Although this year is by no means a celebration, there were still some bright spots in the technical world. It is with great disgust that we admit this: NFTs have somehow won this year. They’ve taken over. Reddit’s day traders also deserve credit for their ability to manifest GameStop’s slogan, “Power to the players.”
Also (and this is perhaps the most painful to acknowledge), the Metaverse (sort of) got underway this year. At least in terms of our lexicon, with mentions of the word skyrocketing since Mark Zuckerberg uttered it while announcing the plan for a richer VR and AR-centric world. Perhaps people were confused between “metaverse” and “multiverse” as in Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness?
In addition to the things we love to hate, there are also some products that we really liked this year. Apple continued to impress with its M1 chips and, more importantly, gave users a way to fix (a little) their own devices. Google’s first-ever mobile chip powered smart experiences on the latest Pixel phones, demonstrating the company’s AI and software prowess at a competitive price. As we are bombarded with depressing news every day, it’s worth taking the time to reflect on this year’s wins, no matter how small.
Noam Galai via Getty ImagesNFTs
2021 was not a quiet year, so NFTs almost deserve credit for securing a spot in the highlight roll. NFTs, or Non-Fungible Tokens, are an attempt to create an immutable digital asset in an environment where such a thing was troublesome in the past. For the industry advocates, it’s a way of imposing some form of scarcity on digital artifacts that you can’t easily make scarce. Anyone can right-click and still save a photo of a monkey wearing sunglasses and a Hawaiian shirt. But only the person who has paid a lot of money for the NFT is allowed to call himself the “owner” of the same. As Nietzche failed to say, NFTs are the lie agreed upon, suggesting that people respect the owner of the certified copy of something above anything else.
To date, the largest and most notable moves in the NFT space have been in the art market, buying and selling pieces for eye-watering numbers. On March 11, digital artist Beeple Everydays: The First 5,000 Days sold at Christie’s auction house for $69,346,250. Those hefty sums are, in some people’s minds, justified because they believe that NFTs will become the new cryptocurrency, with everyone trying to get on board before it gets big. After all, there are many people who got rich during the Bitcoin boom who want to further increase their fortunes, while some who were left behind are now hoping to get in on the ground floor at the next big thing. Others, meanwhile, think the big craze in NFTs right now is to help people move large amounts of money away from the auspices of, you know, regulators.
The NFT market is so flooded with speculators’ cash that it’s natural to… have questions. A recent article in Harvard Business Review explains how trading can’t work without “clear ownership rights,” which NFTs help impose. There is also the question of whether NFTs could enable more reliable and secure ticketing and consent systems? I’ll be honest, I’m personally not convinced by the argument that NFTs provide ownership rights as they don’t necessarily grant the buyer proper ownership rights.
However, these issues will be resolved in the coming years, and only when the speculation has died down will we see if NFTs have any residual value. And hey, not every deep-tech cryptographic ownership record gets its own SNL outline shortly after breaking into the mainstream, right.
— Daniel Cooper
Mark Zuckerberg didn’t invent the term, but by renaming Facebook as “Meta,” he helped spark a wave of interest in the metaverse. While originally a dystopian take on cyberspace via Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, the metaverse now represents the next major online gold rush. You can see it as the logical step forward of the mobile internet, a world where our online experiences can be easily transferred between multiple devices. And eventually it could be something we interact with through AR and VR glasses.
To be clear, we still don’t have an exact idea of what the metaverse will be. Renaming Meta could easily be seen as a way for Zuckerberg to evade his responsibilities as the leader of a fundamentally fractured social media company. But other companies have been exploring this idea for years: Microsoft’s HoloLens has proven surprisingly useful for commercial and frontline workers, and it’s also at the heart of Mesh, the company’s ambitious virtual meeting solution. The Borg-esque Google Glass was widely ridiculed, but its failure didn’t stop Google from thinking about its role in the metaverse.
It might take a great new device, like Apple’s legendary AR glasses, to bring the metaverse into focus. Or maybe it’s moving towards wearables – a category of devices useful for some people, but not necessarily essential for everyone. Either way, it’s something that will be forever linked to 2021.
— Devindra HardawarHome fitness technology is here to stay
As the pandemic kept many of us in and out of gyms, companies like Peloton, Apple, Tonal, and even Amazon were able to draw us into new fitness habits and equipment.
Meanwhile, major fitness studios and gyms like Equinox, Soulcycle, OrangeTheory, and F45 have modulated their online services (while some have been created from scratch). Many companies expanded the options for replayable lessons or added live lessons, leaderboards and more to keep members fit and keep those membership fees rolling in.
COVID-19 presented an opportunity to change our exercise habits and reduce gym costs. Why pay $50 for a high-intensity interval training gym membership when I can take myself in Apple’s Fitness Plus classes, SharePlay with my friends, and hop in my own shower, all for just $10 a month?
Of course, the comparison isn’t oranges to oranges, and despite cheerleading Peloton trainers and form corrections from gym coaches via video livestreams, it’s very difficult to get the level of attention gained through personal training. That’s probably one of the reasons home injuries have never been higher. The Wall Street Journal reported that emergency room visits after home workouts rose by more than 48% between late 2019 and late 2020, according to a study by Medicare Advantage.
But just like traditional gyms did when the pandemic first hit, these companies need to figure out how to keep their customers.
Tonal is a “strength training pack” product that Engadget tested in 2018. When our usual bench press and squats were locked up in gyms for the past year and a half, Tonal saw the demand for his resistance training system rocket. Sales grew more than eight times year on year. To retain these new customers, the company recently introduced live lessons for Tonal owners, with direct feedback from coaches and lessons reportedly calibrated for each user.
Meanwhile, Peloton, arguably the most recognizable home fitness company, faces increased competition from (and lawsuits with) rivals and tougher business prospects. After a rough earnings report in November, the company said it didn’t expect to return to profitability until 2023. Worse, his Bike was involved in the death of a major character in the Sex and the City reboot, And Just Like That. But the company has plans (and brutal reactions). It’s integrated into many corporate fitness plans, launched its first exercise game, announced a fitness camera for strength training, and finally – added a pause button.
The challenge will keep many of us from returning to our old gyms, commuting, or our old, less healthy habits when things eventually return to normal.
— Matt Smith
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