Tech trends 2018: bitcoin, driverless cars and more

Everything you need to know about the hottest devices and services in the pipeline

VR headsets
VR headsets will soon be cheaper to buy
(Image credit: 2015 Getty Images)

The smartphone war was arguably the key topic of 2017, with Apple announcing its £999 iPhone X to celebrate its ten-year anniversary and Samsung unveiling its successor to the ill-fated Galaxy Note 7.

That battle looks set to continue over the next 12 months, but the new year is also expected to bring major tech advancements beyond the smartphone industry.

One of the key areas to watch is the development of artificial intelligence (AI), which could have a significant impact on the health industry.

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Here are The Week’s predictions for the key tech trends of 2018.

The future of VR

Virtual Reality (VR) headsets were all the rage at the beginning of 2017, although their popularity appears to have dimmed a little since then. That may be down to the cost of experiencing videos and games in VR. Sony’s PlayStation VR headset is about £300, while the mandatory PS4 games console costs at least £200.

VR technology was also largely absent from this year’s E3 games show, which has been described as “the biggest date in the gaming industry calendar”, says Tech Crunch.

But that looks set to change when VR giant Oculus launches a cheaper, standalone headset in early 2018, The Verge reports. Called Oculus Go, the headset is due to go on sale for $199 (£150) – $300 less than the company’s current Rift device.

A range of new games is also in the pipeline for the PS VR, including Fallout 4 and Moss. These could tempt PS4 owners to invest in the technology.

Whether all that is enough to rekindle tech fans’ excitement has yet to be seen, but lowering the price of headsets is clearly a step in the right direction.

Advancements in medical AI

One of the biggest talking points of 2017 has been the development of AI technology in the medical industry.

So far, researchers have developed programmes that can identify the signs of Alzheimer’s disease up to ten years before symptoms appear, as well as a system that can detect bowel cancer during a colonoscopy.

It’s difficult to pinpoint the specific technologies that will enter the industry over the next 12 months, but International Business Insider says AI could be used to accurately analyse a patient’s medical records and “help highlight the clinical findings” in CT scans.

AI has the potential to improve patients’ recovery by telling them what dosage of medication they need and when they should take it, the site adds.

The smartphone war rages on

While the range-topping iPhone X has only been on sale for two months, rumours are already spreading about Apple’s 2018 wave of smartphones.

Much like the majority of iPhones that came before it, the next device is on course to launch late in the year. It will feature the OLED display that debuted on the flagship iPhone X.

Sources told Nikkei that a LED-screened iPhone with a metal back plate could make its debut later in 2018. It’s tipped to come in several colours, which suggests it could be a successor to the company’s old entry-level 5C phone.

There will, of course, be new additions to the Samsung Galaxy line-up and Google’s relatively young Pixel series. Android co-founder Andy Rubin’s handset, the Essential Phone, could also make its way to UK shores.

In the meantime, you can take a look at the best smartphones of 2017 here.

The rise - and possible fall - of digital currencies

Bitcoin stole the headlines in the final months of 2017, when its value rose from $6,400 (£4,500) to $19,700 (£14,000) per coin between November and December, according to ranking site CoinMarketCap.

But those gains were followed by a crash in January that saw bitcoin almost halving in value from its peak price. The drop is believed to have been caused by a crackdown by the South Korean government, which announced plans to ban anonymous trading on cryptocurrency exchanges.

Digital currencies took a further hit last week when around £380m worth of NEM, a lesser-known cryptocurrency, was stolen by hackers from Japanese exchange Coincheck. According to Reuters, the online heist has triggered an investigation by Japan’s financial regulator into all cryptocurrency exchanges.

The dramatic rise and fall of digital currency values are nothing new: the technology is hugely appealing to private investors but also vulnerable to cyberattacks.

Experts are torn over whether digital currencies will recover from the recent crash, or whether we are witnessing a financial bubble that is close to bursting.

Whichever way the market swings, the next 12 months will be significant in the world of cryptocurrency.

Affordable driverless cars

While driverless cars have been on sale for several years, most early models had a six-figure price tag, and buyers could choose from only a handful of vehicle brands.

But that’s set to change over the next 12 months, with the launch of an array of new cars for tech lovers.

Elon Musk’s Tesla firm has introduced an increasing range of autonomous features on its electric cars over the past two years. Tesla’s latest launch, the Model 3, will cost around £26,650 when it hits showrooms in the UK later this year, according to Auto Express.

Other newcomers include the 2018 Nissan Leaf, priced at between £21,990 and £27,490, depending on the trim level, says CarBuyer. The car comes with the company’s ProPilot driverless system, which takes over control of the vehicle at speeds of up to 62mph.

The move towards cheaper autonomous cars seems to be improving road safety. New figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) show that accidents on UK roads have fallen by 10% over the past five years - a drop that experts believe to be a result of the growing number of new cars with self-driving features.

Rise of the VPN

Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) have existed since the dawn of the internet, but the technology could become more prevalent in 2018.

This is because VPNs allow users to mask their online identity, making it almost impossible for anyone to monitor their online activity. The technology does this by securely diverting all your web traffic through a virtual network, which also allows you to search the web as if you were in a different country.

With the Government’s web surveillance Communications Data Bill, often referred to as the Snoopers’ Charter, coming into effect at some stage in 2018, UK web users could use VPNs as a way to avoid the slim chance of their internet activity being monitored.

The Independent reports that the Bill was deemed illegal by the EU’s highest court, although it could be passed on to an “independent body”.

You can read our guide to VPNs here.

[Dennis Publishing does not accept liability for the content or services provided by any third party publications or websites we report on. We are not responsible for, and do not endorse, any advertising, products, or resources available from such external resources or websites and shall not be liable for the information, services, or resources made available through such websites. Readers are advised that some uses of a VPN are unlawful and in case of doubt readers are advised to check the applicable law before proceeding.]

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