The Staff Weighs In
17 Predictions for Products in 2017
To kick off 2017, I asked our team for their predictions in the wide world of product innovation and culture in 2017. Here’s what they had to say. We’ll keep tabs on this page as the year chugs along and see what comes to fruition.
— Eric Yang, Editor in Chief
Have your own thoughts? I’d love to hear them. Submit them to this form (anonymously, if you’d like) and we’ll share them in the coming weeks. C’mon, you know you’ve got something to say.
The Product Industry
Rethinking the status quo: Warby Parker, Dollar Shave Club, Casper, Away…the explosive success of these pioneering brands is just the start of a total overhaul in consumer goods. Think about the laundry list of products you’re likely to find in every American home. It’s a good bet that a hyper-focused startup intent on shaking up the category by modernizing the production and shopping experience will pop up in 2017. — Ben Bowers, Managing Editor
AI is the new software: Touch screens and their companion software revolutionized how we interact with technology. Now it’s AI’s turn. The success of Amazon’s Alexa, as well more recent players like Google Home and Facebook Messenger bots, are the first shots fired in a new war. Whoever develops the best mastery of natural language interpretation and response will win in 2017 and beyond. My bet? The company with oceans of data on how humanity hunts for information and communicates via email — a.k.a. Google. — Ben Bowers
Remastered vintage will supplant calculated hype: The hype train generated by artificial scarcity, which itself is created by an endless schedule of limited-edition runs and exclusive collaborations, is about to implode. Expect a growing subset of trendsetting consumers to turn increasingly to vintage and secondhand markets to find real unique items to promote their individuality. And as we’ve seen recently in the automotive world with ICON and Porsche, and to a lesser degree in the tech world with companies like Analogue, look out for a new genre of hot brands focused on restoring and remastering classic items of the past into modern day standouts.
— Ben Bowers
Wireless audio will proliferate: Outside of the audiophiles, no one needs to buy another corded headphone. Apple set the tone, and more are soon to follow. The technology is there, the convenience is noticeable, and the cost is now reasonable. The battle against the cord has been waged in recent years, but this season you can expect wireless to deliver to fatal blow. In our ears, it already has.
— Matthew Ankeny, Deputy Managing Editor
One port to rule them all: 2017 will have everybody in the tech industry talking about autonomous cars, smarter homes, wireless headphones and virtual reality (just like in 2016). However, my vote is that people will finally fall in love with the USB Type-C port. True, it’s received some bad press of late — most notably from critics of the new MacBook Pro — but it’s multi-talented and faster (especially the Thunderbolt 3) than anything else out there. You’ll see more devices coming out with this port in 2017 and, as somebody who uses a 2016 MacBook Pro and Google Pixel, I can tell you there’s nothing more satisfying than being able to charge your laptop and smartphone with the same charger — it’s the simple things, you know? — Tucker Bowe, Associate Staff Writer
Sensor size will become the next battleground: In previous years there were megapixel wars and ISO wars, but it looks like we’re right at the beginning of the so-called “Sensor Wars.” (So called by me. I just coined that term.) Full-frame sensors are so 2016 and medium-format camera production is speeding up, with Hasselblad and Fujifilm set to debut cameras that are absolutely tiny (and cheap) compared to digital medium-format cameras of old. Processing power and electronic viewfinder tech are finally at the point where they can handle both the bigger sensor and the bigger files associated with it, so I expect to see even more entries into the category this year. Curiously Sony, the company making all these sensors, has yet to debut their own medium-format mirrorless shooter, but I’m willing to bet the house that we won’t have to wait until 2018 for that announcement. — Henry Phillips, Deputy Photo Editor
Apple will get less interesting, then more interesting: According to pundits, and my own speculations, Apple is in a bit of a funk. Their new releases — the brave MacBook and MacBook Pro, which I love — have been hampered by Intel’s lack of innovations in processor releases. I think the reason we’re not seeing new desktops, something CEO Tim Cook has said they are committed to, is simply because of chipsets. Will Apple announce a new chipset from its own foundry? Not in 2017, but here’s hoping. Sorry, Intel. Oh, and Apple’s coolest product of late? The AirPods. They’re not flawless, but what leap forward ever is? As for the Mac Pro… well, things are just flabbergasting. — Eric Yang
Amazon will rule the home: I don’t have an Echo, but I’ve had plenty of time seeing them used — most importantly, seeing them used in general population, which means more than a snobby journalist’s POV. People love their Echo because Alexa doesn’t just provide them information; it provides them tangible things they need, like toilet paper and other everyday goods. That’s why it’s so wonderfully ironic to see Google Home’s commercial dominating the airwaves. As beautiful as that commercial is, Google Home can only supplement and search; it can’t perform the magic of sending for something to show up at your front door. Privacy concerns aside, I think people will care much more about how easy it is to yell out, “Alexa, order more paper towels!” In fact, the more I think about it, the more I suspect that perhaps eCommerce, logistics and transportation, and Amazon Web Services was Bezos’ ultra long con for Echo all along — a backend to “plug into” his quiet, cylindrical takeover of our homes. Ball’s in your court, Apple. — Eric Yang
The year of the hat: It has all the right parts of a hit recipe: TV’s inundating mass media with more hats (starting with Deadwood and Mad Men, continuing on to Westworld), the style-literate wear them, and the hipsters — those bastions of style — have caught on, riding the coat-tails of Western wear and post-WWII style’s rising momentum. While the ball cap will retain its place, this year prepare to see the proliferation of the classic hat, not simply on fashionistas, but adorning the crown of the everyman’s head. — Matthew Ankeny
Athleisure will take a five-minute breather: I’m over the menswear shenanigans as much as the next guy (some pro tips: Dump your subscription to GQ and read this book; get a proper suit; and use a mirror, for Chrissake). But if we saw things go from medium rare to burnt in mens/workwear in the past couple of years, then athleisure really overcooked it. Do we really need another major brand here? In 2016 alone, our desks and email addresses saw at least a hundred pitches from crowdfunded athleisure brand after crowdfunded athleisure brand. I have no idea how many actually came to fruition — and for those that did, I do wish them the best — but, trim silhouettes and spandex alternatives, an athleisure brand do not make.
Kit and Ace and Outdoor Voices crushed it this past year (mind you, not without their own hiccups), and we’ll see them tool up and expand as needed in 2018, but my sense is that much of the actual day-to-day sales successes happened with brands like Under Armour and Rogue Fitness who crushed it with men who sport waist sizes larger than 32 — you know, most of us. In my minimal gym time, that’s what I see on the street, and I think that there’s something to be said about the presence of those brands in gyms like Equinox and Blink alike.
And finally, if we can find a new name for “athleisure,” I’m all ears. — Eric Yang
Travel & Eats
Craft beer goes back to basics: Take a look at BeerAdvocate’s list of Top 250 Beers. What do you see? Stouts, ales and the exceptional sour. There’s not a single lager on the list. And only one beer in the top 20, Julius by Tree House Brewing Company, is less than 8% ABV. (It’s an IPA; no surprise there.)
In 2017, new brewers will look back to move forward, revisiting friendly and familiar styles, such as the Kölsch and the Pilsner (see: Suarez Family Brewery). But the reason isn’t just fatigue. In recent years, it’s become increasingly difficult for new brewers to cash in on popular hops; future production of varieties such as Citra, Mosaic and Simcoe are largely contracted as far as 2020, with priority given to better-established breweries that can plan and invest years in advance. The result will be a more balanced beer-scape, with a refined priority on restraint.
— Jack Seemer, Assistant Editor
Regional identities: Across food, drink and travel, I think we’ll see an increased emphasis on regional identities — a focus on the things that are unique to a particular city or state. In the world of travel, there’s a shift toward immersing oneself in a culture distinct from one’s own, rather than simply crossing must-see sites off a to-do list. The seeds were planted in 2016: Airbnb launched Trips; Blink Travel created bespoke, location-specific itineraries; travel agencies pivoted to facilitate uniquely authentic experiences. 2017 will be the year that it starts to snowball. — Emily Singer, Associate Staff Writer
Hyperlocal produce: As it concerns food, hyperlocal produce will continue to come into the fore. A number of really impressive vegetarian restaurants have opened in New York in recent years (see: Nix, Dirt Candy, Superiority Burger), and Copenhagen’s Noma ditched meat almost entirely last summer. Chefs are challenging themselves to create innovative dishes with whatever’s available seasonally and locally, and the results are stunning. Also in the world of vegetable-forward food,
Furthering the trend toward hyperlocal produce, IKEA’s indoor gardening kit will launch stateside this year (a mass-market complement to last year’s Click&Grow Wall Farm), making fresh greens and herbs readily available to the everyday home. For the home cook, gadgets like the ChefSteps Joule have made complex technologies more accessible. I think we’ll continue to see the proliferation of “smart” kitchen devices. Whether or not we actually need them is another story. — Emily Singer
Boutique luggage stands out (for a while): A close colleague of mine who works in venture capital recently told me why he thinks that the rise of luggage brands has a finite ceiling, and how only a couple will thrive while others race to be acquired by larger (read: deeper-pocketed) luggage brands, thus becoming owned-and-operated sub-brands. It’s a prescient prediction, but there’s still a lot of dollars out there waiting to be spent on brands like Away or Raden, which are increasingly providing compelling alternatives at palatable price points. And let’s face it, most people either hate their luggage or are insanely passionate about their Tumi or Rimowa. I think we’ll see a lot of news around these startups, both through influencer marketing and at a fine store near you. — Eric Yang
The intersection of tech and gear: As we’ve seen in the past, the lines between tech and outdoor gear will continue to blur. We’ve already seen it through all manner of fitness trackers, but we’ve also seen it in connected running shoes, backpacks, ski goggles and more. As tech moves forward, so will outdoor gear, and in a world where we’re attached to our smartphones at the hip, there’s no reason we shouldn’t try to incorporate them and make them a part of our adventures. — AJ Powell, Associate Staff Writer
Materials advancements: This year will be a race for the perfect material. We’ve seen glimpses at trade shows and wholesale moves towards Merino wool, but brands like Polartec, Primaloft and others are constantly iterating and researching to develop the ideal material. This year we’ll see a handful of new insulating materials, as well as synthetic sweat-wicking fibers, that rival Merino. They may not take down the reigning champ, but they’ll come damn close. — AJ Powell
Pro cycling reluctantly embraces disc brakes: 2016 was the year of pros whining about disc brakes. Worries about stopping distances, wheel changes and comparisons to “giant knives” and “machetes” — as per Francisco Ventoso, after claiming to have suffered a laceration from one at Paris-Roubaix (though it may have actually been a chainring) — were rampant. But, as with anything, money talks, and all the big bike brands are pushing road discs as the latest and greatest tech — and there’s no point in sponsoring a pro team if they’re not going to help you move the product you want. All the big names – BMC, Cannondale and Trek, among others — have had their teams training on discs, and it looks like 2017 will be the year that sponsor dollars force the UCI’s hand. If it makes for better, safer racing, I’m all for it. — Henry Phillips
Young American watch brands: As American Watchmaking hits its stride in the coming years, expect a whole new wave of younger, less conservative brands to spring up and bring all sorts of new and interesting timepieces in their wake. RGM and Kobold have set the standard for years now, and their efforts have proved that American watches can stand up to the Swiss and Germans, when the cost is high enough. But young guns like Niall, Vortic, Oak and Oscar and Nick Harris are coming at watchmaking from an entirely different angle — think artistically modded Seikos, re-cased pocket watch movements and beautifully textured panda dials. As they gain momentum and grow in size, I expect an explosion of radical, groundbreaking watches. — Chris Wright, Associate Editor
Watches will continue to shrink: The Swiss watch industry may be on hard times, but vintage watches are selling like hotcakes. Don’t think watch companies aren’t taking notice. Aside from more heritage-inspired dial designs and case shapes, expect to see more watches resemble the sizes of their forebears from decades past as well. Last year’s Tudor Black Bay 36 release was a big hit with watch enthusiasts, most of whom are tired of needlessly big watch faces — don’t be surprised to see more of its ilk at Basel this year. — Andrew Connor, Associate Staff Writer
Be prepared for more hybrids: In fall of 2016, Fossil Group launched 40–odd new hybrid analog smartwatches. Not long after that, Timex released the Move IQ+. Withings, a leader in the category, has a new hybrid with heart rate monitoring on the way. Hybrids seem to be the new “thing” in the world of Kickstarter watch projects. As smartwatches have seemingly failed to captivate most buyers, save for devotees — with poor battery life, inhibited functions and uninspired looks — hybrids are poised to offer the best of both traditional watches and smartwatches. That is to say, basic smart functions like notifications and fitness tracking, but the look, feel and longevity of a standard analog watch. It’s a nascent segment of an already niche market, so, while I don’t reckon the coming of the hybrid to be an industry game-changer anytime soon, expect players on the lower end of the market to at least give hybrids the old college try this coming year. – Andrew Connor
Watchmakers refocus: The world of high-end watches is reeling. My sense is that in 2017 we’ll see luxury watchmakers refocus their attention back onto their core products, the gateway watches that make so much of these stalwart brands beloved by their buyers. There won’t be a drastic turn away from China, but the American market won’t feel so neglected by Switzerland. From some various rumblings I’ve heard, I think this is well underway. We’ll see a strong push for watches under $10,000 and, selfishly, in the American market, we’ll see evolutions (don’t expect revolutions; this is watchmaking after all) in “approachable” watches and markets that capture the interest of buyers. Separately, we’ll also see the rise of even more great offerings from the boutique, independent market. Will we have another blockbuster release like the new Rolex Daytona or A. Lange & Sohne Saxonia? I’m sure of it. But let’s hope they focus on the magic price points. Oh, and Seiko will never be better. — Eric Yang
We will see major developments in autonomous car tech across the board: Now that Michigan has passed a law allowing autonomous cars to be tested on its roads, we’re going to see American automakers making strides towards developing mainstream autonomous vehicles. While Detroit is, arguably, no longer the hub of automotive development (that crown is perhaps being abdicated in favor of Silicon Valley), the Motor City will no doubt see all manner of familiar cars going driverless. This doesn’t mean that by December your Mustang will do burnouts in your driveway while you watch from your La-Z-Boy, but it will mean that (a) autonomous tech won’t seem as exotic and far-off as it has to date, and (b) the Big Three especially will spur on competition in the driver-free segment, whenever it is the cars go on sale. Here’s hoping robots can avoid all the potholes on I-94. — Nick Caruso, Associate Editor
We’ll see an even sharper decline in demand for manual transmissions: Current estimates state that less than 4 percent of new cars come out of the factory equipped with a stick. This isn’t a “new” fear — car guys have moaned about “saving the manual” for years now. But with developments in autonomous tech, more and more hybrid tech infiltrating mainstream and/or traditional vehicles (see Ford’s latest announcement), and other similar developments, it seems cars have simply become too complicated for there to be much room for rowing your own gears. I bet that that 4 percent figure will drop down to at least 3 percent if, if not lower, by year’s end. — Nick Caruso
Hybrids will be embraced: The automotive industry and consumers will finally start to fully embrace hybrid technology, but not for efficiency. Ford’s recent announcement that there will be a hybrid-powered Mustang in 2020 is the biggest indicator. America is one of the biggest automotive markets in the world; however, our culture has never seen the automobile as an appliance, but more of an escape, an extension of one’s self, a form of entertainment. And up until recently, hybrid and EV car marketing has relied almost solely on the technology’s efficiency. And that’s not fun or exciting. (Sorry, Greenpeace.)
As the last few decades will show, the best automotive technology being developed in the motorsport arena does eventually make it to road cars. It just has to be honed and perfected first. Audi developed their Quattro AWD system in World Rally, dominated the competition, then brought it to their production cars. Now, every car manufacturer has at least one model with AWD. Aerodynamics was a relatively unknown science on road cars until it was utilized and perfected in Formula 1. Now you can’t drive a single mile without seeing a wing or turning vane. And it’s the same with carbon fiber. Formula 1 cars have had it for decades, and it has only just started making its way to the mass market because the cost of production has come down and the performance benefits far exceed that of its metal counterparts.
In the past few years, hybrid and EV technology has been rung through a weight-loss program only motorsports can provide, but as weight has gone down power has gone up. Ferrari, Porsche, and McLaren all built hybrid hypercars, and clearly not for the MPGs. Then Tesla built the Tesla Rodster, and then the more successful Model S: both EVs, but focused more on design and performance, with efficiency coming second in priority (albeit a very close second). The instant torque from electric motors is too substantial to ignore now. Ford knows this, which is why the company is fitting its iconic muscle car with the electrified tech. And if Ford does it, you can bet GM won’t be far behind with a hybrid Camaro. There are even rumblings of Porsche fitting the 911, arguably the most iconic sports car of all time, with hybrid technology similar to that found in the 918. So don’t be surprised if over the next year you hear that more performance cars will be getting electrified to boost power and performance. Because that is what’s entertaining and exciting. It certainly won’t be for efficiency — though that’ll be a nice side effect. — Bryan Campbell, Associate Staff Writer
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