As a new year begins, humans – being human – can’t resist the urge to try to predict the future. We in the tech industry are especially prone to getting out our crystal balls (the fancy new ones with the high powered embedded processors and the OLED displays) and taking a peek at what magical and revolutionary gadgets and technologies these 12 months might bring.
It almost goes without saying that the cloud is very close to attaining the status of unstoppable force and more and more consumers and businesses will be using it for more of their applications and data storage. Cloud services formerly limited primarily to email, office type apps and storage will expand to encompass desktop-as-a-service, security-as-a-service, and much more. Since cloud and mobile go hand-in-hand, 2015 is sure to see mobile vendors ramp up to offer smart phones that come closer and closer to the computing power of a full-fledged laptop.
It seems, however, that the limits of phone size may have been reached with this year’s six inch behemoths. Anything with a bigger display has to be classified as a tablet. Wireless carriers have blurred the lines already by offering “shareable” data plans that allow you an allocation of X number of GB that can be used by either your phone or your tablet. I think more and more people will be using fewer and fewer actual cellular minutes, opting to communicate via Skype or other VoIP apps instead. This could eventually lead to consumers carrying only a small tablet with data plan instead of a phone – but I think it will take more than a year for that to take hold.
Will 2015 be the year that the smart watch finally comes into its own? Tech vendors keep playing with the idea of wearable computing, and that’s because it’s a great idea. The whole world has embraced the concept of taking your computer with you wherever you go, in the form of the smart phone. The next logical step is to make it easier to carry along.
Google Glass attempted to fill that need but it seemed that the company might have been ahead of its time; although techies eagerly embraced the odd-looking glasses, the general public apparently isn’t ready for a literally in-your-face reminder that we are all under surveillance pretty much any time we venture out into the world.
Fitness bands, though, have enjoyed an increase in popularity and Microsoft’s effort at making a transitionary device that falls somewhere between fitness tracker and smart watch sold out upon its introduction. Meanwhile, both Samsung and Motorola have released new smart watch models and Apple’s version is expected to hit the shelves in early 2015. Gartner predicted the watch market will grow from 18 million in 2014 to 21 million next year.
Many believe that the wearable computing market will start to sort itself out in the coming year, and that “smart garments” are the next big thing. Expect to see smart shirts and smart jackets for sale soon.
In keeping with and expanding on this trend, another industry buzzword that’s likely to expand its scope in 2015 is the Internet of Things. Internet-connected TVs are already the norm, and that connectivity is set to spread to everything from cars to washing machines in the consumer space. In the business realm, the possibilities are endless. Industrial machinery of all kinds, office equipment, and more will be connected and accessible over the ‘Net, if not next year, in the near future.
As part of that large cadre of “things,” we’ll probably see more smart machines, such as various robotic devices and vehicles that do some of your decision-making for you, such as braking to avoid collisions and parking themselves. A car that drives itself completely is probably a bit further down the figurative road; like smart glasses, it’s something that the public – and the legal system – most likely won’t be ready for in 2015.
Going back to TVs, I’m wondering if 4K will be 2015’s big let-down, the way 3D TVs were a couple of years ago. As with 3D, the technology is awesome – but awesome technology isn’t very useful without content. We bought a great 70 inch Sharp Aquos 3D set, bought and watched all the 3D movies that were available and then became frustrated as fewer and fewer titles came out in 3D. Consumers might take a “fool me twice, shame on me” attitude this time and refuse to pay extra for the 4K sets until some standards are established and there’s a clear channel for getting 4K content. And the lack of content isn’t the only obstacle 4K adoption faces. My guess is that while TV vendors will try hard to make 2015 the Year of 4K, most of the TV-buying public will resist.
What about 3D printing? Gartner expects shipments of 3D printers to grow by 98 percent next year. The technology has already come a long way since the first time I saw a 3D printer at CES two years ago. New and more efficient printing methods are being developed. As prices continue to drop, 3D printers might go mainstream this year – but people will need a compelling reason to buy them, beyond the novelty of printing your own plastic or resin-based knick-knacks and cell phone cases. Metal-printing machines could make 3D printing more useful to more folks – and also result in more sticky legal issues over things like the ability to print guns.
Meanwhile, over on the business side, look for the big data phenomenon to mature into something that’s less about the gathering of more and more data and more about what you can do with it. Big data analytics will start to focus on narrowing down what data is truly relevant for your purposes, and the use of smart algorithms to help make better business decisions based on the data analyses.
All in all, I think we’re looking at some exciting times for tech this year, with some innovative new hardware and software, as well as better pricing and improved usability on existing gadgets. I can’t wait to take some of them for a spin.