"Evolutionary, not revolutionary" was the tagline for most consumer tech in 2014, with a bevy of products that delivered incremental upgrades, like larger iPhones, faster tablets and slimmer laptops. But a handful of innovations we saw last year -- OLED TV, a deluge of smartwatches and fitness trackers, and a promising first stab at virtual reality (VR) in the form of the Samsung Gear VR shown here -- bode well for tech in 2015.
To that end, let's look at some of the specific products and trends we're expecting in 2015.
Editors' note: This story was originally published on January 1, but was updated on February 4.
Samsung had a rough 2014, getting squeezed by both ends of the smartphone market: bargain Chinese manufacturers like Xiaomi are producing "good enough" Android handsets at the low end, and Apple's bigger iPhones were a smash hit on the more profitable high end. Samsung needs a hit in 2015, so the inevitable Galaxy S6, expected to be unveiled on March 1, will have a lot riding on it when it debuts. Whether it will be plastic or metal (like the Galaxy A5, shown here) is anyone's guess, but we'll expect Android 5.0 and a powerful Snapdragon 810 (or equivalent) CPU.
While the HTC One M8 was one of the best Android phones of 2014, it was overshadowed by the marketing might of Samsung's Galaxy S5, which debuted almost simultaneously. The next HTC flagship phone -- dubbed either the One M9 or the Hima -- will need to raise the bar even further to compete in 2015. We'll likely see it announced on March 1 at the Mobile World Congress trade show in Barcelona (yes, the same day as the Samsung GS6 is expected).
If you liked the myriad customization options available on the Moto X, you'll love Google's Project Ara. The smartphone is designed to be completely modular, allowing you to snap in new parts to upgrade it on an ad hoc basis. Whether it can appeal beyond the DIY crowd will be determined when it hits its first test market -- Puerto Rico -- in early 2015.
Samsung's Oculus-powered Gear VR was one of the coolest products we saw in 2014. And it remained just as impressive when we saw it at CES 2015. So, will we see the real Oculus anytime soon? Oculus has expanded its portfolio with the acquisition of hand-tracking technology Nimble VR, and the Facebook-owned company has even launched a studio for Oculus "movies." But there's no indication (so far) whether we'll see it for sale in 2015 or later.
The Project Morpheus VR accessory for PlayStation is Sony's take on virtual reality. It, too, has no hard release date, but early demos show it to be an impressive alternative to the Oculus Rift in its own right.
This may finally be the beginning of the end of your USB frustrations. The new USB 3.1 Type C standard adds a host of improvements: the connector is reversible; the smaller plug is now on both ends; and the speed is upped to a warp-level 800MB per second. You should start to see the new USB standard utilized in PCs and mobile devices later this year.
The new USB standard is going to have serious competition, however. Another interesting hardware development on tap for 2015 could be the emergence of third-party accessories using Apple's Lightning port. If the trend takes off, we could see the emergence of wireless speakers, headphones, gamepads and other accessories with Lightning ports instead of Micro-USB (or USB 3.1 Type C). That would mean one fewer charging cable for traveling iPhone and iPad owners.
Perhaps the biggest story to come out of CES 2015 was Sling TV. The cable TV alternative offers about 20 channels to US customers via online streaming -- including ESPN, CNN, TBS and TNT -- starting at $20 per month. It will be available on a wide range of hardware including iOS and Android devices, Rokus, the Fire TV and the Xbox One within the next few weeks.
Sony's Vue is the big Sling TV competitor that's also slated to launch in the US in 2015. The cost is unclear, but it is expected to offer dozens of channels and on-demand options when it hits the PS3 and PS4 (followed by other Sony hardware thereafter).
Nintendo is constantly refining its handheld game consoles, and the New Nintendo 3DS tweaks the experience with a second analog stick and swappable faceplates. It's already out in Japan and Australia, and will hit other countries in 2015. However, the US will initially only get the the larger-screened "New Nintendo 3DS XL." It's set to launch on February 13 in North America.
Valve's gaming-centric OS was pushed back from its originally scheduled 2014 availability, resulting in at least one product -- the Alienware Alpha -- being released with Windows on board instead. But 2015 could be the year that Steam Machines finally reach the gaming public.
While it was announced in 2014, Amazon's odd "invite only" sales pitch for its voice-controlled Amazon Echo network speaker makes this a 2015 purchase for most folks. (Amazon periodically invites more users to purchase it.) Right now, it doesn't do a whole lot, but the voice recognition is generally excellent. Whether it's Echo, its successors, Apple's Siri, Google Now or Microsoft Cortana, voice control will continue to be perfected and mainstreamed in 2015 -- whether we're ready for it or not.
Microsoft's next OS will provide a unified platform and app store across phones, tablets and PCs, while learning the lessons of Windows 8: PC users will get a more traditional desktop and Start button, for instance. The exact release date is unknown, but it should be hitting by the end of 2015 as a free upgrade for Windows 7 and 8 users. You can check out our ongoing coverage of Windows 10 here.
Could Windows 10 debut alongside a new flagship device? The Surface Pro 3 was Microsoft's best hybrid tablet PC to date, but it still felt short of perfection. A Pro 4 would benefit from a shiny new Microsoft OS, as well as Intel's latest and greatest Broadwell CPU. Toss in some design tweaks (along the lines of the Intel Llama Mountain prototype shown here) and an improved keyboard attachment, and Microsoft might have the touchstone hardware product it's been promising since the beginning.
From collision avoidance to parking assist, you can already buy cars off the lot that offer some degree of automated operation. Google, meanwhile, already has a fleet of self-driving prototypes. But we could see truly self-driving cars become commercially available to the masses -- at the high end, at least -- as early as this year. The bigger question is which manufacturer will be first to market. From Tesla to Toyota, Audi to Volvo, Ford to BMW -- every automaker has a vehicle in the race. Expect an automated Autobahn sooner than you think.
Rounding out the 2015 techscape is Apple. The tech giant unveiled its long-rumored Watch last September, alongside the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, but it won't begin shipping until this April. When it arrives, it'll come in two sizes and three different styles, needs to pair with an iPhone 5 or newer, and will start at $349 in the US, with prices elsewhere still to be announced.
We don't expect new iPhones until the usual September timeframe -- and 2015 will almost certainly be a slight "S" upgrade rather than a total redesign. But that could still include a boatload of new upgrades, from the certain (iOS 9) to the possible (sapphire screen?).
Not officially announced but strongly rumored in 2014 was a large-screen iPad, which many have dubbed the "iPad Plus" (or "iPad Pro"). Expect a screen size of between 12.2 to 12.9 inches (up from the current 9.7-inch model) and the inclusion of side-by-side app support.
In addition to a new iPad, many Apple watchers are expecting a new "Goldilocks" MacBook model. Thought to straddle the Air and Pro lines, the new MacBook is said to have a screen size around 12.5 inches (putting it directly between the current 11.6-inch and 13.3-inch Air models) and would likely utilize one of Intel's new Core M or Broadwell CPUs for fanless operation.
Most tech observers have given up on seeing a full-on Apple television in the near future. But even an updated Apple TV box has turned into something of a tech unicorn. We're coming up on the third anniversary of the current Apple TV hardware, which hit back in March 2012. Yes, Apple has loaded up on new channels and content in the meantime -- it's still a great little box -- but will we finally see new hardware in 2015 as well?