2014 Tech predictions

Ok so I’m going to join the bandwagon of people trying to predict what tech advancements we are going to see in 2014. It is a bit of an impossible game and often some of the big hits are very hard to predict. For example who would have predicted the Nintendo Wii, Twitter or Snapchat? Certainly not me but thought it would be good to have a go. People can get carried away with this, technology is advancing at a record rate but a year isn’t that long. A mere 365 days or 8,760 hours. With that in mind lets get started:

  1. Bitcoin, or cyrto currency as it is sometimes generically referred to. This is a sort of currency for the internet, although there is no reason why it can’t work in the outside world too. The key is it is a decentralised system with no government or owner overseeing it. Crucially it is much easier to transact and doesn’t need a finical institution to be involved making any transaction fee much smaller. Bitcoin hit the limelight in 2013 and many people have invested in it meaning a single bitcoin went from around £6 at the start of the year to around £550 by the end. This is all on the potential adoption of bitcoin by retailers and people actually using it to buy stuff, which isn’t really happening as yet. So my prediction is bitcoin will start to become more widely accepted currency (although it’s not technically a currency) by the end of 2014, I doubt whether it will have gone fully mainstream but will be headed in that direction.
  2. Actual Smart Televisions.  I think we’ll continue to see the shift to watching TV over the internet and there may be even a tipping point where some channels or shows are watched more on the internet than regular broadcast. Being a bit more bold with my prediction I reckon one of the big tech giants launches a truly smart TV. I’m talking one with built in camera for facial and gesture recognition, voice commands and no remote, utilising your phone or tablet instead. Heck Sony and Microsoft already have the technology in their games systems and Apple have bought up companies with this sort of expertise so it seems entirely probable. Because of this I also think video chat will become more popular, the ease of having it there in your living room on a big screen will make it much more appealing to many.
  3. SecurityThe internet security system is broken. Usernames and passwords are not secure enough and people have far too many to remember them. Programs like Lastpass and Safe in Cloud, help with this but don’t fundamentally move us forward. There are then the seemingly daily reported hacks of customer data, we need a better, common system, perhaps decentralised like Bitcoin to encrypt at extremely high levels, identify suspicious behaviour and two factor authentication as standard. This won’t be solved in 2014 but I hope somebody kick starts something.
  4. Continuing Social Media shift – Facebook has dominated social media for a while with penetration at unbelievable levels but I think they have hit saturation point and they certainly have a big issue with teenagers. What teenager wants to go onto a social media site which has their parents on there? Not cool. There are already a wider range of relatively small but established alternative systems and I think we’ll see more of this happening.
  5. Internet of things Ok I know that everybody is predicting this one so not exactly ground breaking but that is not a reason to discount it. We’ll start to see more and more of our devices connected to the internet from our plants to tell us when they need watering, to our heating so we can monitor it remotely or even  our fridge so we can update our shopping list with a scan of a barcode.
  6. Smart Watches Yeah I know I was only going to do 5 but then I thought of this one too, hedging my bets I guess. It’s no secret that all the big players are developing smart watches and I think it will be fascinating to see. Voice recognition is key to these working with the small display screens and I’m betting that just like mobile phones we’ll end up with many different sizes depending on your needs and budget. They’ll probably start off as a bit of a novelty but as app developers get into them I think they could be on many people’s Christmas list this year

Ok that’s mine, let me know your thoughts and I’ll review at the end of the year so see what actually happened.

The internet of things

The internet of things is the basic premise that rather than just having your phone or computer connected to the internet in fact you have a whole wealth of dedicated devices which are connected to the internet and provide a specific service.

Your online fridge
The classic (and very bad) example is the fridge. If it was connected to the internet, in theory, it could tell, or you could tell it by scanning a barcode, that you have run out of milk so next morning the milkman drops off a fresh bottle as it was automatically added to his online delivery list.

With the cost and size of manufacturing the relevant chips and sensors decreasing it is on the verge of becoming a widespread reality. The Parrot Flower sensor is a prime example of this. It is a wireless sensor which you put in a plant pot and it measures sunlight, soil moisture, temperature and fertiliser. This enables the plant to basically alert you when it needs some attention.

Examples of success already
There is sure to be lots and lots of gimmicky / pointless applications but I’m really excited about the potential. One of the first success stories is in health/fitness. Big names like Nike and their FuelBand are good examples. How long before Health providers / doctors will start using this data to service customers? So called Big Data is about to get a whole lot bigger! There is then the gamification side of things, just by being able see how active you are on a daily basis is an astonishing motivator, add in the ability to compare yourself to your family or friends and the result are amazing.

Use your imagination
Beyond that your imagination is your only limit as to where this could go. Literally think of any physical possession you have and what it could mean about being connected to the net. Any electric / physical item could be controlled remotely e.g. run a bath, put the oven on for when you get home, which it knows to delay if it can see you are running late or get stuck in traffic. Like the plant example though, it doesn’t have to be limited to man-made devices. Heck put a GPS sensor on your cat if you can’t work out why he’s putting on some much weight.

Battery / power is a limiter at the moment but with wireless power processing in it’s development it is likely that this limiter will be removed as well in the future.

So there is two very big opportunities for individuals and organisations

  1. Creating a widget or connection service which people want and gives them something new or makes life easier for them
  2. Those that then use the data / insight these new devices will bring. E.g marketing, insurance, health, economics, governments, etc etc

Certainly the former will attract the immediate attention and initial headlines but I’ve got a feeling the real winners will be those that can leverage the later.

Your phone at the centre of your life

Phones are getting scarcely powerful. The recently announced HTC One  for example is Quad Core, with each quad running at 1.7GHz! I’m sure that would easily give my laptop a run for it’s money and probably yours too. Check out these benchmark results

And of course this capability is set to continue, how long I wonder until your phone has the power to do everything you need?

Imagine This

Imagine this – your phone is your only fully featured ‘computer’, your only devices with high spec processors and RAM inside it, everything else is simply a thin client.

So let’s take your TV for instance. Instead of using the manufactures self-built crummy operating system on your TV, where you have to fiddle with an impossibly difficult remote control you simply use the phone and beam whatever you want to watch onto it. LG are already starting to think like this and have amazingly demoed one of their concept phones beaming ultra high definition 4k footage to a TV screen. Your TV then just becomes a screen again and at the same time can now be even thinner and lighter and more importantly cheaper.

Why stop there? Think tablet. Exactly the same could apply. Your tablet essentially just becomes a screen which is powered wirelessly by the smart phone in your pocket. You flick the on button and your phone appears onto your tablet. Then when your neck and arms are hurting trying to write all these emails as you sit awkwardly on the sofa you move over to your desktop screen and keyboard to finish them off. No turning on and booting up the PC followed by logging into your account you just flick the screen and it appears.

Now it wouldn’t just work in your home, take it anywhere. The office, your mother-in-laws, a client you are presenting to and you instantly access your ‘hub’ from whatever thin client / screen you want.

Issues need overcoming

Of course I’m not the only person to have thought of this and there are a number of hurdles to overcome beyond the processing power of your phone:

  1. Operating systems are optimised for the screen size and not necessarily converge well as you flick between devices. Current phone OS are very limited when compared to full PC version. However Windows 8 is very much of this vain and maybe even more so Ubuntu. Don’t under-estimate the complexity of this and there is a fine line between something which works and something which is too much of a compromise.
  2. People are more and more multi-tasking with 2 or more devices at once e.g. watching TV and tweeting about it at the same time. There is no way people will be content to make their phone inaccessible whilst watching TV so this puts even more pressure on processing power
  3. Battery life. The one thing we haven’t seen a particular revolution in phones yet is battery power. The high specs one already struggle to last a day and with this setup there wouldn’t me much idle time for them so battery power will have to improve significantly to stand a chance.

But the more and more I think about this the more I am convincing myself this is the future. There is of course a possibility that we may skip this and jump straight to the cloud at the heart of everything we could do. This would avoid the battery issue but wireless coverage will need to improve significantly to make sure it worked everywhere but this might just happen quicker than the improvements to battery power.

Oh well, just a thought, back to my independent Laptop, PC, Phone, Tablet, TV

Driverless Cars becoming a reality

Having spent the best part of 6 hours in the car this weekend visiting the in-laws it gave me time to think about the future of travel. Of course the ultimate answer has to be the ‘transporter’ enabling us to create some sort of worm hole so we can instantly move to wherever we like. That remains a complete fantasy however something which may have been fantasy a few years ago seems to be showing signs of promise and that is the driverless car.

Google is probably most famous for pioneering the development of driveless cars and their progress is quite amazing. See Sebastain Thrun’s TED talk for a ‘progress update’. I for one am totally blown away by what has already been achieved here and am very excited about it. It seems to suggest that reasonable within my lifetime this will be a reality.

What is interesting is Sebastain’s main selling point on it is safety and solving traffic issues. I have no doubt that safety will be improved as surely the vast majority of accidents are caused by user error but would I buy one of these cars for that reason? I doubt it. It will also be interesting to see what happens the first time a driveless car kills somebody. Whose fault is it? A legal nightmare.

I also have my doubts about the claim that it will solve traffic congestion issues. If this truly takes off the demand for cars will go even higher. In theory anybody could ‘drive’ so a child of 10 or a man of 90 who probably doesn’t have a licence at the moment can suddenly add to the traffic demand. Also I can’t see train travel surviving too well and cars will have little competition so it isn’t going to solve the congestion issue but will give a lot more people access to transport, which in theory is brilliant.

However the reason I am excited about it is rather than spend my 6 hours at the weekend pointing the car in the right direction I could have caught up on the news, had some diner, played some video games or even written this blog. My time could have been exponentially more productive and given my time is so precious this is the biggest win for me.

So when we will be able to get one? Your guess is as good as mine and whilst it seems the technology is getting to a stage where it is possible there are a whole heap of other factors to bear in mind before it hits our showrooms. Think about trains the technology must be there to have them autonomous yet we still have drivers. There is an interesting article in Forbes which discusses some of the key blockers we need to overcome.

Without doubt in mind though we will overcome these as the prospect of the driverless car is so amazing and it will change humankind in such a positive way. For now though I’m going to have to stick to the taxi home after a night out in the pub.

Blackberry in the Balance

A lot has been written since BlackBerry (formerly RIM) announced the new BlackBerry 10 OS and their two flagship phones, the Z10 and Q10. I have read several reviews now and all seem to be surprisingly complimentary to BlackBerry on a decent phone and OS which stands alongside some of the current leading smartphones. Many cite the lack of apps as a concern and unfortunately that is just a symptom of BlackBerry coming so late to the party. However many also seem to have overlooked a key feature of BlackBerry’s new devices which could just be enough to save the company.

The BlackBerry traditionally has two main user groups, the young teenager who likes the low cost of the BlackBerry range and BBM (BlackBerry Messenger) and the business man who loved Blackberry’s approach to email. The feature I am talking about is squared aimed at the later of these two customers and is called the BlackBerry Balance. Balance basically splits the phone into two – one side for personal use and the other for corporate use. There are already an estimated 1 billion smartphones in circulation today and you can bet that is not 1 billion users. This is because many people, myself included, carry round 2 phones. One my own personal phone and the other a company issued one and this will be case millions of times over.

So how does BlackBerry Balance work?

Basically it segments the phone into two completely separate parts. The real appeal here is to corporate enterprises because it means the files and apps created on the work side are encrypted and not accessible by the personal side. The corporation can restrict and control what goes in to work side and importantly wipe the data at any point e.g. when you leave the company or the phone is stolen. It then leaves the personal side to be controlled and managed by the user.

This gets around most of the concerns which corporations have about Bring Your Own Devices To Work (BYOD) initiatives. Companies are happy then to issue these devices and consumers are more likely to chose them if they know their company supports them. Or that’s the idea.

An important point to realise here is that the 2 segments are completely separate so this means you will have to install an app twice if you want it both on your work side and personal side. Or even simple things like address books will be separate, it still really is like having two phones.

In my opinion this should be enough for BlackBerry to start saving some of their big corporate accounts and maybe even start to win some back. With increased demand apps will start to follow and BlackBerry will be back in the game.

This of course is not guaranteed by any means and I am concerned about the severity of the split on the phone and doesn’t lend itself to how customer actually want to use the phone. Ideally I’d want Balance to integrate some of work and personal sides together and it feels a bit to rigid at the moment but I do think gives BlackBerry a chance so let’s not write them off just yet.

Windows Frustration

I’m writing this post out of per frustration, it is not a new problem but one I and countless others face day in and day out. I live a pretty busy life, I work full time with an hour commute each way and have a young baby girl. This does not really leave a lot of time for anything. If I want to check my emails or pay a bill or surf the web I pretty much want to do it instantly. Mobile phones and tablets are absolutely genius at this, especially with their ‘apps’. The one that has most recently changed my life (and I literally mean this because it has saved me vitals minutes during the day) is Barclays mobile banks app I can now instantly check my balance, pay a bill or even use it to log into my full account using a PC instead of having that annoying card reader thing. I’m sure other banks have had good apps like this for a while but I think this represents exactly why apps can be brilliant.

So back to subject, whilst I think mobile phones and tablets are great in many ways, quite often I prefer to sit at a desk with a bigger screen and a keyboard. I personally find it a lot more comfortable and often a lot quicker to do things. However, and this is the whole point of this post, I am at my wits end with Microsoft Windows. Firstly when I power on it can take 5 minutes before I can actually access a webpage. 5 mintues!! This is not some really old crumby PC I’m talking about here this is Windows 7 running on a pretty decent machine. Then there is the constant updates windows wants to do, which of course require a full restart! Now I get that some updates will requests on my Android phone but they are few and far between and of course any app updates don’t require a restart so just happen in the background most of the time.

I thought Hibernation was my answer. It moves the PC to very low power usage and brings the benefit of a quick turn on except I have a major issue with this. The wireless adaptor gets turned off during hibernation has been turned off and this seems to take a age to turn back on. In fact I’ve just tested it and it has taken 70 secs!!! Now I’ve tried to mess around with settings to avoid this turning off and/or trying to make the wireless adaptor turned on more quickly but to no avail.

I’m not sure I hundred percent blame Microsoft for this issue. I suspect not every Windows machine has this issue but rather it is the fact that the hardware and software are made almost exclusively by different companies. In may case the laptop was put together by HP and with the literally thousands of wireless cards to choose from which can be produced by any manufacture quality is likely to suffer and these little ‘glitches’ occur from specific set ups. This is the beauty of Apple, they not only make the software but also control the hardware too meaning they can ensure a top quality user experience.

Of course Microsoft themselves have changed their long term strategy and released Windows 8 with the Microsoft Surface. This is hardware and software all by Microsoft. Whether the Windows 8 software proves successful or not remains to be seen but I think this is a good move by Microsoft and should hopefully lead to a high quality set of Windows running devices which just work. And maybe, just maybe I’ll be able to claw back some of those valuable seconds.

Smart TV – somebody save us

After having my sister’s 32 inch TV in my bedroom for the last 2 years I recently had to give  back to her after her return from Australia. This has of course prompted me to look into the world of TVs to see what I can replace this huge vacuüm with.

Firstly I’m pleasantly surprised by the value for money which is out there at the moment. It is very easy to pick up a pretty decent LED TV for around £300, this is an absolute bargain and shows what fierce competition there is out there. However me being the enthusiast (read geek) that I am I don’t just want a standard TV I want an internet TV a.k.a. a Smart TV!! The problem is they don’t seem very smart…


Cost isn’t a problem. Spend around £500 and you can get a lower end Smart TV but it doesn’t look like anybody has cracked the market. For a start manufactures have so many models it is ridiculous and the names of these models is completely meaningless. For example Samsung has the UE40EH5300. What on earth is that? I can just about guess it is a 40 inch screen but that’s about as descriptive as it gets and why is it about £100 cheaper than the UE40ES6300? There are countless more examples and so far I haven’t worked out the formula.

The good news is that the Smart TV capability seems to be identical across all the TVs of a particular manufacturer. So if it is a Smart TV (no mention of that in the product name Samsung) then you can connect it to the internet (although maybe or maybe not wirelessly) through the manufactures online hub. Now here come the most important thing for a TV, the content and usability. It seems nobody has nailed these two things.

I accept that getting content right is hard. With so many content providers it is a legal minefield to get all the wranglings sorted out but really if you get the big players you’ll hit 90% of content and all parties will want to find a solution so it will come. The issue will be when exclusive partnerships are formed so you can only watch x channel on y TV – this needs to be avoided at all costs and we as consumers need to make sure we won’t accept this.


So then on to usability, without doubt this is where the current TV set up excels. Press the TV on and then select a channel, bang, easy. The channels are all assigned universally recognised numbers so it is fairly easy to remember you favourite channels. Of course the internet works entirely differently and offers far more potential. With this comes complexity and as far as I can tell nobody has managed to wrap the TV interface round this successfully.

There are promising signs. Youview is a great project which merges all the main UK free to air catch up channels into a familiar EPG based on time of original airing. This truly is a step forward but I can’t help thinking it limits us somewhat to our current way of thinking. Surely in the future the time of original airing will be a thing of the past and we will group things by content. Instead I might be interested in period dramas let’s say Downtown Abbey so I will follow the Downtown Abbey stream, the fact that it is aired on ITV on Sunday evenings is now irrelevant to me, I get an alert when a new episode is available and I watch it at my leisure. In fact traditional broadcasters like ITV should be very worried as like music labels they become less important and certainly less powerful.

Is Youtube the future?

So you might be thinking that what I’m describing is the Youtube model and you’d be right, to me this is the future. The secret is going to somehow transfer the usability of youtube into something I can control very quickly from the armchair. In fact Google themselves are trying to break into this arena with products like the ‘NSZ-GS7 Internet Player with Google TV’ (catchy name!). I like the look of the remote with a touch panel included but as yet it has proved unsuccessful.

Opportunity Knocks

All of this points to a huge opportunity for somebody and there is one company everybody is looking to – Apple. Can you imagine a true Apple TV? I’m sure they’ll get the user interface right and the TV obviously will look amazing so it is just whether they can sort the content out and not push the price up too high. If they can then everybody else should be very worried and we could see a repeat of the mp3 player dominance by Apple and a return to them being the world’s biggest company, I certainly wouldn’t bet against them.


Wireless Power, imagine the possibilities…

OK so you have probably heard about it in the news about wireless charging it was a pretty big thing at CES this year and it looks like all the major mobile manufactures  will have “wireless” charging soon. The technology is still very young and will need to be developed further before we truly have wireless power but it got me thinking, imagine we already had this capability what would the best use be for it? Yeah sure you could have more powerful tablets and mobiles but what new features and tech would it drive? Here’s a few of my suggestions:

  1. The electronic front door. Yeah sure you have these in supermarkets but what I want is to come home after a long day at work and not have to fumble for my keys. The technology exists for this – think your car – but nobody has it on their front doors. I reckon that is because it is a royal pain to feed in an electric supply. With wireless technology everybody will have one.
  2. Fashion – I could see it now, all the “cool kids” will have electric t-shirts initially with various flashing LED lights but further in the future actual screens on their backs showing their favourite band performing or maybe even their twitter feed.
  3. Electric transport – This would start small, assuming the technology would have limited power capabilities initially. So probably on start with push bikes or segways or various alternatives. Yes these already exists but are often limited by range and heavy batteries. From there it would then move up to more meaty things like motorbike and of course cars. Could this be what final kick starts the electric car? Oh and of course we might final get the hover-board!!
  4. Gardening tools – Ok these definitely already exist and are mainstream but I really get hacked off by all the wires. Be it the lawnmower, the hedge trimmer, the trimmer or the power washer I’m seem to spend half my time untangling or trying to avoid electrocuting myself by cutting through the wire. Most of these tools are available wire free in petrol form but that is messy and rather extreme for many people. So maybe not something new but definitely an improvement.
  5. Temperature Control – Ok I’m probably thinking Embroidered Polo Shirts Online again here but this time rather than fashion I’m thinking practicalities. We humans are quite fussy when it comes to temperature and like things a certain way, 37 degrees sort of way. That is why I reckon whether it be big thermal gloves with electric heating elements in them or summer air-conditioned jacket – like this one. I reckon people will love them.

So that’s my prediction, I’m sure there are almost infinite applications out there and the technology capacity / range will dictate a lot of what can and can’t be done and then of course there is the pricing which may prohibit use. Unlike some other technologies though I’m really excited about the possibilities here and think it will be a huge step forward for humanity when we final crack it.