Tech trends 2019: folding phones, cyber crime and space tourism

The tech world had its fair share of glitches in the past 12 months. See related Early in the year, all eyes were on Facebook during the Cambridge Analytica scandal, when the personal details of 87 million social media users were exposed to the research agency without their consent.

There were also year-long declines in the cryptocurrency market, with bitcoin falling from its record high of nearly £20,000 (GBP15,820) in December 2017 to well below £3,500 (GBP2,770) a year later. Next year, though, is already looking as though it’ll be a stellar year for the industry. Smartphones are on course to make a quantum leap in speed and design, while everyday users may benefit from tighter cyber security measures.

Here are The Week’s predictions for headline-grabbing technology in 2019:

Networks switch on 5G

Arguably the most significant upgrade heading to mobile users in the new year will come when networks activate the new – and eagerly awaited – 5G signal. In short, 5G is the new standard for mobile networks that promises “broadband-equivalent download speeds” and better connectivity in busy areas, says Wired. When the roll-out begins over the next 12 months, the 5G signal will run alongside the existing 4G and 3G connections currently used across the UK.

According to The Daily Telegraph, EE will begin switching on its 5G signal in 16 cities in 2019, including London and Cardiff. But EE isn’t the only provider upgrading its network next year, as Vodafone, Three and O2 have also announced plans to move over to the faster connection. So how do you get on to the new network?

Well, you’ll need a smartphone that can receive a 5G signal. Aside from a few prototype handsets, none of the major smartphone makers has revealed devices capable of connecting to 5G yet. However, at the Snapdragon Technology Summit in Hawaii last month Cristiano Amon, head of chipmaker Qualcomm, told CNet that he believes “every [handset maker] on the Android ecosystem” will boast 5G support on their new devices next year.

Apple, meanwhile, is rumoured to be waiting until 2020 to launch a 5G-capable iPhone in an attempt to avoid “problems such as spotty coverage”, insiders told Bloomberg.

Cyber security takes centre stage

There were at least four major data breaches in the past four months, with many more cropping up earlier in the year. While these attacks targeted big global companies, particular those housing vast stores of customer data, they also present a growing threat to nations’ security. In November, the joint committee on the UK’s National Security Strategy warned the Government that it was not doing enough to prepare for possible attacks from cyber giants such as Russia, China and Iran, the Financial Times reports.

Committee members added that the Government’s approach to national cyber security was “long on aspiration but short on delivery”, the FT notes. Ciaran Martin, head of the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), has also stated that a cyber attack against Britain is a matter of “when, not if”. New laws introduced in January by the European Union have attempted to force nation states to improve their cyber security through regulation, says Sky News.

Critical national infrastructures (CNIs), such as the defence sector, that do not meet the EU’s cyber security standards can face fines of up to GBP17m. It’s not known whether this will change when Britain leaves the EU, but the broadcaster notes that the UK already has its own scheme – the Network and Information Systems (NIS) Directive – to drive nationwide security against cyber attacks. In the short term, though, UK retailers are reportedly bulking up their online security measures to keep shoppers safe through the Christmas sales, according to Software Testing News.

Shrinking the notch and flexible screens

On a lighter note, smartphones are expected to take on a whole new look in 2019.

No, not minor design refreshes with a smattering of hardware tweaks; next year’s handsets may introduce some never-seen-before technologies. The tech world’s attention will be drawn to Samsung early in the year, as the company is expected to announce its folding smartphone – which is being dubbed as either the Galaxy X, F or Fold. The device, which was previewed during the South Korean tech giant’s annual developer conference in California last month, is the first sign that a foldable display will make its way on to a consumer device.

According to Alphr, production of the foldable phone is expected to start in the next few months, suggesting that a 2019 release date may be on the cards. Google is said to be creating software to support the handset, hinting that the technology could find its way to other device makers, too. Meanwhile, smartphone manufacturers will unveil more creative ways to disguise the infamous “notch”, a small indent at the top of a smartphone screen housing its front-facing cameras and sensors.

The Samsung Galaxy A8 and Huawei’s Honor View 20 are already ahead of the curve, with both smartphones sporting what is being referred to as “hole-punch cameras”, The Sun reports. Rather than a black bar running across the screen, a design that first appeared on the iPhone X in 2017 and has been widely replicated by other companies since, Samsung and Huawei’s devices have displays that wrap around the front-facing cameras – leaving a small black hole in the top left of the screen. It’s unlikely fans will see the first completely edge-to-edge smartphone panels in 2019, but the hole-punch design should go some way to resolving the unfavourable notches.

Journey to the stars

While smartphones are bound to be a hot topic in 2019, as is the possible announcement of the PlayStation 5, the race to put a tourist in space will heat up over the next 12 months.

Unlike the Cold War, when the US and Soviet Russia rushed to become the first nation to put a human into space, private companies are now the leaders in the space race. The major firms are Elon Musk’s SpaceX, Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic and the Jeff Bezos-founded Blue Origin. All have plans to launch passengers into space in 2019, although they have different ways of going about it.

Virgin Galactic, which Branson claims could put a paying customer into space as early as March, uses a small jet-powered craft to take a handful of customers to the fringe of space, says Sky News. Blue Origin offers customers a similar experience, though the company’s New Shepard spacecraft – named after Alan Shepard, the first American in space – takes off vertically. Virgin Galactic’s spacecraft, meanwhile, takes off attached to a carrier plane before being deployed 8 miles above the Earth. According to Wired, the company could begin human test flights by the end of the year or in early 2020.

That leaves SpaceX, which already deploys satellites into orbit for the US government and Nasa.

However, SpaceX plans to begin sending astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) for the US space agency next year using its Dragon craft, with manned tests expected to kick off in April, says Space.com.

It seems the idea of paying for a ticket to journey into space may no longer be science fiction by the time 2019 comes to a close.

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