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5 Technology Trends to Watch

The Consumer Electronics Association unveiled its annual look forward to the most promising tech developments of the year.
From left to right: Fab@Home 3D Printer, Jawbone JAMBOX, iPad

Because technology evolves so quickly, nailing down trends with staying power is no easy task. Even so, a few underlying movements are so big that they're impossible to ignore.

On Monday, the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) identified a few of these key tech trends based on consumer market research. The company released the 2013 edition of its annual Five Technology Trends to Watch in conjunction with a panel discussion among technology experts on the implications of each trend at the CEA Industry Forum in San Francisco. Panelists included CEA chief economist Shawn DuBravac, Technology Review editor Rachel Metz, and TechSavvy Global CEO Scott Steinberg. Here’s what they had to say on each trend:

1. 3-D printers will go mainstream.

DuBravac stood behind this technology as the one to watch closest in 2013. “Just as Microsoft always had a vision that there would be a tablet on every desk, I could see a 3-D printer in every home,” DuBravac said. All three panelists agreed that although 3-D printing is certainly gaining steam--and traction (3-D guitar, anyone?)--it still seems to be a trend that’s a few years away. However, DuBravac believes that the experimentation process will certainly influence creation and customization in the coming years.

2. Next-generation TVs and displays will be about the apps.

Of course consumers are attracted to a higher-resolution screen, but “resolution isn’t going to win them over,” Steinberg says of upcoming advancements. “I think it’s going to be applications and content.” Steinberg and Metz agree that connectivity--through social networks and music applications--is an important factor to the growth of this trend.

3. Audio must offer a great experience.

According to CEA research, mainstream audio has exhibited continued growth throughout 2012. The panelists believe that successful products in this market will have to deliver on their value propositions and offer a great experience. Jawbone’s Jambox is one of Metz's favorites, because it has three important characteristics: attractive design, good price point, and quality sound.

4. The mobile revolution is happening in Africa.

Security is tantamount to increasing mobile market in Africa, the panelists said. “It’s increasingly less about voice services and more about the exchange of information,” DuBravac said. Mobile payment options, message systems, and social-media connections have certainly improved the security of interactions in the continent. “It’s too early to say that things haven’t been successful,” DuBravac says, but it’s clear there is a demand--one of the TechCrunch Disrupt 2012 SF finalists was a team of Ghanaian entrepreneurs proposing a more convenient mobile messaging system in their country.

5. The classroom is getting wired.

Apps, parent/teacher portals, tablets, and mobile devices: All of these things are becoming the norm in today’s classrooms. “The beauty of it is that you’re seeing this implemented at the lowest levels,” Steinberg said. “Even kindergarteners have these devices in their hands. Technology is second nature today, so it only makes sense that we use it as an educational tool." Yet the concern of the “digital divide” remains--so far, only higher-income school systems are reaping the benefits of this technology.

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