What new technology will 2013 bring us?

Features Sarah Dobbs Jan 14, 2013

Sarah Dobbs looks at what new technological marvels the new year might have in store…

Hey, looks like the doom-mongers were wrong and 2013 is actually going to happen after all! Since the march of progress is pretty much unstoppable, global economic crisis or no global economic crisis, that means we have all sorts of exciting technological developments to look forward to.

By this time next year, we might be interacting with our computers in new ways, we might be using our mobile phones to do more things for us, and we might have bought some new kind of gadget that doesn’t even exist yet, but which will change our lives forever? Or we might just get a new games console and update our operating systems. Either way, it seems inevitable that some things will change, and now seems like a good time to take a peek into the future and see what’s awaiting us on the other side of the 2012 non-apocalypse…

Changes to your computer

One of the biggest changes your computer is likely to see in 2013 is a new operating system. Microsoft’s Windows 8 was released in 2012, at the end of October, but unless you’re really keen or you had to buy a new computer in the last two months of the year, chances are you haven’t upgraded to it yet. Next year, though, you probably will.

Indeed, there’s not really any reason not to. Much of the initial response to Windows 8 focused on how different the user interface is - that Windows 8 replaced the familiar old desktop with a baffling array of brightly coloured tiles, instead. While that’s true, you can also use Windows 8 in much the same way as you used Windows 7, Vista, XP or whatever you’re upgrading from: you just need to hit the ‘Desktop’ button and it’ll all be pretty much the same as ever.

It’s reassuring to have that option, but if you’re using a tablet rather than a desktop PC, it might not make much sense to, and you might even find you like the tiles. The way we use computers is starting to change, and even Microsoft is aware of that and adapting appropriately.

The end of computers?

Desktop computers are already an endangered species. Stats vary, but it’s clear that laptops, tablets and even smartphones are eating into the market, both in our homes and in our offices. Many businesses now allow their employees to work remotely, and using portable computers means they can work on the move, from home or the office or the coffee shop. Thanks to the popularity of the iPad, tablets are everywhere, and the shift from large desktop PCs designed to be used in one location to smaller, wirelessly connected computers that can be used anywhere seems irreversible. Expect the tablet market to grow next year, with more models and more variety coming onto the market.

The shift towards using tablets has also seen a change in the way we interact with our computers. The keyboard and mouse are starting to seem a little old fashioned now that touch-screens are everywhere - we’ve probably got Apple to thank for that one too. Touch-screens may not be new, but they are changing the way we, and software developers, think about user interfaces, so watch for more touch-oriented technology next year.

One device hoping to hammer the final nail into the mouse’s coffin is the Leap. It’s a small, innocent-looking device that connects to your computer via USB and detects movements within 8 cubic feet of it. The developer, Leap Motion, says it can track movements down to one hundreth of a millimetre, and it has various gestures programmed in for telling your computer to do things by just waving your hand. Whether it’ll take off or not remains to be seen, but it’s available to preorder now from the Leap Motion website (www.leapmotion.com) and it’ll be shipping in early 2013. If gesture control becomes standard, maybe we’ll see the end of typing-related RSI…

Changes for mobile devices

Speaking of typing, it looks like the way we type on mobile devices is going to change. Google has recently been showing off its new ‘gesture typing’ input method, which is part of the new Android 4.2 operating system. It, um, might look a little familiar to some existing Android users: it’s basically Swype, the input method that lets you drag your finger from one letter to the next across a touch-screen keyboard, rather than tapping. If Google’s backing it, maybe it’ll become more common; it’s definitely an easier and more comfortable method of typing than trying to hit each individual key on a tiny phone keyboard.

While Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS currently dominate the mobile operating system landscape, that might start to change in 2013. Mozilla’s Firefox OS was demonstrated at a few tech events in 2012, and the first handsets running the new open-source operating system are due to be released before next summer.

It’s based on HTML5 and offers to free users and handset manufacturers from the bog of rules and regulations they currently face from existing platforms. Industry analysts predict the new OS will only have around a 1% market share by the end of 2013, but we wouldn’t be so quick to write Mozilla off. Just look at the success of its browser, which managed to gain a large chunk of the market despite Microsoft’s seemingly unassailable hold on that space. We’d say Firefox OS is definitely worth keeping an eye out for.

More new mobile features

If a new operating system doesn’t sound like an exciting enough change, mobile phone manufacturers have something else up their sleeves: flexible phones. Samsung and Nokia are just two of the companies who reckon thin, bendable phones might be the next step in mobile phone evolution. Using OLED (Organic Light Emitting Diode) technology or graphene, a thin, stretchy and unbreakable material invented a couple of years ago, manufacturers could create electronics that you can fold up and put in your pocket.

The main advantage of creating flexible gadgets like that is that they’d be more difficult to break; you’d never shatter your screen by dropping your phone, for instance. The same kind of technology could also lead to smart newspapers or posters that can update their own details or all sorts of other sci-fi-sounding ideas, but for now, manufactures seem to be focusing on phones, and the first bendy handsets should hit the market next year.

In more practical news, it looks like paying for things with your mobile phone will start to become commonplace next year. Barclaycard has already developed a method of contactless payment that involves sticking a PayTag to your phone, then scanning it on a device in a shop to quickly and easily pay for your shopping without needing to carry a card or enter a PIN. There are some fairly obvious security implications to consider here, so the Barclaycard method can only be used to pay for things that cost under £20.

Google also has a mobile payment system, Google Wallet, which has been launched in the US but not here, although it will it will probably make its way over the pond in the next year.

Both payment methods use near-field communication (NFC) to send information about a user’s payment details to a merchant’s terminal, and as NFC-enabled phones get more common, we might start seeing more uses for the technology. That’s great and all, but if you thought losing your phone was annoying now, it looks like it might become a much more serious inconvenience by the end of 2013.

New gadgets coming your way

There are a couple of developments in gadgetry that we’re calling now, just to get them out of the way: more things will connect wirelessly to one another and more things will offer voice control. Mobile phones have been able to do certain things - like calling someone in your address book - in response to spoken commands for years, but Apple’s Siri pushed that technology up a notch. Where Apple leads, many other companies tend to follow, so we reckon there’ll be more opportunities to talk to your gadgets in the near future.

Gaming-wise, 2013 should see new versions of both the Xbox and the Playstation. There’s not a lot of solid information around about either of them, but rumour has it that Sony and Microsoft might both be aiming for a Christmas launch. All sorts of outlandish developments have been hinted at - either console might have touch-screen controllers, more advanced motion control, built-in keyboards and lord knows what else - but all we’d really bank on is that both will be faster, more powerful and able to support even more detailed graphics.

As for digital cameras, well, they’re facing a fairly uncertain future, since most people now have decent cameras built into their smartphones and won’t bother carrying around a digital camera as well. Obviously, there’s room at the high end of the camera market, since phone cameras can’t do everything and professional photographers will still need something more powerful, but for the low-end consumer camera, 2013 might be the end of the line.

Changes to the web

Will 2013 mean the beginning of Web 3.0? If so, what would that entail? The internet has seen a few major shake-ups in the past few years - the shift to IPv6, for example; the rise of high-speed broadband that meant video streaming became commonplace; and the dawn of social networking. Undoubtedly, things will change again. The fact that so many people now access the web via mobile devices will mean web developers will have to be able to create mobile-friendly versions of websites, and there’ll be even more focus on apps than there already is.

We’ve already mentioned HTML5 in passing, and while the World Wide Web Consortium reckons it won’t be fully ready until at least 2014, it’s going to become a bigger deal over the course of the next year. HTML5 is the newest iteration of the markup language used to present content on the internet, and there are some pretty big changes on the way. Browsers will need to get ready to support the new standard, and although most of the big names are nearly there, not every browser is prepared (you can check out how well your browser supports HTML5 here: html5test.com).

For the average web user, assuming they’re using a browser that can handle it, HTML5 will mean a faster and smoother web surfing experience, particularly where video content is concerned. There are still some issues with HTML5, and some sites (like Facebook) have expressed a distaste for it, preferring to develop their own native platforms, but those wobbles will probably be worked out over the next year or so.

More online developments

While we’re on the topic of the web, we’d also bet that more print publications will start to move online, that e-publishing will continue to be popular, and that cloud-based storage will become the norm. Location-based services seem like they’re here to stay, and it’s a safe bet that there’ll be a truckload more apps that can find things for you (restaurants, petrol, etc.) based on your real-world location.

As for the big social networks, well, it doesn’t look like Facebook or Twitter will be going anywhere anytime soon. Concerns over Facebook’s privacy and security settings will push some people away, but it’s become one of the default communication channels for all sorts of people, even those who aren’t particularly tech-savvy, and that’s an allegiance that’ll be hard to break.

Nevertheless, the recently relaunched MySpace might attract a bit of interest, while niche networks like Instagram and Letterboxd look set to grab people who are interested in communicating through one specific medium or about one specific topic. Expect more single-area networks to pop up this year, since we seem, as a society, to be becoming more and more comfortable with recording and sharing every minute detail of our everyday lives.

Maybe the biggest thing that’ll change about the web in the UK next year is the number of people using it and the speed at which they can do so. Superfast fibre broadband is still being rolled out, and some parts of the country don’t have access to broadband internet at all. Hopefully, that’ll look a lot different in 12 months’ time. Mobile internet is set to get a lot faster too; we’ve already seen the first 4G network rolled out in some UK cities, thanks to EE, and more companies will be launching their versions next year.

Other stuff to look out for

2013 might be the year that 3D printing becomes mainstream too. In other countries, some shops, theme parks and shopping malls have started to get 3D printing kiosks, and that looks set to happen here too. With a 3D printing booth in your local stationery shop or outside a department store, the technology will become more well known, and it’ll start to be used in more industries.

Most people’s first experience of 3D printing is likely to be buying a customised toy or doll, maybe with their own face printed on it, but with the development of more complex 3D printable materials, that might start to change. This next year probably won’t be the year that 3D printers become common household items, though. It’s still a little bit too expensive for that, but only time will really tell.
Hopefully, 2013 will be the year that Google’s driverless cars are introduced in the UK. Laws were only passed to allow them on the roads in Nevada in mid-2012, so if you’re currently learning to drive, it’s probably still worth carrying on - you’ll still need those skills for a while yet - but we reckon they’ll at least make an appearance over here this year.

And this should also be the year that Virgin Galactic finally launches its first commercial space tourism flight. The company originally reckoned it’d be able to take tourists to the edge of space by 2009, but that date got put back a couple of times, and the last we heard, Richard Branson said he’d be on the first commercial flight in 2013. Will it happen? It’d be quite an exciting event if it did.

And beyond

Twelve months isn’t a particularly long time in the technology world, since many products and new ideas take several years to develop. There are a few exciting things being created right now that, unfortunately, we won’t see until at least 2014. Those include memristors (memory resistors), which will lead to the creation of ultra-efficient computer memory and 14nm chips, which will blow Moore’s Law out of the water. Both of these developments will have implications for the computing industry, but just not quite yet.

Also, fans of virtual or augmented reality may be disappointed to hear that Google’s Project Glass isn’t due to launch until at least 2014, and while Microsoft also has a patent for ‘smart glasses’, it also doesn’t seem to be in any great rush to get anything onto the market before at least 2014.

Even so, that means there’ll still be plenty to think about and look forward to by the time Christmas 2013 rolls around.

Things we’d like to see the back of

There might be lots of new and exciting tech products on their way to us, and technology might be about to revolutionise the way we live our lives, and all that might be positive and lovely, but there are some things we wish we could get rid of. In 2013, it’d be great if we could see the back of all of these things:

QR codes

Those weird little boxes of black and white squiggles seemed quite interesting, at first: you could scan them with your phone and they’d link you to a website! How exciting - except that URLs already exist and are much more memorable. Okay, maybe you have to do a tiny bit of typing to reach them, which is mildly inconvenient on your phone, but it’s ultimately a system that works, across any platform.

Printer jams

Printers have been around forever and yet they still don’t work properly. They get paper jammed in them. They run out of ink at inconvenient moments. Or they stop working for any one of a million other ridiculous reasons. Printers really don’t seem to have become any more useful or reliable in the last decade; they’re definitely the most frustrating piece of office equipment the average person has to deal with.

Spam

No matter how good your spam filter is, occasionally, a spam email will get through. And it’ll be exactly the same as the last spam email you saw, because spam basically never gets any better. It’ll be incomprehensible gibberish with a hyperlink in the middle or, if you’re really lucky, it’ll be a fake PayPal notice or a Nigerian prince with money to give you, and they’re such clichés but still, still they arrive in our email inboxes.

Leaky headphones

There’s no sound more annoying than the muffled, tinny rumbling from someone else’s earphones (except, maybe, the loud, tinny rumbling from someone’s mobile phone). Noise-cancelling headphones exist, non-leaky headphones exist, so it’d be great if the crappy old ones could just be scrubbed from the world.

Proprietary USB cables

There is no reason in the world why all USB cables can’t be the same shape and size. That way, you could just keep one cable next to your PC and you’d be able to connect all your gadgets when needed. But no, your iPod, your phone, your printer, your external hard drive and your digital camera all demand their own specific cables, and you can guarantee the one you need is never to hand when you need it.

Rubbish batteries

The problem with relying on mobile devices instead of desktops is that they need batteries. And when you’re out and about, those batteries will inevitably die just when you really need them not to. It’d be great if someone could invent longer-lasting batteries next year, or at least make sure everything has an easily swappable battery so you could replace it as necessary.