As all avid blog readers know, pundits are notoriously terrible at predicting the future. As I clearly haven't achieved enough in my life to be considered one I believe I can lend a fresh perspective when it comes to the age old problem of "Whoa... I mean... what's going to happen in...like...THE FUTURE". For those of you still lucid enough to read this article without becoming distracted by the size of your own hand here are some insights from a developery-writery person into some of the more exciting things we can expect to happen in the next year. Unless they don't because of a bizarre twist of fait no one but Sandra Bullock saw coming while performing in front of a very bored cinema audience.
If you haven't already been following this head over to http://elite.frontier.co.uk - aside from the fact this kickstarter-backed game is being produced by the legendary David Braben and his development team this promises to be THE blockbuster title of 2014. Not only do you have complete freedom to be a complete git to every other player and NPC you come across and you will probably have your mind blown by playing it while wearing an Oculus Rift virtual reality headset, there's also a good chance it won't behave like you're editing a spreadsheet (a common criticism of existing spacefaring games such as Eve Online). Planet-fall, wandering around inside your own ship and modelling your own character are all actively being worked on this presently alpha title which shows a good deal of promise. Check out the game website for further details on release date, etc.
Can you remember what iTunes Ping even is? Don't worry, you're not in the minority. Ping was meant to be a social network grafted into iTunes, but rather than enhancing the application with social features it felt more like someone had grafted Noel Edmonds' head onto Peter Kay's body. iTunes is already a bloated application that has to stop every so often to have a rest, but attaching an annoying tool that wants to let you know its opinion on everything whether you like it or not didn't turn out to be quite as popular as Apple intended and so was unceremoniously destroyed in 2012.
In the case of FaceTime Voice Apple seem to have forgotten that a VoIP network is only as strong as the number of people you can actually call. For as long as it's paired exclusively to devices coming out of the Steve Jobs dream factory the service will be a barren wasteland compared to more established cross-platform solutions like Skype and Google Hangouts. If the 'walled-garden' approach continues then I don't think this technology has much of a future, but Apple could surprise us all and open up their VoIP system for the world to use. The sensible gambler would probably opt for the more pessimistic view on this one.
Over the coming year we'll see the expansion of IPTV from a range of devices like Google Chromecast, Apple TV, Roku & YouView boxes, and we could even see the beginning of the transition of these turning into USB dongles you can accidentally drop down the back of your sofa or being baked into the next 'smart TV' you can wave your hands at to change the channel like some kind of rubbish Jedi.
The one thing these devices have in common is they utilise modern broadband connections to draw content from catch-up TV providers, streaming services like Netflix/LoveFilm/Hulu and online video sources such as YouTube and Vimeo. However, there's nothing to say that fat cat TV providers will be the only people releasing content - anyone will be able to create their own channel with content accessible from millions of devices around the world instead of waiting for an evil corporate network producer to give them a thumbs up/cancel the show just when it starts getting popular.
This will certainly make a change from the usual trash TV designed to appeal to the lowest common denominator and will mean exciting niche content we were previously enjoying through our web browsers from places like Rooster Teeth, College Humour and Geek and Sundry will come through your living room TV instead. The costs of production are lower but the potential rewards and exposure for new talent could be similar to that which existing networks enjoy, which means we'll see more interesting original content that'll expand over time, only with the added quirk that your parents still won't understand why you're watching that instead of Strictly Come Dancing or The X Factor like one of these 'normal' people we hear so much about.
You can't call yourself a gamer unless you have a vast library of Steam games you've never even played. In fact, you don't even know you even HAVE half the games you own. Week-in-week-out Valve comes knocking with yet another "Steam sale" that leaves us clutching our legs and rocking forwards and backwards in a cold shower muttering "WHY?! I need to EAT this month!".
Steam has blown everyone's mind by creating an open specification for a 'Steam box' games console, has created a control pad that makes geeks the world over collectively wet themselves with excitement and will be running them off this 'Linux' system that seems to have become popular all of a sudden. Gabe Newell has also become a hero in the world of technology by pointing out how crap Windows 8 is and porting most of Valve's titles across to 'Steam OS' as a result.
We have been seeing prototype consoles (like the one pictured above), but in 2014 we'll start to see these devices hitting shelves at mainstream shopping outlets. It'll be interesting to see how Microsoft, Sony & Nintendo will respond, particularly as Steam boxes don't require a subscription for web-based features or charge £70 to download a digital copy of game that'll charge you another £40-50 for DLC containing features that should've been in the game at launch anyway.
There's a whole string of GNU/Linux-based mobile operating systems that'll either arrive on devices for the first time or partner with new carriers. If you haven't checked out Jolla, Sailfish OS, FirefoxOS or Ubuntu Touch there are countless YouTube videos, over-designed promotional websites and angry forum battles about which of them will "take over the world".
The level of success they'll reach in Western markets could be limited given the proven dominance of Android (another GNU/Linux-based OS) devices, Apple's iOS and Microsoft's Windows Phone platform, all of which are presently eating up the lion's share of the mobile market. However, in emerging markets such as Eastern Europe, Latin America, Africa & Asia there is considerable growth potential ...assuming another GNU/Linux-based system that's been in production longer called Tizen doesn't strangle them all at birth.
The current solution being mooted for the energy crisis is creating our own sun. The main issue however with creating your own sun is it takes more energy to create one than you get back out again. However, in the past year we've gotten dangerously close to building a self-sustaining nuclear fusion generator that produces as much power as we put in.
I'm going to go out on a limb here and predict that in the coming year someone somewhere will have a breakthrough that'll not only make a reactor that's self-sustaining but will produce more power than it puts in; even if we don't see a breakthrough as major as that, we should expect to have self-sustaining fusion reactors before the end of next year.
If we achieve either of these things it's not hard to see how by the time this decade is out we wouldn't have fusion reactors that can be used for small-scale trials ...or discover we've accidentally roasted the entire planet by creating a fusion reaction that expands exponentially. But I prefer to be optimistic about these things; after all, the CERN supercollider didn't result in us all being spaghettified and compressed into a single point of infinite density from which even light can't escape.
Let's be honest, 3D printers are pretty damn cool. You can create 3D objects of just about anything from a computer. In short, when these things are in every home we'll be living in the future ...for real this time.
At the moment 3D printers you'll likely have come across will be the kind that make objects out of plastic. However, there are examples of using 3D printing to build houses, prepare disgusting food, replace components of broken machines and cars, etc.
Unsurprisingly, this has applications for space travel and NASA are planning to bring 3D printers into space for the first time next summer. If you aren't excited about this technology you should be, as it'll be getting cheap enough for everyone to spend hours figuring out how to use within the next few years.
This is one of those points I don't think I need to write an awful lot on. Windows 8 is like the ill-conceived lovechild of a table and a chair. You generally prefer to sit on a chair and eat off a table, but Microsoft have decided that grafting the two together so you can eat off a chair and sit on a table is a sensible idea because chairs don't take up as much space and "chairs are the future". The world has responded by pointing out it'd be better to keep the two things separate so you can make the best chair you can possibly sit on and the best table you can possible eat off of rather than trying to change peoples' dining habits. Microsoft has responded by offering an extra stool you can sit on, but you still have to eat off the chair instead of the table while their designers thumb their nose at you.
Unsurprisingly, Windows 8 is tanking harder than Windows Vista as no one sees any benefit to upgrading from Windows 7. Some governments and companies are getting so fed up of Microsoft's shenanigans they're buying Macs or installing Ubuntu instead, or grimly sticking with Windows XP to the bitter end (i.e. until a 14 year old with some spare time hacks into their network and replaces every piece of data they've ever held with pictures of cats they borrowed from 4chan). I'm thinking Windows 9 will be the beginning of the end of the interface Windows 8 introduced, but we won't see that until 2015 or later.
This year bitcoin hit a dizzying high of $1000 per unit. This then halved a week later when the Chinese government pointed out it wasn't a real currency and they'd have nothing to do with it. Regulators are also beginning to eye things with interest, and the flaws inherent with a deflationary currency with no central stabilisation mechanism are already coming to fruition.
That's not to say the idea behind cryptocurrencies is bad, as being able to transfer money around the world without transaction fees and the ability to store money away in case paper-based currencies drop will continue to be attractive one that even cynics like myself can get behind. However, the bitcoin bubble has burst and there's a long way to fall before it'll rise back to a stable price. Analysts expect that to be around $200, but as bitcoin has no inherent value it's difficult to predict this kind of thing.
In short, now is NOT a good time to invest in bitcoin. Anyone telling you otherwise is either deeply misguided or out to scam you.
Things are not going well for Blackberry. They've just had another nightmare quarter where they reported a loss of $4.4 billion. They also sold 10 million fewer devices than at the same time last year, and of those three quarters were running (the now truly ancient) Blackberry 7 rather than the platform they're currently pushing Blackberry 10.
In good news BBM's release on iOS & Android has been wildly popular, but Blackberry doesn't actually make any money from this. Businesses are also generally not inclined to buy into Blackberry 10 because it needs Blackberry Enterprise Server 10 ...which isn't compatible with their existing stockpiles of Blackberry 7 devices.
Though the company has $3.2 billion sat in its coffers right now, another quarter or two like this one will see its war chest evaporate. Expect this company to be broken up and sold before the end of 2014, and if it does (by some miracle) still exist because they've been bailed out by the Canadian government, QNX becomes its main cash cow within a single quarter or some other equally unlikely scenario it'll be a frail, limping shadow of its former self.
With the collapse of Blackberry the last thing businesses in this tough economic climate want to do is replace everyone's corporate smartphone and upgrade Blackberry Enterprise Server when there could be no one to support it by the time it's implemented. For this reason they'll opt for the more cost-effective approach of letting you bring in any smartphone that has a mail client. This isn't so great if your employer won't be paying for business-related calls on personal equipment...
We will also see tablets appearing in more office spaces over the coming year. Whether these are deployed by the businesses themselves remains to be seen, but people bringing in their own tablet devices to read documents, keep notes at meetings, read emails and sneakily check their Facebook account on company time will continue to become a more mainstream pursuit, particularly as tablet sales may already have overtaken desktop sales.
We're already seeing kickstarted projects that are changing our industry. Ouya for example has spawned dozens of copycat cut-price Android-based consoles, and it's now the go-to way to develop games. We'll see more interesting ideas such as community-backed magazines I wouldn't mind writing for like Linux Voice and independent movies like Wish I Was Here.
Due to the nature of Kickstarter & IndieGoGo it's hard to predict the kinds of ideas we'll be seeing over the coming year, but if this year is anything to go by we should expect these platforms to continue being a hotbed of innovation and invention.
Amazon announced not too long ago their R&D department is currently working on a service called Prime Air which would deliver small packages to you on the same day using company-owned drones. Just be careful what you're getting up to when it arrives ...these devices have cameras.
Of course, if Amazon does go ahead with this it'll be start of a new drone delivery industry. This is great for courier companies, but not so good for the couriers themselves. Of course, there's also the potential that your package will be lost due to light cloud cover disrupting its GPS signal, or stolen because a teenager with a BB gun shot it down so they could read the paperback copy of Fifty Shades of Grey you ordered. But at least if they do arrive you'll receive products you can't 3D print a lot quicker than you otherwise would.
Very recently Google acquired Boston Dynamics, a company primarily concerned with military robots. Given this is the same company that aggregates the collective knowledge of the entire human race and knows everything about you there's a potential nightmare scenario in which Google creates a new anti-virus programme with its own AI that becomes self-aware, hacks into the Pentagon and starts World War III.
Alternatively, by the end of 2014 we'll see the first successful trials of self-driving cars in the UK and Google will play a major part in making that happen. Let's hope this is what happens, rather than robots from the future turning up to kill John Connor.