As August winds to a close, so do the summer tech doldrums. Manufacturers are ramping up for the big fourth-quarter buying season, and that means new products galore.
Expect an avalanche of announcements in the first half of September alone, with the IFA show in Berlin followed by an Apple event, currently rumored for September 9.
What follows is a list of what we know is coming before the end of the year -- along with some reasonably educated guesses.
Note: This story was originally published on January 1, 2014, and has been updated extensively with additional products announced since then.
Let's start by recapping the major releases that have already hit in 2014. (Many of these were in the earlier iteration of this "most anticipated" story that first posted on New Year's Day.)
So far, we've already seen (and, for the most part, reviewed) the Pebble Steel, Samsung Galaxy S5, HTC One M8 (now available in Android and Windows flavors), Samsung Galaxy Tab S, Roku Streaming Stick, Nokia XL, LG Web OS TVs, a slew of over-the-air DVRs, short-throw projectors, the Amazon Fire TV, the Fire Phone, Microsoft's Surface Pro 3, curved TVs, home-automation hubs, and the first wave of Android Wear smart watches -- the LG G Watch and Samsung Gear Live.
That's quite a few sequels and iterative upgrades, but with a definite trend towards even more wearable tech and interconnected devices.
That said, here's what's on deck for the last four months of 2014 -- starting with the smartphone category.
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).
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, Apple's new Health app, and HomeKit -- the company's first major smart-home initiative.
Google, of course, isn't letting the iOS advance go unchallenged. Back in June, the company teased the next version of Android, currently just known as "Android L" (the final name is likely to be "Lollipop," or something similarly sweet).
It's chock-full of upgrades and improvements, including a new design language dubbed "Material," which adds even more color, depth with shadows, and an overall sleeker, more minimalist look. There are also updates to notifications, lock screens, and (fingers crossed) battery life improvements.
Just as an iPhone sequel is inevitable, a new and improved Galaxy Note phone is a sure thing for 2014. Expect better specs and (possibly) an even bigger screen than the Note 3 (pictured here). This phone is all but certain to be announced at Samsung's "Unpacked" press conference in Berlin on September 3.
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" (or maybe even "Nexus 9"). It could theoretically better compete with similar new and forthcoming midsize tablets from Amazon, Samsung, LG, Nvidia, and Apple -- just to name a few.
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.
Apple's computer OS is also getting a refresh. In addition to borrowing some of the same "flat" design in the current versions of iOS, the new version of OS X -- dubbed "Yosemite" -- will also offer much closer interaction between Macs, iPhones, and iPads. Expect this free upgrade to hit in the back half of the year.
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 sounds as if we could see an open preview of the new OS as early as September. For those seeking the return of the Start button, it can't come soon enough.
Read: Windows 8.1 review
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 as though the company has turned its attention to the wrist-based Android Wear smart watch system 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. Meanwhile, Samsung is said to be working with Oculus on a headset that could be announced at that same September 3 event where the Galaxy Note 4 is expected to be unveiled.
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.
OLED represents the bleeding edge of display technology, with off-the-chart black levels that plasma could only dream of. But the TVs have been few and far between -- and often priced at stratospheric early-adopter levels. But that may finally be changing with LG's 55EC9300. The company has just slashed the 55-inch set's price to $3,500 in the US, which makes it more affordable than some 4K models.
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 (although it's £1,200 in the UK and not yet available in Australia).
US company 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 $1,000, $1,400, and $1,800 respectively when they're released (in the US only) 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. With ultra-affordable prices in the US ranging from just $229 (for a 32-incher) to $649 (for a 55-inch version), we're expecting these sets to tantalize shoppers looking for fewer wires, one remote, and an app ecosystem that's always up-to-date.
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 US channels like NFL Now, CNBC, 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, but 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 in October and the UK and Europe one month later.
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? You 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 from 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, but the beta lets you rent games 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. Expect to hear more details in early September.
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 the earliest it would see the light of day.
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.