Due to the unprecedented global pandemic which significantly affected all industries, companies needed to develop innovative solutions in order to adapt and survive. In this five-part series, we examine how the top technology trends forecasted for 2020 have shifted in the fight against COVID-19 to help the world adapt to the new normal.

In the previous article, we discussed the importance of the 5G network infrastructure and edge computing platforms to support the accelerated demand for interconnectivity and rapid data processing and analysis. We also noted the potential of 5G and edge computing in enhancing remote online-based services and applications which are examined in this article.

Telemedicine and Mobile Commerce

Due to the prevalent use of smartphones by healthcare providers and patients alike, the adoption rate for telemedicine has seen a steady increase in the previous years. Telemedicine enables virtual consultation with healthcare providers, thereby eliminating the necessity for in-person visits. The need for physical distancing between patients and physicians in combination with the reduced priority allocated to non-pandemic related cases prompted healthcare systems to accelerate the use of digital healthcare technology. It is expected that the demand for telemedicine will continue to increase even after the pandemic, therefore it is necessary to invest in the appropriate telehealth infrastructure to equip health-care providers for the remote delivery of healthcare services.

In addition to mobile healthcare, online shopping activity has seen a sharp increase with the stay-at-home orders in effect at the beginning of the pandemic. In particular, reports indicate that there has been a 146% year-over-year growth in Canadian and U.S. online retail orders as of April. E-commerce emerged as an essential part of navigating the dramatic changes in people’s lifestyles. In addition to keeping the people supplied with necessities during the lockdown, online deliveries helped preserve jobs, particularly in the food industry.

Immersive Technologies (Augmented/Virtual/Mixed reality)

The growing adoption of remote and online-based services due to physical lockdowns also created new opportunities for immersive technology. This technology attempts to create new or augmented reality for users. While the main application of this technology has traditionally been in gaming and entertainment, various industries are beginning to recognize the potential of this technology in their businesses. Especially for mobile Augmented Reality (AR), major leaps are evidenced by an increase of AR-enabled Android smartphones.

Mobile AR-enabled e-commerce allows virtual showroom of products, which increases the propensity of customers to buy the products by up to 11-fold. For example, retail industries such as IKEA and Target developed an augmented reality app that allows users to overlay desired furniture into their homes.

Voice assistants (Conversational AI)

Voice-based digital assistants such as Siri, Google Assistant, Microsoft Cortana and Alexa also play a key role in enabling users to access services and information from anywhere. Due to rising smartphone use and adoption of smart speakers in integrated smart homes, business and public sectors looked to leverage this technology to offer 24-hour customer service for users who need information on the virus. In Canada, the City of Markham partnered up with IBM to implement an IBM Watson Assistant for Citizens which provides up-to-date public health information to residents.

Beyond providing COVID-related information, the widely used voice assistants are now being upgraded to perform initial diagnosis of the disease. This fairly complex diagnostic task will propel the need for further advancements in natural language processing (NLP) in order to improve voice assistant capabilities.  

Overall, the integration of remote or mobile technologies in pandemic response strategies has facilitated mitigation of the disease while helping people cope with enforced quarantines.

In the final article in our series, we discuss new technologies such as Quantum Computing and Nanotechnology and how the adoption of these emerging technologies will be shaped by the COVID-19 crisis.