As 2014 begins I’m going to ramp up with a series of articles incidental to the trend of picking tech trends at the start of the year. For this week, I’ll be highlighting the most common or most interesting tech predictions for 2014 and weigh in on them. We could call some of these ‘meta-trends’ as they represent the trends in what people expecting to be trends. You shouldn’t worry too much about the distinction, but now is as good a time as any to reiterate my old jokes about computer science’s eagerness to employ another layer of abstraction. Anyway, consider these things worth watching or discussing.
Amazon Prime Air: I’ll begin with the big one. It’s “big” in that most everybody mentions it, it’s definitely going to happen, and all we have to do to make it a tech prediction is to weigh in on how successful you think it’s going to be: Amazon is going to begin delivering things to your home with little flying robots. And this isn’t science fiction! I’ll dive right in here and say I think it’s going to work, though I wouldn’t count it as a sure thing. Of course, there’s more to it than that, because not everybody is comfortable with the idea of little flying robots doing anything en masse, but I myself am pretty serene about the idea. What I think is more crucial is what the bigger picture here is. In the short term (2014) it’s just a novel, premium service, but looking farther ahead, this sort of vertical initiative by Amazon is a serious challenge to typical distribution methods. These little Amazon Prime Air drones represent a disruption to the transport industry. Let this be a reminder that disruptive computing technology isn’t always about user friendliness and access to information.
Privacy: The next meta-trend is privacy awareness.
One of the biggest stories of 2013 was the Snowden leak, and regardless of how you view that story and it’s implications, it made the general public more aware of how their privacy is linked to all these convenient services they already gave themselves over to. Of course, this was something many of the tech savvy were trying to warn us all about for years now, but that doesn’t matter now; privacy awareness has gone mainstream and the industry will likely change to adapt. I won’t make any specific predictions about who and what, nor do I think this particular trend will be confined to 2014, and for all I know, it might take another year or two before any obvious changes surface, but cultural fallout of the Snowden leak is that the public’s tastes will change and privacy and security will be a stronger selling point for software and services.
Wearables: Another frequent meta-trend is the belief that 2014 will be the year of the wearable, (by which we all mean Google Glass). I’m not doubting these technologies in the long run, but I’m not sold on the impending ascendancy of any of these platforms. I think a number of things stand in the way, but the biggest indicator to me is that while smart glasses and smart watches may raise an eyebrow or two, none of them trigger an “Of course, that’s what I want” response from consumers in the way smartphones and tablets did. (In retrospect, netbooks did not trigger this response either – and look what happened to them). Again, I don’t doubt the long-term success of these gadgets, but they are vitamins, not pain-killers. Nobody needs these things.
Other Meta-trends: Other sources are raising questions about crowd-sourcing. Crowd-sourcing has already proven a viable means of raising capital, but pertinent to the immediate present is how it may or may not disrupt the entertainment industry. Nobody really expects Kickstarter to take on Hollywood. Instead, as Netflix proved that Television can be forged entirely on the Internet, one wonders if crowd-sourcing will begin to provide a viable source of funding for smaller film projects. Similarly, 3D printing has proven itself to be the real deal, but its hardly a consumer technology … yet. 2014 might not be the year for either of these technologies, but I would still expect them to prove disruptive before the end of the decade.