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ZDNet's tech predictions for 2013

What will be the next big thing? As cellular carriers merge and become stronger, mobile makers may not survive. Will big data analytics take off, and will 3D printing arrive with a bevy of legal and ethical issues? Here's a look ahead at 2013 and what we can expect.
By Zack Whittaker, Contributor on
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1 of 13 Zack Whittaker/ZDNET

3D printing will go mainstream, printing at home?

It's Star Trek technology or primitive replicators coming to our century. Printing was, for years, limited to the business environment. Eventually it arrived in homes to consumer users. But, the next step in printing comes in three-dimensions -- 3D printing -- giving users the ability to 'print' (with lasers and computer-aided cutting machines) items for machines, computers, and even body parts.

It will only be a matter of time before home users will be able to download schematics and blueprints from the Web and create their own products from their home office as the technology becomes more simplified.

It's a distance away yet, but 2013 will see a dramatic rise in the 3D printing sector, along with the associated ethical issues with it. Should you be able to print a firearm at home? Should 3D printers be used with stem cells to build body parts? And should the schematics or blueprints be offered through 'pirate' sites? Where there will be 3D printing, there will likely be strict regulation.

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2 of 13 Zack Whittaker/ZDNET

Augmented reality will become... reality with Google Glass, others

A relatively new technology, the idea of 'augmented reality' in the real world involves holding up a phone's camera to produce real-life items that will 'light up' and display information. Your phone's screen is a looking glass to the wider world, and you could explore your surroundings with 'hidden' nuggets pulled from the Web.

With the announcement of Google Glass earlier this year, the search giant is bringing the augmented 'reality' one step closer by cutting out the middle-man device. The glasses include a heads-up display where those who wear the device can check their messages, record video, and see additional information about the environment they are in.

While Google Glass isn't expected until 2014, the wider industry will be working frantically to bring their own offerings to the table. It will also open up the floodgates to other competitors jumping in and offering their own solutions to a problem that never actually existed. Perhaps a fad for now, augmented reality and Google Glass-like functionality could be the first step -- aside from human bionic limbs -- toward the 'humanification' of technology. Watch this space in 2013.

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3 of 13 Zack Whittaker/ZDNET

Apple TV could revitalize slumping television market

Will Apple launch its own television set in 2013? It's possible, and very likely -- if the analysts are right -- but when, and at what price? 

Apple lost out to the sub-$200 mini-tablet range by pricing its own 7-inch iPad mini at a price premium. The Cupertino, Calif.-based technology giant has not broken down the figures, but analysts still believe the mini-tablet has failed to take off. If Apple takes the same approach with a fully-fledged 'smart TV,' it may not revitalize the wider technology market.

The problem is that televisions are not replaced very often, and are low margin products. This is why Sony, Sharp and Panasonic, and others -- excluding Samsung which is faring the weather well -- are struggling to stay afloat and are looking at financing options. A break into the television market would be an automatic failure, but if Apple could control it -- as it would -- it would be more than a "hobby business," as Apple chief executive Tim Cook said at the company's fourth quarter earnings call, but also be less than a dire waste of time.

Still, by bringing iTunes and pay-per-view content to the television set, the devices could be sold at a modest premium with razor-thin margins -- just as Google and Amazon do with their tablets -- and still rake in the cash long-term with the television content factor.

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4 of 13 Zack Whittaker/ZDNET

Anonymous, Wikileaks will revive, hacktivism will hit a new level

Wikileaks has had a relatively quiet year, in spite of Julian Assange's 'house arrest' in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.

Anonymous, however, has remained busy, taking down what it deems to be unethical companies, exposing security holes in networks, and above all else -- it seems -- having fun in the process. The hacking collective typically works 'for the people' exposing wrongdoing and illegal behavior and activities.

Wikileaks' Assange has already promised to release many more leaks in the coming year that could have lasting effects on governments and private industries. Outside of the Wikileaks collective, Anonymous and its affiliates will continue to exploit security weaknesses 'for the lulz,' and the possibility that governments will begin to exploit these hackers for their own purposes.

Cyber-weaponry will continue to be used as an effective method of destroying physical items with computer code, such as with the rise of Stuxnet, Duqu, and Flame among others. Where drone missiles and tactical military strikes once did the most damage, the 'unknown' governments behind these attacks will anonymously strike at regional targets that pose ongoing threats to domestic and international security. 

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5 of 13 Zack Whittaker/ZDNET

Big data will get bigger and better

Big data was one of the biggest enterprise buzzwords of 2012. Simply put, it's making use of 'big' amounts of 'data' through a variety of sources, from shopping details, climate information, data collected from smartphones, device feedback, and a variety of devices that connect to the 'Internet of things'. 

That data becomes an untapped mine of information and feedback -- and by using analytics retail decisions can change, and flaws in processes can be identified, along with increasing revenue through data trading or data resale.

Jobs in big data will increase rapidly in 2013 in order to help extrapolate the goldmine that the vast amounts of information that consumers provide and companies collect in order to improve the world as we know it. Real-time analytics will be standardized; the ability to predict the next major shifts in finance and banking will become a reality, and the enterprise will benefit hugely from new strategies eminating from the new data-analytics technologies.

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6 of 13 Zack Whittaker/ZDNET

Bring-your-own-device (BYOD) will soar in the workplace

Startups and small-to-medium-sized businesses will continue to embrace the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policies to let their employees and staff work with gear that they enjoy and to cut company costs and IT spending. 

With the release of Windows 8, those bringing in laptops and tablets will be able to connect to corporate networks and access the applications, documents and services that are needed to work remotely or from the office. But, with a mix of cloud productivity applications and services bridging the gap, those who work flexibly or from home on a regular basis will be able to connect to networks without edging too closely to sensitive databases or within the network.

However, it's unlikely that BYOD trends will extend fully to the enterprise setting. While Android retains the highest market share in the mobile space, combined with difficulties in back-end mobile management services for the platform, IT security policies will shun many of the devices that run on the majority of devices. But, those running familiar back-end managed devices, such as iPhones and iPads, will have simpler and easier access to services within the company firewall, thanks to the device's policy management.

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7 of 13 Zack Whittaker/ZDNET

Tech giants will shift to China, other BRIC countries for recovery

Brazil, Russia, India and China -- the so-called BRIC nations -- are showing budding potential for corporate expansions. Amazon has already spread its wings to Brazil, as has Microsoft, and Lenovo is pushing hard to bring a local PC-building plant in the country, while it remains the most popular PC manufacturer in China, a key market for others to crack.

As market saturation reaches its peak and companies continue to want to expand, higher import taxes are making it nigh on impossible to break into new markets. Companies therefore have to set up shop in these BRIC countries in order to tap into the vast revenue streams. But tougher local regulations will make it difficult, and governments of emerging markets are yet to extend the hand of friendship to these firms. That middle ground could arrive at some point in 2013, allowing for huge profits for the coming year.

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8 of 13 Zack Whittaker/ZDNET

RIM, Nokia: Revival or collapse

2013 will be make or break for two major mobile companies: Research in Motion, the Canadian maker of the humble BlackBerry smartphone, and Finland-based Nokia, which has dabbled in just about every kind of mobile device known to man. 

RIM's BlackBerry market share has tumbled over the past year, while Nokia recently sold its Espoo, Finland headquarters in order to conserve its cash, which it's burning through at an alarming rate. Nokia isn't making any money, neither is RIM, and both companies are betting on devices and products that have yet to be released or are yet to make any significant impact in the market.

BlackBerry 10 will make or break RIM, meanwhile Nokia has to pray that Windows Phone will take off, considering Nokia's and Microsoft's bid to bring the platform to China, in order to survive the turbulent financial times elsewhere.

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9 of 13 Zack Whittaker/ZDNET

Apple, Microsoft will face testing times

Apple remains -- despite its recent share price tumbles -- the most powerful and wealthiest technology company in the world, while Microsoft still has more users of its products than any other firm in the world.

The duopoly between the two remains, just as it earlier in the decade. But the two companies in the past year have seen extreme highs and extreme lows. How the two technology behemoths will hold on to their respective highs in the coming year will be something to watch. It's entirely likely that Apple and Microsoft will go back to being 'ordinary' technology companies, and little will separate them from each other or the wider community. 

Windows 8 will likely, despite analysts hedging their outlooks, become a massive success, despite its sluggish start. Most organizations are expected to roll out the next-generation software to their existing machines. At the same time, Apple's dominance in the post-PC world will see its share of the tablet market steady out and take the crown away from the traditional PC market. 

That said, Microsoft's Windows share could suffer as a result of a rise in mobile operating systems while Apple's share price and troubles in keeping up with the innovation curve in 2012 could see the firm fall back to the mid-2000s.

While both scenarios are possible, the complete reverse could also -- and may -- happen. The PC/post-PC world is still in transition, and only time will tell if the two companies, singularly or respectively, have kept up with the trends. 

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10 of 13 Zack Whittaker/ZDNET

'Internet of Things' will connect the home together

Plenty of strange acronyms and new sayings from 2012, but perhaps the strangest and non-descript is the 'Internet of things.' 

The concept is simple: ordinary household and personal items have become connected to the wider world through networking connections, near-field communications (NFC) and Bluetooth. For instance, that relationship allows jewelry to change color with the weather, glasses to show what time it is, and other seemingly ordinary items that will connected to the outside world and react accordingly. 2013 is the year where this will likely take off and become a brand new phase to our inter-connected lives. 

From a business and enterprise perspective, it will allow for more informed business decisions and interaction without human intervention, such as printers telling manufacturers when ink levels are low or when a computer's hardware needs replacing.

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11 of 13 Zack Whittaker/ZDNET

Mobile mergers: T-Mobile-MetroPCS; Sprint-Clearwire

In 2013, the U.S. cellular market will become increasingly competitive, despite the troubles they face. Following the failed attempt by AT&T to acquire T-Mobile, partly thanks to the intervention by the U.S. Department of Justice, the smaller networks have been bidding for others in order to bolster their financial positions and network infrastructure.

With cellular saturation at its peak, the only way these companies can grow either domestically or internationally is to acquire their rivals with the closest set of hardware to their own. With T-Mobile and MetroPCS set to merge by the second quarter. The Sprint and Clearwire deal set to clear later in 2013 now that Softbank, the primary shareholder of Sprint, gave its thumbs up to the deal, we expect to see a series of larger networks to take on the behemoths of AT&T and Verizon.

As 4G LTE is set to edge in to take the place of older technologies, falling short of actually replacing GPRS, EDGE and 3G, infrastructures will grow and develop with additional investment from outside companies, and become increasingly internationalized as LTE becomes the global standard for next-generation communications.

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12 of 13 Zack Whittaker/ZDNET

As the cloud gets more complex, legalities could hold it back

Businesses will increasingly rely on the cloud to separate BYOD employees from sensitive corporate data, while the cloud will become more and more a center for power and processing. The cloud is no longer 'just' storage; it is a powerful engine -- and its power will become increasingly exploited in 2013 and the years to come. 

Issues and legalities over cloud data sovereignty will come to a head this year when the EU will likely have to go back to the drawing board on new data protection proposals, that affects more than just the 27 bloc of countries. Issues over where cloud data is stored and who can access that data will remain in focus, but solutions to these problems may not come to fruition overnight. 

What is clear, however, is that major businesses will shun the public cloud for now -- until these problems and worries can be solved or alleviated. Expect more controversy in 2013 regarding the cloud. Ultimately, only our politicians can only solve these issues.

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13 of 13 Zack Whittaker/ZDNET

Yahoo could make a comeback by going 'all-in' on mobile

The former Web giant has a new chief executive, veteran Google executive and mobile expert Marissa Mayer. How she will bring her expertise to the company has yet to be seen, but 2013 could be where Yahoo stretches its wings from years in technological captivity.

The reason is simple: Yahoo is pushing mobile with mergers, acquisitions, and in-house development. Mobile is the key strategy for the company as it attempts to revive the ailing brand. Most major companies have yet to monetize mobile: Apple has its application store, as does Google, but both have yet to see their mobile advertising strategies take off. Meanwhile, Facebook has around one-third of its one-billion-plus users on mobile that it has yet to work out what to do with them. 

If Yahoo nails the mobile platform, it can return to its former glory days.

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