ReadWriteReflect offers a look back at major technology trends, products and companies of the past year.
This year, we got serious about connecting our homes. We smartened up our arms and eyes. And we figured out ways to make all the screens we've accumulated—from tablets and laptops to LCD TVs—seem fresh and exciting again.
Taken one by one, these may not seem like massive changes. But they’ve added up to a transformation in how we relate with technology.
The products we’re highlighting rejuvenated stale categories or sparked new interest in unforeseen niches. These, the most influential devices of the year, grabbed our imaginations as well as our wallets. Because of them, we'll remember 2013 as a year when everything changed.
Make no mistake: Google’s tiny TV stick did not revolutionize streaming to the living room. This market was growing even before Chromecast came along. But what it did was swiftly and suddenly accelerate mainstream consumer adoption in the most effective way possible—by offering intriguing features, making them easy to use, and charging less than the price of dinner at a nice restaurant. Demand for Chromecast surged, drawing new attention to the entire product category.
Even rival Roku can’t help but give credit to Chromecast for piquing consumer interest in TV streaming. A few months ago, Lloyd Klarke, Roku's director of product management, told me that "sales have gone up nicely after Chromecast launched." Why? Because when people looked into it, "they researched and found Roku."
Smartwatches had always been a nonstarter in technology. They existed as novelties or niche products, a strange subcategory of the mobile tech world that no one really knew what to do with. But that was before Pebble came skipping along.
You can thank this wearable tech device for igniting the battle for our wrists. A hero to Kickstarter hopefuls, Pebble snagged a record-breaking $10 million in preorders. Now, thanks to founder Eric Migicovsky’s tech and business savvy, it is blazing trails for giants like Samsung and Qualcomm to follow.
Attractive—even quaint, with its E Ink display and hardware buttons—the watch offers sleek style and growing list of features for Android users, iPhone owners and, soon, connected home customers. Those features are about to expand even further soon, now that the company just announced the coming of its own app store.
The fundamental question in wearable tech these days seems to be “wrist or arm?” You can thank players like Pebble (above) and Google Glass for that.
Although Glass hasn’t formally launched yet, the device is causing tidal waves of activity behind the scenes. Developers are hard at work making Glass apps, while in the nontech sectors of the world, fashion and eyewear designers consider how Glass may factor into their work. Little doubt this has to do with Google’s decision to join forces with Diane Von Furstenberg, who featured the device on her fashion runway shows, as well as other events.
Meanwhile, privacy advocates fear the prospect of everyone wearing cameras on their heads. And safety experts wonder if society can handle the distraction of those little face-mounted screens. All that attention, and the product hasn’t even launched in the retail market yet.
At $1,500 for a developer version, it may be a while yet—at least until Google figures out how to bring down that price. But for now, it’s the gadget with perhaps the broadest and deepest set of implications for how modern man shares, captures and communicates—in other words, how we live.
When Nest debuted its first product last year, it turned a humble thermostat into eye candy. And it proved that connected home technologies could be sleek objets d’art that people would actually want in their homes. And thanks to Internet connectivity, that item is brainy, too, allowing homeowners to monitor and control their heating and cooling at any time and from anywhere.
Now along comes Nest Protect to prove that this is no flash-in-the-pan tech. This Wi-Fi-enabled smoke and carbon-monoxide detector trades headsplitting alarms for a calm voice. An illuminated ring glows different colors when carbon monoxide is detected—and doubles as a night light. And the connectivity allows the devices to communicate with each other throughout the different rooms in your house.
The design and thinking behind these smart products has no doubt inspired others, including Philips' smart HUE lightbulbs, and Lockitron’s connected door-locking accessory, to factor both features and aesthetics into a package that consumers want—paving the way for the connected home.
Leap Motion Controller
Anyone intrigued by the idea of waving their hands in the air to control their computers—who isn’t?—should be encouraged that a consumer product specifically designed for this has landed, thanks to the Leap Motion controller. Certainly HP thought so. The company bought into the Leap Motion promise, integrating the technology into its HP Envy 17 Leap Motion Special Edition laptop.
That’s not to say it’s perfect. When I tested the $80 USB Leap Motion a few months ago, I found that it worked fairly well for games, particularly physics-based apps. But for desktop control, I found it buggy and tough to get used to.
Still, the Leap Motion device gave me a sense of where gesture-controlled, human-computer interfaces are heading. And it's incredibly exciting to see those types of consumer-oriented devices for the home PC begin to make their way into people's homes.
Google Glass images by Taylor Hatmaker for ReadWrite. Chromecast and Pebble images by Selena Larson with the Canon EOS Rebel SL1 digital SLR. Nest and Leap Motion images courtesy of the companies.
Disclosure: Canon, the official camera of Point-of-View Publishing, provided ReadWrite with an EOS Rebel SL1 digital SLR camera and paid to be mentioned in a caption and sidebar in this post.