The Holmes Report’s annual Trend Forecast series looks at sector trends that will impact PR. You can find them all here.

There are a few technology trends that have clinched permanent placements on forecasts like this one: mobile, data, smart *insert household object here* and cyber threats. Some of these appear here in some form and others do not — but we trust you know that mobile isn’t going to disappear in 2016. Meanwhile, there is a lot to talk about.

1. Farewell Unicorns, Make Way For Cockroaches

The herd of unicorns is thinning — only nine companies joined the ranks of this once-rare species in Q4 2015. Compare this to Q2 and Q3 in which more 20 companies were added to the $1 billion+ valuation club. Things are looking frothy in Silicon Valley again, consequently, venture funding is down and caution is becoming cool again. “Expect coverage in 2016 that questions whether the unicorn bubble will burst,” says Norman Birnbach of the US-based Birnbach Communications. “This will be true not just of private startups but also of public companies — that represent the next stage of unicorn development — that fail to fully monetize their businesses” — like Twitter and Yahoo. The media has already dubbed dependable companies with enduring business models as “cockroaches” because “they rarely die, and in tough times, they can switch into a frugal/consulting mode.” Text 100 global CEO Aedhmar Hynes expects this unflattering descriptor gives way to a more palatable moniker. “We’re thinking something like tortoises: known for hard shells that protect their core assets in dangerous times, wisdom gained from their longevity and success produced by a steady pace,” she says.

2. Virtual Reality — For Real This Time

We’ve heard the rallying cry before: virtual reality is different this time. But it is different this time. This time, virtual reality (VR) is stunningly accessible (Google Cardboard) and other past hurdles (nausea, eye strain to name a few) are largely being cleared as heavyweights (Google, Facebook, HTC, Sony, Microsoft) plow through with more sophisticated products. “We’re going to see more mainstream VR content whether that’s news stories, ads, films or gaming,” predicts the Singapore-based Sara Gourlay from Hill + Knowlton Strategies. “What will be more interesting and offer more fundamental transformation is how VR is applied to the enterprise environment for things like immersive training for high risk jobs, three dimensional data visualizations, immersive product demonstrations, modeling and scenario mapping.” James Gordon-MacIntosh of the UK-based Hope & Glory adds, “The gaming industry will be the first to start delivering hitherto unimaginable experiences on the likes of HTC’s Vive and its competitors. But I suspect that 2016 will be the year in which each month brings a new ‘world first’ using virtual reality.”

3. More Misgivings, More Mistrust  

Another day, another data breach. Public perception seems to vary from a collective shrug to marginalized paranoia, with most breaches falling in the middle. Expect more regulations and more actions to deal with cybercrime and terrorism — but not without backlash. “The Chinese Government has recently passed its controversial Anti-Terrorism Law, which includes requirements for technology companies to comply with electronic data and information sharing orders,” explains Voal Voal Wong of the Singapore-based IN.FOM. “This would likely impact on how non-Chinese technology companies operate in one of the world’s largest markets. However, what may be the real losers in this would be Chinese individuals and businesses having slower or restricted access to newer technologies.” Meanwhile, the UK-based Chris Talago of WE Communications points out that “regulation around privacy and personal data usage is going to gain pace and impact the direction of tech investment, development and marketing. The EU repeal of the safe harbour legislation is just the start.”

4. It’s Sentient!

IBM has dominated the artificial intelligence conversation since Watson. But now what? Apple has bought a startup that uses AI to read emotions and IBM is looking for more practical applications for Watson. “We’re now at a point where the whole picture needs to be pulled back to smaller scale, but no less impactful, services and solutions that can connect into the cloud via APIs,” H+K’s Gourlay explains. Inspired by the EU-backed Human Brain Project, Mike Sottak of the Hoffman Agency EMEA predicts a more concentrated focus on neuromorphic computing. “Applications for such biologically-inspired self-learning machines are virtually limitless, from autonomous vehicles, delivery drones, surveillance/security cameras, augmented reality, facial recognition, internet of things, industrial robots and instruments, natural language understanding, machine translation, and search engines,” he predicts.

5. Are You Smart Enough?

Apparently in 2016 people will ditch their dumb things en masse. Gartner expects 6.4 billion connected “things” will be in use worldwide this year. “We’re already seeing it happen with self-driving cars from Tesla and Amazon Echo’s voice commands,” says Infosys’ Abdul Razack. “Machine learning will quietly find its way into the household, making the objects around us not just connected, but smarter every day.” It’s downright dizzying to dream of the possibilities — so Text 100’s Hynes helps to narrow the focus. “Technologies such as over-the-air (OTA) updates and VoLTE will be at the forefront, among many others,” she says. “It is an exciting time for all brands to reassess their stake in [Internet of Things], and how they tell their story to customers and partners.”

And we haven’t even gotten to drones.

Photo credit: Flickr user Yosuke Muroya