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Tech trends 2020: New spacecraft and bendy screens

Dragon capsule Image copyright NASA
Image caption The Dragon capsule from SpaceX already carries cargo

If your ambition is to fly into space - and you've got plenty of spare cash - then 2020 could be an exciting year.

If space travel is not really your thing, but you would like a much bigger screen on your mobile phone, then 2020 might also have some tech for you.

But if you think there are already too many phones out there and the technology industry needs to be less wasteful, well some tech companies might catch up with your thinking.

Here's a little taster of what might be coming in the next twelve months.

Crewed space missions

2020 is going to be a "pivotal year" for space travel, according to Guy Norris, a senior editor at Aviation Week & Space Technology.

Since Nasa retired the Space Shuttle in 2011, the US has relied on Russian spacecraft to transport astronauts to the International Space Station.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Boeing is putting its CST-100 Starliner crew module through final tests

That could all change in 2020 when, if all goes to plan, two US-built spacecraft should start carrying crew.

Boeing's CST-100 Starliner, which can carry up to seven astronauts into orbit, is due for its first test flight today before the first manned flight, likely to be in 2020.

Meanwhile the SpaceX Dragon capsule will go through some final tests in early 2020, and if they all go well then it too would be ready for a crewed mission.

Other systems, designed to reach near-Earth space, could also reach milestones in 2020. Blue Origin, owned by Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos, could be ready to take tourists on its New Shepard suborbital rocket.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Virgin Galactic could be ready to fly passengers into space in 2020

Virgin Galactic could also be ready in 2020 to take passengers into space, more than a decade later than founder Richard Branson originally hoped.

It's reported that more than 600 people have put down deposits for a Virgin Galactic flight, with tickets costing $250,000 (£195,000).

"It's finally delivery time for a lot of these long promised programmes and a chance for a whole range of technologies to really prove themselves for the first time," says Mr Norris.

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Technology and the environment

Protests by Extinction Rebellion have helped move climate change up the agenda for technology companies.

Among those that will be under pressure are mobile phone makers. It's estimated there are 18 billion phones lying around unused worldwide. With around 1.3 billion phones sold in 2019, that number is growing all the time.

Mobile phone makers will be under pressure to make their production processes greener and their phones more easily repairable.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Extinction Rebellion taking over Trafalgar Square earlier this year

The same will go for the makers of other consumer goods including TVs, washing machines and vacuum cleaners.

Also watch the companies that provide mobile phone services. Vodafone has already promised that in the UK by 2023 its networks will all run on sustainable energy sources. Others are likely to follow suit.

Business travel is under pressure as well. Ben Wood, an analyst at CCS Insight says it will become "socially unacceptable" to fly around the world for meetings and firms will switch to virtual meetings.

There could also be green initiatives from the cloud computing industry as well. Their facilities which house thousands of computer servers use huge amounts of power.

Flexible displays

The launch of Samsung's first foldable phone in April did not go smoothly. Several reviewers broke the screens and the company had to make some rapid improvements before it went on sale in September.

Motorola had a more successful launch of its new Razr, although some reviewers complained about the price. But this is unlikely to hold the market back. Samsung is expected to launch other devices with flexible displays next year - possibly a tablet.

Image copyright TCL
Image caption China's TCL is betting big on flexible displays

TCL, the second biggest maker of TVs in China, has also promised to launch its first mobile foldable device in 2020 and then other products quickly after that.

It is betting big on the market, having invested $5.5bn in developing flexible displays.

Analysts say that screens will be incorporated into all sorts of surfaces. Smart speakers might have wrap-around displays, watch-like devices will have straps with displays and fridge doors might have large screens.

Super-fast mobile

We can expect the rollout of high-speed mobile phone networks to continue. By the end of 2019 around 40 networks in 22 countries were offering 5G service.

By the end of 2020 that number will have more than doubled to to around 125 operators, says Kester Mann at CCS Insight.

"There could be an interesting development in the way 5G contracts are priced. A 5G contract without a phone will cost around £30 a month and for that you're likely to get unlimited amounts of data."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption We can expect the rollout of high-speed mobile phone networks to continue

But analysts say that next year we may see prices based on the speed of the service you want - a bit like the way home broadband is already priced.

Vodafone is already offering contracts based on speed in the UK. Also in the UK, the network 3 is likely to push its 5G offering as an alternative to broadband at home, analysts say. That might appeal to people who move around a lot - students for example - and don't want a fixed line service.

Quantum computing

Will next year be another big one for quantum computing; the technology which exploits the baffling but powerful behaviour of tiny particles such as electrons and photons?

In October Google said that its quantum computer had performed a task in 200 seconds, that the fastest supercomputer would have taken 10,000 years to complete. There was some quibbling over its achievement, but experts say it was a big moment.

Image copyright Google
Image caption Components of Google's quantum computer

"It's a fantastic milestone," says Philipp Gerbert, a member of the deep tech group at consultancy firm BCG: "It's clear they exceeded the classical computer, by what margin you can debate. They disproved some lingering doubts."

Mr Gerbert thinks other leaders in the field - IBM, Rigetti and IonQ - could also clear that hurdle: "They all have excellent teams, one or two will reach a similar stage over the next year."

Once the technology is proven, quantum computers could spur breakthroughs in chemistry, pharmaceuticals and engineering.

Google has also promised to make its quantum computer available for use by outsiders in 2020, but has not provided any details yet.

"Clearly people would love to get access to that," Mr Gerbert says.

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