Tech trends 2014

Presentation by Shawn DuBravac, International CES in Las Vegas

By Gabriela Ehrlich

The electronics industry is one of the fastest innovating industries globally. In 2013 USD 6 billion worth of electronic products were sold in categories that didn't exist just a few years ago, including for example 3D printing, connected devices or tablets. IEC work covers a myriad of components, wires, sensors, LEDs, semiconductors, switches and protocols that allow modern electronics to function reliably and safely anywhere in the world. While this presentation focuses on CES trends in 2014, broad electronic trends don’t play out over a single calendar year, they generally build up over several years.

The expansion of multidimensional and curved screens, UHDTV, are trending big in electronics The expansion of multidimensional and curved screens, UHDTV, are trending big in electronics

The 3rd industrial revolution – mass customization

The first industrial revolution started around 1760 and lasted until approximately the 1830s. This was the time when small shops and enterprises combined into larger facilities and factories. It was a move from hand production, where everything was individually built to the use of machines and more standardized, exchangeable methods. This was the very beginning of mass production. 

The second industrial revolution happened between 1860 and WW II when mass production capacity was fully reached. During that time span electricity and many different technologies were added. Different World Fairs in Paris (1881) and St. Louis (1904) saw the introduction of numerous electrical innovations that fundamentally changed the daily lives of our grandparents. In 1906 the IEC was founded.

In 2013 the 3rd industrial revolution made a break-through ringing in an era of mass customization. Mass customization allows individuals to tailor make a mass produced product. Take for example a tennis shoe: with mass customization customers were given the opportunity to individually select and combine different colours, materials, soles and finishes to end up with a shoe that very likely would be unique in this combination. The same was true for stamps or credit cards and more recently electronics and services provided for certain devices.

3D printing

3D printing is a further expression of this trend towards mass customization. In 2010 the Makerbot, the first consumer accessible 3D printer was launched at CES with a price tag of under USD 2 000. Today, at CES 2014 more than 30 companies exhibited hardware, software and services for 3D printing, including the first 3D scanner for just over USD 500.

Evolution of the Internet

Today there are 2 billion desktop computers and 1,5 billion smart phones and tablets. In 2014 smart phones and tablets will for the first time surpass the number of installed desktops. 

Until recently the Internet was a browser-driven experience. We are now moving from a desktop Internet experience to a mobile phone experience and then one that’s driven by numerous connected devices. According to CISCO, the number of connected devices in the market will reach 50 billion in 2014.

All of this is also changing how we use the Internet. Initially, the Internet was a shared experience – access to a computer was shared by several people in the household.  This made place to individual Internet access via mobile devices and tablets. In the near future we will experience customized niche Internet access via connected devices.

Such connected devices allow consumers to experience different activities such as keeping in touch and playing with their dog when they are travelling; checking the moisture level of their plants; monitoring their heart rate or insulin level, checking on the daily activity level of their kids, and much more.

Multidimensional screens

Another trend in electronics has been the expansion of multidimensional screens including  a boost in resolution, size and colour. In 2009 there were no screens available beyond 135 cm (53 inches) and most Smart phone screens were around 7.5 cm (3 inches). Now TVs beyond 165 cm (65 inches) are becoming quite common ans some of the bigger smart phones boast 14 cm (5,5 inches) screens.

Over 270 million tablets are expected to sell in 2014 up from 0 in 2009.

Beyond phones and TVs a multitude of interactive screens are now found on items such as household equipment, watches and other devices; many with screens that are smaller than  2,5 cm (1 inch).

Colour, resolution and shape

But size is only one dimension of what has changed in screens over the past 2 or 3 years.  In 2013 a single Ultra HD Television was presented at CES; this year dozens of companies sell them. When the first Ultra HD TV was launched movie directors remarked that this was the first time they saw on a TV what they see when they film. In 2014 UHD TV shipments are expected to reach 485 000 up from 60 000 in 2013. 

Flat screens are…flat. The latest fashion is for curved screens both for smart phones up to huge TVs.

Age of autonomy - Internet everywhere 

In 2006 sensors were rarely found in electronics; they were generally reserved for cameras and most were used in airbags. In 2007 the iPhone was launched and its accelerometer allowed it to change screen direction depending on how it was held. Since then the cost for sensors has dramatically decreased from approx. USD 7/unit to USD 0.60/unit today. There is not a single technology where sensors today don’t play a major role. They have literally invaded everything enabling measuring, data capture and constant feedback. Any smart phone today has multiple digital microphones to capture voice and to cancel environmental noises, one or more cameras, motion sensors and more. And this is not the end. Sensors and MEMS (micro-electromechanical systems) will continue to change electronics dramatically over the coming years. 

Hybrid innovation

Six or seven years ago car manufacturers started to come for the first time to CES. Now many present their new cars at CES. Where HP used to be the most exciting measurement for car performance in the past, today it is design and electronics that drive their sales.

Many accessories from cruise control to parking sensors are now standard equipment in modern cars. Short of offering driverless cars, this year at CES lane assist and automated parking systems have been added to the offer. Again, all of them make extensive use of sensors as well as front and rear cameras. The integration of different technologies with software and sensors leads to massive amounts of data that bring on fully autonomous  solutions to complex problems. 

Digital everything

Today everything is digitized: from life style and fitness level, to posture, eye movements, sleep patterns, door locks, etc. Basically everything that existed physically is now becoming digital. Everything that was difficult and cumbersome to measure is now measured on the go. Data was always available but it was never captured to this extent and in such an organized way. Many technologies help capture data, those include radio for every range, LTE 2G, 3G; Wi-Fi; Zigbee; ANT+; -wave; Bluetooth, and more.

Constant monitoring and measuring allows for constant adjustments. It used to be that store prices were fixed and only changed when new products where delivered because it involved the physical movement of an employee to the shelf and that added cost. Today prices change constantly  according to supply and demand and they are remotely digitally controlled.

Curation & context

This constant feedback of data provides opportunities for many new information services. Those can include recommendations for improved viewing or reading, or pre-settings in devices that take into account preferences such as temperature or volume settings. If we allow them to, in the future smart devices may sense if a person is depressed or stressed and propose an appropriate entertainment programme that takes into account overall genre preferences. It may also register food preferences and point to relevant menu items in a restaurant. The possibilities are near limitless.

Wearables and sensorization of consumer tech is the biggest trend in 2014. 

The expansion of multidimensional and curved screens, UHDTV, are trending big in electronics The expansion of multidimensional and curved screens, UHDTV, are trending big in electronics
3D printing is a perfect example of the trend towards mass customization (Photo: MakerBot) 3D printing is a perfect example of the trend towards mass customization (Photo: MakerBot)
The new Chevy MyLink display, with an icon for GM’s AppShop (Photo: Sean Gallagher, Ars Technica) The new Chevy MyLink display, with an icon for GM’s AppShop (Photo: Sean Gallagher, Ars Technica)