Every year is an exciting year in technology - there are always so many new gadgets and gizmos on the horizon! While we love to be surprised by tech brands showing off their latest offerings, it's also fun to anticipate what's just around the corner, and what we can look forward to in the coming months.
Here's our top-10 pick of stuff that we're already getting excited about for the year ahead.
10. Samsung Galaxy S5
Samsung’s flagship may not be everyone’s cup of tea – and we’re not exactly big fans of the horrid plastics the company uses on its most expensive devices – but the Galaxy S4 is still a mighty fine handset, and we’re looking forward to seeing what the next version brings to the table.
Rumours about the S5 are swirling already and, frankly, many of the predictions being made seem more like wishful thinking than anything. Still, we’re hoping for less crappy plastic, a better display (many reports point to 2K resolution) and an improved camera. Whatever Samsung does with the S5, it’ll surely sell in the kind of numbers that most of its rivals can only dream of.
9. A bigger iPhone
Rumours of a ‘big-screen’ iPhone seem to pop up every couple of months, but recent chatter in the industry suggests that 2014 could be the year that Apple finally launches a handset with a larger display. Of course, the company hasn’t exactly been struggling to sell its 4-inch iPhones, but in the premium handset market, demand for bigger screens is increasing, as evidenced by the launch of devices like LG’s G2, the Nokia Lumia 1320 and 1520 and HTC’s One Max.
The gap between the 4-inch iPhones and the 7.9-inch iPad mini is starting to look pretty big, and as users consume more video content – whether from Netflix, BBC iPlayer or YouTube – on their phones, it’s only logical to assume that some of them will want to enjoy it on a larger screen. A bigger iPhone isn’t a certainty, but it seems to make sense, and it sure would be nice.
8. ‘Touch-first’ versions of Microsoft Office
Given Microsoft’s relentless focus on the touch capabilities of Windows 8, it’s strange that the company still doesn’t offer versions of its Office suite designed for touch interaction. Its current Office 2013 desktop applications do sport a touch-friendly mode, but all this really does is take the existing UI and make buttons a bit larger and easier to tap with a fat finger.
Thankfully, we’ll finally see the launch of ‘touch-first’ versions of core Office apps in 2014, redesigned from the ground up for finger-friendly interactions, with Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook all expected to get a ‘Modern’ overhaul. For those with Windows tablets, they can’t come soon enough. Microsoft has confirmed that a version is in the works for the iPad too, although that’s expected to arrive later.
7. Google Glass
There are few devices more divisive than Google’s headset, but whether you love it or hate it, 2014 will be the year that Glass launches to a wider audience. Many industry commentators are convinced that the new generation of wearable computing devices are much more than just a fad, but consumers are yet to be convinced.
Google certainly has a lot to prove with Glass. But while many remain sceptical, we’re eager to see what the company has in store for the device, particularly as it begins to ramp up its efforts to make wearable computing more mainstream. We’re also keen to see just what the company has planned for its floating ‘Google Barge’ showrooms, and whether they’ll be effective in winning over the hearts and minds of consumers.
6. Whatever Amazon does next
We’re not going to see Amazon drones delivering books and terrorising neighbourhood cats in 2014, but that doesn’t mean we’re not excited about what else the company may have in store. With its Kindle range, Amazon has demonstrated that fantastic devices don’t have to cost the earth, and through its Mayday feature – which offers face-to-face video chats with support staff to help inexperienced users get the most out of their Kindle HDX tablets – it has removed some of the uncertainty that may otherwise have put off less tech-savvy buyers from purchasing such a device.
Rumours persist that Amazon is preparing to launch a low-cost smartphone, while speculation has also been mounting of a new set-top box from the company, as the battle for living rooms continues to heat up. We can’t wait to see what cool stuff Amazon has in store for 2014 – although we would also like to see the company do a much better job of improving working conditions for its warehouse staff.
5. Windows ‘Threshold’ update
With Windows 8.1, Microsoft succeeded in delivering a comprehensive update that addressed many of the criticisms that were levelled at its predecessor. But there is still plenty of room for improvement, and it sounds like the upcoming ‘Threshold’ update will resolve many more of the complaints that some still have about the OS.
The return of the Start menu, in some unspecified form, will finally silence those who still despise the Start screen, while those who aren’t entirely won over by the Modern UI may appreciate the ability to run new-style apps in windows on the classic Desktop. There’ll be important steps forward for developers too, as the company moves towards a single, unified app platform and store for all of its operating systems. It's not yet certain that Threshold will arrive in 2014 though - Microsoft-watcher Mary Jo Foley has it on good authority that it may not arrive until early 2015.
4. More competition in mobile
Most of us hate mobile networks. They’re money-grabbers who hike their prices mid-contract, offer pitiful data allowances, and charge extortionate amounts for using your phone abroad, right? Well, not all carriers are the same, and the last couple of years have shown that there’s plenty of room in the market for operators who dare to do things differently.
In the US, the best example of this is T-Mobile, the self-branded ‘Uncarrier’, which has delighted in mocking the old guard of AT&T and Verizon, doing away with lengthy contracts and allowing users to upgrade their handsets up to twice a year for an extra $10 a month. While Sprint lost hundreds of thousands of customers in a single quarter, T-Mobile gained over two million in six months. The UK’s Three network is another good example, introducing 4G at no extra cost to its customers - while rival networks charge hefty premiums for 4G services - and continuing to offer unlimited data plans, as well as introducing free inclusive international roaming to many countries.
Customers reward initiatives like these with their patronage, proving that competition is a good thing. We hope that there’ll be plenty more of this, and in many more countries, over the next twelve months and beyond.
3. Microsoft Surface ‘Mini’
It’s been rumoured for some time, but Microsoft’s small tablet looks set to finally arrive in 2014. The second generation of Surface tablets are hugely impressive, so we’re especially keen to see what the company has in store for the new baby of the family.
Running Windows RT, expect the ARM-based slate to offer impressive battery life – especially important for a device that’s focused on reading content, browsing the web and watching video. The weight and price of the tablet will be the key factors that determine its success – or lack thereof – in the market. Die-hard Microsoft fans will likely be falling over themselves to buy it, but the company will need to establish much broader appeal for it, as it continues to align itself around its ‘devices and services’ strategy.
2. Cheaper devices than ever
Many users in more developed markets mock lower-end devices, but the likes of Google’s Nexus 7 and the Nokia Lumia 520 convincingly demonstrate that you don’t have to pay a fortune to enjoy an excellent user experience. As prices continue to fall, more and more users will be able to afford devices, and this is especially important in developing markets, where many can only dream of being able to purchase the flagships that sit in the pockets and bags of users elsewhere.
The Indian government has promised that it will sell a tablet to its citizens for just 1,500 INR (around $24) in 2014. Tablets like these won’t win awards for performance, but they smash through the cost barriers that would otherwise prevent low-income users from being able to get online and share in the knowledge and entertainment of the web, and that’s pretty awesome.
1. Windows Phone 8.1
Microsoft has deployed two updates to Windows Phone 8, with a third now starting to roll out to devices across the globe. But the majority of ‘ordinary’ users – i.e. those who don’t obsess over tech and gadgets as much we do – would probably struggle to spot many of the incremental improvements that the OS has seen over the last twelve months.
Windows Phone 8.1 will be the first major update to the OS since its launch, and all indications point to it offering the kind of across-the-board improvements that the company delivered with its Windows 8.1 update for tablets and PCs. From the long-awaited notification centre to the new ‘Cortana’ voice-controlled digital assistant, the update is expected to deliver a broad range of truly compelling features, while the new ‘enterprise feature pack’ will finally bring much-needed additional OS support for businesses.
We can’t wait.
What are you looking forward to most in 2014? Do you think we missed something important from our Top 10 list? Or is there anything in our list that you think doesn’t belong there? Be sure to share your thoughts in the comments below!
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Image credits: Samsung Galaxy S5 concept via Gizbot; iPhone concept via GottaBeMobile; Office 2013 image via FutureZone; Google Glass via ExtremeTech.com; Amazon/Jeff Bezos via CNET; T-Mobile via TechnoBuffalo; India tablet via Gizbot.