5 technologies that will disrupt the world in 2013

Looking into the Future

Looking into the Future

Five emerging technologies could become mainstream next year. A list announcing the constituents was released by The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), a heavyweight trade body in the US consumer electronics market, recently. Mind you, these are not products but new technology trends that we are talking about.

So let the drums roll as I list the five…

  • 3D printing
  • Next-gen TVs and displays
  • Evolution of the audio market
  • Mobile revolution in Africa
  • Technology in education

To anybody following new technologies, 3D printing topping the list is a no-brainer. The technology has been around for over three decades now, but has taken some serious strides in the consumer products arena only in the last four years. As CEA says, 2013, indeed, could turn out to be the year of 3D printing.

Five Technology Trends to Watch, for those of you who are unaware, is a free publication brought out as a special supplement to the CE Vision magazine, the flagship publication of the CEA. This has been a ritual for the last 12 years — guessing the top-of-the-pops technology trends of next year.

Besides naming the top five big ones, the report also provides in-depth analysis of each technology, as well as market forecasts, along with other stuff like consumer perspectives. The hits and misses ratio of this annual prediction is quite even. After all, with almost 2000 tech companies as members, you can’t really go way off the mark now, can you?

For the purpose of this article, I will delve on the top three technologies spelled out by CEA since these, I feel, are of more overall consumer value, and thus, use and interest, as compared to the last two; and also for reasons of brevity.

Have you bought it or made it?
Coming back to 3D printing…..Five Techs quotes extensively from a research report carried out earlier this year by Wohlers Associates, a strategic consulting firm on new trends based in Colorado, USA. According to the researchers there, it has been established that consumer electronics/products topped the list of industries leveraging on the 3D printing method of “manufacturing”. Motor vehicles came a close second, followed by the dental industry. The report has also presented another mind-boggling statistic – in 2011, it says, the market for 3D printing was about US$1.7-billion. Wohlers Associates predicts this going up to $3.7 billion by 2015.

For all those of you who have no clue on what 3D printing is all about, allow me to bring you up to speed.

Using what is called a 3D printer, anyone can “print” a three-dimensional object. Personally, I feel the word ‘printer’ here is a misnomer because this is not the kind of common place printing machines we find or use in our daily lives. It’s more like a tooling or manufacturing machine. But if output be damned, yes, it does function more or less on the lines of a traditional printer, justifying the use of the word to some extent.

A 3D printed cup

A 3D printed, food-safe espresso cup

Essentially, 3D printing seeks to replace the machinist’s job and 3D printers are on the verge of replacing the traditional tooling or manufacturing machines. The printers have been used to manufacture, or “print” if you may, objects like a racing car chassis, tyres, gears, salt shakers, bicycles, SIM cards, electronic printed circuit boards, medical equipment, even an assault rifle that actually fires. Instead of inks, these printers take in materials like plastic and polyurethane for printing out the product.

The reason why agencies like the CEA feel this disruptive technology may soon catch on is because 3D printers are getting smaller by the day, for one. Recently, there have been a few companies like the US-based MakerBot that have launched even desktop versions, bringing the technology into our homes. According to the Five Techs report, a New York-based company called Shapeways not only offers a cost-effective way of 3D printing but also a community in which it can share its creations.

Thus, as the cost of 3D printing goes southwards, 3D printing of consumer goods continues to grow, giving a heave-ho to this emerging technology. Soon, people will be able to build almost anything they want, much of it in their own homes, using this technology.

iPhone cover

That’s no ordinary iPhone case. It’s called The Vibe. Shapeways technology allows you to customize The Vibe to sound in connection with SoundCloud. Connect to SoundCloud, select your fav sound and the waveform will integrate itself into the structure of the iPhone case. All you then need to do is to 3D print it to start using it. A case of feeling your sound?

4K (Ultra HD) TVs, anyone?
It’s been over a decade that television technology started shifting to high-definition. According to the Five Techs report, the technologies that are supposed to take the television industry into the next decade are OLED, 4K; even 8K.

So what are these? OLED TVs is essentially an LED based TV set which is thinner and lighter as compared to an LCD set. It has a high contrast ratio and also consumes less power. The 4K TV sets, on the other hand, provide four times the total display resolution of a normal HD TV, doubling the pixels, horizontally as well as vertically. This is the baby of the next-gen Ultra High Definition Television Sets (UHDTV).

The CEA report quoting the Vice Chairman of the CEA’s 4K Working Group, and Vice President of Public Affairs and Communications at LG Electronics, USA, John Taylor, as saying the 4K TV was the HDTV experience on steroids.

In fact, in meetings held earlier this week, the CEA has decided to officially label 4K resolution capable products as the Ultra HD. This was based on recommendations by the 4K Working Group. One of the reasons for this name change was to make the concept of 4K less confusing to consumers.

The CEA estimates that about 20,000 such sets will be shipped in 2013, and the figure will be ramped up to 1.3-million by 2015. The OLED growth is pegged along almost the same lines by Five Techs. The OLED and 4K technologies also hold the promise of improving the present 3D TV tech.

The TV scene may also turn on its head, literally, if another stream of technology was to ultimately find favour with consumers. In 2013, the attention of TV buffs could focus on head mounted displays capable of playing back 3D content. One such product is the Epson’s Android-based Moverio BT-100 wearable display, providing maybe another direction for the Consumer Electronics (CE) industry to take, according to Eric Mizufuka, Product Manager for new markets at Epson America in Long Beach, California. The Moverio simulates an 80-inch 3D display sitting 16 feet in front of the person wearing the device, and also incorporates Dolby virtual surround sound audio.

The Moverio is available now. Mizufaka has been quoted in the report as saying that it was just “a peek into the future of what is to come.” Among the possibilities for further development is the ability to use gesture-based or voice-based controls to interact with the content displayed on a virtual screen.

The audio story will continue
The Five Techs report then moves on to sound. Today, digital content is driving consumer electronics audio sales, it says. Quoting Jason Herskowitz, co-founder of Tomahawk, an open-source music app, the report says independent of overall industry sales, more music is being consumed today than ever before.

“It’s an era of the disaggregation of streams, where artists offer different content across promotional platforms like Official.fm and SoundCloud, video platforms like YouTube, and subscription services like Spotify and Deezer,” says Herskowitz. Tomahawk, for instance, offers users a single interface through which to connect to all of their music sources, a kinda one-for-all music platform.

The audio section of the report has given some amount of space to headphones, premium headphones, at that. Which is natural given the fact that people around the world are increasingly plugged into their devices, during commutes to work, at their work place, even when they exercise. The ubiquitous headphone, if you were to ask me, is no longer associated only with music but more with all kinds of digital content.

In the CEA’s opinion, the market demand for ways to bolster this particular “audio” experience existed, and the audio entertainment industry did rise to the challenge.

Even five years ago the suggestion that headphones, much less designer headphones, could be profitable, with price points in the hundreds of dollars, would be dismissed as outlandish, it says. As is rightly stated in the trend report, a device that once was given away for free on airplanes has been transformed into a high(er)-end audio solution, and even a fashion accessory.

While premium headphones may be the product category that provides a gateway to higher quality audio, headphone sales are not expected to slacken anytime soon, says the CEA, which recently found that 39% of the internet population had listened to online streaming content in the last 12 months and 42% to MP3 files.

If you want to catch up with the detailed report or on the last two disruptive technologies, you can go to the News section of the CEA’s site.

Before signing off, as I said, while it seems almost certain that 3D printing may turn out to be the numero uno disruptive tech of 2013, what’s your take on the other two? Will disruptive technologies really shake up the TV and audio markets next year?

Lead Image: Big Stock Photo

Images and video: Shapeways



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