Technology never stops moving, and 2014 is set to be no different. We’ve picked 10 industry areas that are sure to see innovation the likes of which just might revolutionise the way we live and work in the years ahead.
Read on to learn more about everything from online supercomputers to new compression technologies and the possible dawning of a new industrial age…
1. Tablets will get bigger
The iPad mini was just a phase. The 12-inch Samsung Galaxy Note has already had its details leaked and could make an appearance at CES 2014 or soon after. Meanwhile January also marks the appearance of the unique A3-sized Panasonic Toughpad 4K UT-MB5, a 20-inch tablet with a 4K resolution aimed at architects, photographers, and – laughably – sales people.
Tablets will also get bigger in reputation as they spread beyond our homes and offices to … everywhere. "We can expect to see tablets infiltrating many public spaces such as cafes, airports, buses and taxis," says Kevin Curran, senior member at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and Reader in Computer Science at the University of Ulster. "They require little maintenance and thus are suited to public spaces … it will be much more common to order food and drink from tablets in 2014." It’s about time, too. They’ve been doing that in Japan for yonks.
2. Ultra HD 4K will spread to TV and phones
Both the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil and Sochi Winter Olympics will be filmed in 4K, and by the end of 2014 both Netflix and Sony’s Video Unlimited services will be stuffed with 4K content. Meanwhile, the South Korean government has mandated a 4K rollout in 2014 (there are already five channels of Ultra HD content being broadcast in South Korea as part of a trial).
"Unlike 3D, 4K has the legs to become an industry norm," says Sam Rosen, Practice Director at analysts ABI Research, "but it will take time for the necessary infrastructure, installed base of devices, and content to come together."
Towards the end of 2014, expect to see a plethora of 3,840 x 2,160 pixel resolution mobile devices from the usual brands, all armed with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor (the only one so far that’s capable of dealing in 4K video). This will likely usher-in the 4K revolution on mobiles with both 4k video support and 4k-capable cameras.
3. 3D printing kickstarts a new industrial age
Worldwide shipments of 3D printers are expected to grow by 75% in 2014, followed by a near doubling of unit shipments in 2015. "The consumer market hype has made organisations aware of the fact that 3D printing is a real, viable and cost-effective means to reduce costs through improved designs and streamlined prototyping," says Curran. "We can expect to see more virtual world merging such as 3D-printing software, which is letting fans of the construction computer game Minecraft bring their creations into the real world."
2014 should see the re-entry of Hewlett Packard into the 3D printing industry, which is a big deal for making it a mainstream movement, though it will also cement itself as a game-changing industrial process. The aviation and space industries are gearing up to use 3D printing technology to produce lightweight components for jet engines, satellites and more. CAD can be used to insert gaps and vents into ever more complex one-piece objects, while the lack of waste materials means that, for example, the pricier, lighter, but stronger titanium can be used instead of aluminium.
4. Internet of Things gets its own space
The internet is expanding beyond computers and smartphones. Not only are more gadgets getting Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or data connectivity (think wearable fitness devices, Google Glass and smart home devices like the Nest thermostat), but platforms are beginning to appear that will integrate them together.
However, the so-called Internet of Things needs its own space. "Ofcom is currently investigating the possibility of using the old analogue TV channels, known as ‘white space’, to trial a new ‘weightless standard’ which could allow small, low-power connected devices to talk to each other," says John-Paul Rooney, partner and patent attorney at Withers & Rogers.
"The weightless standard will be a cornerstone of the future Internet of Things, bringing vastly improved connectivity and data sharing, leading to new possibilities in the functioning of home devices." Rooney thinks that we’ll soon see sophisticated cooking and heating systems that can switch themselves on based on the movement or proximity of a vehicle – so when you arrive home the house is warm and the slow-cooked casserole is ready. But only, presumably, if you peeled the carrots and chopped up the meat before breakfast. Can’t wait for that.
5. Video dominates the web
There’s a transition going on. What was over the air is increasingly on fibre, and what was on the wires is now delivered over the air. "Data downloads this year are about 17GB a month and by 2017 that will be about 70GB per month because of the increase in video content, while more people are working either at home or on the move," says technology commentator Peter Cochrane, former CTO and head of research at British Telecom.
"In broadband hotspots like Hong Kong, where they have 100Mbps services even in hotel rooms, people are no longer watching TV or listening to radio over the air as everything is being put down fibre."
In the UK we’re not blessed with a reliable, fast broadband network, so all hail the rise of the powerful video compression technology HEVC, which will soon make even 4K videos stream-able. "HEVC will enable service providers to extend their reach and expand the footprint of TV everywhere outside the home," says Tim Gropp, senior vice president Asia-Pacific sales at video technology company ARRIS.
6. Smartphones toughen up
We’ve already seen the first efforts, but 2014 will extend the trend for smartphones that claim to be unbreakable. LG’s six-inch elastic-coated G Flex and the 7.9 mm-slim Samsung Galaxy Round will develop, but there’s something for mainstream handsets, too.
"I think we’ll see almost all high-end smartphones become waterproof in 2014," says Cochrane, though he believes that the real change will be in the materials used to make smartphones. "Soon these things aren’t going to be made from chunks of glass and pieces of metal – they’re going to use printed circuit boards. You can bond them together as a plastic block in any profile you like. They’ll be thinner, lighter, flexible and connector-less."
Curran thinks that the curved phone and the smart watch could, in fact, be the same thing, saying: "The killer smart watch may be more of a wraparound device or extendable foldable screen, as the main downside to a smart watch is the restrictive screen size," he says.
7. Ask Watson apps will make Siri look like an idiot
2014 will also witness the dawn of the online super-computer. In November IBM quietly put Watson – its 2,880-core super-computer cluster of 90 servers running on 16TB RAM – in the cloud for app developers to tinker with.
It’s big news because Watson has DeepQA, IBM’s smart learning software that means Watson can both understand and interpret written or spoken questions – and can learn from its mistakes.
Although it’s bound to super-charge the likes of Siri and Google Voice, it’s in ‘knowledge’ industries such as medicine and science that AskWatson apps are destined to appear first, likely before the end of 2014. "There will be services where professionals can call up and ask a question … but I can’t imagine a profession that isn’t going to use this," says Cochrane, who thinks that the number-crunching, pattern-spotting skills of Watson will put some workers out of a job. First for the chop? Investment bankers. Bonus!
8. Wearables start swapping data
We’re destined to see dozens of wearable devices throughout 2014. The upcoming HAPIfork will slow-down those who eat too fast, the Narrative Clip pendant-camera will take constant snapshots, and Sony’s recently patented SmartWig concept could monitor vital statistics, navigate, and even control other gadgets with a blink of an eye.
However, it’s how wearables integrate with other devices that will improve most in 2014. "Most wearables pair with an app that shows your activity over time, letting you spot patterns and change what you do," says Curran, "but the Jawbone UP takes this a step further with its UP platform, importing data from other services and letting those services access the data from the UP bracelet." UP currently swaps data with apps like RunKeeper, Strava, Withings (WiFi scales) and the IFTTT (If This Then That) app, which integrates with connected gadgets like the Philips Hue lights and Belkin WeMo switch.
9. Advertisers cotton on to ‘movement data’
"Wearable technology, particularly health-related devices, have finally become affordable, accurate and accessible – 2013 was just the beginning," says Norm Johnston, Chief Digital Officer for global media network Mindshare Worldwide.
"Brands will truly begin to explore their role in this new space, whether by co-developing new products and applications, or inserting relevant advertising into the experiences." Johnston suggests that data from devices like the Jawbone UP could be used by brands to customise advertising; Nytol could target you if you’re not sleeping well, or life insurance companies could develop tailor-made walking routes to increase your health.
"Brands will need to redefine boundaries and walk a fine line between opt-in relevance versus annoying people," says Johnston. "Consumers will also have to gain tighter control of their data, and self-select which brands they will allow into this new universe of IP-enabled devices."
10. Smartphones will retain their crown
Google Glass, Galaxy Gear and wearables galore will get a lot of publicity in 2014, but they won’t eat away at the dominance of smartphones. "The potential benefits of wearable technology to businesses and consumers alike are obvious," says Gary Calcott, Technical Marketing Manager at Progress Software.
"They could allow surgeons to access information they need as they operate on patients, perhaps helping to lower mortality rates considerably in the process," he says, adding that ‘smart glass’ could also enable forklift truck drivers to access real-time updates on stock in a warehouse. "However, if you delve deeper and look into the back-end that allows applications on wearable devices to run, you’ll find that it will almost certainly be running on either a smartphone or a tablet device. Almost all of the heavy lifting will be done by the smartphone, not the wearable device."
In short, the success or otherwise of wearables will depend totally on apps, not the devices themselves.
- Now why not read Why aren’t all our smartphones waterproof right now?