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Breakouts and busts: Here's the lowdown on this year's sizzlers and fizzlers in tech
Hot or not: 10 tech trends for 2013
Some technologies are poised to break out in 2013; others are doomed to whither away and die, while the rest won't fully arrive for some time to come.
Join us on a whirlwind tour of 10 technology trends for the coming year, and find out which are hot and which are not.
HOT: Fly-by spies
Surveillance has never been so cheap or so easy. For just $300, you can buy a small remote-controlled copter with a video camera and launch your own spy network. Drones have been deployed by police departments from Seattle to Miami as roving CCTV cameras; they've also been used to track endangered rhinos in the wild and by Occupy Wall Street protestors to provide bird's-eye coverage of street actions. Their use has become so widespread that state and federal officials are mulling legislation to regulate unmanned aerial vehicles. Until then, though, the sky's the limit.
NOT: Ultra HD screens
Ultra-HD displays were all the rage at CES this year, but don't expect to find one hanging from your or anyone else's living room wall any time soon. Why? The usual reasons: Content formulated to look its best at 4320p will be ultra-rare for some time to come, and the 4K sets available today are still ultra expensive -- try $20,000 for an 84-inch model. Even a "budget priced" 50-incher could run you five times the cost of a standard 1080p panel. If you're like most of us, you probably bought a state-of-the-art flat panel within the last three or four years. Unlike computers, televisions don't go obsolete that quickly, no matter how much you might want them to.
HOT: The body computer
Google Goggles, the Fitbit, and the Nike+ FuelBand were just the beginning of the merger between physical bodies and digital devices. At CES, Puzzlebox demonstrated a toy helicopter you could control using brainwaves. Interaxon's Muse headband measures your brainwaves and displays them on your smartphone or tablet, so you can learn how to manage stress. This year will see a slew of similar devices that interact with our bodies to clock our workouts, monitor our health, or just soften us up for the Singularity. Remember, resistance is futile.
Last year was supposed to be the year of the Ultrabook. It wasn't, and this year they aren't looking so hot either. Intel's answer to the MacBook Air was years late and several dollars too much to lure PC users away from their tablet fixation. Market forecasters IHS iSuppli, which had predicted more than 22 million of the uberthin ultralights would ship in 2012, later slashed that guesstimate to slightly over 10 million. Of course, the chipmaker says even thinner more powerful models are poised to make a strong showing in 2013. We say the odds are slim.
HOT: Smarter Web pages
HTML4 is dead; long live HTML5. Recently declared "feature complete" by the Worldwide Web Consortium, the new markup language has changed how websites look and feel, as well as put a bullet into the head of Adobe Flash (may it rest in pieces). Meanwhile, major sites are moving to responsive Web pages that automatically adjust to fit any device they're displayed on, whether it's a big screen in your living room or a small one in your pocket. Remember how crappy websites look on your mobile device? You soon won't. Now if we could just bump up the IQ of the people who are looking at them...
NOT: QR codes
These Rorschach tests for nerds were once envisioned to be the easiest and cheapest way to hyperlink the physical world. Just point your smartphone camera at one, click, and you're transported to a website for more information. The problem? Only 9 percent of consumers used a QR code last year, according to eMarketer, a number that's not expected to grow very quickly in the future. Worse, given how thoroughly they mask dubious URLs, they've become a new way to distribute malware and phishing attacks -- proving once again that what you don't know can hurt you.
HOT: Friction-free commerce
This year may finally see widespread adoption of mobile payment systems that let you leave your wallet at home. Visa, MasterCard, and Amex have all endorsed NFC (near-field communications) SIMs that fit inside your smartphone, enabling you to charge purchases sans plastic. MOO has demoed a business card with an NFC chip inside, which can be used to exchange information, share media, and (eventually) purchase stuff via NFC point-of-sale terminals. You may not even need to take it out of your back pocket. Instead of paying through the nose, we'll be buying with our butts.
NOT: Windows RT tablets
You know your new hardware platform is in trouble when Samsung declines to make one. The South Korean electronics behemoth makes every kind of device for every mobile OS known to man (except Apple's, natch), but it's taking a pass on RT, as are HP, Sony, and Toshiba. Meanwhile, Acer delayed shipments for six months to see if anyone is actually buying these things. What's left? The Asus Vivo and Microsoft's own Surface, which comes with its own version of Office but isn't compatible with most other Windows 8 applications. Get yours now, before they become a collector's item.
HOT: Internet-enabled everything
Get used to the phrase "the Internet of things," because you'll be hearing it a lot over the next 12 months. Internet-connected thermostats that manage your utility bills? Check. Wireless shoes that log how far and fast you run? Check. Web-enabled forks that gauge how quickly you eat to help you lose weight? Yes, really. The International Telecommunications Union predicts that connected devices will outnumber humans six to one by the year 2020. How will we know the apocalypse is imminent? When our machines friend each other on Facebook.
Wedged into the niche between 4-inch smartphones and 7-inch tablets, these Goldilocks devices are supposed to be just right for consumers who want screens big enough to read without squinting but small enough to fit in their pockets. While some pundits predict phablets will be the next big thing (probably the same ones who thought Ultrabooks were the ne plus ultra), we're betting they won't set the mobile world on phire anytime soon. And can someone please come up with a better name for these things? That would be phabulous.