We've officially hit the halfway point of 2014. On the tech calendar, that means we're past CES, Mobile World Congress, E3, Apple WWDC, and Google I/O. Still to come are IFA, the first-ever Super Mobility Week, and near-certain launch events from Apple -- just to name a few.
The halfway point is a perfect time to look back at the year in tech so far, and -- more importantly -- look forward to what's still to come, based on announcements to date (and some educated guessing).
Note: This story was originally published on January 1, 2014, and has been updated extensively with additional products announced since then.
The image above, posted online by Taiwanese pop star Jimmy Lin, may or may not be Apple's next iPhone (shown with a current 5S, left, for size comparison). But the inevitable iPhone 6 is undoubtedly the most anticipated product of the second half of 2014. Besides a larger screen -- both 4.7-inch and 5.5-inch models are rumored -- you can also count on plenty of iOS 8 goodies (see next slide).
Photo by: Jimmy Lin/Weibo/Screenshot by Lance Whitney/CNET
/ Caption by:John Falcone
Whether you get the new iPhone hardware or not, owners of compatible recent iPhones, iPads, and iPod Touch models will get to upgrade to iOS 8 for free when it's released in the third quarter. The new operating system adds some Android-style features, including support for custom keyboards, widgets, and extensions. Also on board is expanded Touch ID support and Apple's new Health app as well.
Google's Nexus 7 hit in the middle of 2013, so the timing feels right for a sequel. The rumor for 2014 is an 8- or 8.9-inch model -- thus, "Nexus 8" -- which could theoretically better compete with Amazon's Kindle Fire HDX and Apple's current (and presumably forthcoming) iPad Mini models.
One could argue that the 2013 iPad Mini with Retina and iPad Air (left and center, compared with an older 2012 iPad on the right) hit a sweet spot of tablet features, but that won't stop new and improved models hitting for 2014. Obvious upgrades include an A8 processor, faster AC Wi-Fi, the Touch ID sensor found on current iPhones -- and, of course, iOS 8 on board.
Google’s first foray into the emerging field of "wearable tech" was a mixed bag -- everyone was excited by its potential, but most felt it didn’t really do anything. Judging by Glass's no-show at Google I/O 2014, it seems like the company has turned its attention to the wrist-based Android Wear smart watches for now. But with more features and apps added over the past few months -- and news that Glass is now available on some prescription glasses -- don't be surprised if a "real" Glass sequel pops up this year or next.
If there's one product that holds the promise of bringing sci-fi-style virtual reality to consumers, it's Oculus Rift. We've seen the product progress from prototype in 2012 to the much more polished "Crystal Cove" iteration at CES 2014 -- and the DK2 developers' kit just two months later. Since then, the company has been purchased by Facebook for $2 billion. The release date and pricing still haven't been finalized (though that dev kit is a mere $350), but let's hope it's sooner rather than later -- we can't wait.
Sony is also jumping in with Project Morpheus, the working name of its PlayStation VR peripheral. The headset probably won't see the light of day before 2015 -- if even then -- but it means that Oculus Rift doesn't have a monopoly on the virtual reality space.
Curved TVs have been on the market since the first real OLED TVs hit the US market in 2013. Now, LED LCD TVs are getting curved, too (for better or worse). But CES 2014 saw that one-upped: bendable TVs, where the screen can go from flat to curved and back again at the touch of a button. We're not fans of the curve to begin with, but if you're looking for the best of both worlds -- and you have money to burn -- you should be able to get a bendable model before the end of 2014.
4K TVs are here, and their prices are continuing to drop -- but most larger models are still firmly in the luxury price brackets of $3,000 and up. But that's already changing: Samsung has a 40-inch 4K model you can buy today for under $1,000 (which directly converts to £585/AU$ 1070) and Vizio has pledged to bring its 4K P series on the market later this year at prices that are even more jaw-dropping: the 50-, 55-, and 60-inch models will start at $1000 (£585/AU$1,070), $1,400 (£815/AU$1,495), and $1,800 (£1,050/AU$1,920) respectively when they're released later this year. That sounds like the opening salvo in a price war that's likely to benefit TV shoppers across the board.
Roku is our favorite streaming media box, and now it's being built directly into affordable TVs from Hisense and TCL. That means fewer wires, one remote, and an app ecosystem that's always up-to-date. Look for them later in 2014.
Rumors of a "real" Apple TV -- a flat-screen HDTV powered by a next-gen Apple content engine and interface -- seemed to taper off in 2013. Meanwhile, Apple keeps adding more and more content to the existing Apple TV box, including top channels like HBO Go, ESPN, ABC, ABC News, Disney, and Sky News. Now we're hearing a drumbeat of rumors that we may see a refresh of the Apple TV box before the year is out. And with the existing box now approaching its second birthday, the time seems right for an upgrade. Are the rumors true? Will the new box include a real app store? Games? A new controller? Whatever the answer, count us intensely interested.
Google TV flopped, Chromecast was -- and is -- considered a big success. Split the difference, and you have Google's upcoming Android TV. Less a new platform and more a big-screen extension of Google's mobile OS, look for Android TV to power set-top boxes, microconsoles, and even full-on TVs in the near future.
Already available in Japan and Australia (as the Vita TV), the PlayStation TV microconsole is coming to the States, UK, and Europe later in 2014. It plays most Vita games, allows for remote play of a PS4 elsewhere in the house, and -- once Sony's PlayStation Now streaming game service goes online (see following slide) -- it'll be able to access those PS3-level games as well. Did we mention it will also double as a Roku-style entertainment console? US shoppers can buy the box for just $99/AU$150 (which directly converts to £85), or go for the bundle above, which includes a DualShock 3 controller for $139.
When the PS4 debuted, Sony made some vague promises about a cloud-based streaming game component that would be added after launch, using the technology from the company's Gaikai acquisition in 2012. Now, the company is on the cusp of delivering just that: PlayStaiton Now. Already in beta (which will be open to all comers starting July 31), PlayStation Now lets PS4 gamers (and soon, PS3, Vita, PlayStation TV, and even some Sony TV owners) access real-time streaming games running on remote servers. Pricing has yet to be locked down (the beta lets you rent games from hours to 90 days for $3 to $15 (which converts to £1.75/AU$3.20 to £8.75/AU$16); just make sure your broadband Internet service is fast if you want to use it.
PlayStation Now is already up and running in beta, but Sony's online TV service still feels much less certain -- despite the company announcing the service in January with a 2014 timeline. Will it offer a worthwhile alternative to cable and satellite where so many others have failed? Time will tell.
You can already buy the first Android Wear watches from LG and Samsung. But after playing with those rather uninspiring models, we're still holding out for the Moto 360. It'll be the first Wear model with a round (rather than square) design, and we're hoping it will improve on the middling one-day battery life of the existing Wear models.
The image above is a "what-if" composite -- a Siri icon on a 2011 iPod Nano with a wristband accessory. But if the rumors are to be believed, Apple may have upward of 100 people working on just such a product. Whether it's more of an interface to an iPhone or a standalone gadget -- the next generation of iPods? -- is anyone's guess. But if the so-called iWatch is real -- and we’re betting it is -- the fourth quarter of 2014 is when it’ll probably see the light of day.
Photo by: Image created by Sarah Tew and Christopher MacManus/CNET
/ Caption by:John Falcone
We expect most of the previous products, services, and software to hit before the end of 2014. But some products, like Valve's Steam Machine gaming PCs, have already been delayed until next year. We'll reevaluate the list as the year progresses to see what else slips.