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10 tech trends for the year ahead

By James Powell | 5:30 am 06/01/2013

The march of progress isn’t going to slow down just because we all survived the Mayan Apocalypse. In fact, wholesale destruction of the world by mysterious sister planets or angry elder spirits would be the only thing that could stop it. Gadgets, home entertainment, technology in general are going to continue to become increasingly sophisticated and, crucially, increasingly interwoven into your everyday life.

Here are 10 trends – a mix of products, services and features – that we predict will come to define the year ahead.

10. Always online

Only a few years ago, ‘going online’ was something you did… like ‘going swimming’. Easy enough, almost everyday, but a definite decision. Do I watch TV… or go online?

For the past couple of years, ‘going online’ has been more like ‘going outside’ – you either are or you aren’t, nothing special, you just pick up a thing, switch it on, and you’re online.

 

Android's detailed notifications pane brings you up to speed, should you find yourself unavoidably having to sleep during the night...

From 2013 on, ‘going online’ will be like ‘waking up’. The only time you won’t be connected is when you’re asleep… and then, your phone will still be collecting all your email and social media updates while you’re unconscious.

If having a constant, on-your-person internet connection isn’t something you’ve already come to terms with in 2012, then odds are if you’re not constantly connected in 2013, you’re making some kind of statement.

9. The phone is all

Uber-geeks and early adopters who aren’t afraid to spend a few dollars on Bluetooth keyboards and video out plugs already know that a sufficiently powerful smartphone can perform the role of a decent notebook computer or even a full desktop PC. Today’s phones are already much more powerful than computers from a decade ago, and new top-tier handsets from Samsung, Apple, HTC, LG and more due out in 2013 will take that power to the next level.

 

Quad core processing power in the HTC One XL shows the way forward for smartphones.

 

New standards for wireless video mean you’ll just walk in to a room with a screen and a keyboard, dock your phone in the charger, and start typing away. Meanwhile, your phone’s powerful media capabilities mean you’ll use it as your primary source for both audio and video – streaming files wirelessly to your TV and AV system.

Again, the supergeeks already do this. New software and services will make it even more commonplace in the year ahead.

8. Really, REALLY big TVs

Speaking of TVs, 2013 will see our primary entertainment displays make another leap forward. First, 4K resolutions will bring unparalleled clarity and detail to extremely large displays – 80 inches and more. Quick recap: 4K is essentially four times the resolution of current full-HD 1080p displays, and it promises to give us a home entertainment experience that’s superior to all but the very best cinemas.

Later in the year, Organic LED (or OLED) tech will radically change the way our TVs work, creating thinner, brighter displays that use less electricity. Again, the trend is toward bigger screens too. Forget 55 inches, we’re talking 80-plus. Have no doubt, 2013 is the dawning of a new generation for home entertainment – now all we need is the content to do that 4K display justice.

OLED and 4K technology, and 80-plus inch screens will characterise televisions from 2013.

 

7. Touch your computer and wave at your TV

Smartphones and tablets like the iPad have made touchscreen control a part of everyday life. Now it’s time for our other computers to catch up. Microsoft released Windows 8 late in 2012, and it comes with a new user interface called Metro. Why is that important? Because Metro is optimised for touch control.

Throughout 2013, you’ll see notebook PCs and all-in-one desktop models equipped with touchscreens. A 23-inch monitor big enough to do the most fiddly spreadsheet work on will also respond to the same touch gestures as your tablet.

 

The touch-based Windows 8 Metro UI promises to change the way people interact with computers.

Meanwhile, your TV is too far from the couch for touch… but what about waving? There are already wave-gesture-capable models on the market, and this tech is set to percolate down from the high end in the year ahead.

 6. Living in the cloud

Storing files on a hard drive has been part of life since, well for at least 20 years now. And if your hard drive crashed – and you were slack about backups – you lost it all. In the last 18 months, many different ‘cloud’ services have cropped up, and they’ll only become more central to your life in 2013.

Obviously having somewhere to keep your precious photos and important documents is extremely useful, but cloud services – coupled with a fat internet pipe – also free you from needing to cart around gigabytes of content on your mobile device or even store it on some kind of home file system.

Chromebook computers like this one store almost everything online, even software!

You download stuff only when you want it. Your expensive digital music and movie collection will at last be uncoupled from your actual devices – and immune to being dropped in the toilet or stepped on by a toddler.

5. Smart metering

Tech has splintered into a thousand different and interconnecting segments, but they all have one thing in common: they run on electricity. With power bills soaring and networks pushed to breaking point (or maybe not, depending on whose rhetoric you believe), it’s no longer acceptable to just flip a switch and then freak out at your bill once every 90 days.

Smart meters – when you chose to install them – give you control of your electricity usage. Smart meters – when installed by your electricity provider – maybe give them the ability to charge you like a wounded bull at peak times. Odds are you’ll end up with some kind of smart meter by the end of 2013, but this will be the hot button topic when it comes to consumer electricity, mark our words!

 

Smart meters – boon for you, or boon for the power companies?

4. Paywave and NFC

As highly connected early adopter supergeeks, we find it increasingly weird the way the automated checkout at the supermarket demands little slips of plastic as payment, and spits out little bits of paper as acknowledgement of that payment. What’s worse, these things are so slow when it comes to handling coins.

More and more points of sale are upgrading to near-field-communication (or NFC) systems; PayWave is just one standard. Today, a chip in your traditional credit card authorises the transaction. Hopefully some time in 2013, it will become legal for the NFC functionality in your phone to do the same.

The NFC technology built into credit cards may migrate into smartphones for more ubiquitous cashless payments.

You don’t always have the right change, but you do always have your phone. NFC might not kill cash, but it will probably ultimately kill the plastic credit card, and 2013 will be the beginning of that end.

 

3. Everybody social

Social media is about to come of age. Until now, it’s been a sort of toy. Nice to see what your friends are up to, nice to update your parents without, you know, actually having to speak to them. But in 2013, we’re expecting to get some utility from this technology at last.

 

Google Latitude lets you see your friends' location at a glance - but they have to opt in.

The new crop of streaming media services, for instance, will use social media functionality to recommend content based on what others in your circle of friends are listening to or watching. The question of where to eat or what to do – on those days where you’re not up for wild experimentation – can already be answered by social media services. And a balance will be struck between personal privacy… and letting your friends know where you are, at a glance (at their smartphone).

2. Why own content?

We’ve mentioned the concept of keeping your music and movies in the cloud for safekeeping, but this raises another question… and exposes a rising trend. Why own that content at all?

When there’s no pretty CD or other collectible element, there are cheaper ways to hear the music you love and watch the latest movies and TV. Services like Spotify and Netflix will give you access to huge amounts of content for a single monthly fee. It might feel like you’re putting your hand in your pocket all the time… but compare it to your $10,000 CD collection that doesn’t get any bigger (your same monthly fee gives you access to new releases too).

Questions of copyright and royalty payments have kept Australia low on the agenda when it comes to rolling out these services here, but we’re becoming increasingly recognised as a market worth servicing.

Is renting rather than owning a good thing? Don’t worry – we think ultra-high-quality versions of your favourite content will still be available to buy in collector-worthy packaging. It’s just that we don’t all have to be collectors now.

 

With no physical packaging, streaming content services promise to free up bookshelves and cupboards for the items they were intended to store.

 

1. Ubiquitous computing

The nine trends we’ve identified so far see entertainment, communication and technology combine into an amazing year ahead, all made possible by one thing: ubiquitous computing.

It’s a fancy way of saying that computers – or information processing systems – are no longer big grey boxes in the study. They’re everywhere. They’ve been everywhere for the last three or four years, but until now our mobile computers have played second fiddle to the ‘real’ machine in the office. That’s changing, and changing fast: just think about the power of quad-core smartphones and TVs equipped with powerful CPUs to run everything from 3D to apps.

 

Computers everywhere? It's already happening

 

Ubiquitous computing will make 2013 a more connected year, and yes we’ll need to learn new skills to protect our privacy and defend against incessant 24-hour marketing. But the possibilities are huge, and for some the ability to live a modern life with little more than a slim smartphone and a bank account will be attractive indeed.

Here’s to 2013, an exciting year for entertainment and technology both.

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