ZDNet’s top products and tech trends for 2013

ZDNet’s top products and tech trends for 2013

Summary: Which products, platforms, and big ideas made the most impact in 2013?

TOPICS: Apple, Amazon, Security

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  • At the end of the year, it’s traditional to look back and take stock of what happened in the previous 12 months. If you’re in the business of technology, looking back on everything that happened this year might give you vertigo. It was that kind of year.

    The 13 entries on this list are comprised of two types: tech trends that came into clear focus this year, and products that did something new and have the potential to be disruptive.

    This isn’t meant to be a “best of” list, although the individual products that made the cut are here because they’re a favorite of at least one ZDNet editor.

    And we fully realize that your list is likely to be different from ours. Which is why we encourage you to add your own comments in the Talkback section. With that out of the way, let's see what we thought mattered in tech in 2013.

  • Encryption everywhere

    Modern cryptography does an excellent job at keeping secrets, assuming you’re using keys that are sufficiently large and properly randomized. When crypto fails these days, it's usually because someone found a way to tap into the data stream at a point where it was temporarily unprotected.

    Edward Snowden’s revelations showed that the NSA and its UK counterparts the GCHQ are very good about exploiting those unencrypted weak spots. They tapped into Google's private, unencrypted lines between data centers. They install Trojans on target computers to get data directly off a device, before it’s encrypted. They’ve even tried to compromise hardware and public crypto standards with secret backdoors.

    The solution, as we saw this year, is more and better encryption. Google is rushing to encrypt transmissions between its data centers and pushing Forward Secrecy to harden SSL against key compromise. Microsoft is also encrypting their internal traffic between data centers and pushing the industry to use newer and stronger crypto standards.

    Well-implemented TLS/SSL is not impossible to break, but it's impractical to do so — even for the NSA. Unfortunately, there's still a lot of bad crypto out there, hobbled by old and weak standards and careless practices. Even governments make huge, important crypto errors.

    There has been a steady increase in the use of encryption to protect data at rest and in transit, and you can look for that to increase steadily next year. Also look for governments to attempt to assert control over security technologies, even if it's an obviously futile exercise.

    — Larry Seltzer

  • Biometrics hit the mainstream

    Passwords are terrible ways to protect confidential data. The list of stupid things we do with passwords is, frankly, shocking.

    • We choose bad passwords. A recent hack revealed millions of passwords from Adobe customers, and one analysis showed that the top two passwords in that list were “123456” and, of course, “password.” Others in the top 10 included “qwerty,” “111111,” and “adobe123.”
    • We reuse passwords. Because remembering complex passwords is a pain, we reuse passwords at different sites. Which means if one site gets compromised, the bad guy now has the keys to every other site where those credentials were used.
    • We’re easily fooled. Social engineering and phishing attacks exploit human nature, with users voluntarily handing over the keys to valuable things.

    The obvious solution is two-factor authentication: something you have plus something you know. And the best accompaniment to a password is biometric proof that you are who you say you are. Apple’s TouchID, integrated into the iPhone 5S this year, was noteworthy as the first example of fingerprint reading technology integrated into a mainstream tech product. (A publicity stunt involving an alleged hack got far more coverage than it should have.)

    Windows 8.1, which was released to manufacturing a month before iOS 7, has similar technology. A biometric framework and fingerprint registration application designed for use with the same type of reader as is found in the new iPhone (a big improvement over older swipe-based fingerprint readers) is built into Windows 8.1. It can be combined with the Trusted Platform Module (TPM) in a Windows 8.1 device to create a virtual smartcard that makes spoofing of enterprise network credentials very difficult. Look for this technology to become much more common next year.

    — Ed Bott

Topics: Apple, Amazon, Security


Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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  • Seems 2013 was the year of incremental upgrades

    Little happened this year that was really new or exciting, maybe consumer tech is starting to plateau.
    • TouchID is something that is not incremental

      But that is it for this year.
      • 2013 was the year of Edward Snowden and

        how NSA is using weak Windows ecosystem to spy people. It was also the year when millions of people started to think about what real security means - the year to leave Windows, IE, Facebook, and some other social network spying sites. Don't lock yourself to Microsoft, Apple and Google ecosystem. Especially avoid Windows and IE.
        • Is the NSA using Windows to spy on folks?

          Just about everything I've read points to them using either legal loopholes or network, uh, "features" to look at people's data. Are they really getting down at the client level, or even at the level of a particular server OS?
      • Depends on how you define "incremental"

        I had a fingerprint scanner/reader on my desktop many years ago. Motorola had one on their Atrix 4G back in 2011. I own an Iwallet. Iwallet is a hard cased wallet that opens with your fingerprint. However, Apple is the first one to actually make it part of it's cell phone operating system. So does the fact that it has been around and used for many years mean that Apple's implementation is "incremental"?
        • No

          Apple's implementation of the fingerprint scanner is revolutionary and come 2014 everyone will be using it. How well did the fingerprint scanner on the Atrix work? Not very well. It didn't set the world on fire and people forgot about it.

          Apple didn't invent the smart phone, yet the reason every mobile device on the planet today has a touch screen, app store, and a camera is because Apple said so.
  • Kinda sad to see "self-updating software" on the list.

    Kinda sad to see "self-updating software" on the list.

    Not because it's a bad idea, but because we've had the tech to do so for a long, long time.

    Software that updates itself has been around for 10, maybe 20 years. What's happened is not its invention, but rather its popularity. It feels like such a fundamental thing - why did it take so long to become popular?
  • sigh . . .

    "The Chromecast is also a potential game-changer for sales and marketing pros . . ."

    Maybe, but meh. They're not as important as ZDNet tends to think. I consider them to be niche.
    • I said the same thing on that very notion

      so instead of lugging around a projector, they'll lug around a TV?

      Now if the location you're doing the presentation at already has TV's as he mentions, then you weren't lugging around a projector, just plugging your laptop in via HDMI already.

      I thought from the start that SJVN was making up a scenario that doesn't exist to try to give a niche product some relevance.
      • I'm sure it has its uses.

        Oh, I'm sure it has its uses.

        But pretending that "sales and marketing pros" are a major percentage of the general population seems silly to me.
  • Sounds like sandboxie.

    "Virtualization as malware killer"

    Meh, this is no 2013 thing - sandboxie was doing this first.
    • Not the same thing at all

      Very different technology. Bromium is a true hypervisor, for heaven's sake.
      Ed Bott
      • There you go again Ed...

        ....with your grumpy bad attitude problem. Whilst you may be correct in your point, that really does not give you a right to exercise your sanctimonious 'for heavens sake' attitude in correcting someone who may not be so well informed.
        You really should try harder to show a little more respect and tolerance for your readers, whose clicks generate wealth for the company who ultimately pay you. Please try and share your superior knowledge a little more gracefully.
        The Central Scrutinizer
        • Did you read a different post???

          I didn't see any basis for your litany of criticisms.
        • Thanks for the career advice

          Now go away.
          Ed Bott
      • Great Tech

        Bromium's vSentry looks to add functionality that should really be an integral part of every modern OS. This is the way processes should always be run. I've been saying we need a completely new OS with virtual process functionality built into the kernel, virtual device interfaces, and sporting a self-repairing file system for a decade now. To be honest, I'm amazed they were able to add per process virtual machines into the existing Windows spaghetti.
      • A "true hypervisor"?

        A "true hypervisor"?

        Kinda like a true Scotsman, I assume?
  • Looking backwards...

    Doesn't provide much insight to where your next foot step will be. I suppose it fills space though.
  • Thoughts on the "cloud."

    "The cloud turns solid"

    Can you come up with a better word than "cloud" please? I DO NOT WANT A FUZZY WORD LIKE THAT TO BE THE FUTURE OF MANKIND EVEN IF THE TECHNOLOGY STAYS.

    Ugh. It's still a horrible, poorly defined word.

    And while the "cloud" may stay - I do not automatically think that means PCs and local computing power should go away. It's a supplement to local power, not a replacement of it.

    The "fad" is not the idea of remote computing resources, the fad is the idea that remote computing resources completely replaces local computing resources.
    • There is no "cloud"

      I agree, CobraA1. The "cloud" is a bad analogy, a soft word designed to lull us into a false sense of security. In this analogy, we're using just one or two water droplets. A better word is the "RES", short for REmote Servers. You're storing your stuff on a RES (also short for reservations, about which I have many).