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Top 5 trends in Canadian tech & business for 2015

Carmi Levy
A commuter uses her mobile phone as she walks past a Samsung Galaxy mobile phone advertisement at a train station in Singapore May 23, 2014. REUTERS/Edgar Su

Every year around this time, I find myself both looking back and looking ahead with a curious mixture of expectation and frustration. Expectation because, like pyjama-clad kids top-toeing down the stairs on Christmas morning, you always expect something fresh and new under the tree. On the other hand, I feel frustration because, let’s face it, there are no pyjama-clad kids in the tech space. And lessons from previous years don’t always seem to be learned - or even considered - as the new year dawns.

So while I have my doubts about whether 2015 will bring revolutionary change, I remain hopeful all the same. Here’s a quick look at some of the major themes that should dominate the tech agenda in the new year:

Wearables

Smartwatches may have snagged major headlines in 2014, but reality - and sales - fell far short of the hype thanks to expensive, clunky-looking offerings, ridiculously short battery life and the lack of a true killer app to convince consumers to finally buy in. That might change when the Apple Watch hits store shelves early in 2015, as Apple has a fairly consistent track record of legitimizing early-stage technologies.

But even if Apple succeeds in getting its shiny new timepiece off the ground, it’ll take more than one smartwatch to blast open demand for the broader market for wearables. Innovation will need to come from unexpected sources, and Canada is already setting the tone. Fast-growing Thalmic Labs is painting a radically different future of wearable technology with its Myo gesture-controlled armband. In the financial space, Bionym’s Nymi authenticating wristband is already being used by banks and card processors like RBC and MasterCard to smooth out the often-sticky process of end-user authentication.

Both devices reinforce the fact that wearables need not be headline-grabbing or expensive, and 2015 will be the year when Canadian innovation finally drives the technology mainstream.

Internet of Things

Another high-concept, revolution-in-the-making will finally start to hit home for Canadian consumers and businesses alike in 2015. IDC, in its first-ever Canadian Internet of Things (IoT) report, said the current $5.6 billion market for products and services will grow 30 per cent annually and hit $21 billion by 2018.

Cisco in March chose Toronto as the site of one of its four global Internet of Everything Innovation Centres, and is expected in 2015 to move forward on its 10-year, $4 billion commitment to bring 1,700 research-and-development-related jobs to the Canadian market. As global players like Cisco set their sights on developing a Canadian IoT ecosystem and as businesses here gradually warm to the competitive potential of connecting virtually everything in their midst, expect a growing wave of startups fo dive in full-force and bring solutions to market. With traditional tech platforms like PCs moving into their post-geriatric phase and mobile platforms approaching saturation, IoT is emerging as the next significant growth market not only for tech players, but for the broader economy, as well.

New spectrum. New rules.

In the wake of last year’s 700 MHz wireless spectrum auction, Canada is set for another eventful year in telecom-related activity. While the 2.5 GHz auction has been on the radar for some time, Industry Canada made the unprecedented decision last year to add a second auction, known as AWS-3, this March.

Even further on the horizon, Canada has followed in the footsteps of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission in beginning consultation on the 600 MHz region currently used for broadcast television, which could set the stage for even more activity in 2016 and beyond. Like the 700 MHz frequencies, 600 MHz signals penetrate deeply into buildings and underground, and are thus highly sought after by carriers.

Industry Canada’s goal in amping up the auction process is a familiar one: Encourage greater levels of competition and bring a fourth national carrier to the table - something Ottawa’s been trying, and failing, to pull off since the 2008 AWS auction.

With American carriers still refusing to commit to a trip across the border, and Canadian consumers steadfastly holding onto the wireless status quo, it isn’t clear whether accelerating the pace of spectrum selloff will finally push the industry toward a more competitive reality. But 2015 will be a busy year all the same, even if the deck chairs are only slightly rearranged by the time it’s all over.

Video battle goes epic

If 2014 was a year when Canada’s major carriers finally woke up to the Netflix threat, 2015 promises to be the year when the battle gets ugly. Rogers and Shaw’s shomi and Bell’s CraveTV were late responses to the rising tide of streaming online content alternatives, led by industry goliath Netflix. With both shomi and CraveTV pushing their broad content libraries as alternatives to Netflix Canada’s often-criticized menu of offerings, expect the pitched battle for the hearts and wallets of Canadian consumers to intensify over the next year.

The incumbent carriers will use their cross-platform offerings as leverage against the upstart over-the-top competition, but with consumers increasingly willing to cut the chord entirely, tying in their new offerings to legacy cable and satellite package may not be enough to keep them from heading to the exits.

New Enterprise World Order Takes Shape

Apple and IBM shook the industry last year with a partnership that opened the door to IBM salespeople pushing Apple products and services to their corporate customers, and developers teaming up on enterprise-friendly solutions for Apple platforms. As the new year dawns, the first wave of apps is already being released, and enterprise buyers now see iOS as a legitimate platform for mobile business.

Consider this a mortal threat to Microsoft. While the Redmond software giant continues to ride legacy momentum of its Windows and Office franchises, its pivot to cloud-based alternatives like Office 365 won’t come fast enough for younger startups who’ve grown up using mobile devices and cloud services - areas where Microsoft either doesn’t dominate or isn’t a factor. Microsoft is still smarting from lukewarm response to Windows 8, and all eyes are on its Windows 10 reboot, expected to bow this year. By the time the Windows mess is sorted out, increasingly mobile-centric business buyers will have moved on.