2014: The year of wearable computing

WATCH AND WAIT: We've seen some efforts at smartwatches this year, but next year holds a lot of promise. The smartwatch, which connects to a user's smartphone, will change the way we engage with our wrist.


    Dec 31, 2013

    2014: The year of wearable computing

    IN TERMS of technological innovation, 2013 was a remarkably boring year.

    Apple, often the hotbed of "new", mostly just updated familiar devices in different colours and with crisper screens. Social-media companies fought over who had better photo filters. And Silicon Valley start-ups offered more of less, with slight iterations on existing products.

    But 2014 holds a lot of promise.

    Predicting the future is a lot more difficult than evaluating the past, but you could wake up on Jan 1, 2015, in a different digital winter wonderland.

    No, you won't lie in bed while your humanoid robot-helper makes you bacon and eggs and walks the dog - which is also possibly a robot made by Google. That's more of a 2035 prediction.

    But you might wake up to the call of a watch on your wrist - not your mobile phone on your night table. This year, we've seen some efforts at smartwatches, like those made by Pebble; next year, these gadgets could look a lot better.

    "Smartwatches, which connect to your smartphone, are going to create an entirely new category of computing in the coming year," said Ms Sarah Rotman Epps, a former Forrester analyst who specialises in wearable computing.

    She noted that the long-awaited Apple smartwatch, which is expected to be announced next year, could change the way we engage with our wrist.

    Smartwatches will allow us to peer at messages without having to pull mobile phones out of our pockets or purses. They will make it easier to monitor our health with heartbeat and movement sensors, recording daily how much we have exercised, or how much we haven't.

    Your mobile phone next year will look almost exactly the same as the one in your pocket today - though slightly larger and a little slimmer. But the software on it will be a bit smarter because of improved location sensors.

    Rather than your having to look at your phone all the time, your phone will start letting you know when you need to look.

    Twitter could tell you when a news event happens near your house. Facebook could let you know if your friends are saying "congratulations" on someone's post - and you should too.

    Your phone could automatically keep e-mail messages, text messages and phone calls at bay while you're sitting down for dinner with the family, all by sensing that your spouse and children's phones are in the dining room at the same time in the evening.

    What about the home?

    Until now, television screens have come in pretty standard sizes and shapes: Rectangular. While that won't change next year, we will probably see prototypes of something different.

    Earlier this year, Mr Peter Bocko, the chief technology officer for Corning Glass Technologies, said: "We've been working on flexible displays for more than a decade and, this past year, we finally came up with solutions."

    This means screens could wrap around clothing we wear or the packages we buy.

    In our homes, this flexible technology could translate into wallpaper-like screens that can be stuck to a wall.

    This year, we saw the improvement of 3-D printers that can make physical objects from digital files. Next year, we could start to see these devices become a fixture in our homes, just as inkjet printers became a norm in the late 1980s.

    What will you use these for? Maybe you'll make your own iPhone covers rather than buy them from stores, print out new salt and pepper shakers or download a pattern and print a new part for your drone.

    And, who knows, if you do get a 3-D printer next year, maybe you could start downloading the parts for your very own humanoid robot-helper that can make your breakfast and walk your dog in 2015.