The tech that will trend in 2013
What changes will advances in technology bring to our lives in 2013? Jamie Carter looks at emerging trends for the year ahead
If 2012 was all about tablets and smartphones, 2013 will see the technology at the core of our favourite gadgets - the touch screen - leak into a host of other products, but also get surpassed by gesture tech and even 'smart glasses' that make the web wearable. Linked by cloud-powered platforms and apps aplenty, we're set to see more giant leaps in both the processing power and user-friendliness of smartphones, cameras, TVs, and even cars.
Smartphones and tablets
"Phones are going to get bendy and will no longer be solid bricks," says Peter Cochrane, ex-CTO of British Telecom and independent analyst, who predicts that Samsung and Apple are likely to provide them. Both brands will continue to lead the smartphone and tablet markets this year, with innovations likely to include the introduction of more gestures as tapping and swiping begin to recede as control mechanisms. The touch screen won't become irrelevant - not yet - but front-facing cameras will begin to recognise hand gestures and read facial expressions more carefully. They could even determine the mood of the user. In terms of hardware, all luxe smartphone cameras, including those on the upcoming iPhone 5S and Samsung Galaxy S 4, will increase in terms of pixel resolution. Screens on smartphones will grow to an average of about six inches this year and display video in Full HD detail, while the second iPad Mini will surely receive an ultra-detailed Retina display. "With many major tech brands turning themselves inside out to get into mobile, and well-established 10-inch tablets being complemented by phone/tablet 'phablet' hybrids such as the HTC One X, 2013 could easily become the year of tablet wars," says Victor Malachard, CEO and co-founder of mobile advertising platform Adfonic in Singapore. Malachard thinks this could drive innovations in mobile advertising, with campaigns needing to embrace a multiscreen environment that will include ever more laptops, tablets, phablets, smartphones and televisions.
After a year as a premium product, virtually frameless televisions that appear to float will become standard, with this space-saving design meaning a 46-inch screen this year will have the same footprint as a 42-inch television from last year. However, the biggest advance in television technology will be Ultra HD TV. Due from all the major tech brands early this year, Ultra HD achieves the same picture detail as four Full HD TVs and makes movies - especially those in 3-D - more convincing. Prices for the first Ultra HD TVs will be more than HK$220,000, about twice as much as those using another new innovation, the organic LED panel. So-called OLED TVs - due in the first half of the year from Samsung and LG - will cost about HK$110,000 for a 55-inch version. Early demonstrations suggest that the totally blur-free, life-like picture could thrill gamers, in particular. Lastly in TV, the mainstream glasses-free 3-D TV will get a step closer this year, with many brands preparing to sell before next Christmas.
With video games increasingly being played on smartphones, the games console will have to battle hard to stay relevant this year. Although Sony's PlayStation 4 appears to be on hold until 2014, Microsoft plans to launch its new Xbox in the summer. "Living rooms will become gaming holodecks with Microsoft's next-generation Kinect," says James Billington, a Sydney-based tech journalist. "A patent filed this year hinted at a projection-mapping technology that turns walls into totally immersive gaming environments," he says. "I remain optimistic that I'll be rolling across the rug playing Call of Duty during 2013." The latest Xbox should also include touch screen tablets as games controllers as well as a Blu-ray drive.
The World Wide Web was created with academia in mind, but it's only relatively recently that laptops and now tablets have been creeping into classrooms. Higher education institutions' embracing of such tech is becoming more important in attracting students. "2013 is the year when universities will go digital," says Fionnuala Duggan, managing director for international at CourseSmart, who is expecting to see more imaginative uses of technology in higher education publishing. "As students continue to use technology and the internet for all aspects of their day-to-day routine, they will expect universities to offer course resources online, too," says Duggan. "Already, publishers have taken on digital by converting traditional print books into eBooks … and in response to the drive from students, the same transition will take place with textbooks."
We're also looking forward to 2013 cementing the trend to social imaging using Wi-fi and a touch screen: the arrival of Camera 2.0. Samsung began the revolution last year with its Android-based, touch screen Galaxy Camera. Users are able to download apps from Google Play, control remotely by a smartphone, and even e-mail and upload photographs to the cloud. Expect 2013 to herald connected, touch screen cameras with larger LCD screens and in-camera editing - but this time on serious, professional D-SLR cameras from the likes of Canon, Nikon and Sony.
This year we'll be able to wear the web. After years in the top-secret Google X Labs, Project Glass will become a reality in the form of "smart" glasses. A headset that's connected to the internet and which shows the right eye a small video screen, Project Glass products are seen as the future of web surfing and as an evolution of the smartphone. Users are able to overlay real-time web searching and GPS-fed directions - in effect a virtual layer of reality - onto reality proper, with hands-free photos, e-mailing and phone calls built-in. "Expect to see trend-setting, gadget-loving, early adopters wearing these frames with a heads-up display floated right in front of their eyes," says Billington. "They will offer anything from Google Maps showing the way to places like MTR stations and shops - and can even access shop layouts so you can finally navigate your way round Harbour City."
Get ready for everything from smart connected cars to smart dustbins and even smart pets with trackable collars. "The concept of the smart grid or smart meter is already being talked about and a number of city trials are proposed for 2013," says William Webb, fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and CTO of Neul, a British-based mobile wireless data service provider. "Smart cities will be much talked about as various ideas such as smart parking systems promise to improve the lives of those who live in and visit cities. We will not see much in the way of large-scale deployments in 2013 but there will be a lot of media coverage of what might be coming in 2014 or 2015." The wireless connecting together of machines - the so-called Internet of Things - will gather pace in 2013, too, as industry standards are thrashed out.
There's been much talk of how cars will go online, but it's inside the next 12 months that we'll start to see both the first truly connected cars, and also the first truly driver-less vehicles. "Cars are going to get smarter than Optimus Prime as motoring companies implement the latest gadgetry from tech giants such as Apple and Intel," says Billington. "Cross-harbour tunnel traffic jams may actually become tolerable thanks to Siri integration and next-generation infotainment consoles with internet browsing, cloud connectivity and collision-prevention systems keeping us productive, entertained and safe."