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Year of the phono sapiens

As we enter  the 3rd decade of  century -- and of the  cell phone  in India-- here is a  guide to the   technologies  that will touch our digital lifestyle
By Anand Parthasarathy
January 6 2020: As we enter 2020,  the number of mobile  telephone subscribers in India,  has just crossed 1.2 billion.  Even  allowing for some of us with multiple  SIMS, this is pretty much blanket communication  coverage in a population that hovers between 1.3 and 1.4 billion.    In a 'mobile first' world  sociologists  say we are turning into a new species that they call phono sapiens.  We work and play with our handset as the key device -- and when we feel the need for other appliances from TVs to  music systems  to  healthcare aids, we use mobile apps to make the experience easier.
But here's the rub:  this is a frantic digital world and as the Red  Queen told Alice in Wonderland, "We must run as fast as we can, just to stay in place. And if you wish to go anywhere you must run twice as fast as that." Which is why  we hope this cheat sheet to the  new technologies  touching us and their latest versions, may help  in making canny purchase decisions  -- or just sounding geeky among friends.
5G and all that
This week's CES  show in Las Vegas  will see major handset makers flaunt their 5G-ready  models. And  by April, some of them can be bought in India. But sorry, 5G networks won't be up and working in India this year.  Greedy official  policy decisions have delayed the whole upgrade process in India  and major  mobile companies are still in a testing phase.   So don't all rush to change your perfectly good 4G phones -- yet.
WiFi 6: faster, smarter, simpler
WiFi 6 is the next generation   wireless network standard that's at least 2-3 times faster  as  the fastest current standard 802.11ac ( Yes, they have  simplified  the naming system). Clever tweaking  makes WiFi 6 better  at penetrating walls and getting around corners.  If you are buying a home router this year, pay a little extra for a WiFi6 model.  Data providers and   device makers have not yet upgraded, but that will happen in 2020, so think of this as future proofing.
Healthy wireless ways
The  best investment in personal technology you can make today  -- if you have not already done so -- is in a smart wearable...  mostly a  smart watch that has multiple health monitors built in.   Continuous blood pressure  and pulse rate measurement have become very common. If you are getting on in years,  make sure  the wearable  can also record an ECG trace. It won't be as accurate as a 12-lead hospital machine -- but if you feel uneasy you can  quickly send the trace via Whatsapp to your doctor who can tell a serious cardiac condition from  "gas" and advise you accordingly.  The latest Apple Watch 5   now has the ECG function, but  many Android smart watches in India also offer this for  Rs 6000 upwards.
Say hello to hearables
First came the earbud-type  in-ear phones. Then someone thought to put some sensors into the earpiece. Now  you have  hearables:   wearables that do most of what the wrist versions do. Tech analyt IDC predicts that soon hearables will not just clone the smart watch  tracker functions but will also double as  devices to tackle hearing loss. Microsoft is  set to launch its Surface Earbud  by April. And Google's upcoming  PixelBud   will   connect to its voice assistant and also do  live language translation. "Lend me your ears", they are all saying!
Contactless  cards: Take care!
Many credit card and debit card users in India might unknowingly be using the latest versions which incorporate Near Field Communication (NFC). This allows you to make easy point-of-sale payments  by tapping or even taking the card within 4 cms of the terminal.  Such contactless payment systems come with a small risk. Cyber baddies have found ways to connect with the card from nearby, even  while brushing past you in airports or such places.   A writer in the authoritative  Payments Journal says:  "Contactless cards (are) off on the wrong foot with NFC". Wallets and Travel bags  increasingly come with special pouches with a radiation shield to prevent such wireless  skimming, but be alert, this is not yet fool proof technology.
Voice is way to go
We are increasingly  being pushed to interact with home appliances or ask all our questions , with voice. Google, Apple and Amazon have competing  tools:  Google Assistant,  Siri and Alexa.  Samsung has its own smart assistant standard : Zigbee . The problem is these four standards talk to us,  but  don't talk to each other. Consider: You have a smart Samsung refrigerator, but your smart bulbs only work with Alexa and your video doorbell is a Google device. Three non compatible standards mean  bedlam, not a smart home.  In Las Vegas this week, they are expected to grope towards  a single standard.  Till then, your Alexa or Google Assistant-driven speaker is good as an info centre, nothing more.  But 2020 will see many new phones  working  with a smart voice assistant.

Some or all of these technologies will touch you in 2020.  Enjoy -- but take care!