From new realities to smart fridges, technology in 2017 will see connectivity reach new heights. Here are the top picks for emerging trends.

Changing realities

2017 could see a surge in virtual reality users with Google's newly released Pixel phone coming paired with their Daydream headset - but a persistent problem remains - there's just not much to do in VR.

That will soon change. As VR becomes more ubiquitous, developers take more risks. The New York Times and The Guardian both now have VR apps which explore a new interactive way of telling the news, and more will jump on board this trend. It's one thing to read about a Syrian refugee camp, it's another to feel like you are there. Meanwhile, Sony's rollout of PlayStation VR will see more game titles take advantage of the new technology.

Business Reporter Holly Ryan tries out a high range VR headset - the HTC Vive. Photo / Supplied
Business Reporter Holly Ryan tries out a high range VR headset - the HTC Vive. Photo / Supplied

Affordable headsets such as Daydream and Samsung Gear are easy to use, with a phone slotting sideways into a headset which then projects a split image through the lens. The effect is immersive but not nearly as transporting as higher range headsets such as Oculus Rift and HTC Vive which require connection to a powerful computer.

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Because of this, high definition virtual reality remains prohibitively expensive and the market awaits some clever kids who can find a way to get the cost and resource requirements down for an affordable and accessible rig to demonstrate the real potential of VR to everyday consumers.

Augmented reality, on the other hand, is set for a renaissance. After the botched launch of Google's Google Glass in 2013, which was quickly labelled "creepy", users faced real life violence for wearing it.

The outside world might not be ready for augmented reality, but the living room is. Microsoft's Hololens is hitting consumer phase in 2017 and could disrupt the VR market completely. While VR is an isolating experience for one individual, one can still be "present" in a room with Hololens as it projects holograms in the space. Have you tried eating chips and drinking beer with a VR headset on? At $3000, a Hololens developer kit is not exactly affordable right now, but Microsoft will certainly be trying the get the tech to market. Like Sony, they will probably use their gaming console, the Xbox One (and its beefed up successor codenamed "Scorpio") to reach audiences.

Toshiba Ultra HD 4K televisions on display. Photo / Getty
Toshiba Ultra HD 4K televisions on display. Photo / Getty

4k everything

If you were thinking of buying a TV, you should be buying 4K.

One of the most talked about consumer trends in technology has been 4K, otherwise known as Ultra HD, and it's finally going mainstream.

4K sets are capable of putting out images with four times the amount of pixels of High Definition (HD) displays. While some detractors say the human eye can't detect the difference, there's no doubt that 4K - literally - displays much more detailed images.

Owning a 4K television right now is quite restrictive, in that streaming services, gaming consoles, and internet speeds are too slow to make use of all those extra pixels. Netflix have been pushing for 4K streaming for over a year, but without Fibre and an unlimited amount of data, households won't be able to make the most of it. You'll need to buy an Ultra HD DVD player if you want to watch your favourite flicks too. Netflix offers an Ultra HD service, but it'll cost you extra and it's not as extensive as the regular Netflix library.

Sony and Microsoft are bringing 4K gaming to households, with the new PS4 Pro able to run some games in 4K, and Microsoft's "Scorpio" (mentioned above) touting the ability to run games in full "native" 4K resolution.

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The next evolution from 4K is 8K, which is exactly what it sounds like - many many more pixels. However, it will be years before this becomes a household item.

The Volvo self-drive car trialed on New Zealand roads this year. Photo / Supplied
The Volvo self-drive car trialed on New Zealand roads this year. Photo / Supplied

Autonomous vehicles

We'll be seeing more self-driving cars on the road in 2017, with over two dozen manufactures bring the autonomous vehicles to the road. The cars are designed to navigate traffic and safely drive passengers without any human input.

Simon Bridges was a passenger in a November road test in Tauranga. While the future of transport won't be hitting the mass market in 2017, road tests will become more and more common across the globe.

This could be an increasingly common sight in 2017. Photo / 123rf
This could be an increasingly common sight in 2017. Photo / 123rf

The erosion of brick and mortar

Brick-and-mortar retailers, already under threat, will face more pressure in 2017 with pushes from Facebook in the online shopping space and the ever encroaching Amazon threatening almost every kind of retail.

Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba has also been making movements in New Zealand.

Online retailing continues to offer premium prices and hard-to-find products instantly. With Amazon developing its own delivery service a la Uber, the middle man will soon be cut from the equation allowing consumers a seamless and convenient retailing experience from their own home.

What does that mean for small businesses and retailers? Peril.

"Amazon is set to take on Australia, bringing with it a smarter online shopping experience that some analysts believe could strip as much as $4 billion in sales from local retailers," said Tech Futures Lab founder Frances Valintine.

"Amazon's bold message to locals stated its intention to 'set prices at a 30 per cent discount'; saying Australian retail prices are too high."

I, Chatbot

Tried ringing your telco company recently? You're lucky if you get through in under an hour. Chatbots are going to change that.

Leaps in programming have seen Chatbots quickly go from a curiosity to a functional system.

Some organisations are already using artificial intelligence (AI) to help customers through complex issues, and in this author's experience, they're often better than humans at the job.

According to Fjord's Trends 2017 report, chatbots are set to become more "human" in the next year: "While AI has evolved exponentially, in 2017 we will see a shift in organisations' approaches to developing products and services as emotional intelligence (EQ) becomes a critical AI differentiator."

Chatbots might even become our new friends, providing friendly conversation to the lonely or heartbroken and offering a humorous distraction from everyday life. However, the humanising elements of technology can have unintended consequences as we saw when Microsoft's teen girl AI "Tay" turned into a Hitler loving, 9/11 truthing sex robot.

Tay was designed to adapt to human interaction (fatal error) and quickly decided she hated feminists, and Jews; loved Hitler and sex, and became the perhaps the biggest troll on Twitter thanks to, well, other trolls. Microsoft had put Tay to bed only after one day in the world.

However, Microsoft's other teen chatbot, or "girlfriend", Xiaoice has proved to be very popular in China on social media site Weibo and WeChat where it's used by roughly 20 million lonely people.

Your new bestie in 2017 could well be one of these chatbots. Who better to confess in than something that is programmed to not judge you and to always take your side.

The video monitor displays the connectivity feature on a Samsung smart refrigerator. Photo / Getty
The video monitor displays the connectivity feature on a Samsung smart refrigerator. Photo / Getty

The Internet of Whatever

The Internet of Things is a stupid term that basically describes connectivity across household devices such as toasters, fridges, cars, and phones. Naturally, more connectivity is a given with the inertia of encroaching digitalisation of appliances and in 2017 we will be able to glimpse what's in the fridge from the office so we know exactly what to get from the supermarket. On the drive there, we will be able to turn on the heating and patio light. The following morning, your alarm clock will notify the coffee machine to start brewing.