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All Tech Considered
3:12 pm
Mon December 31, 2012

From 3-D Printers To Wired Glasses, The Tech Year Ahead

Originally published on Mon December 31, 2012 7:17 pm

It's unlikely 2013 will be the year that jet packs make it big, but the coming year could bring us a host of other new technology trends and products, such as 3-D printers for consumers, smarter smartphones and more connected devices like glasses and cars.

New Game Consoles: We are likely to get new game consoles from Sony and Microsoft. As always, there will be better graphics and very likely 3-D — at least from Sony but probably from both companies. You're also going to see a continuation of the trend of turning these devices into more than just game consoles. They'll turn into home entertainment centers — for example, a console that wirelessly connects to every screen in the house at once. So, you could play games in the den through the console while someone is also using it to watch television in the living room.

3-D Printing: This may be the year we see 3-D printing open up in the consumer market. The printers have been used for a while by industries to make things like airplane parts. But the prices of printers have come down significantly, so people may start having them in their homes to create things like jewelry and toys.

Tablets Vs. Laptops: Apple's iPad opened up and dominated the tablet market, but now there's major competition from Google, Amazon and Microsoft. And not only can you play games and watch movies, you can work on these devices now. So tablet sales are probably going to outpace laptops. And speaking of Apple, some analysts say the company will launch some kind of streaming music service to compete with Pandora and Spotify.

Smartphones In The Developing World: Prices of tablets and smartphones will continue to go down, and that will inspire some of the most interesting technology trends in the developing world. Right now, the vast majority of phones sold in the developing world are feature phones, but as that begins to change as the price of smartphones goes down, we're going to see millions — and then billions — of people connecting to the Internet. And that gives them access to supercomputing in their pocket. This trend isn't going to happen all at once next year, but it will begin to accelerate, and it will transform politics and economics in really profound ways.

Rocky Times For PC Manufacturers: Big, older, mainline PC manufacturers — especially ones with roots in the U.S. — are going to struggle mightily. In 2011, HP abandoned its own smartphone platform. And just a few weeks ago, Dell announced it was getting out of the smartphone business. These companies have cut themselves off from a huge part of where growth in computing is going to take place in the next few years.

Breaking Out Of The Phone: We will see the emergence of devices that we didn't previously think of as computers having sophisticated computing and connectivity embedded in them. We are already seeing things like Google Glass. These "augmented reality" glasses will go on sale in 2013. They project data about your environment on lenses just a few inches from your eyes. There will be much more of that — connectivity embedded in more cars, glasses, watches and thermostats.

Big Data: What will distinguish these new devices isn't going to be their design aesthetics but the idea that artificial intelligence will drive them to give users really contextually relevant information when they need it. So you are going to expect your smartphone to warn you about a traffic jam or your digital wallet to offer you really smart financial advice.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Audie Cornish.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel. And it's time now for All Tech Considered.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIEGEL: Almost every Monday, we ask NPR's Steve Henn or Laura Sydell to tell us about the week ahead in tech news. Well, today we're going for broke. As we say goodbye to 2012, we thought we'd take a look ahead a bit further into the new year.

Steve and Laura both join us now to give their best guesses as to what's in store for us in 2013. Hello, everyone.

LAURA SYDELL, BYLINE: Hello.

STEVE HENN, BYLINE: Hello.

SIEGEL: And, Laura, let's start with you. What do you think? Is this the year we finally get jet packs?

SYDELL: Yes, we're going to get jet packs.

(LAUGHTER)

SYDELL: And there are going to be sort of traffic jams over Manhattan. No, alas, not yet. We are likely to get new game consoles this year from both Sony and Microsoft. And what you're likely to see is, as always, you're going to have better graphics and very likely, 3-D, at least from Sony - probably from both of them. So gamers have that to be excited about.

But you're also going to see, I think, a continuation of the trend of turning these devices into more than just game consoles, but into something that's really a home entertainment center. And word on the street is that particularly, Microsoft is going to go for this. So you might have a game console that wirelessly connects to every screen in your house. So you could have somebody playing a game in one room and watching television through the game console in another room. And so, it really will be the central device in your house.

SIEGEL: Very exciting. Now, we've been hearing a lot about 3-D printing lately. Do you think that'll come to play a bigger role in the consumer market?

SYDELL: Yes, the price of 3-D printers has come down significantly. And for those who aren't exactly sure what it is, it basically takes material - it could be a metal, whatever - it melts it down and then it prints it into a 3-D object. So you might be able to print out your own jewelry or toys. So I think this is the year, you're really going to see that, and I think that's going to be an exciting trend for people - especially if you're creative.

SIEGEL: And finally, speaking of trends, Laura, tablets have caught on with consumers. But in terms of sales, they still are in the shadow of the laptop. Does that change next year? Does the tablet overtake the laptop?

SYDELL: I think it changes big time. As we know, Apple introduced this back in 2010 and tablets have taken off. The prices come down. You've got Google, you've got Amazon. And in a lot of ways, you can work on these devices now. So I think people would think: Do I want a laptop or am I going to spend $200 on a Google Nexus, say. And I think people may very often go for the tablet. And I think this year they will actually overtake the laptops in sales.

And lastly, speaking of Apple, I want to say a lot of people believe Apple is going to release a streaming music service this year. And that's going to be big. That will add to the landscape of Pandora and Spotify.

SIEGEL: Well, onto Steve Henn. Steve, I hear that you also have some predictions for the coming year, including the price tag of some of those devices Laura just mentioned - smartphones, tablets.

HENN: Yeah. I think that smartphones' and tablets' prices will continue to come down. That's a trend that we've seen for a long time. But I think what that means is that some of the most interesting technology trends will actually take place in the developing world. Right now, the vast majority of phones that are sold in developing countries are feature phones. But as that begins to change, as the price of smartphones comes down, we're going to see first millions and then billions of people connecting to the Internet through these smartphones.

And really what that gives them access to, for the first time, is supercomputing in their pocket. You know, I think that obviously this trend won't happen all at once and it won't happen all next year. But as it accelerates, I think it will transform economics in these regions, politics in really profound ways. So that's one thing I'm going to be watching next year.

SIEGEL: And what about the good old-fashioned PC? Where is it left in all this?

HENN: Well, I think the bigger, older mainline PC manufacturers - especially ones with roots in the United States - will continue to struggle mightily.

You know, in 2011, HP abandoned its own smartphone platform. Just a few weeks ago, Dell announced it was getting out of the Smartphone business. And I think really, that these companies, by doing that, have cut themselves off from a huge part of where growth in computing is going to take place in the next few years - in these lighter cheaper devices and in developing markets around the world.

SIEGEL: Well, if the PC is a kind of dinosaur at this point, tell us about some new evolving life form that we haven't seen yet.

HENN: Well, I think one of the new life forms will be in the emergence of devices that we didn't previously think of as computers, having really sophisticated computing and connectivity embedded in them. So we're already seeing things like that with Google Glass. These are these augmented reality glasses that Google will start selling next year, that will project data about your environment on lenses just a few inches from your eyes. I think we're going to see much more of that.

I think we're going to see connectivity and computing embedded in more cars, glasses obviously, watches and thermostats. But I think what's going to distinguish these products isn't going to be sort of their design esthetics. But the idea that artificial intelligence will drive them to give users really contextually relevant information when they need it.

So I think in the future, maybe even next year, you're going to come to expect your smartphone to warn you if there's a traffic jam coming. And if you're choosing between digital wallets that are built into your mobile phone, you're going to choose the one that offers you really smart financial advice. That trend I sort of think of as big data for little people. And that's the final trend I'm watching.

SIEGEL: Well, Steve Henn and Laura Sydell, it sounds like an interesting year ahead. Thanks to both of you.

SYDELL: You're welcome.

HENN: Our pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.