2014 in preview: A look at upcoming tech trends

2014 in preview: A look at upcoming tech trends

Summary: Contextual computing, the next phase of the post-PC era, 3D printing and the mainstreaming of wearable computing are a few of the 2014 themes we're watching.


The year ahead should be an interesting one for business tech as multiple tectonic plates are shifting all at once and rejiggering industry leadership.

Here’s a look at the key themes for 2014 from our editors around the world:

Larry Dignan: Post PC fallout hits hard

To me one of the biggest themes will be the fate of Windows 8.1. The time for excuses is over, the hardware has improved from the ecosystem and the Windows systems are priced well. The big question: Will people buy Windows machines en masse? If not, what does that mean for the future Microsoft franchises such as Office? We’ll know how this one turned out early in 2014 when tech giants start reporting their results. A few reasons why Windows worries are warranted:

  • Chromebooks have sold pretty well.

  • Apple’s Mac franchise is holding steady.

  • We’re in the post-PC era.

  • And there’s a good chance you’re going to see PC makers diversify their OS options. You may even see some Android running PCs.

Those moving parts add up to the days where Windows isn’t the lock it used to be. The year ahead may go along way toward determining the relevance of Windows.

A few other trends worth noting:

  • 3D printing goes mainstream (in the supply chain): A lot of the coverage around 3D printing will revolve around consumer applications. Spare me. The real revolution is already about to happen and that’ll be in the supply chain in 2014. As 3D printing bolsters the supply chain and creates parts on demand there could be a manufacturing renaissance ahead. We’ll all be makers.

  • Big data goes production. Big data may sound like so 2012, but the real enterprise applications are on deck in 2014. Those pilots have no gone production and every company knows that data is the primary asset they have. Enterprises will remain big data happy.

  • Enterprise software companies make the cloud turn (sort of). Adobe’s transition from licensing and maintenance to the Creative Cloud was instructive. It will also be copied by every other software company that didn’t start out as a SaaS play. The year ahead may bring a shakeout among those tech players merely cloud washing.

Eileen Yu: China’s increasing footprint, local players to battle global leaders

It became the world’s largest Bitcoin trading platform amid the buying frenzy that took the global market by storm in 2H2013, and it is expected to bypass the U.S. to become the world’s biggest e-commerce market by the turn of the new year. China will likely continue its upward climb in 2014, with local players such as Huawei, Xiaomi, and Alibaba leading the way. Say what you may about the Asian economic powerhouse, but the Chinese market offers so much growth potential that it got the likes of Apple and Samsung in 2013 to issue rare public apologies for less-than-adequate product repair policies and quality issues.

Huawei, for one, has its eyes on expansion in Europe where it has committed a US$2 billion investment to grow its footprint across the region, following a fallout with the U.S. government over spying allegations. And Chinese smartphone maker, Xiaomi, may be a relatively young market player--making its debut in April 2010--but it is currently valued at US$10 billion and is making plans to take expand globally. It is now planning a Singapore office to serve as its Southeast Asian hub, and expects to double its sales to 15 million units in 2013 from 7.19 million in 2012. It will be interesting to see how global market leaders such as Cisco Systems, Apple, and Samsung are planning to fan off the Chinese onslaught in 2014.

China, however, faces several key challenges. It has strong detractors who remain sceptical of its ability to innovate without plagiarizing, while others still have concerns over spying allegations against the Chinese--although Snowden diffused some of this by proving the accusers were guilty of spying themselves.

2014 may also mark the year big data will finally take off. There’s still much untapped potential in the Internet of Things and machine-to-machine (M2M) communications. If predictions about wearable technologies going mainstream do actually materialize, these will further fuel the need for M2M and big data to integrate the various services and provide the information businesses will need to better understand customer requirements.

Chris Duckett: Fragmentation in mobile

Fans of fragmentation are going to be in for a frolicking solar rotation full of fragmentation fun. Should Windows Phone continue gaining market share, app developers will have to start giving the platform the time of day, while at the same time, a group of upstarts in the guise of Firefox OS, Jolla, and Samsung with Tizen will be looking to steal market share from the lower end of the mobile market.

The sleeper pick for the long-term future could be Valve’s Steam Machines -- not only because it has the opportunity to overturn the PC gaming industry, but also because it is the first reason in a long time that many developers have had to take a second look at building for Linux-based platforms. Gaming was one of the reasons why Microsoft got into the household, and it could be one of the reasons why it disappears from it too.

Steve Ranger: Wearable devices become mainstream: whether we like it or not

Everybody's got a smartphone, tablet prices are crashing and the biggest consumer tech companies are trying to figure out what they can make next to keep the profit rolling in. As such, we're going to see through 2014 renewed attempts to make wearable technologies – glasses, watches and others – into desirable and useful consumer devices. The devices we've seen so far are at best intriguing but flawed; marred by limited capabilities, clunky designs and poor battery life. And they’re being anxiously pushed by hardware manufacturers on a mostly underwhelmed public. But they hold promise – whether that's in health monitoring or just allowing us to check messages without digging out a smartphone. So next year will see better versions of these devices and maybe – just maybe - if Apple hasn't thought better of the whole thing, the arrival of the iWatch. If anyone can make smartwatches a success (and many, many have tried and failed) and kickstart the age of wearables, it's likely to be Apple.

Jo Best: All change in telecoms

2013 hasn't been short of big name companies buying and selling communications companies: E-Plus in Germany, Virgin Media in the UK and O2 in the Czech Republic were among those to find new owners this year. It's unlikely to be the end of such shenanigans: EE in the UK and KPN in the Netherlands should be finding new homes in 2014, while former bedfellows Vodafone and AT&T have both made no secret of seeking acquisitions in the continent. On the network side, if 2013 was the year LTE became mainstream, 2014 could be the year of its successor, LTE-A after trials kicked off in France, Germany, and the UK. And if 2013 was marked by the end of Nokia's handset business, 2014 should see the growing maturity of Europe's new breed of mobile upstarts not afraid to do things differently.

Jason Hiner: The rise of contextual computing

Your technology knows more about you than you can possibly imagine. In some cases, it even knows things about you that you barely understand about yourself, which scares some people and is going to raise more red flags than ever during 2014. Nevertheless, contextual computing can be shockingly useful and efficient, and that's what is going to make more and more people tacitly opt in to it over the coming year.

The general idea with contextual computing is that your tech tools triangulate data about you from your various digital services, your location, and your history of usage activity. Then, it serves your information tailored to you just when you need it, or sometimes even before you know you need it. It anticipates your needs (which is destined to make husbands everywhere look like even bigger slackers, but that's a topic for another day).

The flag for contextual computing was carried by Google Now in 2013. I wrote about it several times this year, even calling it one of Android's two "killer innovations" of the year.  It was the first consumer-facing app that showed us the power of Big Data on a large scale. Look for a lot more products and services to experiment with contextual computing in useful and scary ways in 2014.

ZDNet's Monday Morning Opener is our opening salvo for the week in tech. As a global site, this editorial publishes on Monday at 8am AEST in Sydney, Australia, which is 6pm Eastern Time on Sunday in the US. It is written by a member of ZDNet's global editorial board, which is comprised of our lead editors across Asia, Australia, Europe, and the United States.

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  • Contextual computing?

    I think one of the biggest benefits is that it could shake us out of our boxes ... not so good for ad companies though if you use it to change who you are.

    I suspect that in the main it'll just make people more comfortable with their limited outlooks than they already are.
  • I think there will be more to see in interface technology

    With spare core cpu power, we can expect to see intelligent voice control (may be where Cortana is heading). I would expect WPhone and WinRT to become free to license. I also expect the modular Apps working together approach of Win 8/8.1 to become more powerful - whether MS capitalises on it remains to be seen, but the power is there, people just need to see it.
  • thoughts

    "We’re in the post-PC era."

    I never thought that was really an accurate description. Time will tell, but I'm still of the opinion that the PC will remain mainstream for well beyond 2014.

    "3D printing goes mainstream"

    Eh, that'll depend on how useful it turns out to be. I really haven't seen a "killer use" for it yet. It needs some equivalent of a killer app.

    "If predictions about wearable technologies going mainstream do actually materialize"

    A pretty big "if" if you ask me. Google Glasses got a lot of coverage, but it's still looking like a fad at the moment.

    "But they hold promise"

    Not really. I've yet to meet that person who wants a constant health monitoring watch.

    "Your technology knows more about you than you can possibly imagine."

    In some ways, maybe. In other ways, not really. It's got a lot of statistical information about a things a person does online, but that's not really the same thing as knowing a person.

    "I wrote about it several times this year, even calling it one of Android's two 'killer innovations' of the year. "

    Yeah, you tend to write those sorts of things, true or not.
  • I'm still skeptical about wearables

    I'm not saying there aren't useful options a watch could perform, but any watch is going to have a small screen, which immediately limits what it can realistically do.

    As far as actually displaying useful information, I think a more refined version of the Pebble is the best we're going to get. I think what will be more valuable are authentication and payment functions.
    Brian O'Blivion
  • The number one thing...

    We will all be buried even deeper in useless "in your face" advertising. and sheeple will continue to put all their "laundry" on the web for the world to laugh at.

    That's what everyone who travels, wants. That's what everyone who is at work or home, wants. I'm in a meeting, I tell my computer to do something, and I tell it to talk back to me, just like in the Star Trek movies. Yeah, we all want that. True multitasking, baby. Similarly, all my handwritten notes being converted to digital and searchable? Seriously? I'd kill for that.

    Where is it? Whoever makes it really work, on whatever devices, will lead.
    • Apple and Google

      Apple and Google have good voice recognition. Microsoft is said to have something in the works... always arriving in a year or two :/ Said to be big - really big.
      • Yawn.

        Obviously, some people here will stay exactly the same.

        Not saying that's a good thing.
  • Ubuntu's tablet may dominate the field in 2014

    For anyone who has tested out Ubuntu Touch this is a very real possibility in 2014. Although not yet complete as a consumer release, Ubuntu Touch is a great user experience. I think we will see more OEMs offering Ubuntu on tablets.

    Here is a good read on the subject: http://www.techrepublic.com/blog/linux-and-open-source/five-reasons-why-the-ubuntu-tablet-could-shock-naysayers-in-2014/
  • The tech most aren't even watching...

    And the one that will fuel another tech industry is sensors. Watch and see what happens with them in the next one to two years, they will be EVERYWHERE.
  • I still don't own a smartphone

    Just wanted to let you know that.
    • a few ago

      A few months ago, I got my first smartphone. I find it useful. A couple years ago, I guess it was, I got the Nexus 7, which is a fine little tablet, but I hardly use it - not sure why people prefer tablets to computers. Since 1994 I have owned a computer - very useful and pleasing to use with mouse and keyboard. While I find voice commands work well with my smartphone ( Nexus 4 ) and for input into address box on a browser using a Mac Mini, I have yet to understand completely this tablet love. You must hold a tablet with one or two hands, and to get the best reading experience use apps instead of browsers in most cases. While on a phone, to quickly get info, directions, or dictate an email back to someone, holding and talking make sense, but at home, if I have a 27" monitor, keyboard and mouse -- how are tablets better??? The PC is not dead; at least to me, it is not.

      The Chromebooks, selling at or above retail are selling-out and getting hard to find. This is to say those with the Celeron Haswell -- the latest stuff. The only sensation for Windows 8.1 I can see is the ASUS T100 for $399 or less. Of course both of these are PC though the ASUS can be used as a tablet. Seems whenever Win 8x tablets are shown in ads, they are horizontal and with a keyboard in use.... interesting - was called a Netbook at one time ;)

      I think 2014 sees more ChromeOS devices, Linux and Ubuntu makes headlines.
      • I disagree

        " I think 2014 sees more ChromeOS devices, Linux and Ubuntu makes headlines."

        I disagree as ChromeOS are selling "OK", but not selling out, or even well, at least where I live. (Maybe your area had very limited stocks to begin with, which makes sense).

        Linux and Ubuntu have been around for years with little to no real traction.

        PC's are still going strong considering the shear amount of them being sold. It's nice to point out a drop in terms of %, but use actual numbers and you find that they are still selling in volumes more then many other products in the world.
        • he disagree....

          ...meaning prediction is right.
          • deathtoms chimes in, supports my conclusions

            "deathtoms doth protest too much, methinks"

            I understand now.
      • Tablets are over rated

        Good points. Just sold my tablet after almost a year of very little usage except for ebooks and the occasional browsing. I cannot mention one thing where the tablet is superior to a laptop for 'portable' computing around the house. The screen is tiny, just like the horrible 10" netbooks so popular a few years ago, speed is lower, managing files is a horrific experience, printing a chore if at all possible. But the worst is the ergonomic experience. Watching a movie starts hurting your arms in a few minutes. You can rest your laptop on your legs and enjoy a bigger screen and better sound. It's a chore to write on a tablet except for quick FB updates or very short emails. Touch is terrible when you need to check tiny boxes on a web sites. And on and on the list goes. It's great for games so my son has one. And of course, a tablet doesn't even compare when you want to get work done. I truly enjoy working with my 24" monitor and a powerful desktop.

        From the very moment the ipad was announced I always wondered how many people would repurchase a tablet after the initial excitement had evaporated. We don't know yet, but there are signs that the rate of sales increase of tablet is slowing down as well as the rate of decrease in real computers. Most normal people are on a budget and has probably postponed pc purchases. As they wear down and MS get their acts together on Windows 9 the picture might change.
  • 3d printing?

    Until 3D printers can print out of metal instead of plastic, things will not change much. I am looking around my desk right now and there is nothing that is made of the type of plastic in most 3D printers. Just a toy until different materials can be used.
    • RE: Just a toy until different materials can be used.

      +1 for pizza