Refinement and finesse came back to focus by the end of 2013, products are stronger; both durable and reliable. They didn’t break and need fixing every Tuesday. Mediocre devices that existed only because they were the first are replaced, re-hashed and re-made to much better effect.
A year where the hype was replaced by substance, good ideas by real success and good-enough by fantastic!
As I look back, I am amazed at how many good, geeky, futuristic things from computer vision, robotics and mobile are showing up as mainstream consumer products that you can buy and own and not be disappointed by.
Phones, Tablets and Wearables
Let’s just get this category out-of-the-way first, not that it is unimportant, but that enough has already been said about it. Millions of these devices had poured in last year, and I had said that there is much need for refinement and structure. Well to some extent it has come, many products now line up and even beat the products from Apple. Though, the displays got better, performance got sharper and design became cleaner, for me the fundamentals are still the same as a couple of years ago. The device ecosystems are still highly proprietary, battery life is still a huge bottle-neck and I just get a feeling that a single device is trying to achieve too many things. Having owned one such device, it was true that my life started to revolve around it for a lot of things. But a disconnect showed me that it needn’t be the case after all.
Tablets are like those friends who abruptly appear and force-fit themselves into your social group. You start with ignoring them, then you make fun of them and finally, despite your disapproval, you find yourself letting them become a part of your life. I finally softened up to one myself, it is a borrowed Amazon Kindle, with a simple QWERTY keyboard and free or illegal e-books from the internet. The fellow now walks around with me and is a quite a reliable companion.
Speaking of companion devices, a lot of buzz is heard around wearables; around your wrist and front of your eyes seem to be two popular choices. I don’t want to say much about these things, I haven’t ever tried one myself. But it gets me wondering, who, in this day and age are on-the-move so often that they would really take advantage of a device like that? Are they so busy that they can’t reach for their phone? Lets wait and watch this space, is the most optimistic thing I can say for now.
Next-Gen Cars and Space Travel
If there is one guy who blew people’s mind in 2013, it is Elon Musk. A lot has been said about him, his work and the way he goes about things. Electric cars and automatic cars will make the world cleaner and safer. A revamp of transportation has long been due, and what better way than to take you off the driving seat. What makes the hairs on the back of your ear stand up with this fellow, is that he somehow managed to make a profitable business out of it! Furthermore, he claims to be able to achieve the same thing with space travel! Audacious!
Self driving cars are still out of reach of course, I figure they would be slowly and cautiously adopted. Cars that help you back-up easier and alert you about obstacles will be available in premium models. Great work is being done and many advancements are being made everyday. Connecting your phone to the car, is now more than just for music or hands-free calls.
Run! the robots are coming. We are getting a year closer to the robot apocalypse with some ‘well-meaning’ robots that clean your rugs, wash your dishes, care for your kids, deliver your packages and keep a watchful eye on your neighbourhood. It may take a slow adopter like me more time to warm up to them, years of robo-war movies and games wouldn’t help. Jokes apart, I am actually surprised this technology has taken so long to become mainstream, I guess the industry shares my slow-ness.
Perhaps the one to really stand-out would be the super-ambitious delivery-bots that Amazon is bringing in. If not anything, I would love to see these bots fly in with my package of books and CDs and deliver it to me. Cops with robots for surveillance, is in my opinion giving too much power to a single unit. Did you know when Sting wrote his famous song, ‘Every breath you take‘ he was thinking of the George Orwell’s novel 1984!
VR, 4K and Dub-Step music
I saw a Oculus Rift VR headset at CVPR this year, Google was showing off an immersive Google Map experience. They made me nauseous and my eyes had tears, but I saw a lot of people seemed to really get with it. Combining that with Kinect style body sensing would really make for a virtual reality experience in gaming or web browsing. There was a moment where going to movie theatres became relevant to watch really good 3D movies. I think the movie industry will once again have to give in to personalized, at home devices that give the same experience. Pros and cons?!
Digital art is transforming, and I am becoming hip with sensory stimulation in new in techy ways. Take watching music videos or listening to processed music that no traditional music instruments can play. I believe that with movies and music we really let the creator into our minds and let them influence us at many levels; using words, colours and sounds. It’s funny how we get a little edgy when an app requests for permission to get access to your information from Facebook, but we give authors, musicians and movie makers read, write and modify permissions to our thoughts and minds. With that I wonder how these digital arts and artists will transform us in the future.
And the Rest
The big companies of 2014 will continue to be Google, Microsoft, Apple with Amazon and Samsung on close heals. They are here because they evolved and they have a lot more to do if they have to go strong. I worry for Facebook and Twitter and the rests. They will continue to survive obviously but its clear that real product makers are superior to service providers. The unification of ecosystems, more concern towards user privacy and sustainable eco-friendly tech needs to happened I think. Those will come about, because they can and should. But greater things lie waiting just out of reach; smarter buildings, cities and advances in healthcare and nano-technology will revolutionize fundamentally. New kinds of currency, alternative-governance and other counter-cultures are all to satiate a hunger for change and better control of our lives.
As I sign off, I can’t help but look back to the sub-headings; automatic cars, robots, and hyper-digital art. I have come to believe that somewhere in 2013, between our rethinking of our politics, our idea of economics and even our core morality, we one-up’d ourselves as a human race. It is true that de-stabilization has brought the best out of us. Suddenly, everything good that is done or made has a sensitivity about it. Somebody put more thought into what they were doing. Perhaps the people who make things were glad they have a job, or maybe the stakes are higher, they had only one shot at making a good thing.
So what does the Tech world have to offer in 2014?
At the risk of sounding like a loony given that last year ended with dancing CEOs, privatization of space travel and 4,000 x 4,000 pixel resolution TVs…I would say Sanity. Things that make sense, have purpose and are respectful of the user. It is going to be a great year, this one, good design but not too blotted, amazing updates but none too disruptive, great gadgets that don’t seem like version 1.1. A year were the approach will be correct for once.
Tell me if you agree, did I missed out on an important segment of Tech?
Most importantly, have a wonderful new year. Be more compassionate, be more caring and reach out and touch as many lives in a positive way as you can.