In my view, 2013 is going to become a milestone year for technology, partly because there is a battle for your allegiance to a specific brand (Samsung vs. Apple, Google vs. Microsoft) that seems to be getting hotter by the day. But it also could be a big year for new tech debuts. I talked to leading tech analysts and asked them to do some crystal-ball gazing for what we're likely to see coming soon.
1. Apple iPad 5
Wait, what happened to the iPad 4? I know a few business owners who said they blinked and missed that one. But Apple did release the iPad 4, which has a faster processor, a better screen, and a better camera than the iPad 3. According to tech analyst Rob Enderle, the next version might have a bigger screen that stretches to the edge of the device, but may be thinner and smaller than the current version. And that has him concerned: A bigger screen without room for a bigger battery might lower the usage time. Charles Golvin, a Principal Analyst at Forrester Research, says another feature he'd like to see to help business users is dual-microphones. These help pick up your voice better for video and audio collaboration.
2. Apple iPhone 5S
The successor to the slimmer, faster, and lighter iPhone 5 might be inevitable--and possibly imminent. In the transition from the iPhone 4 to the 4S, Apple bumped up the speed with a faster processor. Enderle says smart business buyers usually wait for the "S" models because Apple fixes minor problems with the previous version. Roger Kay, an analyst at Endpoint Technologies, says the 5S will probably be a minor upgrade to this incredibly popular phone.
3. Amazon Kindle Phone
Rumors about a Kindle smartphone have persisted for several months, some predicting a launch last summer. Kay says a new smartphone from Amazon makes sense: Users could easily tap into their existing Amazon services for videos, music, and books. Enderle says he doubts whether Amazon will be able to nail its first-ever smartphone, so it's best to wait and see if the device debuts this year and if Amazon can then work out the bugs.
4. BlackBerry Q10
BlackBerry has announced this follow-up to the BlackBerry Z10. Wired.com says the new model, which has a hardware keyboard and runs the new BlackBerry 10 operating system, won't come out until late spring. The big win for business users is that the Q10 could bring back the days of speed typing. Kay says the raised keys on the Q10 will feel familiar to business users. I'm more incredulous about this device. The Z10 already has a remarkable software keyboard that works accurately. In some ways, the Z10 pushed BlackBerry forward and the Q10 might push it back. "The only reason to wait for this rather than purchase a Z10 is because the tasks performed by the employee are so heavily reliant on accurate text input that the physical keyboard provides a meaningful productivity gain," Kay says.
5. Google Glass
We already know about half the story when it comes to Google Glass. A number of lucky contestants in a social media campaign received the device for early testing--though they had to pay $1,500 for the privilege. The glasses show text messages, directions, and overlays like video recording from other users. "Google Glass is not only glance-able [like the Apple iWatch--see below]," says Kay. "It has 'super-imposed' information and augmented reality" features that could, for example, show you a menu and prices when you're in front of a restaurant. Think of the marketing possibilities.
At the same time, this product could be massively over-hyped, says Tony Costa, a Forrester analyst. "Until Google nails the use case for mainstream users, I would look at Google Glass as a bit of a science project," he says. "Amazing potential, but mostly for early adopters who love bleeding-edge technology."
6. Apple iWatch
No one knows for sure whether Apple is even making a smartwatch. (Well, apart from Apple itself and maybe Al Gore.) If it is in the works, Kay says the key benefit will be that the watch is glance-able for checking stock quotes, the weather, your latest messages and, of course, the time. Enderle says the smartwatch market is burgeoning quickly. So if you're already interested in other models on the market already, including the Pebble and the I'm Watch, it might be best to wait and see if Apple does release this product before you decide to buy. Even then, Costa is skeptical. "Fitting in all the electronics to drive a color touch display, wireless connectivity, sensors and other electronics needed to deliver a compelling product consumes battery life," he says. "To justify the need to recharge yet another device each night, smart watches need to become more than just a smartphone companion."
7. Samsung Smartwatch
Is Samsung working on a smartwatch? An executive at the company confirmed to Bloomberg it has one in the works but would not reveal any specifics. Another report at SlashGear even lists a name, the Samsung Galaxy Altius, based on spy shots--which may not be reliable. A Samsung watch might make sense given the Korean company's background in display technology, but Enderle is skeptical. "Samsung's history with a device like this is pretty poor," he says. "I doubt they will get this right until after they see Apple do it right."