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Tech pioneer International Business Machines (NYSE: IBM ) has the next five years all figured out. Scientists from century-old Big Blue have been studying lots of data, and the company intends to develop products that address five trends.
1 -- More smart sensors will be used in retail
IBM research indicates that the traditional brick-and-mortar store is not dead, despite tremendous growth in online shopping. The company is developing products using "big data" that can be sold to retailers to take advantage of the situation.
When a person is in a store, intelligent sensors might interact with his or her smartphone or wearable device and then send a text to indicate that a certain item that the shopper usually buys is located in aisle No. 14 and on sale.
Meanwhile, Amazon has had growing success since first taking a book order on its website 18 years ago. One estimate is that Amazon will grow its piece of the online electronics and general merchandise market by 11% and the books/DVD market by 8% in five years.
The company has also been diversifying into other markets like cloud computing and tablets. Revenue at Amazon Web Services is expected to quadruple by 2018 as the company leases more servers to businesses and governments.
2 -- Healthcare will become personalized
Treatment of some medical conditions can be improved by personalized health care that uses cloud-based systems, and IBM is helping to make that happen.
The supercomputer Watson that was named after the company's co-founder became famous for competing on the TV game show "Jeopardy." Today, the smart machine is being used in the fight against lung cancer. Expect more of this in the future.
3 -- Improved online security will be needed
The recent theft of debit and credit card information of customers of retail giant Target underscores the need for beefed-up cybersecurity.
An intelligent online data guardian, another potential IBM product, will be more proactive than current methods, which rely mainly on human intervention and computer systems that can be easily hacked. More automated technology will save consumers and card issuers untold billions.
4 -- The world will become more urbanized
An important consideration for planners and city governments is that more than half of the world's people now live in urban areas, and that will increase in the future. Effectively moving the population around on increasingly crowded streets will be important going forward.
Sensors and smartphones will help here, too. For example, GPS-enabled apps can alert transportation system operators that a large crowd is starting to leave a sporting or cultural event. Trains, buses, and taxis can then be dispatched in a timely manner and traffic lights can be coordinated.
5 -- Learning will be individualized
Education will also be made smart using cloud-based technologies that IBM is refining, and also by the increased use of tablets in the classroom, which can potentially benefit Apple and Amazon.
Apple reportedly is in discussions with the Turkish government regarding sales of iPads that would be used in classrooms there. Project Faith has the potential to contribute $4 billion in Apple sales.
This year, Apple, possibly planning for the same trends, refreshed all of its products, including the iPad and iPhone, adding features like the indoor positioning system iBeacon, which could have urban and retail applications, as well.
It's difficult to predict the future. That won't stop IBM from trying to develop products that will take advantage of trends in retail, health care, online security, urbanization, and education. Amazon and Apple also might benefit in the future if IBM is right. Tech investors need to keep an eye on how these projections pan out.
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