Four tech trends to watch as a billion more people come online

The Web is already a busy place. So what are the business implications of a billion more people getting connected?

Homes where you can control appliances with an app are not as far off as you may think (photo via SmartThings)
Homes where you can control appliances with an app are not as far off as you may think (photo via SmartThings)

Global Internet traffic is expected to double by 2016, which means we are quickly entering a far more connected world. What will this world look like?

I caught a glimpse of it at Quartz’s The Next Billion forum on Wednesday in New York, which explored the implications of another billion people coming online, many of them through mobile devices in emerging markets.

I’d heard about these tech and business trends before, but what I learned about them may surprise you. Here’s what you should know about the connected world to come:

Smarthomes will be as ubiquitous as smartphones
Homes with objects and appliances that can be controlled via an app might seem to be only of interest to nerds, but that will soon change. The Internet of Things, an expanding network of Web-enabled devices that automatically communicate without human intervention, is "the biggest opportunity in technology over the next ten years," said Alex Hawkinson, CEO of SmartThings, which makes smart-home controllers.

Samsung seized on that opportunity earlier this year, acquiring SmartThings for $200 million. The electronics giant "senses the possibility for this technology to touch everyday consumers," Hawkinson said of his new boss. By 2016, tens of millions of households will have connected devices, he predicted.

As this technology becomes more accessible, "connected [homes] will be implied eventually," just as flip phones became dinosaurs in the face of the rapid adoption of smartphones, said Hawkinson. And just as people have their pick of paint colors and curtain fabrics when decorating, there will be as many options for devices and experiences within smarthomes. Expect to see this industry explode with more companies getting in on the Internet of Things.

Mobile payments will be accepted everywhere
We’re approximately five years away from consumers widely shedding financial instruments such as credit cards in favor of mobile payment systems, according to Carey Kolaja, VP of global product solutions at PayPal.

With players such as Apple Pay and Google Wallet entering the market, this space is "being disrupted," Kolaja told me after her session. This past quarter alone, PayPal saw $12 billion in mobile transactions (people buying something through their phone or tablet) – about four years ago, the company reached that number over an entire year. PayPal is also forecasting 1 billion transactions on mobile this year, she said.

Following eBay’s decision to spin off PayPal into a separate publicly traded business, the company is entering a new era after 15 years in business. While PayPal will continue to partner with eBay and support its marketplace, the company sees significant growth opportunities beyond online marketplaces and in international and cross-border transactions, Kolaja told me.

In the wake of data breaches hitting companies from Target to JPMorgan, concerns about security remain a big hurdle to the widespread adoption of mobile payments among consumers. To continue to grow, Kolaja said, PayPal must build trust in its brand as well as among individuals participating in this new area of commerce.

Millions more people will live in nomadic cities
It’s predicted that by 2044 the world population will reach 8.7 billion. Where is everyone going to live? Mega cities such as Mumbai and Lagos will continue to grow, but a new kind of city is also emerging: the nomadic city. An example of this is refugee camps that have formed during the Syrian civil war and other conflicts. Fifty-two million people worldwide were displaced and 171 million affected by conflict this year alone, said Cameron Sinclair, executive director of the Jolie-Pitt Foundation. Within 30 years, due to conflicts and other factors such as climate change, 325 million people will have to move, he said.

This trend explains the birth of something called transient design. In some conflict-torn places, designers and architects are experimenting with solutions for nomadic populations, such as deployable education systems and even camel-powered medical clinics.

For these and other philanthropic innovations to work, "we don’t need another startup," Sinclair said. His message for companies looking to expand in developing countries was to "be there for the long haul."

"Don’t invest in the sexy," Sinclair said. "Invest in the stay-through."

Los Angeles is the next hot tech hub
"Silicon Valley will always have an unfair advantage" as a center of innovation in the US, said John Frankel, founding partner of venture capital firm ff Venture Capital. New York City is rapidly taking second place in the country’s tech scene, he said.

But look to LA for the next big idea. Within 20 years, Frankel expects the city to be a thriving hub of innovation. It is already home to tech darlings such as Snapchat, Tinder, and Whisper.

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