Tech Predictions for 2014

on December 16, 2013

For the last 27 years I have written an annual industry prediction column where I try to forecast what I see happening in the PC and CE markets in the New Year. To be fair, I spend thousands of hours each year researching these industries and their products and get to see inside the labs of many companies as well as peek into start-ups and garage shops all over the world. So what I predict has more to do with taking an intelligent guess about what I see happening in 2014 and less an actual prediction. So as I look into my crystal research ball, here is what I believe will happen in tech’s New Year.

1-Google will spin out Motorola

Google says they bought Motorola for their patents, but patents only go so far in allowing any company to keep the doors open and profitable. I believe that in 2014 Google will spin Motorola out as a dedicated company that creates great products around Google IP and have it be responsible for its own P&L. We have heard rumblings that they have some stunning and innovative products in the works and they could use these to become the branded arm for all of Google’s hardware related products. Having Google and Motorola products that are basically the same is just confusing to customers. Google will see that it makes sense to use them as their hardware arm and make them accountable on their own.

2- Larger tablets for sharing will hit market by mid-year

I recently wrote about how Dell’s 18” all-in-one was now being used as a kind of giant tablet in the home with people putting them on their laps for use in front of the TV or for tablet laptop games. The industry has seen the potential of a larger screen device that can be shared and instead of making them clunky all-in-one’s, we should see some sleek designs optimized as actual large tablets for use by two or more. The industry does not have a name for this but I have heard them called lap tablets or shared tablets for the home. Should be on market by mid-year.

3-Dual OS laptops and tablets

It is clear that Windows 8 is very slow to gain a large volume of software that can compete with IOS or Android’s Apps stores. So expect to see Windows laptops that will also have Android on them that taps into Android apps for use on Windows. The folks from Bluestacks have had a solution for this for years but in 2014 this will be a big issue for the industry and a lot of PC and tablet vendors will have dual OS products on the market starting in Q1.

4–Apple will release a ground breaking productivity device 

The iPad has become a powerful productivity tool in its own right, even without much help directly from Apple. As you know, Apple does not have an enterprise sales group. They don’t even have an enterprise services group. Yet, iPads have become the dominant tablet in IT and enterprises around the world. But there is stiff competition for the hearts and minds of business users coming from Microsoft and Google and some of their partners with tablets of their own aimed at this market. I can’t imagine Apple sitting still and letting these competitors gain ground on them so I believe Apple will create an iPad class product that will be unique and ground breaking focused on business and productivity. I have no clue about its design, although some think it might be what they call an iPad Pro while others think it could be some type of convertible. I am not sure what it will be but I suspect that whatever it is it will be a surprise to all. By the way, I do have one prediction related to this. Whatever Apple releases in this category will have a major negative impact on traditional Windows laptop sales next year and I think total sales of laptops could be off as much as 20-30 million units in 2014 over this year.

5-Smartphones and beacon-based sensors become a big deal

2014 will be the year when Bluetooth Low Energy beacons take off. These beacons can be placed around ballparks to communicate with smartphones and tablets to give users related information about game stats, deals from the concession stands, and coupons for discounts on logo’ed clothing. They can also be used in stores so that as a person goes by an end cap that has a beacon on it, it can send a short burst of information to their smartphone announcing a discount or deal on what is on the end cap if they buy it within 30 minutes. Apple is leading the charge in this space with their iBeacon technology but Microsoft and Google are working on similar programs. The marriage of Bluetooth Low Energy radios integrated into beacons and smart devices will start to take off next year.

6-Smartwatches are dead in 2014

All attempts at creating a smart watch for the masses have failed. The ones on the market today only appeal to male geeks and ultra early adopters  Although we may sell as much as 1.5 million smart watches in 2014, unless someone masters the issue of elegant design and style matched with non geeky technology, they are not going to be a product for the mass market anytime soon. Next year will still be an experimental year for smart watches. 
What will be hot will be wearable health related devices such as the  NikeFuel Bands, Fitbit, Jawbone UP, etc. These types of wearables along with Bluetooth related health devices such as wireless blood pressure kits, wireless blood glucose testing kits, etc. will see serious consumer interest next year. These health devices come under a category called Digital Health and there will be a lot of exciting new products along with health related wearables coming to market in 2014.

7-The PC market could actually grow in 2014

I know that this sounds contradictory given my statement in the Apple prediction that a new product from them could have a 20-30 million negative impact on current laptop demands next year. The discrepancy comes from something that is a bit of a problem for us market researchers at the moment. In the past when we counted computers shipped we had two distinct categories. 

We counted desktops and laptops separately but in final totals combined them. For example, we will sell in total about 300 million PC’s in 2013. However, 67% of these are laptops, the rest is desktops, which include all-in-ones, traditional tower desktops, etc. Enter now the 2 in 1’s and convertibles. Are they tablets with keyboards and should we count them as tablets, or are they tablets/keyboard combo devices and should we count them as laptops? At the moment some researchers are putting these in the laptop category and since they have not been huge sellers yet, they have not had a dramatic impact on our total PC sales in 2013. IDC now says PC sales overall will be negative 10% this year over last year. I believe that we will see a stronger uptick in 2 in 1’s and convertibles and whatever Apple releases in a new design will probably also be counted as a laptop. If this is true, then the overall market for PC’s, especially laptops, should stabilize or possibly even grow in 2014.

8-Internet of Everything goes mainstream

Cisco, Qualcomm, Intel and pretty much every major tech company is now focusing on the Internet of Everything. Basically this means that all tech devices get some form of connectivity, become smart, and can be connected to all types of devices and to the cloud. Although this often now comes off as a buzz word, the idea of IOE is a big deal and represents an important part of all tech companies’ strategies. I believe that in 2014 the industry will come up with a better definition of IOE and how this will practically impact business, consumers and education. 

9-Greater acceptance of Chromebooks

I was in a coffee shop in Santa Barbara recently and an elderly woman was sitting in the booth in front of me searching the Web on her Chromebook. On the way out I asked her why she bought this laptop and she said besides price, it did pretty much what she needed a laptop to do. I hear this story a lot in our research and understand that Google and their partners will become even more aggressive in pricing and marketing this in 2014. I expect this to help Chromebooks gain more ground in the new year. 

10-Digital Health will be a big focus in 2014

In a way this is the health arm of IOE. I have been testing the new iHealth Wireless Smart Gluco-Monitoring system, that allows me as a diabetic to test my blood sugars and transmit the results wirelessly back to my iPhone. Their Wireless Blood Pressure cuff also uses my iPhone to manipulate the cuff itself with all of the reading being done on the iPhone. There are dozens of other medical examples tied to smartphones and represent another key function that uses the smartphone as a personal digital hub. The recent Health Summit in Washington D.C. drew hundreds of people to their largest event ever and friends who attended it were excited about the growth of the products and services in this space. In 2014 Digital Health products will become more available to the masses and be its biggest growth year to date. 

11- 3D cameras and 3D Printers

At CES we will see the first 3D printers under $500. And we will see new desktops and laptops that will employ 3D cameras in them. While 3D never took off in TVs, it’s role in personal computing will be better accepted in the future. Although 3D printers are in the discovery phase with consumers, at prices this low millions could be tempted to buy them and begin experimenting with creating 3D objects. With the help of 3D cameras popping up in new computers, this will help these discoverers to be even more creative. It will still be a small market in 2014 but 3D printers and cameras could start reshaping the way we view our personal computers and what they can do for us. 

12- Jeff Bezos buys the US Post Office 🙂

This is a bonus prediction and I highlight here a tongue-in-cheek article Carl Schlachte wrote for Techpinions recently. It is a futuristic piece that imagines the implications should Jeff Bezos set his eyes on the US Post Office. Very provocative piece and well worth the time to read.