Important Trends of 2013

New technologies are beginning to affect every aspect of our lives now and new devices and products are frequently popping up in unexpected places. It’s no longer just a thinner smartphone or a faster computer available each year marking our march of progress – it’s a refrigerator that knows what’s inside it and can recommend recipes based on those ingredients or a tablet that understands what you’re looking for because of where you are and who you are. I believe that 2013 could be the first year that it really starts to feel like “the future” –  the effect of the ongoing exponential advancement of technology is becoming more and more apparent every day.

By: Simon Anderson

So here are the important trends and technologies that I believe will have a meaningful impact in the next twelve months.

First, there are a few carry-over’s from 2012 trends list that are going to continue to have an increasing impact on our lives and careers:

* Education revolution picks up speed and many traditional universities file for bankruptcy. 

New online learning platforms began to revolutionize education last year, and that trend will continue throughout 2013 and for many years beyond. Sites like edX.org, Coursera.org, and Udacity.com have attracted literally millions of users in just their first few months of existence. Expect that number to continue to rise as more students and potential students discover this new way to learn the most up-to-date information on each subject from some of the best professors in the world.

In 2013, many traditional universities will begin to find it difficult to convince potential students that enrolling with them is worth the significant difference in cost, flexibility, and course quality versus an online platform. Employers will expand and deepen their partnerships with many of these platforms, and create learning paths that lead directly to high-paying jobs, many of which are not being filled now due to the mismatch of what’s being taught and what’s needed in the market (as evidenced by the 3.6 million unfilled positions currently available.)

As the number of high school graduates nationwide continues to decline and the number of students opting for an online learning platform increases, many universities will find their situation financially untenable. The less endowed will find themselves closing their doors sooner rather than later, and high-priced private institutions will be the first to go.

* $250 consumer 3D printer with software/community support.

The popularity and abilities of 3D Printing grew tremendously in 2012, and this year will bring even faster growth. A basic unit, the PrintrBot Jr., can already be had for $399 – expect that number to drop to around $250 for an entry level machine. The 3D printing revolution will have wide-reaching impact and has the potential to completely re-invent a variety of industries – everything from toys and jewelry to medicine.

By the end of this year, it’s highly likely that either you or someone you know will have a 3D printer in their home or office.

* Personal Monitoring Devices (PMD’s) start to change how we take care of ourselves

With PMD pioneers like FitBit and Nike FuelBand blazing the way, 2012 was a great year for PMD’s. This year, the adoption of this type of device will increase significantly, and with their dropping costs and ever-expanding abilities, they may become a powerful tool for the medical field. Everything from cholesterol to personal sleep patterns is now easily trackable and presented in graphs and charts that anyone can read and understand. And, as we better understand our health decisions in real-time, we will hopefully make better choices. If you know exactly how that extra piece of cake or hour of reality TV will affect your health, you’ll be more likely to skip it do something better for you instead.

* How we pay for things continues to evolve

Something remarkable happened to me a few days ago – I was at the grocery store and the woman in front of me at the checkout paid with a check. As I was thinking “why is she doing that?” it occurred to me how long it had been since the last time I witnessed someone outside a bank using a check. Soon, paying with a credit card may elicit the same response.

Square has already experienced tremendous success with their “Square Wallet” app and big tech players like Google and Apple have their own payment offerings as well. With Near Field Communication (NFC) equipped devices and Radio Frequency Identifier (RFID) tags now widely available, it won’t be long before your mobile device will be the default payment method.

* Dramatic shift to cable cutting, HBO, and others, create their own streaming services

This may be the year that HBO realizes that they would make more money as a stand-alone streaming service and finally sever their ties with the cable industry. If (or actually, when) that happens, it will be a major blow to the cable industry which must re-invent itself within the next few years to stay relevant with the anywhere, anytime access to content we have already come to expect.

And now, for the technologies and trends making my list for the first time:

1.      ‘Internet of Things’ will be everywhere

The term ‘Internet of Things’ has been around for a few years, but this year we will see the first major push into people’s homes with these connected devices. The Nest home thermostat likely introduced many to the idea of ‘smart’ appliances for their homes and was even featured in Lowe’s Home Improvement stores. “Hue” LED adjustable lights controlled by the iPhone and iPad began to be sold in Apple stores as well.  “Lockitron” secured millions in pre-sales for the crowdfunded launch of its smart device controlled door locking system last year, and that was just the beginning – AT&T just announced its “Digital Life” service, along with a variety of other companies integrating app-controlled appliances and systems into their services.

2.      Co-working spaces, makerspaces, beginning of the end of traditional offices and 9-to-5

The number of “Digital Natives” grows every year because everyone born after the early 1980’s is a member of this group, and their “flexibility above all” ideals are transforming industries from real estate to music. They also aren’t really that motivated by the idea of getting the “corner office.” As the “bring your own device (BYOD)” trend continues, so will the disappearance of the traditional workweek and office space. Co-working spaces are becoming the desired place to meet and collaborate with like-minded and motivated people who may or may not work for the same company you do. Makerspaces, the slightly more hands-on cousin of co-working spaces, are rapidly growing in number as well. Some libraries are even being partially repurposed to create a space for “makers” to have access to tools and expertise that wouldn’t otherwise be available to them.

3.      Natural User Interface (NUI ) begins to replace Graphical User Interface (GUI) for interacting with machines

The ways in which we interact with our machines has been evolving and improving since the introduction of the computer, and can be grouped into three main phases so far:

  • Direct Code Entry – the exact opposite of NUI- more like Unnatural User Interface. Without esoteric knowledge of the system, interaction is impossible. Think entering DOS commands to start a program.
  • GUI – point and click, icons, windows. The stage where we find ourselves currently with most machines. Not exactly a natural way to communicate with a machine, but much better than coded entries and some machines are now intuitively usable.
  • NUI – interacting with a machine much more like you might with another human. Tell it or show it what you want. At this level, the large technology gap between generations starts to fade as machines become much more approachable. Users don’t need to have extensive knowledge of the operating system to use it (or even know what an operating system is.)

The shift to NUI has been going on for years now – Siri, the Wii, machine-based customer service representatives that respond to spoken requests are only a few examples. The bottleneck so far has been the tremendous challenge in both understanding the user’s intent and responding in an expected way, but like everything else, continuous advancements in technology are getting us closer to full NUI every day. Look for the launch of Leap Motion, an amazing motion sensor for computers, and the ongoing improvement of Google’s already excellent feature, Google Now.

4.      The continued evolution of smart devices with “mobile 3.0,” flexible phones, and the “phablet” explosion

A corollary to the significant improvements to NUI systems is the evolution in mobile smart devices. This year will introduce true “Mobile 3.0” functionality to tablets and smartphones – devices that will be contextually aware of their surroundings and their users. Marketers will be overly represented in its first major applications as it represents major new ways to reach a highly-specific consumer.

Also this year, expect a large number of new entries into the “phablet” category – smartphones with 5+ inch screens that fall somewhere between a regular phone and a tablet, like the current leader of the pack, the Samsung Note II. So far, Apple has completely missed the opportunity here, which may ultimately be viewed as a costly mistake.

Additionally, smart devices with flexible screens have been teased at major events like last week’s CES, and 2013 will likely be the year they become commercially available. In exactly what form is still the dominant question though.

5.      The “Age of the Entrepreneur”

There are a wide variety of factors that will continue to increase the movement of people from employment to entrepreneurship this year. Here are a few notable examples:

  • Automation and robotics – the fewer people it takes to complete a task (build something, answer questions, create a will…) the fewer people will have jobs in these areas. So far these effects have been most heavily felt in traditional industries that were ripe for disruption. In the long run though, there a few jobs that can’t automated.
  • Significant lowering of the barriers-to-entry – with this increase in automation, it continues to become easier, cheaper, and faster to start a company.
  • JOBS Act and crowdfunding – sites like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo are now well established, but when the crowdfunding for equity provisions of the JOBS Act finally gets codified and approved by the SEC, raising early funding for your new company could become dramatically easier.
  • Healthcare – depending on how the Affordable Care act shakes out it could potentially provide would-be entrepreneurs, no longer tethered to their employer’s subsidized healthcare plan, a chance to finally quit their traditional jobs and start their own companies.

6.      Restaurants and hotels optimize new technology

Many new businesses that had traditionally been slow to adapt will start to embrace new technology this year. The ability to order your food from an online menu and be seated with your appetizer becomes a common reality, as does checking in and out of a hotel without ever talking to anyone.

7.      Continued shift to mobile-first web. Phone viruses become a bigger issue. More mobile-optimized sites than individual apps.

These trends are well underway and fully expected to continue. Mobile becomes the dominant access point for the internet and along with that, security risks increase. In 2013, we should see a move away from individual apps and toward mobile optimized sites that are easily viewable on a variety of devices.

8.      Music changed forever – algorithm sourced beats revealed in hit songs

A computer has already written a composition that was played by the London Symphony Orchestra, but the revelation that major artists are using algorithms to create their music will mark the beginning of the automation of music. In a few years, expect a fully personalized “station” that continuously plays music that you love, created as it’s playing. With so many services like Pandora and EchoNest deeply categorizing and logging what millions of users like and don’t like about the tiniest details of hundreds of thousands of songs, it’s not unreasonable to believe that this operation couldn’t be reversed to create music instead.

9.      Surprising insights revealed by big data

As the amount of information we have exponentially increases, and more importantly our ability to derive meaningful insights from that data increases, we will begin to find a few surprising correlations and causations in a variety of areas. This will be especially true with health care as we get a clearer picture of what is and isn’t affecting our longevity.

10.  OLED’s and Ultra HD begin to take hold, and the difference between TV and internet diminishes

At CES last week, nearly every TV manufacturer announced a large screen OLED and/or UltraHD (or 4K) set. Although there is virtually no native content available yet in this resolution,  soon there will be because many movies made today like “The Hobbit” are filmed at this specification. And with this much industry support, and a clear difference in image quality, this trend should continue as prices drop and these new sets become available to more consumers.

In addition to a much, much clearer picture, most high-end sets also offer a wide array of internet connectivity features that will continue to blur the line between a TV and computer monitor. In five years, children will find it odd that we once differentiated between the two.

11.   Electric cars gain traction in the market

As energy storage technology improves, so do electric cars. The biggest drawback (other than initial sticker price) to owning an electric car is the limited range offered by previous models. Most people want the option to drive more than one hundred miles at a time. This is not helped by the current lack of public charging stations either.

The Tesla Model S ( pictured above) is proving that it can be done and was even named “Car of the Year” by a number of respected magazines, including Motor Trend and Automobile Magazine. As the batteries get better and more charging options become available, expect every manufacturer to have an all-electric option at least announced in the coming year.

In Closing

These are just a few of the many important technologies and trends that we can expect to have a major impact this year. Of course, with exponentially advancing technology, it gets progressively more difficult to anticipate future events and many of these trends could be just one big breakthrough away from either complete irrelevance or becoming the most important trend of the year.

I look forward to the exciting events of 2013 and the many opportunities it presents. And our new robot overlords, but that’s still at least three years from now…