Flexible TVs, the revenge of smart watches, Google Glass’ coming of age, the game console spillover, these are the top consumer technology stories that we expect in 2014. We don’t see any tectonic shifts in the magnitude of the PS4 vs. Xbox launchings late last year, just another twelve months of more of the same stuff padded with new features and design.
So here are the top stories that will make you notice, rather than salivate for, the new gadgets.
Apple and Samsung aside, there’s a troika of interesting smartphone launches this year.
HP is rumored to launch not one but two smartphones this year: a 6-incher and 7-incher to tap the growing demand for bigger smartphones (or is it smaller tablets?). The HP folks are keeping mum on the OS, but it’s most likely an Android like it was in its Slate 7. HP doesn’t dream of going head-to-head with Apple and Samsung; the phones are targeted at emerging markets such as India, China, and the Philippines.
Sony is also rumored for an interesting launch: a Windows phone to add to its stable of mobile devices. If this holds true, Microsoft will score a huge step in expanding its mobile OS ecosystem from its home base, Nokia. Sony Ericsson’s Xperia may not be a Galaxy or iPhone, but it’s one foot inside the big league for Windows.
Meanwhile, LG is bringing curve screens to consumers this year, after flexible screens created hype as the next-big thing on smartphones. The South Korean giant claimed it is marketing the “world’s first flexible OLED (organic light-emitting diode) panel for smartphones. Everybody seems to believe LG, except Samsung that promises to bring the same technology to its slew of mobile devices.
Of course, we have the two smartphone giants, Apple and Samsung, at it again this year. What else do we expect after Galaxy S4 but an S5 coming our way this year. Rumors have it the S5 is built on 64-bit chip and featuring 16MP camera with an all-metal body and a diamond-like coating.
On the other hand, if it heeds market preference for bigger phone screens, Apple is set to launch a bigger iPhone 6 or its sales will dry up sooner than later. Android has breached 80% smartphone market share last year and Android phones’ screens continue to get bigger and fetch better sales. Likewise, Windows phones are getting bigger, further pushing the 5-incher iPhone 5S into the corner.
It may yet be another year between the iPad and Galaxy with the other tablets brushed aside. But maybe not.
People looking for an alternative tablet may start checking out Microsoft’s Surface 2 Pro, the hybrid tablet/laptop launched last October with significant media mileage. It’s still fresh, so we don’t expect a Surface 3 this year, but more like a Surface 2 year if consumers tire out of iPad or Galaxy OS limitations. The Windows-run tablet has a fully functional OS that targets people who want the computing power of laptops and mobility of tablets.
We may also see Google refreshing its Nexus 7 to a 10-inch version in tandem with Samsung or LG. Nexus 7 got good reviews last year, mainly on being the fastest tablet of late and being built on “Google goodness.” That means having a seamless connectivity with other Google products—Chrome, Android, Play, Gmail, Drive, etc.—which in our opinion, covers much of your Internet activity.
Then again, the year may belong to Samsung as it plans to launch, not one, but at least three new tablets on the first quarter. Leading the pack is the low-end Galaxy Tab 3 with 10.1 inch screen that will retail at about $140. The Korean giant is also launching a 12.2 inch Galaxy Note reportedly to feature a quad-core 2.3GHz Snapdragon 800 processor, an 8MP camera, and 32 GB storage. Furthermore, if industry leakages are true, we will see a Samsung tablet that can boot both Android and Windows. Samsung is about to eat what remains of the small pie Microsoft is enjoying in the tablet device market.
So where does that leave the iPad? It’s probably going to be a year of iPad refreshes following Apple’s success launches of the iPad Air and iPad mini with Retina Display last year selling at a whopping 19.5 million units. It’s still the horse to beat and Apple must only not to trip itself to maintain its tablet race dominance.
Microsoft is said to be releasing a Windows Phone 8.1 update this year. The latest version supports bigger screens for up to 10 inches. It’s also compatible with Windows RT, that is, apps can now run on both Windows smartphones and tablets. Furthermore, the back button is dropped; users can simply press the Start button to exit an app.
Meantime, it’s a semi-milestone maybe. Mozilla Firefox has joined the smartphone fray last year, but this year marks the first time Firefox OS-run phones will be introduced in the U.S. Manufacturers like LG, Alcatel, and ZTE are hoping the OS developer can do a Pied Piper leading its Firefox PC user base to their phones.
Industry analysts are excited about smart watches this year, predicting a 500% sales growth. The International Data Corporation says this category will be dominated by the usual suspects in mobile products: Apple, Google, Samsung, and Sony. Whether consumers will bite into this niche depends on how these companies can come up with versions other than offering the standard features: calls and text messages, fitness tools, and, of course, time display.
Just a while back last year, Samsung’s Galaxy Gear didn’t cut it that much of the anticipation rests on Apple, the company with a strong innovative culture that made utilitarian mobile phones into smartphones. It’s easy to see an “iWatch” seamlessly integrated with the iPhone and iPad, targeting the higher end market.
It’s mixed emotions for the high-tech eyewear. Google Chairman, Eric Schmidt said Glass will be sold to the public this year after the 2013 beta phase among a small group of early testers. The price is said to be lower than the beta version, which sold at $1,500. The price in fact will be critical to Glass’ success, according to some experts, somewhere between $200 and $500 should make sales happen; otherwise Glass is doomed for being expensive for nothing much. Still, with Glass going global this year, consumers in China, India and emerging markets may make a hit out of this computing eyewear, price notwithstanding.
They’re far from dead. Led by Apple’s all-new 12” MacBook, this category has tons of features to offer. The MacBook features a higher pixel count and more computing power that’s said to redefine laptop computing again.
On other news, Chromebooks are coming, although admittedly they’re still untested. They sold nicely last year mainly riding on low prices and marketing push from its mother ship, Google. This year should mark Chromebooks’ position in mainstream personal computing, or it will wither and not be heard again.
Same with hybrids, 2014 is a do or die year for these gadgets. Some fold into a table, others have detachable screens. The hybrids have Microsoft Surface 2 Pro to thank for giving life to this category. Surface 2 sold handsomely last year that analysts consider the hybrid a viable competitor in the tablet war rather than the hybrid sector.
They have set the stage late last year. Xbox One and PS4 are now out in the open, but 2014 will see the real battle heat up. Based on the launching sales of both consoles, about a million Xbox Ones and two million PS4s are sitting ready for war in America’s living rooms. With both consoles selling out fast, the second, third, and succeeding waves of new batches will give us a clear picture which one will dominate the other, hands down.
But we all love surprises. We thought Valve’s Steambox can disrupt the console war with its PC to console gaming integration, as opposed to Xbox’s gaming to PC strategy. It targets PC gamers who want to migrate to game consoles without losing touch of their PC ecosystem. Would it be nice to see a David versus two Goliaths this year?
The year will see higher resolution streaming of movies and tv shows over the internet. Netflix will start streaming in 4k in 2014, piloted by shows like “House of Cards” and “The Verge.” However, two things may slow down Netflix’s plan: TV manufacturers are yet to catch up with 4K-compatible sets and the lack of high-resolution material.
You may start operating your kitchen and living room appliances using your TV if Samsung’s plan will work out. Samsung Smart TV has unpacked an updated SDK (software development kit) to expand its smart TV service. Third-party developers can now come up with apps to connect home appliances to the TV, such as adjust thermostat of the air-conditioning, open/close blinds, and turn on the coffeemaker.
On another front, Apple TV is also gearing up, but it seems headed to join the game console fray if industry predictions are to be believed. The latest model will feature an A7 processor. It is aimed at cable operators, but this Apple may just bump at, if not run over in the future, the game console category as the App Store is rich in games and gamers.
Get excited about these new tech gadgets coming your way this 2014. But not all are important, much less needed to improve your lifestyle. They are cool and nice to buy, but think twice before getting sucked into the marketing strategies of these brands.
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