December saw a flurry of 2014 technology forecasts. I predict the same thing will happen next year. The forecasts fall into two categories. First there are those along the lines of ‘cloud computing company predicts 2014 will be the year of cloud computing’. In other words: advertising. Some are clever, some are ridiculously unsubtle. A second group of forecasts are what Basil Fawlty would describe as “the bleeding obvious”. In contrast here are three things I think will happen in 2014 that you couldn’t figure out simply by drawing a straight line graph though recent data:
The smartwatch is dead Last week I had coffee with Fred Russo who runs Samsung’s PR here in in New Zealand. While we were talking Fred took an incoming call on his Galaxy Gear watch hooked up to a smartphone. On one level it was impressive in a vaguely science fictiony way. We’re talking nerd nirvana. And yet that’s all it is. Smartwatches are ugly, clumsy devices that add very little, other than cost, the smartphone experience. Sure, they’re likely to be a hit with the male geek crowd. And yes, I’m convinced Samsung, Sony, Pebble and others will inflict a million or so smartwatches on early adopters over the next 12 months or so. A million devices is not a hit product. Smartwatches will not become mass market products like smartphones. The only Apple does something shocking and different with the format.
Chromebook or something like it will thrive Apple and Microsoft have left a yawning gap in the market for a low-cost, simple to use laptop. MacBooks are nice, but expensive. Too expensive for many users. Meanwhile, rightly or wrongly the jarring Windows 8 user interface scares off potential Microsoft customers. And Windows laptops can be too complex for people who prefer simplicity. Google’s Chromebook can be dirt cheap and is all the computer many users need. The category is new, yet companies like Acer have already squeezed prices below NZ$400. There’s potential to pack more value into Chromebooks in 2014. The devices could take off. It’s just as possible tablets could fill the low-end, simple computing void and Chromebooks will never command a large market share, yet I can see Chromebook thrive.
Desktops, laptops, tablets and smartphones matter most
Computer makers, particularly the second tier Asian brands spent much of 2012 and 2013 playing with alternative computer formats. For example transformer-like gadgets that turn a smartphone into a desktop PC or something that is both a tablet and a laptop. We saw a few wackier items too. This was a healthy exploration of the alternative formats and something of a creative flowering. It was also a dead end. We now know the only formats that really matter are desktops, laptops, tablets and smartphones. Yes there is blurring between these categories, but for now the key, practical device formats are locked in place. Formats will change when computers get better at understanding human speech. You can see a hint of how this will work with Google Glass, but that device isn’t ready for mainstream acceptance.[digitl 2013]