS?
Windows 10 had a steady start: at the time of going to press, it was the third most used operating system after Windows 7 and 8.1, according to data from StatCounter (www.statcounter.com).
Although the new OS is catching up to Windows 8.1 - and has overtaken OS X and Windows XP - Windows 7 retains 49% of the market share versus Windows 10's mere 10%.
That said, Windows 10 should pull in more users in 2016. All new PCs running Microsoft's OS are being sold with the latest version, and the free upgrade from Windows 7 or 8.1 ends 29 July, both of which should lead to a bump in the numbers of people adopting the new OS.
None of that means Windows 10 is a success, but it's safe to say that at this point it's not a failure. Many people simply don't see a reason to upgrade from Windows 7, which says more about the older OS than it does about Windows 10, and others will have been burned by Windows 8. We expect Windows 10 will continue to slowly accumulate users, especially as Microsoft releases new features, but some users may hang on until their Windows 7 PCs fall apart.
Windows 10 is growing, but it's still a long way behind Windows 7.
6- Will VR and AR finally take off?
There have been constant reports about virtual reality and augmented reality over the past few years, led by companies such as Oculus Rift and Magic Leap. However, few of us will have experienced such technologies.
That will likely change in 2016. VR is becoming cheaper and easier to use, with companies releasing smartphone-based models and developers making more gaming and entertainment content that actually uses the new technologies. On the AR front, Magic Leap is expected to unveil what it's working on. If you've tried VR and AR tech already, you may not have been impressed, but this is the year such technologies will mature and move into the mainstream. Keep an eye on both as it promises to make for some intriguing gaming and entertainment experiences.
We reckon 2016 is finally the year for VR and AR.
7- Will the EU remove geographical restrictions?
lsn't it annoying when you travel abroad and can't access Netflix or BBC iPlayer? The European Commission agrees and, alongside other proposals, wants to knock down such digital geo-fences.
The move is part of the EU's aim to create a single digital market, with plans to roll out the new regulations by 2017, if they're approved. When the EU pushes such consumer-friendly ideas, it usually doesn't get much friction from companies - it managed to cut roaming prices, after all, so making sure you can use streaming services you pay for in the UK while abroad in France doesn't seem much of a challenge. lt's safe to expect digital firms to start offering the ability before the law passes, as mobile operators did with roaming prices.
The EU will remove geographical restrictions, thankfully, and we should soon expect to see streaming services working across borders.
8- Is Flash finally dead?
Flash is the web technology that just won't die, but we predict that 2016 is the year when it finally kicks the bucket. The multimedia content player has fallen by the wayside on mobile platforms and, with the advent of HTML5, has been surpassed on desktop and laptop browsers, too.
That's good news for us, because security researchers and hackers continue to find vulnerabilities in the software. Flash ads and content also cause web pages to load slowly and drain the batteries of our mobile devices .
Now, even Flash's creator, Adobe, is ready to pull the plug on the plug-in, issuing an announcement encouraging "content creators to build with new web standards" instead of Flash. lt's now down to developers to heed that call, and with so many better options, we
So, ding dong, Flash is finally dead.
9- Will Mozilla survive without Google cash?
Firefox-creator Mozilla used to get hundreds of millions of dollars in funding from Google, but that's now dried up. lts attempts to pull in cash by showing sponsored tiles on the browser screen have failed, and it's already abandoned its Firefox OS for mobiles. The open-source developer isn't pessimistic, saying it has grand plans for 2016, and we eagerly await to see what those might be. lt's unlikely that Mozilla will face complete closure, as it has other funders and hasn't yet resorted to begging for donations as Wikipedia does each year. We're not sure what Mozilla's future is, but we're hoping it's a bright one.