Vivek Wadhwa is a vice president at Singularity University and a Washington Post columnist.
Last year I predicted that social media would lose its sizzle. Since then, the bubble has burst for companies such as Facebook, Zynga and Groupon. The tablet computer market, on the other hand, is booming, voice recognition is becoming a standard feature in new computing devices, and there have been, as I alluded to in 2012, notable cloud-computing failures andsecurity breaches in the past year.
I am glad to have been wrong about LinkedIn. It is a great company with a stellar management team. Also, tablet prices haven’t quite hit the $100 mark in the U.S., as I predicted they would. But I still anticipate they will, and likely very soon.
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So, what else lies ahead for 2013? There is nothing as spectacular as the Facebook IPO, at least at this point, but expect gradual technology progressions of greater significance than have been seen in years past. The Post’s Hayley Tsukayama has outlined the trends in tech for the coming year — a year I believe will be one of transition for the sector.This year, expect tech innovators to set the stage to solve global problems, since technologies in fields such as medicine, robotics, artificial intelligence, synthetic biology, 3D printing, and nanomaterials are advancing exponentially. Like the processors in our computers, they are becoming increasingly powerful while their price drops precipitously. This will enable startups to take on problems in fields such as energy, health, education, and security that only government and big research labs previously could.
Most recently, the big rewards have gone to startups developing relatively simple social media platforms and applications. In the upcoming era of exponential technologies, expect the rewards to go to players that solve big, global problems.
Here are the big innovation trends that I believe will gain traction in 2013.
Tablet explosion to computing revolution
The entry price of tablet computers will almost surely drop to under $100 in 2013 — especially if the rumored $99 Acer tablet gains traction this year, as I believe it will, or if theIndia Aakash tablet finally lives up to its potential. I also anticipate that the tablet price tag will keep dropping until it reaches close to zero over a 2-to-3 year period. We will reach the point where it makes sense for companies to give tablets away just as mobile carriers give phones away in exchange for plan subscriptions. More broadly, we can expect to see tablet computers almost everywhere in this decade—our kitchens, bathrooms, cars, supermarkets, schools and elevators.
Apple currently owns the high end of the market, of course, and I don’t expect cheap tablets to put any dent in the company’s sales this year. But, if Apple fails to keep innovating, the company will surely feel the pain in 2014 and beyond as Samsung continues to nip at its heels. The PC laptop vendors — Dell, HP and Lenovo, among others — should worry since tablets will continue to cannibalize their higher-priced products.
The biggest winner in this revolution will likely be Google, with its free Android operating system. Unsurprisingly, the loser will probably be Microsoft, which licenses its mobile operating system, Windows RT, for around $80 — more than the hardware will eventually cost. In the long term, expect the billions of new users that come online over the next few years to be doing Google searches and using Google’s applications.
The ‘quantified self’ goes mainstream and creates a new regulatory battlefield
We saw a trickle of sensor-based medical devices in 2012, but these were just the start of the “quantified self” movement. As sensors become smaller, more powerful, and cheaper, we will see many new types of devices that help us monitor our health. These will be embedded in our iPhone cases, bathroom scales, toothbrushes, and even in our jewelry.
In 2013, expect to be able to purchase sophisticated new devices like the AliveCor Heart Monitor, which I have been testing and the FDA has approved for use by licensed U.S. medical professionals. If I had a device like this 10 years ago, I may have been able to avoid the heart attack that I had.The device will cost $199 when prescribed by a physician. Today, we need physicians to analyze the data the device provides. But, given the rate at which technology is advancing, computers may be able to do a better job. Witness the way IBM’s Watson defeated Jeopardy champions. It had far more data available to it.
Eventually, I foresee cloud-based systems that have access to the latest medical knowledge and to data from hundreds of millions of people analyzing medical data. I would trust these systems more than I trust my cardiologist, and the app to access these will be available anytime and as often as I need it.Even before we reach this stage, consumers should be allowed to purchase these devices off the shelf to see and analyze their own medical data. This is where the battle lines will increasingly be drawn between technologists and regulators.
Users will begin to demand greater control of their own data and more ways to monitor it in order to improve their lives. That means, in the coming year, one should expect to see the regulatory battles over these types of technologies become more frequent and heated.