Top 7 Tech Predictions for 2013
BlackBerry 10 Will Outsell Windows Phone
From Will Arnett and Gwen Stefani to Jessica Alba and Jay-Z, Microsoft has corralled lots of celebs to extol the virtues of Windows Phone, but I don't see these endorsements moving the needle. If anything, the Windows 8 backlash could be spilling into the mobile space, which is a shame since Microsoft's mobile OS doesn't suffer from the same confusing two-faced interface. Plus, the best Windows Phone, the Lumia 920, is currently only available from a single carrier. No wonder Microsoft's market share is stuck at 2.6 percent.
Wearable Tech Turns Us All Into Cyborgs
This Christmas, I was psyched to open a Nike Sportswatch and then I watched it sit on my nightstand as I fought the flu. Well, at least I lost weight! Seriously, I promise to use my new running partner once I return from CES, which leverages GPS to tell me how far I went and calories burned. This is just one of dozens and dozens of fitness gadgets spearheading the wearable devices market, set to grow from $800 million in 2012 to $1.5 billion by 2014. Between the Fitbit, Jawbone Up, Nike Fuelband and similar products, the wearable market is exploding. Right now, we’re also testing a bunch of wearable cameras that are great for outdoor fun, including the GoPro HERO3. At CES we’ll go hands-on with the Oculus Rift, a space-age virtual reality headset for gamers, and the I'm Watch, an Italian smart watch coming stateside that works with your smartphone to deliver calls, text messages, emails, and more to your wrist. The end of 2013 will see Google’s ambitious Project Glass head to developers so they can tap into its vast amount of potential. The goal is to essentially give users a lot of the functionality they’d expect from their smartphones — messaging, GPS, and the ability to share photos and videos — all without having to lift a finger. Rumor has it that Apple is working on its own heads-up display project as well, but details are scarce.
The Wireless Charging Pad Is The Next Must-Have Accessory
There's something refreshing about being able to just walk into a room and drop your phone down on a table to have it start charging. Forget about having to unravel cables or mess with microUSB ports; 2013 will be the year that wireless charging finally breaks through. It doesn't matter that there's a standards war brewing between Qi (the Wireless Power Consortium) and the Samsung-backed Alliance for Wireless Power. A wireless charging pad will soon become the must-have accessory, eventually bumping Bluetooth speakers. In fact, JBL's PowerUp Wireless Charging Speaker is already one step ahead of the competition, combining wireless charging and Bluetooth into a single device. I’ll be shocked if the Galaxy S4 doesn’t have an optional charging pad.
Android and Chrome OS Tie the Knot
Right from the start, I said Google's Chrome OS and Android couldn't coexist. That was December 2010. Since then, Google and its partners have made some progress by making Chromebooks much more affordable, but a low price tag alone isn't enough. At this year's Google I/O conference in May, Google will finally do what it should have been done a while ago: combine Android and Chrome OS into one platform. Pairing the most robust browser with Android's hundreds of thousands of apps just makes sense, paving the way for a new generation of Chromebooks that double as tablets. Think ASUS' Transformer Pad Infinity with a more PC-like desktop and enhanced offline computing capability, but all the touch friendliness you'd expect from an Android slate. Watch out, Windows 8 hybrids.
Apple iWallet Will Take Mobile Payments Mainstream
Let's face facts. Apple's Passbook is a fairly weak effort compared with the likes of Google Wallet, which actually lets you pay for goods using your smartphone with a tap. Sure, it's nice that Passbook aggregates things like airline tickets, coupons and loyalty cards in a single app, but there's not that many partners and not a ton of incentive to stop using your existing cards. With iOS 7, I predict Apple will introduce iWallet, based on NFC and backed by Apple's 435 million iTunes accounts. As ISIS and the major carriers continue to drag their feet on mobile payments and with Google continuing to have trouble cracking Verizon Wireless, the market is wide open for Apple. I also predict a reboot for location-based iAds, which could be redeemed via iWallet. We'll know more come Apple's World Wide Developer Conference in June.
Microsoft Will Bring Back the Start Menu
Sometimes you have to stick to your guns when it comes to making bold design decisions. And sometimes you just have to listen to the chorus. Especially when it's this loud. As dynamic and interesting as Windows 8's Start screen is with its Live Tiles, users really miss the traditional Start menu on the desktop. In fact, more than a half dozen software developers have released replacements that mirror what users had before and go even further in terms of customization. (By the way, our favorite utility is Start8, even though it costs $5.) In order for Microsoft to truly stand behind its “best of both worlds” message for its new OS, it will reinstate and improve upon a feature PC owners have come to expect. Windows 8 is different enough without giving shoppers additional incentive to go with an iPad, MacBook or Android.
Amazon's Smartphone Will Be More Spark Than Fire
The Amazon Kindle Fire has become one of the hottest-selling tablets, thanks to its low price and easy access to Amazon content. Now here comes a rumored Amazon phone, which according to reports will hit the market by the third quarter and cost between $100 and $200. The problem with an Amazon phone is that the current interface isn’t well suited for communications and sharing content. It’s all about buying more stuff, which lends the UI better to larger screen devices. I have also found Amazon’s supposedly breakthrough Silk Web browser to be slower than Safari on the iPad and Chrome on Android.
In order for an Amazon phone to really make waves, the mega-retailer will need to prove that it can evolve the Kindle user experience beyond a mere virtual vending machine. I’m talking about deeper social networking integration, a much more fluid multitasking experience, improved notifications and robust mapping and navigation (which Apple has so far failed to nail). And with only a subset of applications in the Amazon store compared with the Google Play market, Amazon could have a tough time persuading shoppers to look away from devices like the Galaxy S4 and iPhone 5S. Here’s hoping they prove me wrong.
Editor-in-chief Mark Spoonauer directs LAPTOP's online and print editorial content and has been covering mobile and wireless technology for over a decade. Each week Mark's SpoonFed column provides his insights and analysis of the biggest mobile trends and news. You can also follow him on Twitter.