For the last 26 years, I have taken a stab at predicting tech trends. Here is a link to my predictions for 2014. Note I was half right when I predicted Google would spin off Motorola to its own company. They instead sold to Lenovo. Interestingly, three years earlier, Ben and I predicted Google would buy Motorola and it what happened.
Ben and I also predicted last year PC sales could actually grow again in 2014. This has turned out to be basically true. In 2013, the industry was -10% in total PC sales. This year, they will only be off by -2-3%. Part of the reason for the slide in PC demand in 2012-2013 was people were still trying to figure out if a tablet could replace a PC. Now that most understand they still need a PC or laptop, demand for PCs has seen an uptick in 2014 which is why the decline is smaller. If you followed my yearly predictions from the beginning, you may also remember in the late 1990’s, I said within 10 years Apple would be the largest CE company in the world. I remember that because I got so many comments telling me I was an idiot.
With that in mind, here is what I see as some major trends for 2015.
1) I believe 2015 will be the year of the Chromebook. What is bizarre about this is, in the late 1990s, Larry Ellison, along with the CEO of Bell South, announced what they called the network PC. Bell South believed we would have high speed, ubiquitous bandwidth by early 2000 and Ellison felt that all a person needed was a device that connected to the internet — thus the Network PC. 15 years later, this particular vision is gaining ground — Chromebook’s were the top selling PCs during the holidays. While Chromebooks could never replace PCs in business, the education market and low end consumer markets are buying up Chromebooks in huge numbers. By the end of 2015, we should see them eating into established PC markets and impacting growth of the laptop segment.
2) In my December 2012 prediction column, I stated I believed we would have even more security breaches in 2013. That did happen but as you know from recent news, these types of breaches have not only occurred but became nastier. Look at the recent Sony Pictures security problem and its fallout as well as from Home Depot, Target, etc. Anyone can see this is a problem not going away. I also stated in that prediction I was very afraid our power grid would be attacked. Thankfully, that did not happen although we now know there were attempts to attack them during this time. However, from the things I am picking up from the security community, 2015 could be shaping up to be a very difficult year in keeping hackers away from our corporations, financial institutions and utilities. I know it does not take a genius to make this prediction but I have a sense 2015 will be the worst yet for these types of attacks.
3) Tablets will be positioned as personal TVs. The tablet market has become so competitive and prices have become so low that just about every household in the US has at least one. Around the world, tablets have become major product hits, especially ones that are low cost and used primarily for consuming media.
But in 2015 we will see a major push to position new tablets as personal televisions. Qualcomm’s new Broadcast LTE chip, which enables media to be broadcast directly to a smartphone or tablet and not use the local LTE radio, will help make this happen. In China, one of the major TV broadcasters is creating a branded tablet positioned and sold as a TV that can get all of their content as part of a subscription service. The tablet will be $99 with a small monthly fee for the content. Thanks to the Slingbox, I turn all of my tablets into personal TVs. People can already get video content via apps or over the web but this device would be a TV first and a tablet second. This “Tablet as a TV” push will start by mid-2015.
4) Streaming media everywhere. HBO’s decision to go direct to consumers in early 2015 is a big deal. This type of unbundling of traditional cable content is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to moving even more content into direct streaming models and services. Add dedicated social media services being developed around sharing streaming content and even shared viewing from remote locations and next year we could see streaming media expand its reach and have a big impact on traditional media distribution.
5) We are hearing we could have some real breakthroughs in battery technology by the end of year as well as various electronics and new software techniques to squeeze more life out of our laptops, tablets and smartphones. By the end of 2015, we could have laptops that get close to 20 hours of battery life using this new technology.
6) While Apple is expected to release a larger iPad, I think Apple’s really big hit in 2015, besides the Apple Watch, will be a newly designed Macbook Air that is ultra thin and very light. The MacBook Air pretty much pushed the market to thin and light overall and, if Apple does something even thinner and lighter with a new MacBook Air, it could coin the term “ultra thins” and make them the next big thing in laptops.
7) You may have heard of things like Roomba, the robotic vacuum cleaner. In 2015, we should see a new category of devices some have called domestic robots. Robots are being developed to help in the garden, clean up after pets, assist the elderly and clean your home. We should see a lot of creativity around this concept by mid-2015.
8) Application specific tablets. Did you know it is cheaper to buy a $99 tablet than a souped up clock radio for the bedside? You not only get a variety of clock faces and alarms, but the versatility to listen to internet and AM/FM radio, podcasts and more. This is just one of the trends we are seeing as people buy cheap tablets to hang under kitchen cabinets, place in bathrooms to listen to news, podcasts, watch TV while getting ready and even for the kids’ bedside tables. This will be another growth factor for low end tablets.
9) Apple’s Watch will be more successful and disruptive than most think. Last year’s column predicted the death of smartwatches. Even though we did not see them die, they did not take off and, at the moment, are a floundering category. Although the Apple Watch may be a hard sell for most, early adopters will drive its first big push into the market and I predict there will be at least 5,000 apps available for the Apple Watch when it finally ships, it will find its place in the market and become the standard other watch makers will have to follow to be successful. More importantly, this will be the product that allows Apple to become a data broker between a person and their healthcare provider, which will eventually become a major revenue stream for Apple in the near future.
10) While 3D printers will gain more traction in 2015, what is really needed is easier ways to design or create 3D products. I believe we will see the first laptops with built in 3D cameras by the end of the year. You’ll take an object, put it in front of your laptop camera, push print, and it gets printed on the 3D printer on your desk. Don’t be surprised if Apple goes big on 3D cameras and/or ways to capture 3D images for use with 3D printers in 2015.