It's that time of year again... the season for predicting what's coming in the year ahead. Last year, I came up six tech developments for start-ups to watch in 2013. Some were just rumors at the time, but I'm happy to report that most of them happened as I predicted.
This year, I've rounded up another six tech debuts. Some of them might influence your company's tech purchases in 2014, others might just end up on your personal wish list. Either way, keep your eye on these developments. Have any of your own to add? Let me know in the comments.
1. Curved phones
We already know Samsung has a curved phone on the market--in Korea. Yet, the Wall Street Journal recently reported that Apple also might be cooking up a curved phone. The design makes sense with larger screen sizes because of how the curvature makes it easy to see images and text. They work better when you raise them up to your ear, and also help reduce glare.Oh, and they look really futuristic. One sure bet for next year: there will be an iPhone 6 that's faster and lasts longer than the current model.
2. Small cells for wireless everywhere
Small cells are going to be big next year. These wireless receivers work like miniature cell phone towers but you place them in your building or on a corporate campus. They augment and enhance the signal you're already getting with a smartphone. Companies like Alcatel-Lucent already have working prototypes. They solve a major problem. Today, we have "coverage" but not "capacity" in most non-rural areas. Small cells will provide high bandwidth in crowded places like baseball stadiums where too many connections can weaken the signal.
3. Touchscreen tablets built into your car
Last year, I mentioned how cars will start doing the driving for us. (The 2014 Infiniti Q50 is one example--it can take over the steering for you for short distances.) Next year, display technology in cars will improve dramatically. There's already a good example of this with the Tesla Model S and its massive 17-inch tablet-like display that supports finger swipes and pinch-to-zoom functionality. Many cars have a 7- or 8-inch touchscreen today. Maybe soon we'll see the first production car that has an iPad running in the dash. Either way, I expect car interfaces to start using more fluid, bigger displays next year.
Companies like ByteLight are leading the charge on this one. The technology, which is already in a prototype stage, transmits a specific frequency from the lights in a store to a shopper's smartphone app, which works like an indoor GPS system. The idea is that it lets retailers target customers with appropriate marketing messages based on where they are in the store. One of the benefits of the underlying technology is the security--it's a short-range signal that only works within a set area. Where else might we see this functionality in the future? I'm speculating here, but what about on planes? The FAA just recently said flyers can start using gadgets during takeoff and landing. Li-Fi might be one way to connect up on flights--it doesn't interfere with other signals.
5. Pay by wireless
Square is one of the leaders in next-gen payment processing--I use the app several times per week to pay for my coffee at a local cafe. Next year, look for another nifty innovation from a different brand in the payments space. PayPal Beacon will let retailers transmit a low-power Bluetooth signal using a thumbdrive. When a customer enters a store, they can "check-in" using the PayPal app. Their phone will chime or vibrate to let them know they are connected. At check-out, a customer can just say they're paying with PayPal and the merchant can authorize the transaction--the customer doesn't even need to take out their phone.
6. Ubuntu Phone
Last year, I mentioned how the Firefox phone would arrive in 2013. Well, the ZTE Open did come out--to mixed reviews. LG recently announced a new Firefox model as well. For next year, there's another open source upstart that wants to take on Google and Apple: Ubuntu has already started testing its new mobile operating system. The Ubuntu Edge should come out in early 2014. Why all of the fuss? Ubuntu claims its new OS will run faster than Android and match up better with a Linux operating system.