2014 won’t be viewed as a watershed year for computers, tablets or smart phones – the year’s trends are more incremental than groundbreaking. There’s no new product like the iPhone or iPad which will take the market by storm. Even so, the major trends this year will still be important, because most will bring solid improvements to the end-user experience.
Here’s a look at what you can expect to see happening on the laptop, desktop, tablet and smartphone fronts throughout the rest of 2014.
Notebooks and Laptops
1. Convertibles and Sliders
More portables than ever will be of the convertible or slider variety. Convertibles are machines which look like traditional notebook laptop computers, but when you maneuver them (usually by folding or twisting them) they take on a tablet-like appearance, and function with the keyboard hidden and a touchscreen used as the main control device. Sliders are similar, but instead of twisting the screen and keyboard, you simply slide the components to convert from notebook to tablet mode.
This change is primarily being driven by the apparently unstoppable popularity of tablets. The tech analysis firm Canalys projects that a full 50% of all “computers” sold in 2014 will be tablet devices, so manufacturers are trying to ensure that their other product lines, like notebooks, aren’t completely abandoned by consumers. The way they’re doing that is to combine the greater computing power of netbooks with the ease of use and popular functions of tablets. Many feel convertibles could be the best laptops for college students since they would do everything required for schoolwork and still be flexible enough to be used for social networking.
The move toward convertibles in order to compete with tablets is one major reason why more notebooks sold in 2014 will have touch screens – more than 10% of all laptops already had the screens by the start of the year and analysts believe that number will double by the end of the year.
There’s a big company behind the move toward touch screen laptops as well, and its name is Intel. Most manufacturers try to label their products as netbooks these days because of the public’s acceptance and use of that term. However, the brand name “Netbook” is actually owned by Intel and the company sets specific standards which must be met before any manufacturer can use the name. This year, those standards require a touch screen interface, so any company wishing to market a new “Netbook” model in 2014 must equip it with a touchscreen.
3. 3-D Cameras
One of the more interesting developments this year is the appearance of the first 3-D camera systems for notebook laptops (as well as tablets). There have been rudimentary attempts to include this capability in the past, but the cameras were so large that they were basically unworkable. The new systems will be much smaller and will have two lenses, which will allow users to create visual effects only possible until now on desktop machines with advanced graphic capabilities. With the 3-D functions, users will be easily able to perform tasks like superimposing animated or static graphics, or “greenscreening” a body onto different backgrounds.
4. USB Power
One of the conveniences which has become standard for smart phone users is the ability to use just about any USB cable to charge their phone, since just about all smartphones use the same micro USB cable. That’s never been the case with notebooks; each has a different “standard” connector. That is all changing with the advent of USB Power Delivery. This new technology allows laptops to receive not only data, but also power, from a single USB connection. It’s expected to become available late in 2014, and should quickly become standard for both notebook laptops and larger tablets.
1. Tabletop PCs
Laptops aren’t the only product being squeezed by the monstrous popularity of tablets. The veritable home computer is also seeing important design changes in an effort to keep pace with the trend toward greater use of hand-held devices. These “all-in-one” machines, being called “Tabletop PCs,” not only function as desktops but also act as enormous touch screen laptops or tablets, with screens approaching 30 inches in size. Most interestingly, several users can use the same computer at the same time for different purposes. A number of manufacturers, including Dell and HP, are hoping to have them on the market by the end of 2014.
These aren’t the only home machines which will feature touchscreens; most companies either have started offering them on some models, or will be doing so at some point in 2014. Again, the ubiquity of tablets and smart phones, and the desire of many consumers to use interfaces similar to those on their smaller devices, is driving this conversion to touch screen operation.
2. Android-Powered PCs
Lots of people are now accustomed to doing most of their daily online “chores” on their phone. That means they’ve grown used to the Android operating system. Last year, several companies like HP and Acer started producing notebook (and home) computers based on Android, and that trend will accelerate throughout 2014 with many more laptops and desktops being released with the less-expensive and popular OS. This will allow the companies to price their products below the current average of around $400 for low-end models, while still offering added performance compared to what consumers are accustomed to experiencing on their smart phones. Google is also pushing its own Chrome OS for similar reasons.
1. Bigger Sizes
Right now, the iPad has a smaller screen than most of its competitors. It has a screen that’s smaller than ten inches, compared to other popular models which are usually between ten and eleven inches wide. There’s even the Samsung Galaxy Note released in early 2014 which comes in at 12 inches. Later this year, expect Apple to offer a new version of the iPad that’s at least as large as most of the competition’s tablets – and quite likely the rumored XL, a 12- or 13-inch version of the iPad, as well.
That’s not the only bigger tablet on the horizon; with the trend toward increased size, a number of companies will probably be releasing their own larger versions during the year. One is already on the market: a Panasonic Toughpad model that’s a whopping 20 inches in length, aimed primarily at professionals like photographers and architects.
2. An Even Bigger Market
As previously mentioned, it’s projected that tablets will account for more than half of all “computer” sales in 2014. One projection is that 270 million tablets will be shipped during the year, as compared to 221 million in 2013. One reason, other than just the fact that “everyone has to have one,” is their increased use in retail applications. During 2014, it will become more common than ever to order your restaurant food or place your take-out order on a tablet. Expect the devices to make inroads into department stores, supermarkets and other consumer outlets this year as well. Additionally, the year will see a greater number of schools utilizing tablets for instruction (with grades K-6 the fastest growing segment of the market), and many more businesses making bulk tablet purchases as the devices gain wider acceptance in just about all corporate and small business settings.
There will also be more tablet use by people travelling in buses, trains and taxis as 3G and 4G connections, and not just wi-fi, become standard for the devices. Only about one-quarter of all tablets had 3G/4G capability in 2013, but that percentage will grow rapidly.
3. Windows Makes Inroads
With a miniscule share of the market through 2013, Windows had nowhere to go but up when it comes to tablet operating systems. The research firm IDC projects that growth to trend upward beginning in 2014. The firm expects Windows’ market share to grow from 3.2% to 5.7% during the year, while Android will lose just a bit of their market and iOS will drop from a 35% to 31.1% share of tablets. It’s predicted those trends will continue at least through 2017.
One trend which we may see beginning in 2014 is a slowdown in the sales of smaller tablets, due to increased popularity of so-called “phablets” (smart phones larger than five inches, which combine some of the most popular features of tablets and phones). There has been growing interest in these devices, but demand probably won’t peak until at least 2015 or 2016. It’s projected that around that same period we may see an additional decrease in small tablet or phone sales, as smart watches and other devices which can be worn become more viable. That should not happen in 2014, however.
1. Hardware Changes
Some phones will start to look different in 2014 – at least, their displays will look different. The use of high-resolution displays grew last year with 1080p becoming the standard for most new high-end models, and you can expect to see 2560 x 1440 displays becoming common as we move through 2014, with 3840 x 2160 displays possible by the end of the year. That will let users view an actual webpage perfectly, instead of having to settle for a mobile version.
Looking further into the future, it’s believed that 4K smart phones will be on the market by 2015, made possible by those higher-resolution displays and the Snapdragon 800 processor from Qualcomm which is the only one (so far, anyway) capable of handling 4K video. The Snapdragon will also allow actual console-quality gaming on smart phones, although it will probably be next year before that’s widely available commercially. CCI Insights believes that in 2014 we may even see a smartphone with dual interfaces, which could be used as both a phone and a PC.
Faster connections will also be seen during the year, as 300 Mbps cell phones should start to roll out in the second half of 2014. Put simply, that can be accomplished by carriers devoting two channels to a single user instead of just one, along with greater use of LTE technology.
The material that’s used to make a smart phone’s screen will start to change in many models. Manufacturers will be rolling out curved glass or plastic displays during the year, with some phones such as the LG G-Flex (which is coated with elastic) actually bendable. That’s a precursor to the introduction of what will be called “unbreakable” cell phones which we should start to see more of in late 2014.
Finally, some analysts believe that there will be a huge trend toward waterproof phones during the year, with most high-end models being able to claim that distinction by the end of 2014.
2. Size Changes
We’ve already touched on the development of phablets, the combination of phone and tablet which will continue to grow in popularity during the year. It’s expected that some smart phone users will migrate to the use of these larger hybrids during 2014, with a concurrent drop in sales of the smaller, traditional smartphone.
Also growing larger in size during the year will be the iPhone. At just four inches, the iPhone 5s is the smallest of all major brands. But in the fourth quarter of 2014 Apple is expected to introduce the iPhone 6, which should be somewhere between four-and-a-half and five inches, more in line with competitors like Samsung’s Galaxy series.
3. Lower Prices
Many experts think that sales of higher-end phones have temporarily reached their upper limit; the introduction of 4K smart phones next year may again boost the sale of expensive units. International Data Group, however, believes strong growth is possible for the industry as a whole in 2014, because of a focus on cheaper models. Improvements in technology and computing speed are actually making it possible for manufacturers to build phones which approach the performance of top-end units for a lower price than ever. The average price of a phone dropped 13% between 2012 and 2013, and is projected to drop even further this year largely due to the increased sales of units like the sub-$200 Moto G from Motorola. Competitors will be moving into this market more aggressively during 2014 with units that are cheaper than ever without being bare-bones models. It’s predicted that phones priced under $200, but approaching the performance of their higher-priced brethren, will be quite common by the end of the year.