Whilst 2013 saw little by way of major surprises from the world’s leading technology firms who instead built on established foundations, 2014 promises to be more exciting. Microsoft be getting a new CEO and, in all likelihood, a new direction, Google will continue to roll out wearable devices and Samsung and Apple promise to continue to try and one-up each other in the smartphone and tablet space.
1. Slowing tablet growth, growing phablet growth:
The indicators from the last quarter of 2013 are all fairly clear in their outlook of slower tablet growth globally for 2014, particularly in mature markets where tablet adoption rates are now significant.
Whilst the tablet market as a whole is expected to see a not unimpressive 22% growth, this is down from 2013’s massive, IDC-reported 54% growth rate. Mini-tablets are expected to be most impacted by this slowing growth, with the emerging phablet form-factor, pioneered by Samsung’s Galaxy Note back in 2011 rendering 7-inch tablets redundant for many consumers.
To this end, expect to see the long-expected iOS phablet announced and launched within the 2014 window by Apple, to compete with major phablet manufacturers Samsung, LG, Sony, Lenovo and Nokia. It should expect stiff competition from a Galaxy Note 4, due to be released in Q4 which may act as a testbed for some of Samsung’s more adventurous technologies.
Finally, there’s the tentative suggestion that Microsoft may end up surprising everyone with the performance of its Surface 2 tablet range. Recently-released holiday survey data indicates much better than expected sales from the Windows 8 mobile flagship. Success in 2014 however will depend on their ability to correct leverage their enterprise and educational software to leverage success in professional spaces, where tablets are considered weak.
2. Desktops and laptops find some stability:
Following on from the previous predictions, we expect the PC/laptop market to stabilize in 2014 for the first time after significant cannibalization by tablets and other mobile devices. Financial analysts seem to echo this outlook, bullishly evaluating Intel stock options in 2014 with the expectation that the PC/laptop decline has finally “bottomed out”.
3. Google success story will continue with increasingly diverse partnerships:
Google’s extraordinary growth will continue apace in 2014 with the search and tech-giant continuing to establish its presence both in emerging technology markets and on the web.
2013 saw Google+ defy the odds and grow over 50% to become the second-largest social-network in the US, hot on the heels of a sputtering Facebook. With Google+ now a unified social ecosystem sitting across all of Google’s platforms this growth can only intensify in 2014, but it will take clever marketing to convince some sceptical of interface-heavy social media options in general, who are increasingly moving towards options like Twitter.
2014 will also see Google will also increasingly move towards consumer-orientated models of some of its more future tech offerings. It has already announced its plans to work alongside Audi to implement some of its much hyped car technology in a real-world setting. Google Glass remains more up in the air owing to widespread beliefs it is too intrusive, but 2014 will see for certain whether or not Google has a consumer version planned to be released to market.
4. We will finally see curved displays on mainline devices:
It’s well known Samsung’s highly vertically integrated structure allows it to experiment with hardware in a way that more-ODM/OEM reliant companies such as Apple cannot. One of the fruits of this unique structure is the development of some rather interesting technology, much of which doesn’t ever garner much publicity, much less ever get integrated into consumer devices.
An area of emerging technology which does show widespread commercial application and utility (such as improved viewing angles and a smaller need for plastic bezeling) are curved displays, Samsung’s Galaxy Round has already shown its possible on a smartphone and has great promise and LG weren’t far behind with their G Flex. However, neither of these devices are a part of their company’s respective flagship brands, so expect to see the Samsung Galaxy S5 or Galaxy Note 4 finally make this technology standard. Recent reports also suggest Apple are pursuing the same strategy.
5. 64 bit as standard in mobile devices:
The release of the iPhone 5S, complete with Apple’s 64 bit A7 System-on-Chip (SoC) on-board showed it still carried a significant edge in this area over major competitors like Samsung.
2014 will see Samsung will follow Apple’s lead in this regard with their and launch an x64 SoC, the Exynos 6, most likely for release in both the S5 and the Galaxy Note 4. Expect this to drive dedicated mobile-chip manufacturers like Qualcomm, ARM and Intel, ultimately standardizing the 64 bit SoC model for mobile devices. The actual performance advantage to be gained from this overall by the average consumer is still somewhat debatable however.
6. 4k displays:
“4k” (that is 3840 pixels × 2160 resolutions) have been a hot topic in the tech world for some time now. Devices with large displays like televisions are already making use of them in big ways and phone OLEDs are following hot on their tails, with Samsung and LG both repurposing the technology for use in phones already, with announcements of 2560×1440 resolution phone displays.
Again, the practical advantage of above-1080p displays on 4-6 inch phone screens is a question that will be answered by the consumer market, but the extra battery demand from displays that produce 75% more pixels than their closest counterparts is something that will require an equivalent advancement in battery tech.
7. Android/iOS duopoly is broken:
One thing we’ll almost certainly see in the year ahead is the increasing range of mobile OS’s that consumers will be able to choose from. If Microsoft can build upon their apparent holiday success with the Surface 2 tablet range, then we’ll see an equivalently hardware/software fused competitor to Apple for the first time, and smaller Linux-distributions built for low-end handsets, such as Firefox OS, Sailfish OS, Ubuntu Touch and many more may, if built around a successful business strategy, capture much of the low-cost handset market in the developing world.
What Samsung plans to do with Tizen is, again, a topic of some debate, but expect news chatter to intensify on it throughout the year. Blackberry OS will most likely be fighting to maintain its presence in the enterprise space, making little headway in the consumer market.