Overall, 2013 was a fairly disappointing year for tech gadget enthusiasts. Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL ) released only relatively minor updates to its devices, while Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT ) made merely modest changes to its Surface tablets. Google's (NASDAQ: GOOG ) most interesting new device was a $35 dongle -- Google Glass still isn't available to consumers.
But 2014 should be far different. All three tech giants should roll out radical new products next year, including larger tablets, smartwatches, and smart TV devices.
2014 could be the year of the smartwatch
Samsung released a smartwatch, the Galaxy Gear, in 2013. But reviewers found the device lacking -- its sluggish interface and short battery life limited its appeal. Although Samsung claimed the Galaxy Gear's sales exceeded its expectations, reports claimed that consumers were returning the device en masse.
Samsung will probably release a second Galaxy Gear in 2014, and it could be much improved. But Samsung won't be the only company with a watch -- Google, Apple and Microsoft should have similar devices on sale.
Reports that Apple was preparing to release an iWatch have been around for more than a year. Bloomberg said back in February that Apple had 100 product designers working on the device, and more recently, reports have surfaced that Apple plans to release its watch in two different sizes. Given that Apple CEO Tim Cook has promised new devices in 2014, investors and consumers should expect an iWatch next year.
Google, too, should have a watch. Although Samsung uses Google's Android operating system, its Galaxy Gear works only with Samsung-made smartphones. A Google smartwatch that works with all Android devices would help the company keep the Android ecosystem competitive and should be expected, given that Google acquired smartwatch-maker WIMM in 2012.
Meanwhile, Microsoft's Windows Phone remains in third place behind Apple and Google in the mobile space, but now that Microsoft has acquired Nokia's handset business, a Windows Phone-compatible smartwatch from Microsoft seems like a foregone conclusion. Reports in 2013 indicated that both Microsoft and Nokia were working on a smartwatch -- as the companies come together, a streamlined product should arrive next year.
Google and Apple will enter the living room
Microsoft reaffirmed its commitment to the living room in 2013 with the Xbox One gaming console. In addition to playing video games, the device also serves to improve the owner's entertainment center -- adding voice and gesture controls to the TV-viewing experience.
But reviews of the Xbox One's non-gaming features have found them to be wanting; certainly, Microsoft has left the door open for competitors -- competitors that should arrive in 2014. Apple and Google already have limited smart TV devices (the Apple TV and the Chromecast) but should roll out more ambitious products next year.
Apple's acquisition of PrimeSense makes a fully featured, all-in-one Apple TV a near certainty. PrimeSense developed the gesture-control technology behind Microsoft's first Kinect -- as Apple integrated AuthenTec's fingerprint scanning technology into the iPhone, so it could integrate PrimeSense's technology into an Apple TV.
Investors shouldn't expect a Google TV in 2014, but an Android-powered set-top box is probably a safe bet. Both The Wall Street Journaland The Informationhave reported that such a device is in the works.
Bigger tablets could pressure traditional laptops
In addition to expanding their ecosystems into the living room, Apple's iOS and Google's Android should also continue to eat into the market for traditional PCs. Reports have indicated that Apple is working on a larger iPad, while Google's Android partners have been said to be planning similar devices.
Apple's decision to call the full-size iPad the "iPad Air" suggests that another iPad is on the horizon. Apple's MacBooks are available in either "Air" or "Pro" designations; Apple's decision to use the Air moniker suggests that an iPad Pro will be arriving at some point in the near future.
Google doesn't make tablets (Asus builds its Nexus 7), but its operating system should make an appearance on tablets with screens larger than 10 inches in 2014. Samsung reportedly unveiled a 12.2-inch Galaxy Note tablet in South Korea last week, and the device could go on sale early next year.
Larger-screen tablets could allow users to be more productive, leading to fewer sales of traditional laptops powered by Microsoft's Windows. So far, there have been no reports to suggest that Microsoft is planning a larger Surface tablet, but as this tech trend emerges next year, a bigger Surface wouldn't be surprising.
After a down year, 2014 should be big
While new gadgets should excite enthusiasts, tech investors should also take note. The move to mobile computing has reoriented the tech world around gadgets -- actual, physical devices rather than mere software -- and on that front, 2014 is shaping up to be a big year.
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