9 tech­nolo­gies that mat­ter in 2014

The fu­ture may be un­writ­ten, but it’s not en­tirely un­known. We look at nine ar­eas of in­no­va­tion and up­com­ing prod­ucts to watch in 2014

InformationWeek - - Contents - BY THOMAS CLABURN

The fu­ture may be un­writ­ten, but it’s not en­tirely un­known. We look at nine ar­eas of in­no­va­tion and up­com­ing prod­ucts to watch in 2014

Pre­dic­tions about what will come sel­dom prove ac­cu­rate. That’s why prog­nos­ti­ca­tors pick trends, rather than spe­cific events. Wit­ness Gart­ner’s re­cent top 10 strate­gic tech­nol­ogy trends for 2014. It cor­rectly iden­ti­fies ar­eas of ac­tive in­no­va­tion, such as 3D print­ing, the ex­ten­sion of the In­ter­net to ev­ery­day ob­jects, and smart ma­chines. But it fails to pro­vide enough guid­ance to pick spe­cific win­ners from an in­vest­ment stand­point.

Pre­dic­tions work bet­ter when there’s less guess­work in­volved. The sci­ence fic­tion writer Wil­liam Gibson once ob­served, “The fu­ture is al­ready here — it’s just not very evenly dis­trib­uted.” Some­times we can see into the fu­ture be­cause it’s al­ready vis­i­ble some­where in the present.

Here are a few tech­nolo­gies and prod­ucts that we know are com­ing. What re­mains to be seen is whether and how they will change things.

GOOGLE GLASS

Google Glass should be avail­able to con­sumers in 2014. Whether any­one will buy it re­mains open to de­bate. But be­fore you dis­miss Glass with some re­mark about “Glass­holes,” con­sider Google+ and Google Chrome­books. Both were de­rided as jokes when they de­buted. Google+ was seen as a pale im­i­ta­tion of Face­book, and Chrome­books were dis­missed for be­ing un­able to run Mi­crosoft Of­fice and for their mod­est com­pu­ta­tional prow­ess.

To­day, Google+ com­mands some re­spect, in part be­cause Google forced it on ev­ery­one. Chrome­books are ac­tu­ally sell­ing and can work with Of­fice documents through the com­pany’s Quick­of­fice in­te­gra­tion, not to men­tion Google Apps. Google may be ruth­less about killing its prod­ucts, but it’s also will­ing to sus­tain strate­gi­cally valu­able ones.

Google Glass is just that: It mat­ters to Google be­cause mo­bile com­put­ing is the fu­ture. We know that be­cause mo­bile com­put­ing, wear­able or other­wise, keeps ex­pand­ing in the present. We have com­put­ers and sen­sors that com­mu­ni­cate with them in a grow­ing num­ber of ev­ery­day ac­ces­sories, ap­pli­ances, struc­tures, and ve­hi­cles. We will have com­put­ers in glasses, too.

In the case of Glass, Google’s cau­tious roll­out has started to sug­gest how com­put­er­ized eye­wear might mat­ter. The re­cently in­tro­duced Glass app Word Lens trans­lates printed words us­ing the Glass cam­era in real-time. Think about the util­ity of be­ing able to read for­eign lan­guages through your glasses in­stan­ta­neously. If Google made a ver­sion of Glass that did that and of­fered it for a few hun­dred dol­lars, it would be a mas­sive hit among trav­el­ers.

WIRE­LESS CHARG­ING

Wires are keep­ing the mo­bile revo­lu­tion tied to the ground. No one re­ally wants them, but they haven’t proven easy to elim­i­nate. The tech­nol­ogy in­dus­try has made some progress in that di­rec­tion through wire­less tech­nol­ogy. Wire­less data pro­to­cols like Air­Play and Blue­tooth have reached a point where phys­i­cal ca­bles are no longer nec­es­sary for good au­dio, not to men­tion stream­ing video.

Power cords, how­ever, are still widely used. Ap­ple has danced around the is­sue for a while by com­bin­ing mul­ti­ple ca­bles into a sin­gle one on its mon­i­tors and mak­ing power cords eas­ier to re­move through its MagSafe tech­nol­ogy. But Mi­crosoft and Nokia have forged ahead and cut the power cord, re­peat­ing a feat Palm ac­com­plished in 2009. The Lu­mia Win­dows Phone 820 and 920, in­tro­duced in 2012, made wire­less charg­ing widely avail­able. The tech­nol­ogy has since pro­lif­er­ated in the form of Qi wire­less charg­ers, which sup­port a grow­ing num­ber of mo­bile de­vices. Ex­pect Ap­ple to have an an­swer for this sooner or later.

The next year should bring im­proved wire­less charg­ing time from

Sony and a more ef­fec­tive charg­ing sys­tem from Sam­sung and the New Zealand startup Power­byProxi. Even­tu­ally, this tech­nol­ogy will spread to other de­vices. Mobee al­ready of­fers an in­duc­tive charger for Ap­ple’s Magic Mouse. De­vel­op­ments in 2014 will has­ten the cut­ting of cords. In a few years, power cords will look an­ti­quated, at least for mo­bile de­vices.

CURVED SMART­PHONES

Sam­sung has al­ready re­leased a curved smart­phone, the Galaxy Round, and LG has just done the same with its G Flex. Bloomberg has re­ported that Ap­ple is work­ing on phones with curved dis­plays, for pos­si­ble re­lease in the third quar­ter of 2014.

Ex­pect more curved phones, but don’t ask why, be­cause there isn’t re­ally a good an­swer. In its as­sess­ment of the Galaxy Round, En­gad­get said the de­vice is com­fort­able to hold and feels com­fort­able in a pant pocket. A mi­nor ad­van­tage, per­haps, though hand fit can be ad­dressed by avoid­ing large­screen phones, and pants are not the only place to carry phones.

As a trend, curved phones mat­ter mainly be­cause they rep­re­sent an ef­fort to think out­side the box, which is to say the rec­tan­gu­lar form fac­tor. Curved phones are a sign of what’s to come: phones in wrist­bands, phones that fold, and so on. They’ll get bet­ter.

AP­PLE iWatch

It’s more or less a given that Ap­ple plans to in­tro­duce a com­put­er­ized watch in 2014. It could be called iWatch, given the com­pany’s pen­chant for prod­ucts pref­aced with the let­ter “i”.

Re­cent smart­watches from Sam­sung and Sony have un­der­whelmed. The de­vices have been dis­missed for cost­ing too much and for lack­ing in bat­tery life, pro­cess­ing power, and apps. Ap­ple’s chal­lenge is to avoid cre­at­ing a de­vice made re­dun­dant by smart­phones. Smart­watches need to have a unique rea­son for be­ing — a killer app or in­dis­pens­able func­tion. If Ap­ple priced its iWatch for USD 99 and of­fered ba­sic lo­ca­tion track­ing and com­mu­ni­ca­tion ca­pa­bil­i­ties with­out an ex­pen­sive mo­bile car­rier con­tract, it would sell mil­lions to par­ents who want to keep in touch with their kids.

How­ever, chances are Ap­ple will aim for a higher price point, mak­ing it sim­ply a wear­able re­minder that you have a lot of un­read e-mail.

CHROME OS TABLET

Google should ship a Chrome OS tablet at some point in 2014. Given how well Chrome­books have been do­ing in schools and the fact that schools are also buy­ing tablets, a Chrome tablet seems in­evitable, par­tic­u­larly since Google of­fers a po­ten­tial tablet de­sign on its web­site, and com­pany of­fi­cials have pub­licly dis­cussed the pos­si­bil­ity. Google al­ready has touch tech­nol­ogy work­ing on its Chrome­book Pixel.

The next step is get­ting rid of the key­board. And that’s eas­ier than ever, thanks to the re­cent im­prove­ments in the Chrome OS vir­tual key­board. What will it be called? Chrome­screen or Chrometab, per­haps?

PROJECT ARA

Project Ara is an ef­fort by Mo­torola Mo­bil­ity and the Phonebloks com­mu­nity to cre­ate a se­ries of smart­phone mod­ules that can be snapped to­gether to per­form spe­cific, cus­tom­iz­a­ble func­tions. Mo­torola just an­nounced a part­ner­ship with 3D Sys­tems to man­u­fac­ture Project Ara com­po­nents us­ing 3D print­ing tech­nol­ogy. This cus­tom as­sem­bly line isn’t likely to be ready next year, but Project Ara de­vices could be made avail­able to early adopters next year.

GES­TURE CON­TROL

Be­tween Mi­crosoft Kinect and the in­te­gra­tion of the Leap Mo­tion Con­troller into HP’s 17-inch Envy lap­top, it’s clear that the mouse and key­board are not the only ways to in­ter­act with com­put­ers any­more. In 2014, we’ll see this trend ac­cel­er­ate. More hard­ware will track ges­tures, and de­vel­op­ers will be­gin to deliver com­pelling games that rely on ges­ture in­put.

In­tel is help­ing PC and pe­riph­eral mak­ers in­te­grate its mo­tion sens­ing tech­nol­ogy into hard­ware prod­ucts with its Per­cep­tual Com­put­ing SDK. The first prod­ucts to take ad­van­tage of this tech­nol­ogy in­clude Cre­ative’s Sen­z3D and In­ter­ac­tive Ges­ture Cam­era. Ex­pect more hand wav­ing in 2014.

MIND-MA­CHINE IN­TER­FACES

Touch in­put mag­ni­fied the mo­bile revo­lu­tion by mak­ing in­ter­ac­tion eas­ier while on the move. Ges­ture con­trol and voice con­trol are re­defin­ing the scope of de­vice in­ter­ac­tion by ex­pand­ing in­put meth­ods be­yond our hands. Brain con­trol may be the ul­ti­mate way to in­ter­act with ma­chines, and the tech­nol­ogy is mov­ing be­yond ex­per­i­men­tal set­tings.

The Emo­tiv EPOC is a USD 299 head­set de­signed to let users con­trol soft­ware and hard­ware us­ing their brains. Neu­roSky makes the USD130 MindWave Mo­bile head­set, which is bun­dled with games you can con­trol us­ing your mind.

And if you want a sharper brain, it’s a po­ten­tial op­tion. Foc.us re­cently be­gan ship­ping its tran­scra­nial Di­rect Cur­rent Stim­u­la­tion (tDCS) head­set, which prom­ises to let users “over­clock” their brains -- stim­u­late them with elec­tric­ity to im­prove cog­ni­tion. And who wouldn’t want to deliver elec­tric cur­rents to their brain?

There will be more of this. Re­searchers have al­ready demon­strated that brain sig­nals can be sent elec­tron­i­cally to an­other per­son to trig­ger a key­stroke.

PER­SONAL MED­I­CAL MON­I­TOR­ING

When people talk about the In­ter­net of Things, they’re talk­ing about sen­sors. The most in­ter­est­ing net­work-con­nected sen­sors are med­i­cal, be­cause they hint at the pos­si­bil­ity of mit­i­gat­ing ridicu­lously high charges for med­i­cal ser­vices at hos­pi­tals and be­cause they may be able to im­prove people’s lives. Se­ri­ous medicine isn’t likely to ever be pre­dom­i­nantly self-ser­vice, but you can ex­pect a grow­ing num­ber of med­i­cal di­ag­nos­tic tests to be made avail­able through con­sumer-ori­ented de­vices.

For ex­am­ple, the Scanadu Scout, slated for re­lease in 2014, is a mon­i­tor about the size of an Oreo de­signed to re­port your tem­per­a­ture, re­s­pi­ra­tory rate, oxime­try, ECG, sys­tolic blood pres­sure, and di­as­tolic blood pres­sure to your smart­phone.

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