In my job as the contributing editor for tech at Inc. magazine, I'm constantly inundated with pitches, new apps to try, and gear to test. Relatively few really catch my eye and make me think, "This is going to be a big deal for business."
Below you'll find seven innovations coming to the market soon that I know will grab my attention--and they should grab yours, too:
1. HP 3D Printer
Makers, keep an eye on this one. HP is working on a 3D printer to compete with the likes of 3D Systems and other high-end machines. No formal model number yet, but it's due this year or early next. According to Wired, it's a massive printer that a service provider might use to generate 3D models for customers. According to a Wohlers Report from 2013, 3D printing will be a $10.8 billion industry by 2021, so it's no surprise HP is developing this monster.
2. Project Ara
This April, you'll finally learn a bit more about this Google-funded project to make a modular phone. A new tech conference to be held just up the road from Google HQ will spill the beans. The modular design makes sense because you can snap in the parts you need and upgrade the phone with a new display, battery, memory, and other components. Time for an upgrade? Just pick the component that's slowing you down the most.
3. Vanguard ID Systems ViewTag
The highlight of CES 2014 for me was Vanguard ID Systems ViewTag, a luggage tag that uses E-Ink technology on a thin plastic material. The idea is that you program it with your phone or tablet to show your exact destination, ticketing information--in other words, an almost foolproof way to guarantee the bag won't get lost. I've been waiting forever for real advances in flexible display tech, so this is a good first step. Next up: flexible electronic readers, flexible displays in cars, and maybe flexible phones.
4. Apple iPhone 6
You may already know a bit about this one--at least, if you believe the iPhone 6 rumors. What intrigues me is the idea that Apple might actually consider increasing the size to more like 5.5-inches. That's what the industry calls a phablet (phone-tablet), and they have one major claim to fame: with the increased size comes longer battery life. Recently, I tested a ZTE Max phablet that lasts all day without any problems. Apple may also use a new, thinner design. And, of course, it will be incrementally faster than the iPhone 5S.
5. Intel RealSense
Starting sometime in the second half of 2014, Intel RealSense should pop up in laptops, tablets, and other gadgets. It's a 3D camera that can sense your finger movements, read facial reactions, and listen to your voice. You can capture an object in 3D space and then manipulate it on screen. The goal is to blend the real and the virtual, and for business uses, that could help liven up everything from a investor presentation to a business document--controlled with gestures and your voice.
6. 802.11ai Wi-Fi
802.11ai Wi-Fi might seem like a minor tech advancement, but it perked my interest. A working group is currently developing this Wi-Fi specification to make it much faster and easier to connect to a network. Today, there's a slight delay--sometimes it's not so slight--when you want to connect to the wireless network at an airport or get two tablets talking to each other. 802.11ai promises to make that connection lightning fast--e.g., syncing in less than 100 milliseconds. That means: getting more work done and dealing with IT issues less.
7. Android Wear Smartwatch
This is big news for those wondering if the smartwatch craze had died. Motorola will release a smartwatch running the new Android Wear OS. In videos and photos, the new watch looks like a major improvement at least in terms of the visual design. The watch will work more like Google Now, the service you can use on a smartphone today that knows when you pass by an airport and reminds you about your flight.