It was one year ago that I had the pleasure of venturing out west to Las Vegas to attend the 2012 CES convention. While I wasn't wowed by the majority of products on display -- and traversing that massive show floor didn't do wonders for my feet or back -- it was certainly exciting to see what 2012 had in store.
It was just too bad that barely anything made it out of the convention center that also delivered on the same promise touted by its barking vendor.
Despite the admirable roll of the dice on a brand new UI, Windows 8 (MSFT) is getting a lukewarm reception. Microsoft's partnership with Nokia (NOK) resulted in the superbly constructed Lumia line of smartphones, but they surely won't break any sales records. And even a year later, Google TV (GOOG) still can't get it together.
At the start of any year, it's tricky to foresee what the next 12 months will bring, but often it's the stuff that's championed the loudest that has the most spectacular falls. So tech writers have to wade through a lot of glitz and hubris to find what will really catch on. Sure, it's a lot of guesswork and arguments are invariably to be had, but come on, it's tradition.
And with that, I give you my tech predictions for 2013.
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1. The video game console market becomes a two-horse race
Like an Italian plumber finding a cache of subterranean coins, Nintendo (NTDOY) gleefully reported that it's newest Wii U console had exceeded the revenue generated in its first 41 days than that of its predecessor over the same time period, and estimates put its sales numbers at around 890,000 units since its November 18, 2012 launch.
It's a nice win for the Mario folks, but it still wasn't good enough. Microsoft managed to sell 1.4 million units of its seven-year-old Xbox 360 in last month alone.
The original Wii suffered a slow and steady fall as the novelty of waggling one's wiimote to shovelware began to wear thin, and dense, compelling, and mindfully constructed games allowed the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 (SNE) to thrive long past normal console obsolescence. The Wii U, while supporting a couple well-received titles like Batman: Arkham City and Assassin's Creed III, continues to rely more on novelty controls than appeasing hardcore gamers.
It's still early in Wii U's lifespan, but there are tens of millions of original Wii owners who've already been burned by the Wii and are far more likely to enter the age of the eighth generation console with the next Xbox or PlayStation in tow.
2. The very possible death of Research in Motion
It won't be much longer before troubled Waterloo manufacturer Research In Motion (RIMM) debuts its BlackBerry 10-powered devices to an increasingly disinterested public. The company's journey to this perpetually stalled OS release has been tumultuous to say the least: a rapidly diminishing user base, nonexistent sales, massive executive turnover, a mutinous staff, fleeing developers, and an embarrassing marketing campaign or two. And yet, RIM remains a standalone company.
2013, however, might be the last year it maintains its independence.
Early glimpses at BlackBerry 10 show it has some admirable features, like its keyboard input and innovative navigation, but the OS overall is hardly groundbreaking. Even if RIM delivers an astoundingly revolutionary OS and equally trailblazing hardware to run it -- and that is a massive "if" -- it still has a mountain to climb to even come close to competing with the mobile front-runners, Android and iOS (AAPL).
And considering former top dog Apple is even finding itself grappling with less-than-stellar demand for its iPhone 5, it's very unlikely a manufacturer like RIM -- which has managed to make every wrong decision it possibly can in the last three years -- will turn it all around.
Like Palm (HPQ) before it, there is a very good chance that RIM will finish out the year as a division of another company.
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3. Smartphone cameras with double-digit megapixels
Since they began appearing on our flip phones, cell phone cameras have always been "good enough." Nowhere close to the quality we'd like to document our lives, but they sure beat lugging around a second device.
But in recent years, manufacturers like Apple, Samsung (SSNLF), and Nokia have really souped up their smartphone camera sensors to produce some stunning results. Nokia, in particular, shattered the "glass ceiling" with its 41 megapixel camera on the Pureview 808 smartphone, and the sensors on its Lumia line are no slouches either.
Well, Nokia has revealed that it will "go big" with its cameras this year, likely improving upon existing hardware which already nears the double-digit megapixel mark.
Samsung also proved it takes optics very seriously with last year's release of the Samsung Galaxy Camera. While it's unlikely its Galaxy S line will begin sporting a 23 mm lens, too, the company could easily move some of that tech over to the its smartphones -- which will surely make the Photo Sphere feature on Android's Jelly Bean OS even more fun.
4. Smartphone batteries that actually last through the day
If the state of the smartphone camera could be considered "woeful," than its battery life would be considered "abysmal." Nowadays, it's not uncommon for users to carry along an extra battery just to make it through the work day, or -- in cases like the iPhone's non-removable battery -- troll the office for a compatible power cord to recharge their devices.
However, with the release of the Motorola Droid Razr Maxx and Maxx HD, folks can now actually use their phones without fear of destroying the battery after composing a single email.
Well, unfortunately for manufacturers, consumers have gotten a taste of the longer-lasting battery and are now demanding their smartphones at least last through their morning and evening commutes. And between increasing battery capacities and new technologies that will boost the life of the battery, smartphones that can make it to the evening will become more commonplace.
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5. Songza gives Pandora a run for its money
There's absolutely no shortage of services that allow users to enjoy streaming tunes while on the go. Between Pandora (P), Spotify, Slacker, MOG, and Rdio, folks have virtually every mood and occasion ready to be scored.
But the trade-offs for musical ubiquity -- other than the sizable data stream -- are the ad breaks, subscription costs, and various listening limits. And if Pandora is in one of its moods, listen to it long enough and you could potentially end up on Paul Simon after starting off on Judas Priest.
Enter Songza, a streaming service which debuted on iOS last year but is now also available on Android and the Kindle Fire (AMZN). Unlike Pandora, Songza is completely free, no ads break into the stream, and song moods are maintained and can be kept pretty versatile and esoteric -- like Classic Rock Guitar Solos, '90s One-Hit Wonders, and Songs in Apple Commercials.
Songza already has won itself acclaim from users and critics alike who've enjoyed its ad-free streams and time-specific playlists. Although Pandora can be found on virtually every connected media device, Songza's stellar user experience may start pulling people away from the aging streaming service.