Catch a Seinfeld episode from the early 1990s on TV and you’ll see Jerry holding a cordless phone the size of a workman’s boot. When was the last time you used a floppy disc to store data or viewed a CD-ROM, or listened to a cassette on your Sony Walkman or a CD in your Discman? I hope you saved your old Palm Pilot – they make great conversation pieces.
The only constant in technology is that it changes. So out with the old and in with the new. Here are seven technologies I expect will get thinner in 2013:
Capacitive touch screens are getting cheaper to manufacture. Tablets and smartphones are now secondary and even primary computers in households. Tablet sales alone are expected to top $760 million worldwide by 2016. Even desktop computers are becoming extensions of tablets, not the other way around. It may be difficult to imagine a computer without a mouse, just as it was once unimaginable that you could have a computer without a “C-prompt.” I say this with some amount of trepidation, quite frankly, because I know that HP, for example, just invented a Wi-Fi mouse, as opposed to a regular mouse. But that’s one mouse that won’t escape from the claws of inevitability. By the time it could reach critical adoption mass, it will already be obsolete.
Physically large desktop computers
Apple is making headlines with its thinner iMac. Super slim notebooks called Ultrabooks are popular. There is more computing power in the phone in your pocket than it took to launch a man to the moon. Microsoft has gone all hybrid with its Surface, a tablet that converts into a laptop. In 2013, the newest innovations will be tablet-docking stations and bluetooth keyboards that make it possible to work on your tablet, or have your smartphone power a larger screen. Even regular computers are going to be made with laptop parts, because the average consumer will be happy with computers that are small and easy to hide away, quieter and consumer less power. The big winners will be chipmakers with products that can crunch data but keep costs low, rather than the chip that is the absolute fastest.
A “hard key” has only one dedicated function, such as an on/off switch, or a telephone keypad with buttons that you press. In 2013, I expect we’ll see fewer hard keys and more touch screen keys and keys with multiple uses. IP phones, for example, have more functions than buttons, so manufacturers add soft keys that can scroll through these functions. You’ll also see more soft keys on television and A/V component remote controls. Even Blackberry gave up most of their hard keys for a touch screen. It wouldn’t surprise me if there turned out to be two warring camps, with some designers in the Steve Jobs camp of nothing but touchscreens and soft keys, and others who believe the consumer needs something tactile beneath their fingertips. Expect some major experimentation on all sides.
Cable TV as we know it
Cable TV faces several pressures. First, we have the cord-cutters’ favorites: Netflix, Amazon Instant, and Hulu Plus. They offer prime-time network shows, cable and even premium cable shows for a low monthly fee. Second: Game consoles, such as the Nintendo Wii and Xbox Live, getting their own media channels, including access to YouTube on your TV, and exclusive content as well. Third, there are on-demand services from established cable companies, including a joint venture from Redbox and Verizon, and who can forget our old friend, TiVo? So, anyone who wants to watch TV on his own schedule is in great shape. On the other hand, for those who watch live TV, we see more of the “second screen experience.” The major innovator in this area is WWE, which has its performers Tweet and post comments between wrestling matches, and even shows the match during commercial breaks. We can expect to see instant virtual water cooler talk on our tablets and smartphones.
Home 3D glasses
They never caught on and probably never will. Despite the fact that 3D TVs and 3D Blu-ray players are cheaper than before, home 3D glasses are expensive, sometimes uncomfortable, need recharging, and you must buy a set for every viewer. On top of that, they can give you headaches from watching 3D TV, and if the TV is too small, the experience is less an immersible experience and feels more like being poked in the face. Nintendo has had success on a small screen with the Nintendo 3DS, and some companies, such as Vizio, Dolby, and Phillips are experimenting with glasses-free 3D on the big screen. Instead there are 4K televisions, which have four thousand lines of resolution, more than twice the horizontal and vertical resolution of HDTV today. While these TVs are capable of glasses-free 3D, it remains to be seen if 3D in any form will catch on outside the movie theater.
We can expect Optical Disks (CD, DVD, Blu-Ray) to disappear in favor of ones and zeros for our music and media. Streaming music services such as Spotify and Pandora are becoming household names (although some question their business model), and Amazon and Apple are putting their chips in the cloud when it comes to the future of music. Netflix is making a strong showing on Wall Street. Vinyl records are even making a comeback. We are seeing a growth in cloud-based data backup instead of optical disk backup, which has limited capacity, compared to the unlimited potential of the cloud. Companies that provide cloud backup, such as Carbonite, and Mozy stand to gain.
Multiple phone numbers
We’ve saved the best for last. Many of us have two or three phone numbers, email addresses, and even screen names. Expect all of that to start going away in 2013. With VoIP innovations from Facebook, Apple’s Facetime, and Google’s Gchat and Google Talk leading the way for other startups, I expect phone numbers to become unified, and then eventually go away entirely. In 2013, you can expect VoIP call routing to unify numbers as a first step.