Big in 2014: Iterative sequels, connected devices, wearable tech
Let's start by stating the obvious: in 2014, we're going to see a lot of "sequel" products building on the success -- or attempting to fix the shortfalls -- of their predecessors. We've broken out some of the more notable ones on the pages that follow.
Likewise, look for some nascent trends to pick up steam. That includes ubiquitous connectivity -- call it "smart" appliances, or "the Internet of Things" -- streaming entertainment, 3D printing, and a shift toward mobile computing (more phones, more tablets).
Finally, if there's one breakout trend in 2014, we expect it to be "wearable tech" becoming more mainstream.
Now, let's look at some of these trends and specific products in-depth.
Valve’s Steam Machine isn’t one product; it’s a PC gaming platform that will see several compatible models at varying price points from a variety of manufacturers. While details are still sparse, we do know a few of the broad strokes: the platform offers a unique controller (pictured, with Alienware Steam Machine) that duplicates the keyboard and mouse controls familiar to PC gamers; the beta version of the OS has already been released; and the first Steam models were unveiled at CES in Las Vegas.
The iPhone 5S brought 64-bit processing, slo-mo video shooting, and fingerprint sensors to the smartphone world, but those impressive technologies were housed in a nearly identical body to 2012's iPhone 5. For 2014, we're expecting (finally) a larger-screen model at the very least -- plus whatever goodies iOS 8 will bring.
The Galaxy S5 is confirmed, and it's coming in April.
Less a radical redesign and more a refinement of last year's phenomenally successful Galaxy S4, Samsung's latest superphone still boasts a roster of muscular specs (5.1-inch 1080p screen, Snapdragon 800 processor) and some nifty new features, including a fingerprint scanner and a heart rate sensor. Expect it to jump to the top of Android fans' shopping lists when it hits in a few weeks.
2013’s Kindle Paperwhite (shown here) was showered with praise, but it was actually bigger, heavier, and had a lower-resolution screen than the competing Kobo Aura. If a November 2013 report from TechCrunch is to be believed, all of those issues will be remedied by a Paperwhite upgrade arriving in the spring of 2014. Among the rumored improvements are a 300 pixels-per-inch screen, a custom font for easier readability, and a thinner, lighter design reminiscent of the Fire HDX tablet. While the spring release would come less than a year after the '13 Paperwhite, it would be well-timed for the May/June "Dads and Grads" gifting season.
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. Of course, in classic Google fashion, it was really a beta product -- the company’s wireless and camera-enabled eyewear wasn’t sold at retail and was only available to a select group of "Explorers" who were willing to shell out $1,600. But with more features and apps added over the past few months -- and news that Glass is now available on some prescription glasses -- expect to see a more consumer-friendly Glass product hitting in 2014.
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. The release date and pricing still haven't been finalized, but let's hope it's sooner rather than later -- we can't wait.
The $35 Chromecast stole a lot of Roku's thunder in 2013, but the streaming pioneer has counterpunched in a big way with the new Roku Streaming Stick. It's a bit pricier at $50, but it includes a full remote control (though app control works as well) and more than 1,200 apps, including many must-have offerings that aren't available on Chromecast, like Watch ESPN, Showtime Anytime, and Time Warner Cable.
When does a Microsoft subsidiary produce a product that runs Android? When it's not really Android. Confused yet? So were we when Nokia unveiled the Nokia X. In fact, the X (and its sibling phones, the X+ and XL) run a customized, Nokia-ized version of Android that doesn't have access to the Google Play app store. Indeed, the €89 X is no Lumia alternative, but a starter smartphone intended for markets in Asia, Eastern Europe, and Latin America. Still, color us intrigued -- we're looking forward to checking it out when it hits later in March.
Can't decide between tablet and laptop? Torn between Windows and Android? Fear not, commitment-phobes: the Asus Transformer Book Duet TD300 has you covered. The 13.3-inch tablet has a detachable keyboard (for laptop mode), plus the ability to toggle between Windows and Android at the touch of a button. Sounds cool -- maybe too cool. The rumor is that this device may never see the light of day.
While it was overshadowed by the Galaxy S4, many people still think that 2013's HTC One (pictured) was the best phone of last year. So what does the struggling HTC do for an encore? Whatever it is, we won't have to wait long to find out. The company has a press event scheduled for March 25, where the HTC One successor is certain to be revealed.
Forget giant flat-panels -- projectors are the best way to enjoy true wall-size video displays. And with short-throw technology -- shooting the image straight up on the adjacent wall rather than across the room -- things can be much more lifestyle-friendly (namely, no wires stretching across the room or ceiling mounts required). LG was first to the short-throw projector game in 2013 with its $8,000 Hecto model. Now, Sony is entering the ring with a model that will cost a whopping $30,000 to $40,000 when it hits in mid-2014 -- but delivers a stunning 4K image up to 147 inches. If that gives you sticker shock, you might want to look at the Philips Screeneo instead; the image is only 720p, but it will sell for a much more reasonable $1,800 when it goes on sale in the spring.
The first real OLED TVs to hit the US market in 2013 were curved, 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. Whether that curvature is a gimmick or not remains to be seen, but at least one of these bendable models is said to be shipping this year.
While the late, great Palm Pre had a mixed reception, everyone agreed that its underlying WebOS was a winner. That same great operating system is coming back in 2014 to a much bigger screen: LG Smart TVs. An updated version of the "card" interface will appear on some LG models later this year, which should offer more intuitive navigation of the myriad entertainment offerings -- online streaming, Web browsers, what have you -- than the confusing jumble of icons and menus now found on many so-called Smart TV models.
It was tough to find TVs at CES 2014 that weren't 4K, but very few of them had actual pricing attached. Vizio's P series 4K models were a major exception, and the prices are downright amazing: the 50-, 55-, and 60-inch models will start at $1,000, $1,400, and $1,800 respectively when they're released later this year -- meaning there's very little price premium to non-4K models at the same screen sizes. 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.
Over-the-air DVRs from Channel Master, Tablo, Mohu, and Simple.TV
Cord-cutting is great in theory, but finding a DVR that works with an antenna can be a challenge; TiVo still requires a monthly or lifetime fee, and PC-based video recorders are just too elaborate for non-techies. Thankfully, it looks like we'll have more choices than ever before in 2014. Products like the forthcoming Channel Master DVR+, Tablo (shown), Mohu Channels, and Simple.TV 2.0 all stream live and recorded over-the-air TV programs to various mobile and home video devices (tablets, smartphones, Roku, and the like). We expect all of them to hit in the first quarter, and we're eager to see how they fare.
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. At CES 2014, Sony started filling in some of the details. PlayStation Now will go online in the middle of 2014, and deliver streamed gaming in real-time to the PS3, PS4, and Vita. That will be followed later by other Sony hardware (think TVs) and -- eventually -- even non-Sony hardware (the iPad was mentioned). Pricing and specific titles remain a mystery for now, but our hands-on demos of the service left us wanting more. (Just make sure your broadband Internet service is fast if you want to use it.)
After months of rumors, it appears that Sony's online TV service is real -- or will be, later in 2014. Rumors were scant at CES, but the company officially announced that the service is slated to arrive later in 2014. Will it offer a worthwhile alternative to cable and satellite where so many others have failed? Time will tell.
Windows 8 and 8.1 (shown here) hasn't resonated with users. That's one reason Microsoft is already said to be hard at work on the next version of its PC/tablet operating system, currently said to be codenamed "Threshold." While Windows 9 isn't expected to be available for sale until 2015, it's possible we'll begin to see previews as early as April, at the company's BUILD developer conference in San Francisco.
With no free Amazon smartphone on deck, the rumored streaming video box remains a perennial "will they or won’t they?" favorite. The rumored device was a no-show in 2013, with speculation that the company is retooling now that the $35 Chromecast has raised the bar (by lowering the pricing expectations and changing the typical form factor in the category). Will the device -- possibly called "Firetube" -- see the light of day in 2014? And will it do anything that the Roku, the Apple TV, and the Chromecast can't? Time will tell.
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 is anyone's guess. But if the so-called iWatch is real -- and we’re betting it is -- 2014 is when it’ll probably see the light of day.
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, it was a good year for the existing Apple TV box, which saw the addition of more than a dozen new apps, including HBO Go, ESPN, ABC, Disney, and Sky News. Now we're hearing a drumbeat of rumors that we may see a refresh of the Apple TV box in the first half of 2014. 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.