The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas made for a busy news week in tech. Intel introduced a wireless “smart bowl” that charges any device, a frustrated Michael Bay walked off stage during Samsung’s big bendable TV announcement, and the notion that wearable gadgets are the next big thing was challenged by many experts. Quartz hosted a Google+ Hangout with some of the industry’s top journalists this afternoon to discuss what we should expect in 2014. Kevin Delaney, Quartz’s editor-in-chief, moderated the discussion and was joined by Kara Swisher, co-executive editor of Re/code (formerly AllThingsD), Wall Street Journal technology columnist Farhad Manjoo, and Quartz’s technology and science editor Christopher Mims. Here is a quick recap of the discussion.
Swisher, who is still at CES and could only join for a limited time, discussed the biggest themes she’s seen at the tradeshow and offered her 2014 predictions. The “quantified self,” a buzz phrase we’re becoming increasingly familiar with, and connected homes and cars becoming an extension of our smartphones have been the biggest areas of focus at CES this year. The quantified self is a big trend but the devices still have a long way to go. “There were a lot of stupid handheld devices before the iPhone came out,” Swisher said, meaning that no company has come close to making that one breakthrough, must have wearable gadget yet. In other news, she predicts a big year for IPOs, beginning with Alibaba, as well as a focus on communication apps like Snapchat and more investments in quality content providers.
When Delaney asked her what challenges Apple will face this year, she replied that the Android products are getting “really good” and Apple should be concerned. They need to innovate when it comes to the look and feel of their devices to keep up or they might be in trouble. As far as tablets, they’re safe. The iPad still doesn’t have any close competition.
The Internet of Everything
Both Manjoo and Mims agreed that we’re quickly moving in the direction of a connected world, but it won’t be a smooth transition. “Everything we own will be linked together, but there will be a lot of fragmentation because companies have no incentive to work together,” Mims added. We’ll see competing ecosystems (ex: Apple Home vs. Android Home).
In regards to wearable devices being a part of this connected world, Manjoo referred back to Swisher’s point about all the “stupid” handheld devices that came out before the iPhone. He believes that Apple taking so long to release the iWatch proves the difficulty of making an actionable product.
This shift toward becoming one with the machine world worries Mims. We’ve moved from PCs to laptops to smartphones and it looks like we might all be wearing gadgets soon, or, even freakier, inserting technology into our bodies. We’re reaching a level of technological intrusiveness that will eventually lead to drastic cultural changes and continue to diminish any sense of privacy we have left, which leads nicely into the next section.
Data Privacy and Storage
Will there be any fundamental shift in how companies use user data in 2014?
It’s hard to say because there is a huge divide between the US and the rest of the world on this issue. It’s becoming increasingly evident that the average US citizen cares less about user privacy than their European and Asian counterparts. Maybe it’s because they don’t enjoy the same freedoms we do in the US, or maybe it’s a result of willful ignorance. “There’s a weird dichotomy where we are enraged that the government has our data but don’t care that Google does, which is where the government got it from in the first place,” a puzzled Mims commented.
This, both Mims and Manjoo predicted, will continue to be the most important issue in tech this year. It’s an issue that needs to be resolved, but won’t be, according to Manjoo. Unfortunately, he thinks the total loss of user privacy will become a permanent feature of the Internet. Mims, on the other hand, thinks it may be resolved, but only once we hit a “crisis point.”
Amazon in 2014
In 2014 it’s all about Amazon Web Services (AWS). AWS is already the proverbial 800-pound gorilla in the room and will continue to dominate the cloud storage space. It’s expanding at a frightening pace while consistently dropping prices because Jeff Bezos cares more about taking over the space than making a profit. How can you compete with that?
“What has Amazon ever made money on?” Mims joked. In two or three years, Manjoo believes there’s a good chance AWS will be Amazon’s biggest business. He’s still patiently waiting to see if they ever flip the switch and start making a profit.
Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs)
This area is “ripe for disruption,” according to Manjoo. Secondary education is still considered a necessary platform to launch into the professional world but has become so unaffordable that it can’t continue to exist in its current form. A frustrated public will keep exploring quality online education platforms this year.
It may come as a surprise that both Manjoo and Mims were skeptical that 3D printing will ever become widely used by consumers, not even with more affordable options like MakeBot. “Cheap printers did not lead to the end of books or newspapers,” observed Manjoo.
They do, however, see the value of using 3D printing in manufacturing and think this trend will continue. Mims reminded us that unlike wearable gadgets or other new trends, 3D printing has been around for over ten years and has become quite sophisticated.
There are many exciting new media companies and this trend will continue. Even some of the traditional media outlets seem to be transitioning to online and mobile well. But while everyone – Facebook, Yahoo!, LinkedIn, etc. – wants to be a newspaper these days, journalists need to understand how to make their work shareable on social networks. Mims recommended that all journalists learn how EdgeRank, Facebook’s newsfeed algorithm, works.
Do you agree with their 2014 predictions? What are yours?