A wave of your hand, and your electronics do just what they are supposed to -- in theory. But, 2014 is the year when gesture computing will grow more accurate, move into new markets, and find more widespread success. Currently, gesture controls and gesture feedback is still confined largely to entertainment purposes. Just ask Nintendo (NTDOY -0.39%), which rode the gesture control fad with high Wii sales in the 2000s and is now trying to do the same with the Wii U, or Microsoft (MSFT 1.05%), with its new Kinect sensor that not only responds to gestures, but can also offer full-body feedback for workouts. But, more innovation is on its way with options like EyeSight Mobile's Lumus smartglasses, which takes a page from Google Glass, but uses hand-based commands instead of voice commands, as well as the Fujitsu smart glove, which should be ready to hit the market in 2015.
Nintendo's forecasts for both console sales and the Wii U are down this year from $9 million to $2.8 million (share prices have fallen from a January high of nearly $19 to around $15 thanks to the news), so new gesture features could be welcome news for the company. Microsoft should also use gesture computing features to increase interest in its Xbox One, and perhaps find uses for those sensors in devices other than the Kinect.
Nadella and Gates need to create more innovations. Microsoft stock is currently 36% below its 2000 trading heyday and could use a boost. Also, look for growth in the Japanese company Fujitsu if its wave-based techglove makes waves of its own at trade shows later this year.
Tech leaders like Microsoft crop up in the voice command sector, but this time they are joined by players like Apple (with Siri) and Google (with Glass). But, the voice command segment is poised to change far more than the typical tech giants. Intel (INTC 1.14%), for example, is working on voice software designed to speed up the process, a new form of instant recognition technology that could take the market by storm. Bank of America and others are also investing in voice command technology that will allow users to interact with their accounts by speaking to their phones.
The big winner here will probably be Intel, which is currently trading around $24. Significant news of new voice technology could push the company to unforeseen heights, or at least provide a better chance of additional dividends. The big banks aren't likely to profit as much by merely adding another mobile feature.
Here, the two major players are Google (GOOGL -0.15%) and Apple, and they are likely to remain the focus of indoor mapping for the foreseeable future. Indoor mapping uses WiFi and GPS technology to map rooms and features. Numerous fascinating uses and concepts exist, from step-by-step directions in malls to location-based ads and coupons centered on kiosk locations. Currently, indoor mapping is only in developmental stages, but it has the potential to make a splash if it rolls out this year.
Although Apple has been busy buying companies like WiFiSlam to grow its indoor map portfolio, the competitor to watch will likely be Google, which has a more organic mapping program with a better chance of drawing in partners. Google, which recently reached $400 billion market capitalization and held an activity-boosting stock split, probably doesn't need any help, but indoor mapping software may provide another boost of confidence nonethless.
4K promises around four times as many pixels as the typical 1080p HDTV, which equals big news for the big screens. This is the year that companies like Samsung (NASDAQOTH: SSNLF), LG, and Sony will release screens for affordable prices, allowing them to gain traction in the HD market and quickly supplant all older TVs, much like the LCD wave a decade ago. As MRSPs decrease, 4K will lead to sound sales.
Competition will make this field very interesting. According to Barron's, Samsung shares could rise as much as 30% this year if the company plays its cards right, and those cards certainly include market-swaying 4K TVs. Samsung sales, having grown 14% last year thanks to the mobile market, could see an even more successful 2014 if TVs are added to the mix. LG, however, may see the 4K market as a path to new profits if it prices TVs low enough to undercut the competition. LG stock has been steadily falling from its mid-year high in 2013, and the company could use the increased attention.
Playing the right cards
It's going to be a promising year for the companies that can take advantage of new innovations. But, this potential could also make significant room for losers in the highly competitive tech market, so caution is advised. Timing and patience are both important for investors looking to pick the right tech stock.