4 tech trends that will transfix your curiosity in 2014

As the ball drops in Time Square I’ll be reminded of all the companies that “dropped the ball” in 2013.

Consumers are becoming increasingly wary of wearables as the abortive efforts of Google’s Glass and Samsung’s Galaxy Gear founder because of bad design and brief battery life.  According to a sales document leaked to Geek.com, over 30% of Galaxy Gear purchases were returned to Best Buy’s stores in the US.

Smart phone manufacturers aren’t free from sales affliction either.  Blackberry has an indelible black eye as evidenced from its $4.4 billion dollar loss.

And do I really need to mention how social media is making us antisocial as we become more concerned with our status rather than the person sitting across from us at dinner?

Yes, I could continue my diatribe of the sweeping blunders of 2013… but that’s not the point of my post.

This New Year’s Eve, as the final seconds of 2013 tick down, I want to look forward into the 4 biggest trends in tech that you should expect to see in 2014.  Innovation will continue to abound and the public will gain access to technologies that were previously either too obscure or too expensive.

1. Drones

Drones

Even though the holiday shopping season has ceased I’m still in an acquisitive mood these days.  And one thing I wish I could afford is a drone.  I’m actually amazed how cheap these unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVS) have become these days.

Today isn’t not hard for a hobbyist to accrue a small army of drones.  For example, you can buy a top of the line DJI Phantom Aerial Drone for $600 on Amazon or if that’s too expensive the UDI U818A Quadcopter with Camera is less than $200.

A drone is just a remote controlled aircraft that either executes a programmed task or is operated by a terrestrial pilot.

This year was unquestionably the year of the drone.  New sites pervaded the internet that showed ordinary people how to get started with drones.

Sites like diydrones.com comprise a vibrant community of enthusiasts who help each other break into the hobby. The site allegedly has over 47,000 members and had 1.8 million page views last month.

And get this: just yesterday, the FAA issued an official press released announcing that it approved six test sites for unmanned aircraft systems.

So from the facts I just adduced, it’s easy to infer that drones will be the rave of 2014.

Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos is clearly a drone advocate as he revealed his audacious plans to deliver packages into customer’s hands in 30 minutes or less using UAVs.  The one minute Youtube video demo has almost 14 million views which attests to the strong interest in the idea.

I’m confident that 2014 will see a preponderance of drones.

Amateurs will stream live coverage of major events such as marathons from drones.  And who knows, we’ll probably even see intrepid entrepreneurs who flout FAA regulations tring to create their own illicit delivery services of their own.

2. 3D Printing

3D Printer

Is it just me or do 3D printers remind you of the Replicator’s from Star Trek?  Is science fiction becoming reality?

According to the 2013 report from Wohlers Associates, sales from 3D printing products and services will reach $6 billion globally by 2017.

Furthermore, Autodesk (ADSK) and Dassault Systemes (DASTY) have enjoyed uncanny gains over the past 24 months.  There’s clearly a strong market for 3D printing mainly because everyone loves the notion of printing on-demand.

3D printing enables people to print spare parts, prosthetic limb castings and in some cases: even food.  The 3D printer reads a digital model of the object to print and then lays down thin slabs of printing material until the complete three-dimensional object is created.

In 2014 we’ll see an influx of 3D printed fashion accessories and footware.  Both Nike and Adidas already use 3D printing to produce prototypes for NFL stars and there are no signs that this will slow down.

I’m also expecting to see 3D print stands pop-in malls across America.  For example, imagine designing a sneaker at home and emailing the file to Nike and then walking in the next day to pick up your creation.

It will one day be as easy to create and use 3D printed objects as it is to pick-up film at Walmart.

3. Bitcoins

Bitcoins

Despite the capricious nature of Bitcoins they’ll undoubtedly continue to rise in popularity.

Bitcoins are convoluted creatures but here’s my 30 second elevator explanation:

Forget a centralized federal bank, forget the middlemen and forget accountability, Bitcoins are absolutely decentralized and therefore aren’t regulated by any governments.  Each computer joins a voluminous peer-to-peer network which tracks transactions and creates new Bitcoins through an arduous, CPU intensive process called mining.

Computers mine coins by crunching convoluted math algorithms which become increasingly difficult with time.  There are 21 million total Bitcoins out there.  This was intentionally capped to preclude anyone from inundating the market and artificially devaluing extant coins.

Bitcoins are legal and many places already accept this novel form of currency, also known as crypto-currency.  For example, dating service OkCupid and domain name registrar Namecheap accept Bitcoin payments.

I think the major liability with Bitcoins is that its decentralized nature unwittingly abets criminals in illicit activities.

Also the inherent anonymity of the currency makes it almost impossible for law enforcement to seek punitive damages.

In 2014, I see government regulators encroaching on the once untouchable Bitcoin as nations see it as a real threat.  The US Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) has already posted guidelines about Bitcoin usage but regulation is a little tricky because Bitcoins are technically a currency not a security; therefore the SEC can’t touch it.

I also think the future of Bitcoins are contingent on startup companies that champion a new era of commerce.  Bitcoins hold the promise of cheap, cross-country transfers that can add a measure of fluidity currently lacking in financial transactions.

Currently, I don’t think enough people really know what Bitcoins are; however in 2014 the media will continue to report the Bitcoin mania with alacrity.  This effusion of attention will drive the popularity of the coin and galvanize widespread acceptance.

4. Wearables

Google Glass

Wearables are little electronic devices that people can wear under or over clothing.

The distinguishing feature of a wearable over ordinary electronic devices is that the former is constantly interacting with the user.  There’s no real off or on button but rather the wearable is always exchanging and interpreting data in real-time.

Popular wearables that you’ve probably seen in the news are the Jawbone Up fitness tracking wristband, the Samsung Galaxy Gear smartwatch and the extremely expensive Google Glass headset.

I think the aftermath of the mistakes in 2013 will usher in a new era of organic wearables; devices that blend and bend with our bodies and the environment.

I also think wearables will increasingly replace visual observation, especially in hospitals.

Think about it: hospitals who don’t follow basic hand-washing rules have a greater chance of infecting patients.

What if nurses and doctors were required to wear wristbands with integrated motion sensors that track hand washing movements.  The staff would upload their hand hygiene data at the end of the shift and then receive a compliance report. This could effectively reduce or remove the costly visual observation procedures most hospitals use and thus save money and mitigate infections.

That’s great news but I also think wearables still have a long way to go.  We must remember that this is a nascent technology therefore it is beset with problems.

In 2014, wearables will exhibit two traits:

  • Aesthetics
  • Invisibility

Wearables need to look nice before anyone will want to wear it and I think we’ll see beautifully designed wearables next year.  I also think they’ll become increasingly less obtrusive.  Most of the time you won’t even realize they’re there.

The Bottom Line

2014 is almost here and I’m ready for it.

I’m excited to see the advancements in wearables, Bitcoins, 3D Printing and drones.  Only time will show us how things shape up.

What tech trends are you guys expecting to see in 2014?  Let me know in the comments!

Oh and Happy New Year!

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