It’s never easy to peer into the crystal ball and find the trends that will shape the coming year. Part of what makes technology so fun to follow are the curveballs. But as we look ahead to 2013, there are some paths that look ripe for further exploration. Here are some tech trends for consumers to watch for in the coming year:
Mobile payments: This is a constantly evolving trend, but one that’s picking up quickly. The mobile payments space has seen remarkable growth in the past year alone, and it’s an area that’s expected to continue changing in 2013. Apps that deal with coupons and loyalty passes, such as Apple’s Passbook or even store-specific apps like those from CVS, Target or Starbucks, are already prompting more people to pull out their cellphone rather than their wallet at checkout. Customers should expect to see more uses for these kinds of apps, as well as even more smartphone- and tablet-based checkout “mobile registers” in stores.
The real part of this trend to look for is to see whether or not 2013 is the year that mobile wallet or contactless payments take off -- through NFC (near-field communication) chips in smartphones or other technologies. More smartphone makers are including these kinds of capabilities in their phones, but retailers -- and therefore average shoppers -- have been slower to adopt them. The rise in mobile payment use shows that people have less squeamishness about paying through their phones as they have in the past, so it will be interesting to see if consumer demand pushes any progress on this front in 2013.
Health care: Health care is a key area for companies to make their mark in the “Internet of Things,” or the ever-growing Web of connected devices. There is plenty of useful data for fitness devices, high-tech medicine bottles, food scales and other connected devices to track for their users. Users can also track key metrics, such as blood sugar, on their phones and provide physicians with more and more information.
On the industry side, companies are scrambling to provide physicians with more technology tools, such as better remote teleconferencing options to talk to patients remotely before making either party take on the expense (time, money or otherwise) to travel to an appointment.
3D printing: The price of 3D printers continues to drop, and the possibilities for these devices, which knit objects together out of plastic, are nearly endless. More consumer-friendly prices for these printers hit the market in 2012 -- though the big name printers are still well over $1,000. Still, the more extreme enthusiasts in the DIY set are mad about these printers and drive communities like Thingiverse, where they can find plans for everything from Christmas ornaments to earbud holders. And if that sounds small scale to you, here’s a fun fact: the makers of the latest James Bond flick, “Skyfall,” used a 3D-printed version of Bond’s iconic Aston Martin in the film’s explosive special effects.
Smartphone battles: Expect the smartphone wars to get more intense, particularly as companies fight for the #3 spot. Yup, while Apple will continue to fight it out with smartphone makers who use Google’s Android system, a more interesting battle will be taking place just below the big two.
Both Microsoft and Research in Motion are poised for make-or-break runs at the smartphone market, with business consumers held firmly in their sights. The business market will be the one to watch in 2013, as it’s a ripe area of growth for smartphone makers. But, particularly with the growing trend of having employees bring their own phones and tablets to work, all consumer electronics makers will have to balance business needs and personal needs in order to succeed.
New user interfaces: Expect more touchscreens, motion control and other interesting controls to pop up on consumer devices — particularly on desktops and laptops. The introduction of Windows 8 has put touchscreens on more computers, which had been almost completely the domain of the mouse and keyboard.
Other interesting computer control ideas include more innovation with gesture control, such as the movements that let users operate the Kinect accessory on the Xbox, with a focus on making it easier and more intuitive to operate everyday devices with a wave of your hand.
More advanced cyber attacks: Not all tech trends are rosy. Several top security firms are warning that cyber attacks will continue to become more sophisticated, with bad actors focusing on the mobile market.
McAfee Labs, for example, said that 2013 will see a continued rise in mobile malware that installs bad apps on users’ phones, as well as “ransomware” that locks users’ phones and data, then demands payment for its release. According to the security firm, hackers are already selling each other ready-made “kits” that make it easy to perpetrate these attacks.
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