As we usher in another year, we brace for the next wave of innovation, disruption, consolidation, and dissolution. What will be the next big thing that everyone talks about? I’ve been asking around and looking at companies, trends, and what else is going on to put together the following list of startups worth watching in 2016.

As I’ve said in previous lists that I’ve done for 2013, 2014, and 2015, the selected companies were chosen because there’s a sense that something interesting, possibly even major, will happen to them sometime in 2016 — whether good or bad. Here they are in no particular order.

Nextbit

Nextbit Systems' Robin preorder

Though not yet available to the public, Nextbit is taking an interesting approach with its cloud-based smartphone, supposedly scheduled for release around the first quarter. The company has created an Android smartphone like those from Huawei, HTC, LG, and Samsung but with one big difference: It offers unlimited cloud storage. The idea seems to be that your data is always available, regardless of what device you’re on.

Right now, when you uninstall an app, all of that data is gone forever. But Nextbit’s syncing technology will let you “pause” the app so that the data is no longer transmitted but can easily be reinstalled. Nextbit has started accepting preorders for its inaugural mobile device, called Robin. It’s available for $400 and comes with a Snapdragon 808 processor, 3GB of memory, a 5.2” 1080p IPS, a fingerprint scanner, a 13-megapixel rear camera, a 5-megapixel front camera, and amplified dual speakers.

Earlier this year, the company also debuted a product called Baton, aimed at helping developers explore the possibilities of this new cloud-syncing world.


Brigade

2016 is an election year in the U.S., and there’s no shortage of issues on the table. For those interested in doing more for the democratic process than simply casting a vote, Brigade wants to help.

Started by Napster cofounder Sean Parker, Brigade has a platform that encourages civic action and empowers users to seek reform. In October, the company unveiled interactive ballot guides in San Francisco and in Manchester, N.H. to educate voters about ballot initiatives and candidates and to show users which of their friends had similar views or were supporting a particular cause, issue, or person.

As we approach the general election in November, it will be interesting to see how Brigade can mobilize armies of citizens to get out to vote.


YPlan

YPlan homepage

Need to figure out what you want to do today or later this week? Have you given YPlan a try? This London startup launched in 2012 and has since expanded to New York (in 2013) and San Francisco (in 2014). Its event discovery service, which competes with WillCall, Sosh, and others, is hoping to build a $1 billion business that aggregates happenings from Eventbrite, Ticketmaster, Google, Timeout, and others.

Company cofounder Rytis Vitkauskas told VentureBeat’s Paul Sawers that YPlan is planning to launch “in bunches of cities at the same time, and it will be in partnership with other brands and large distribution partners that will help us get up to speed in terms of visibility.”

Vitkauskas suggested that YPlan may be looking at other verticals, including perhaps meals. Whatever its next move, the company is focused on areas that can help it reach that billion-dollar mark.


Fuse

Fuse is promising to make collaboration between designers and developers easier. The company offers a tool, which recently became available to the public, that lets developers build apps similar to the way designers work in Photoshop, Sketch, or After Effects. It provides a “What You See Is What You Get” (WYSIWYG)-like editor that’ll work across various platforms. Fuse also offers real-time updating so developers don’t need to constantly output versions of their app to see how it runs — just one version will do for testing.


Operator

Operator homepage screenshot

Behold the proliferation of virtual personal assistants. Joining Siri, Google Now, Cortana, and Facebook’s M is Operator. Started by Uber cofounder Garrett Camp and former Zynga executive Robin Chan, the app launched in November but is not widely available.

Chan told Tech Insider that Operator is centered around three tenets: using messaging for purchases, managing a logistics layer for moving goods, and capitalizing on the ubiquity of smartphones. Type what you’re looking for in a text message — restaurant reservations, tickets to a show, a gift — and a human being will respond to help find what you’re looking for.

Operator will have to deal with scaling its business, as it relies on human beings to process requests instead of using artificial intelligence. In addition, the marketplace is filled with on-demand user services — even Facebook’s M is a mixture of AI and human work. Right now Operator, is only available on the iPhone, but we could see an Android version coming soon, and expansion into international markets.


DistroKid

One of two music services on this year’s list, DistroKid is the brainchild of serial entrepreneur Philip Kaplan. It’s a music-distribution service that helps musicians get their work on iTunes, Spotify, Google Play, Amazon, and more than 150 other stores. Over 25,000 artists use DistroKid today, paying $19.99 a year.

After Pandora’s recent purchase of Rdio’s technology (for $75 million) and incorporation of some of its staff, the digital-music space could enter a transitional period that causes independent artists concern. It’s already difficult to get distribution without a major record label, and DistroKid wants to eliminate that frustration and help promote artists.

In 2016, we could start seeing major record labels paying more attention to DistroKid and other emerging music startups, perhaps through acquisitions.


Layer

Layer homepage screenshot

Layer brought forth its communication platform at an interesting time — just as messaging is growing in popularity, people want their real-time conversations to take place wherever they are. With Layer, developers can give their apps capabilities to let users talk with one another or incorporate a customer-service layer. And with its user interface kit, SDK, and API, there are many tools developers can choose from.

In 2015, the company launched to the public and created a fund aimed at investing in app businesses that build on top of its platform. It also rolled out a turnkey messaging platform and a user interface tool called Atlas.


Light.co

We typically take photos through our smartphones, and the picture quality increases with each new model. Apple has been upping its camera technology with each release of the iPhone. But they still lack some features you get with a dSLR camera, particularly the quality of the different lenses. Yes, you can zoom with a smartphone camera, but the picture just doesn’t come out right. And what about arranging different compositions?

Light wants to take the joys you get from a dSLR camera and put them into a device the size of a smartphone. Last fall, the company announced its L16 product, priced at $1,699. It’ll start shipping sometime next summer. The camera will capture a moment in time by taking multiple focal lengths simultaneously and then fusing them together to create a single high quality image up to 52 megapixels in size.


Viv

Viv homepage screenshot

Started by some of Siri’s founders, Viv unveiled its artificial-intelligence ambitions in 2014, but its product has yet to appear. Viv is looking to take on Apple, Google, and Microsoft with an AI service it describes as “a global platform that enables developers to plug into and create an intelligent, conversational interface to anything.”

When Viv does emerge out of stealth, it will be interesting to see how developers receive the product. Most users already have a digital personal assistant built into their smartphones, whether it’s Google Now, Siri, or Cortana. Can Viv’s AI be opened more widely to businesses to harness greater AI powers than what’s currently on the market? And if Viv fulfills its promise, could it become a prime target for an acquisition by a tech giant? 2016 may answer these questions.


Burner

Burner provides disposable phone numbers, but the company is making the mobile app do more than send and receive calls and texts. In 2015, the company began giving developers more tools for its platform, starting with native integrations with Evernote, Slack, Dropbox, and SoundCloud. Soon after, it released a new option for developers to build their own custom integrations, in a step toward really opening up an ecosystem.

Burner aims to make your phone number a conduit for data so you can do much more with that unique identifier. How it will continue to fare against traditional telecommunication companies will be interesting to watch, especially as Burner is building up an assortment of custom, automatic integrations with other apps for users and developers to take advantage of.


Magic Leap

Magic Leap homepage screenshot

Augmented reality was a hot topic in 2015, with many speculating about the potential of Microsoft’s HoloLens, Atheer’s glasses for the workplace, and many others. One promising company, Magic Leap, recently announced it had raised $827 million for its unreleased product. Whether they’re used for games, industrial hands-free work, or personal enjoyment, Magic Leap’s devices will likely offer a whole new perspective on the world. The thing is, no products have really been made available for public consumption so far. That could change with Magic Leap next year.


LiveList

LiveList functions as the equivalent of the TV Guide for livestreamed events, allowing fans to follow their favorite artists online. Launched in late 2015, the service focuses more on professional livestreams, but perhaps the company will start adding in user-generated content like that found on Meerkat, Periscope, or Facebook Live.

In chatting with the company, one of the things that came across was this notion of changing the music experience. Livestreaming will likely become a popular distribution tool for artists, whether they have a record label or not. Events like Coachella are already doing professional streaming, but what about individual artists such as Adele, Taylor Swift, Coldplay, Roem Baur, or independent artists that want to offer fans a continued experience well after they leave a concert?

At first glance, a listing service for livestreaming may seem like the equivalent of Yahoo’s Video Guide app, but there’s additional potential for the service, such as offering fans various vantage points when they stream concerts in their living rooms or making merchandise and music tracks sales directly from the livestream. The question for 2016 is: Can LiveList realize that potential?


DroneDeploy

DroneDeploy homepage screenshot

Drones have become so commonplace that the Federal Aviation Administration recently enacted regulations requiring these unmanned aerial devices be registered. But that hasn’t stopped companies from exploring the potential of commercial usage — just look at Amazon. DroneDeploy creates software for these vehicles, providing aerial mapping. Users can get data outputs without having to wait for hours.

The company raised $9 million last year and moved its platform out of beta. In doing so, it’s making drones more accessible to industrial companies that may want to legitimately use DroneDeploy’s technology to help their business with tasks like surveying land or inspecting property.


3Scan

You may not have heard about 3Scan, but its market could matter to you. The company has upgraded the task of analyzing cells and tissues from analog to digital technology and is modernizing the way doctors, researchers, and biotech companies examine tissues. 3Scan provides digital renderings of biopsies and other tissue samples in 2D and 3D through the use of its Knife Edge Scanning Microscope. The company has raised more than $7 million in funding over the past four years from the Thiel Foundation, Data Collective, Dolby Family Ventures, SK Ventures, and others.


Crew32

Little is known about Crew32, the newest startup from Jason Nazar. The company is focused on the small business service industry and has already raised $5.2 million. Nazar’s previous venture, DocStoc, was a document-sharing service that Intuit acquired two years ago before shuttering it in 2015. Nazar took to Facebook soon after the shutdown to explain the reasoning behind Intuit’s actions, stating that despite his best efforts, “I got hit with resistance at every turn.”

Besides Nazar, the company counts BetterWorks cofounder George Ishii and Investd.in cofounder Yadid Ramot as cofounders on the team.

Not all of these companies are going to be guaranteed breakouts in 2016, but there’s something intriguing about each one. If nothing else, they are certainly worth watching, as it’s our opinion that they’ll have some major news sometime in the next 12 months.

Update: The section on Operator incorrectly stated that the service wasn’t widely available yet. This has been modified to reflect that it is open to the public, needing no invite. The company did tell us that the Android version will be available in 2016 and will be launching in international markets too.

AI. Messaging. Bots. Arm yourself for the next paradigm shift at MobileBeat 2016. July 12-13 at The Village in San Francisco. Reserve your place here.

NextBit Systems Inc. operates in the platform development for mobile devices. The company was incorporated in 2012 and is based in San Francisco, California.... All Nextbit Systems news »

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Light is a team of creative technologists on a mission to reimagine the art and science of photography.... All Light news »

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Viv is a global platform that enables developers to plug into and create an intelligent, conversational interface to anything. It is the simplest way for the world to interact with devices, ... All Viv Labs news »

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DroneDeploy makes Drone Operations Simple. DroneDeploy.com is a smart drone management platform that helps you get stuff done with drones. It's built to be simple, safe and powerful, control... All DroneDeploy news »

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Magic Leap is combining that inherent visual ability with mobile computing – giving you visual output equivalent to when you step outside into the world, but powered by the mobile tech you... All Magic Leap news »

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3Scan was founded in 2011 to make the cutting edge technology of the Knife Edge Scanning Microscope (KESM) commercially available. Based on research developed at the Brain Networks Lab at Te... All 3Scan news »

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Layer is the open communications layer for the Internet. Through a simple yet powerful SDK, Layer provides the building blocks for developers to add secure and reliable messaging, voice and ... All Layer news »

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Burner is a privacy and identity layer for your smartphone. Our mission is to empower users with tools to take control of their communications. Burner for iOS and Android is a simple but pow... All Burner news »

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