Future gadget form guide: Six new technologies set to race in 2014

Future gadget form guide: Six new technologies set to race in 2014

This piece was first published on November 7, 2013.

The tech sector has always been in a never-ending race towards the next big thing.

Capturing an emerging market – as Google has done with search, Samsung has done with smartphones or Apple has done with tablets – is potentially worth billions of dollars in future profits.

It’s a sector where the cost of stagnation is death in the marketplace.

Of course, the risks are potentially as large as the rewards and there’s no such thing as a sure thing. Some products – like the MiniDisc in the ‘90s – fail to ever gain traction in the market. Others – such as tablets – take years of development to perfect.

Looking toward 2014, the tech giants are saddling up on a range of new technologies they hope will be the next big thing.

So what new technologies should you keep an eye on in 2014? Here’s a form guide to six that show some promise.

1. Curved and flexible displays

The tech Holy Grail of the media and publishing industries has long been a tablet or e-book reader that can be flipped, folded and bent like real paper.

Likewise, devices with curved screens would allow a whole range of designs and form factors that aren’t possible with a flat screen.

Unfortunately, getting devices with a curved or flexible screen produced on a production line designed for flat screen devices has turned out to have been far more difficult than it initially seemed.

And that’s before you start looking at the challenges of creating a curved battery that’s safe from leaking or breaking or a curved circuit board – let alone one that can flex and regain its shape!

As a result, this technology has spent a long time just over the horizon. However, it has finally arrived in the form of LG’s new G Flex smartphone and Samsung’s Galaxy Round.

The big hold-up has been in production yields for display screens.

As of August, Samsung Display had a production line capable of handling 8000 1300x1500mm sheets per month, although even with an unrealistically high yield of 100%, this would only produce between 1 million and 1.5 million 5 to 6-inch panels per month.

LG’s capacity was even lower, with its plants currently handling 12,000 730×920 sheets per month, meaning less than 500,000 panels per month with an unrealistically high yield of 100%.

As a result, you’re unlikely to see these devices outside South Korea in the immediate future.

2. Smart televisions

In recent years, televisions and displays have increasingly become a high-volume, low-margin business. LCD displays have come down in price, while 3D failed to set the market afire.

However, the emergence of smart televisions could change the status quo, making the living room the next big battleground for the tech giants.

Google is reportedly keen on the idea of people using Android smartphone and tablet apps on their TVs. Samsung, in contrast, is threatening to use its own Tizen operating system – rather than Android – on its TVs.

Meanwhile, Apple has long been rumoured to have been working on a TV-based product of its own – although little has materialised so far.

3. Smartwatches

Smartphones are annoying. They’re easy to put down on a table and forget. They often fall out of bags and smash into a million glass pieces on the ground.

Wouldn’t it be more convenient if you could just keep them in your bag or pocket while getting most of the same functionality from your wristwatch?

That’s the hope with smartwatches, with the Pebble and Samsung’s Galaxy Gear – released last month – leading the charge.

However, while, by most accounts, the Pebble and the Galaxy Gear have been solid first efforts, there is still far more development needed at this point before these become a mainstream fashion accessory.

Still, a range of companies – from chipmaker Qualcomm to Google, Apple, Microsoft and LG – are believed to be watching the market with interest.

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