It’s cliché to say that technology and innovation are taking over our lives, but that doesn’t make it any less true. In 2016, we saw Amazon’s cloud-computing unit become a profit-producing behemoth. Also, though constrained by regulatory challenges in important markets, Uber raised enormous amounts of capital and spearheaded ambitious projects. Google, meanwhile, continued to generate head-spinning digital ad revenue, and in a world where content is increasingly reigning supreme, Facebook established itself as the undisputed king, thanks to the popularity of its video and news feeds.
In a sign of the times, last year closed with the three most valuable companies in the world (Apple, Google and Microsoft), based on market cap, all hailing from the tech sector. With 2017 just underway, here’s a look at the trends that will define the industry in the coming year:
Virtual reality becomes more mainstream. Most people of a certain age remember the stir created by the Atari. Exceptionally crude by today’s standards, the console brought video games to the mass market and sparked a cultural revolution that eventually produced its technological descendants, the Nintendo Entertainment System, PlayStation and Xbox.
Virtual reality will make an exponentially larger imprint on society, transcending gaming and having the potential to touch on everything from education, sports, entertainment and medicine. The obstacle right now is the price: The hardware required (a VR-ready PC, headset and controller) to yield the best experience, all in, goes for nearly $2,000.
That price point has to come down to make VR more accessible. Thankfully, the first step in that process is likely to occur sometime in 2017, when Microsoft releases an update to the Xbox, Project Scorpio, which at a rumored cost of $500-$600 is expected to be the first console to have built-in VR capabilities.
This could be a game-changer in the world of VR, finally putting this technology in the hands of more people and putting Microsoft and Facebook, via headset maker Oculus, in prime position to capture this still burgeoning market from rivals Google and Samsung. Another big winner will be chip maker Nvidia, a top provider of graphic processing units (GPUs), which quickly convert code into graphics. Though the stock has taken off since the beginning of 2015, given the possibilities surrounding VR, it still has more room to grow.
Tesla begins to lead an electric car awakening among the masses. Donald Trump has repeatedly suggested that his administration will pursue policies that will result in the burning of more fossil fuels – which nearly every reputable scientist alive agrees contributes to changing climate patterns that produce more frequent and destructive extreme weather events. From his perspective, however, relaxing regulations that constrain energy production will create more jobs.
The problem with that viewpoint is that the world is already awash in oil, which has put a lid on prices and made further production unprofitable. The key, therefore, is to cut demand. This is where Tesla could play a vital role.
The Model 3, the company’s much-awaited midsized economy sedan, is slated to come out at some point this year, and with preorders exceeding 400,000 it's poised to become the best-selling electric car of all time. This stylish new entry into the electric car market could gain mass appeal – unlike uninspired versions of the Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Bolt – not only ushering more widespread adoption of such technology but neutering Trump’s energy plans and helping reverse current climate trends.
Yes, Tesla always misses production deadlines. Chances are, the Model 3 will be late coming off the assembly line, perhaps delayed into 2018, but investors who get behind this phenomenon and align with Tesla now will likely reap the rewards in the years that follow.
The rise of alternative news sources. The recent election highlighted a deepening distrust among many Americans for large, traditional media entities like CNN, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, which, as the prevailing narrative goes, have an overt bias and cater to elites living on both coasts. Whether that assessment is valid is immaterial. The main takeaway is that a growing number of news consumers are hastening the rise of alternative sources that only a few years ago were not considered reputable, including partisan political websites and influencers who leverage podcasts, webcasts and social media to get their message out. This is highlighted by Trump’s use of Twitter, which he believes allows him to provide his supporters with unfiltered access to his thoughts and policy positions.
This shift has quickly made social media companies a more potent news distribution channel than perhaps even they had realized. Facebook, for one, understands the power of content, having pursued partnerships with a host of media companies in recent years to fill its news feed with material, but when users flood the platform with other content that is less reliable (but nonetheless popular) that creates a dilemma, and how Facebook sorts out this issue going forward will be a significant test. Meanwhile, due to Trump, more people are aware of Twitter than perhaps ever before, but unless it gets better management, the company won’t be able to translate its newfound name recognition into more profits.
Whatever the fallout, it seems clear that the reliance on social media, influencers and other alternative media sources will continue in the coming year, all at the expense of traditional news services. Twelve months from now, the refrain will be the same: Technology is changing our lives. And 12 months from then, and on and on and on. That’s the way things go. But for investors, the key is knowing what changes will be transformation, and, thus, worth getting behind.
By CEO Ross Gerber
The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. To determine which course of action may be appropriate for you, consult your financial advisor. No strategy assures success or protects against loss.
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