Some burning tech questions for 2014

We have many burning tech questions for the new year, but we’ll try to contain ourselves and focus on a few:

• Will Apple come out with the next big thing?

By the end of 2013, the company’s shares were up only 2 percent from the previous year, perhaps partly because investors are waiting for a significant product launch. CEO Tim Cook has hinted at “big things,” but the oft-discussed Apple smartwatch and television sets have yet to materialize — at least in public. The company’s iPhones and iPads continue to be big sellers, but the masses seem to be clamoring for another new product category. Some expect a “seriously huge year for Apple,” and if it happens, it would be seriously huge for its CEO. Some have questioned the “visionary” credentials of Cook, who succeeded the legendary Steve Jobs.

• Can the tech industry improve its image?

Among the high-profile issues tech companies are facing: Companies are scrambling to retain user trust amid the NSA spying revelations. And there is a class-related backlash against tech workers in the Bay Area.

At least according to tech companies’ public words and actions, they are not knowingly cooperating with the government’s mass surveillance programs. In fact, some reports indicate some companies have been blindsided. Either way, user trust and the bottom line are at stake. As reports continue to trickle out about all the different ways the intelligence agencies are tracking and watching us, tech companies will need to be more transparent than ever about how they’re protecting (or trying to protect) their users’ privacy and security.

Meanwhile, the tech industry is getting a bad rap as the current boom shines a light on economic inequities. Dan Nakaso wrote about the recent protests in the Bay Area, which included vandalism of a bus that carries Google workers to their offices. The frustration and resentment have been percolating — over tax breaks, gentrification and more — since the beginning of dot-com boom 2.0 and San Francisco became the “it” place for tech companies such as Twitter. Square CEO and Twitter Chairman Jack Dorsey last week said he considered the “conversation” about these issues to be a positive step, and that companies have a “social responsibility.”

• Will this be the year of wearables?

As we wrote this week, at least one wearer of Google Glass — Internet-connected glasses — thinks so. There are smartwatches on the market. Many people already are using devices that track their fitness.

Tech guru Robert Scoble says it’s a bit too early for Glass, that expectations are too high, that it’s too expensive. Basically, he says it’s not ready for prime time. Still, Google this week reached out to more potential wearers, and is expected to make Glass available to the masses next year.

On to smartwatches. It’s hard to believe it’s their time, at least judging from the lukewarm reception they’ve received so far. In fact, some have called them plain stupid. Their size is a limiting factor, they are hardly fashionable, there seems to be no downright compelling reason to have them. Still, some see potential there, and who knows what will be unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show next week? Finally, Apple’s expected offering — if it launches this year — might provide a boost to this category.

After we’re all wearing computers and other connected devices on our faces and various body parts, what’s next? Well, as Steve Johnson wrote recently, there’s putting technology in our bodies, as some already have. That’s right, get ready for implants.


Photo: Will Tim Cook and Apple have a “revolutionary” 2014? (Associated Press archives)


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