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By 15 January 2014 | Categories: news

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Another year, another bunch of improvements on the technological front. So, what are the tech trends to look forward to in 2014?

1. Mobile enters the 64-bit era

In 2013 Apple was the first to plant its flag into 64-bit system-on-chipset (SoC) territory by debuting its new dual-core A7 processor in devices like the iPhone 5s and iPad Air. Competitors initially labelled the A7 as a marketing gimmick, but were silenced after the chipset humbled every other flagship device in benchmark tests.

Samsung quickly revealed that their next-gen smartphones (hopefully including the Galaxy S5) will boast a 64-bit CPU, whilst Intel also stated that it plans on launching 64-bit (Atom Bay Trail) Android-running mobile devices within 2014. What about the midrange and low-end market? Qualcomm is bringing 64-bit processing power to budget devices, courtesy of its Snapdragon 410 SoC that will do duty in sub-R1 500 mobile devices targeted at the developing world.

2. In-vehicle infotainment systems to go mainstream

In-vehicle infotainment systems (IVIS), such as Audi’s MMI, BMW’s iDrive, and Mercedes-Benz’s Command Online, have featured in luxury sedans for over 10 years now. These systems have already made the class leap into more mainstream cars thanks to IVIS platforms the likes of Ford’s Sync and Fiat/Alfa Romeo’s Blue&Me. These enable drivers to use voice commands and steering-wheel or dashboard mounted buttons to access functions such as making- or answering incoming calls, and accessing cloud-based apps like checking into a destination on Facebook as soon as you arrive.

Market research firm ABI Research forecasts that shipments of IVIS-equipped cars will grow substantially over the next few years to reach 35.1 million units by 2018. This rapid growth is directly linked to the rabid worldwide adoption of mobile devices, with consumers craving the same level of connectivity whilst on the road as they have access to in the office or at home. Also contributing to the adoption of IVI systems is regulation within countries like the European Union, making it mandatory for cars to be able to contact emergency services automatically in the event of an accident.   

3. Tablet gaming infringing on console turf

Watch out consoles, tablet games appear to be quickly increasing in their gameplay complexity and graphical fidelity. This year, we expect games made for tablets to only become more sophisticated and further rival that found on the consoles. Helping matters is the increasing processing power and screen resolutions of tablets themselves, turning them into portable gaming consoles to be reckoned with.

Additionally, look out for more indie developers seeking to make a name for themselves and secure their own game franchises on tablets, such as may well be the case with Cornfox and Brothers’ Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas. This iOS only exclusive is particularly notable not only for the fact that it pays direct homage to The Legend of Zelda, but also proved that indie developers could well win over a large, and profitable, audience.

4. Wearable tech: The new black

Wearable technology (smart glasses, smartwatches, fitness bands) has been hyped as the next big thing for quite a while now. Despite big players like Samsung entering the fray with its Galaxy Gear smartwatch, the trend has yet to really take off. The reason? Currently these gadgets are nice things to have for early adopters, as opposed to must-have devices for general consumers. Will this change in 2014?

Data analytics company Juniper research asserts that the adoption of wearable tech will receive a drastic boost due to heightened consumer awareness; fitness bands and tech being adopted by the health sector; plus new devices entering the market such as Apple’s much rumoured iWatch. Google Glass shows the biggest potential for enhancing users’ day-to-day productivity, however, via features like providing walking directions to the nearest Gautrain station and removing the need for a dedicated GPS by providing turn-by-turn, voice-guided navigation.

5. Wi-Fi networks hit Usain Bolt pace via 802.11ac

Snappier downloads over the Wi-Fi network is in our futures thanks to the 5th generation of Wi-Fi, namely 802.11ac. Some of the benefits of the new Wi-Fi standard includes longer range efficacy; faster download as well as upload speeds and backwards compatibility with all the previous standards. Whereas 802.11n had a theoretical maximum speed of 450 Mbps, 802.11ac ups the ante (at least on paper) to 1.3 gigabits per second (Gbps).

Although a number of routers, computers (2013 MacBook Air and Pros) and mobile devices (HTC One max and Galaxy S4) supporting this new standard were released in 2013, mass rollout will only occur this year.

6. Wi-Fi offloading begins to gain traction

Another trend we only expect to grow in the year ahead is Wi-Fi offloading. Put simply this means that cellular networks are starting to make a concerted effort to be able to push some of their 2G, 3G and 4G traffic over to nearby Wi-Fi hotspots. In order for this to happen though, Wi-Fi hotspots would need to become considerably more ubiquitous throughout the country as a whole.

This trend would not just relieve the current strain and stress on mobile networks of an only increasing number of mobile users. It would also mean that connectivity could become considerably more pervasive in the next few years, with the Wi-Fi on offer being of high quality as well. The vision is that general users would be able to more seamlessly switch between Wi-Fi connectivity and cellular connectivity when they are out and about, in which case, everyone wins.

7. High end ultra-zooms vie for your cash

Another trend we expect to see more of in 2014 is high-end, high-priced ultra-zooms. One of the more notable examples of this last year was Canon’s EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Lens with Internal 1.4x Extender. A beast of a lens in every respect, this uncompromising zoom brought with it a formidable price, in the region of R140 000. Rumours have it that we may well see a 300-600 with Internal 1.4x Extender from the company in the near future as well. Canon, however, are not alone in the trend towards no compromise ultra-zooms.

Sigma also brought out its 120-300mm F2.8 DG OS HSM telephoto zoom lens, coming in close to the R50 000 mark. Notably, this was the first in its new Sport range and considering Sigma’s lack of shyness around ultra-zooms (its 150-500mm is a case in point), we expect it won’t be the last. Your move, Nikon.

Trends for 2013 (article): How we fared

1. King Apple loses its crown

No matter what, it seems as if nothing can persuade Apple to up the 4" screen real-estate on offer with its iPhones. As such the iPhone brand is simply not keeping up with the 5" full HD luxuries on offer from competitors. When it comes to tablets though, Apple still reigns supreme.

2. Cameras: More full frame action

With Sony sticking a full frame into everything it can (see p16), and Nikon releasing both the D610 and Df in 2013, full frame photography certainly received a fair bit of attention in 2013. Unfortunately high costs make it an expensive reality for most.

3. Phablets Find their footing

Samsung’s Note 3 lost some weight, while Sony, HTC and LG jumped on the phablet bandwagon with the Z Ultra, One max and Optimus G Pro respectively. Phablets aren’t going away anytime soon, with research company IDC actually cutting tablet growth because of better than expected phablet sales. 

4. LTE is here, and burgeoning

While LTE certainly pushed internet download speeds up, not all devices can access this faster network. And with availability of the LTE network restricted to major city centres, it certainly wasn’t meant for everyone.

Article first appeared in TechSmart 124, Jan 2014

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