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2014 technology trends and predictions

2013 brought us Google Glass and the Samsung Galaxy Gear, as technology began its march out of our pockets and bags and onto our heads and wrists. Elsewhere we traded up from HD to 4K televisions (and realised that 3D was never going to catch on) and said hello to the usual raft of thinner, faster, better tablets and phones, as well as what could be the last generation of games consoles as we know them.

But what does 2014 have in store for the world of technology? We gathered predictions from across the industry and gave our verdict on each...

Social media to grow and grow
Digital media agency Digitia says the big  social media services will continue to add users at the pace of the last few years. Since 2011 Twitter has gone from 200million to 500million and Facebook from 600million to 800million. Will it close in on a billion next year?
Verdict? No. Although there are a lot more potential users in emerging markets, we reckon growth will slow down for social media's Big Two. And we wouldn't be surprised to see the birth of the next big network either...




Solar charging
Another of Digitia's tips is the rise of solar-powered chargers for our gadgets. Will we be wearing headphones with solar panels built in, for example?
Verdict? Unlikely. Most people charge their gadgets indoors. Solar panels small enough to carry or wear can't gather that much power. More likely is a rise in wireless charging as we move towards a universal standard for inductive power mats/pads.






Cloudy ahead
Pretty much everyone is backing this one: a continued shift towards cloud storage (i.e. saving your documents to services like Google Drive, Dropbox, or iCloud). It makes things easier to access wherever you are and saves on hard drive space - but security will have to be top notch. The first big hacking of a cloud service will dent confidence, and security firms including Kaspersky and Symantec have the cloud
right at the top of their list of targets for 2014.
Verdict?
Yes, we will be living mostly on cloud nine by this time next year.

Self-parking cars

Will my car soon be able to reverse neatly into a space at the touch of a button? Ford, Mercedes, Toyota and several other carmakers have demonstrated auto-parking technology - so, is it ready for public use?
Verdict? Cautiously optimistic. The latest demonstrations look pretty good - but there are legal hurdles to surpass. Currently the Highway code and European law make it impossible to market a self-parking car, but talks are ongoing to update the regulations. Expect to see more robust safety tests and maybe a trial rollout next year.





3D print my life
Despite a wealth of applications from medicine to cooking, 3D printing has yet to capture the public's genuine interest - largely because it lacks accessibility. Will 2014 be the year home manufacturing comes good? CES, the world's largest tech show, thinks so, with an entire zone dedicated to 3D printing.
Verdict? Yes - but only if prices continue to fall and the industry does more to promote its potential uses. The terrain is ripe for a huge marketing push.

Sign language for computers

As the Xbox One Kinect and PS4 camera systems develop, we're increasingly going to be telling our devices what to do by waving our hands around. As other manufacturers get on the bandwagon, we'll need a standard 'language' of gestures, like the pinching and swiping on smartphones. So says Accenture sub-consultancy Fjord, anyway.
Verdict?
Definitely. Although it could take a while for a standard to emerge, during which time people will continue to haphazardly wave at the TV/reach for the remote control.

Hire a virtual personal assistant
Accenture and Forbes both predict us having a personalised e-minder, handling our relationships, monitoring our health, and running our lives through a 'virtual lifestyle system' that anticipates our every need.
Verdict? Yes - but don't imagine a robo-butler. This will be an evolution of services like Apple's Siri and Google Now, which learn from your activity and predict what you're going to need next. Continues to blur the line between scary and useful.

Wearable Tech
This is the big one. A survey for software firm Citrix showed that 91% of Americans are excited about gadgets you can wear - either glasses, wristbands or clothing. 2014 promises smart-watch launches from Google and Apple, as well as a host of other tech accessories.
Verdict? Definitely - led by Google Glass becoming available to all. By December 2014 you'll be able to communicate using a stand-alone smartwatch, browse the internet in your glasses and log dozens of health measurements through wristbands, trainers and clothes.






Death of the password
Ericsson ConsumerLab is predicting that 2014 will be the year that we give up on written passwords and use biometric data - primarily fingerprints - instead.
Verdict? It makes sense - passwords are increasingly fragile. But switching over to a new means of online identification will take a long time. Expect Apple to lead the way on this one as they reveal new uses for the iPhone 5S's fingerprint scanner.

IT support to come home
Industry analysts at Gartner say that EU laws will mean a 20% drop in 'offshoring' - sending jobs like customer support overseas. This could mean tech companies rely less on cheap labour (predominantly in Asia) for their helplines.
Verdict? The law is the law - but it won't affect existing arrangements. And don't necessarily expect IT support to become any more helpful, no matter where it's based.

Internet phonecalls to take over
According to futuretimeline.net, we're supposed to see VoIP - using broadband for calls, through services like Skype - become the standard for phone calls in 2014.
Verdict? Not likely. Although Skype and its ilk are useful, particularly for international calls, the reliability still isn't there, not to mention the bandwidth.

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