Wearable tech, hi-tech apparel or wearable computing – however we choose to call it, our wardrobe is coming alive. As part of the “ubiquitous computing” vision, technological applications are now woven into the very clothes we wear, creating a user experience far beyond that of Google Glasses or smart watches. Even as you read these lines, designers are creating everyday, formal or sports-wear, capable of doing everything from monitoring our heart rates, to shopping or charging our mobile phones. Thus, for instance, a shirt embedded with concealed, flexible solar panels that can charge a mobile phone’s battery to up to 50% of a full charge by being out in the sun for just one hour. Alexander Costin has created designer jewelry that purifies the air the wearer breathes by collecting pollutants, processing them and expelling air into the atmosphere. Adafruit has created a helmet that helps bicycle riders find their way. The helmet is equipped with a GPS navigation system and an array of LEDs that signal the rider to turn left or right, guiding him to his destination. And, finally, to the weirdest trend of all: fashion designer Ying Gao has created dresses that have tiny motorized elements embedded into their fabric, making them move of their own accord when gazed upon by the viewer.
Despite the rather morbid headline, this is not an apocalyptic vision, where machines learn to speak and act independently (and decide to destroy mankind while they’re at it). M2M (Machine to Machine) refers to the way machines interface with one another in order to produce certain outputs. Although this technology has existed and been in use throughout the last decade, 2014 will mark the breakthrough in many companies’ efforts to quicken the pace of its advancement. These companies are developing devices that can “speak” to each other, with the ambitious vision of a more efficiently run world in mind. M2M applications are slowly entering every aspect of our lives. For now, their focus is mainly on public systems, with a strong inkling towards private consumption. For example, vehicle fleet managers operate the vehicles in their care by using sensor-based communication between the tracking systems installed in the vehicles and a powerful processor that analyzes such data as speed readings, distance traveled, road types, fuel consumption, sudden braking and impacts. The data analysis results then lead to conclusions and insights that can potentially save considerable time and money.
In a similar manner, insurance companies now offer insurance policies based on the driving performance of their beneficiaries. The technology allows the insurance company to collect reliable and accurate data about the driver in real time. If the system classifies the driver as ‘low risk’, he might be offered a policy with lower insurance premiums. This achieves a higher trust factor between the insurance company and its clients, as it provides both parties with an accurate, reliable view of the situation, which leads to considerable savings. Another use of M2M technology focuses on the private consumer. M2M systems are already in use in smart home appliances that collect data and change settings accordingly, smart multimedia systems, fitness and recreational gadgets, and more advancements are to be expected.
Although the 3D printing technology is, in itself, not new, and has, in fact, been widely used by the industry since the 1980s, its recently introduced applications and mass accessibility, combined with the decrease in printer prices, have opened up new (and somewhat surreal) horizons. Innovation researchers and futurists divert the discussion from the short-lived ‘trendy gimmick’ effect (such as the current hype about printing pizza), and predict a real change in the workings of the industry in the near future. Thanks to these new technological advancements, industries will soon begin to mass produce replacement parts, complex models, and various other objects and products, for minimal costs and at speeds never before thought possible. But the biggest advantage of this technology is its potential implications for the private consumer; the one who will soon be able to print out a pill that contains the exact drug dosage he needs, or create custom-made clothing or food that matches his or her personal taste, all at the touch of a button on a smart and compact, home 3D printer. Forecasts indicate that roughly one half of today’s mass produced products will be made by 3D printers in the future, including replacement parts for jet-planes, smart-phones and even guns. Be that as it may, the only certainty is that as of 2014, the world has yet to grasp the immense potential of 3D printing.
Digital user interface designers have one goal in life: to make you press that button. To accomplish this task, many elements have to be taken into account, including navigation convenience, interactivity, and marketing considerations to name a few. 2014 holds many surprises in store for user interface designers and programmers. In the coming year, we will encounter more and more 3D animations integrated into picture galleries, navigation menus and other web design elements. Despite its increasing popularity, most browsers still do not support this technology. But that is soon to change, and the way we consume visual content will change along with it. Another emerging user interface design trend is flexible form fields that intuitively adapt to the user’s needs. The fields appear small initially, and grow in size proportionally to the length of the text entered into them. This saves precious space and results in cleaner looking landing pages. Another thing we will see more of in the coming year is one page sites, which have been gaining popularity around the world. The advantage of this template is that it allows for unlimited content (provided, of course that the content is good and accurate) with no fear of losing users who avoid clicking to move to the next page (an almost unthinkable action for mobile platform users). One more trend in the digital design world of 2014 is monochromatic design with minimal use of color. This is one of several tools used in the effort to capture the elusive attention of the user by any means possible.
The heavy presence of the automotive field in The 2014 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) was hard to ignore, as was its definitive statement concerning the technological future of the industry. Ford, Audi, General Motors, Hyundai, Honda and other automobile manufacturers have announced that fourth generation and LTE (Long Term Evolution – wireless mobile communication) technologies will be integrated into the cars of the future. These changes will make driving a much safer, much improved experience for both driver and passengers. The OAA (Open Automotive Alliance) is a global alliance of technology and auto industry leaders that share a common goal and worldview. Cars are everywhere; yet the technology in today’s cars is outdated and unimaginative. The OAA is committed to bringing the Android platform to cars starting in 2014, a change that will make cars safer, more efficient and more intuitive for everyone (by the way, the Alliance chose Android over Apple because, according to the automobile manufacturers, Android is the most popular platform in the world, with over 80% of the world’s users). What can we expect to find inside our next car? If the technology is successfully implemented, drivers who already use cellular services on the road (GPS, music, content, location dependent services) will be able to enjoy accurate mobile solutions without having to look away or divert their attention from the road. Integrated features will include advanced media systems, customized screens, and an in-dash system that improves driving. The integration will essentially make the car itself into an online Android device, and – in the far future – we may even see driverless Android cars.
Today, our mobile phones accompany us everywhere we go. However, mobile phones are not without limitations: their battery life, storage space and processing capabilities leave much to be desired. Cloud technology has taken the mobile market by storm, and is rapidly changing the rules of the game. Experts predict that the number of to mobile cloud computing service subscribers will double itself with each passing year, generating dozens of billions of dollars in revenues in the next five years. Integrating mobile phones with an outside platform (such as the cloud-computing system) can enhance their capabilities considerably, and greatly enrich user experience. And that is not the only advantage of joining the cloud: it also guarantees data accessibility and reliability, even if the mobile device is lost, stolen or damaged. Cloud technology effectively releases mobile technology from the confines of the physical device, and bestows previously limited mobile phones with powerful processing capabilities. The virtually limitless possibilities enfolded in this technology include infinite storage space, instant data availability and convenient access to vast amounts of media. For media providers, cloud computing is a fertile ground for a wide range of new services, which will provide even more opportunities for accelerated growth and development. The challenges cloud computing is currently facing concern data security, moment-to moment bilateral data transfer and more.