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The top tech trends of 2014

Looking ahead to 2014, the technology trends expected to have the most impact on the broader economy won’t be anything new. We’ve seen them all before, but in virtually all cases their relative immaturity has kept them from mainstream use.

If one theme can define the year to come, it will be the emergence of already-familiar products, services and categories as finally ready for prime time. Here’s a quick peek at how it’ll likely play out:

Mobile dominates as never before
Canadians are increasingly leaving their PCs behind and using mobile devices to connect to social media services like Twitter and Facebook. The PC won’t disappear completely in 2014, but it’ll increasingly take a back seat to mobile devices and apps. Any differences between the “full” web and the “mobile” web will largely dissolve as new ways of building websites and apps – specifically the HTML5 development standard that facilitates more dynamic, app-like sites – take hold. This shift will have fundamental implications for businesses as they adapt their marketing to mobile devices and lifestyles.

Big data gets bigger
The explosion in the popularity of wearable devices like smart watches and smart glasses will contribute to an accelerating boom in data collection and analysis that already has advertisers chomping at the bit and consumers fretting over increasingly tenuous privacy. Social media platforms will convert all those status updates, selfies, check-ins and breakfast photos into focused, customized insights that can subsequently be bought and sold in an ever more efficient data-driven marketplace. While everyone debates the very definition of the term, the superpower arms race to monetize big data will continue, as it represents nothing less than the next great growth opportunity of the Internet age.


Cryptocurrencies hit paydirt
Bitcoin grabbed everyone’s attention throughout the year as it became the virtual currency to beat. Rampant speculation drove repeated spikes in value before uncertainty among Chinese regulators – and the sudden shutdown of the GBL exchange and the resulting loss to investors of $4.1 million – prompted late-year doubts over whether it was mature enough to be a viable alternative currency. Doubts aside, Bitcoin is clearly past its flash-in-the-pan state, and 2014 will see it make continued inroads as competitors like Litecoin, Namecoin, and Peercoin gear up for a growing cryptocurrency battle.

Disposable social media becomes anything but disposable
Would you turn down a US$3 billion offer? Snapchat apparently did. The social media service, which features messages that self-destruct within 10 seconds, said no when Facebook came calling. As Facebook grapples with a falloff in demand from the all-important teenaged demographic, so-called disposable-messaging services have emerged as a major new force in social media. Keep an eye on alternatives like LoKast and Blink as they compete with the established platforms – including Facebook’s Poke – for the next generation of social media users.

Mobile payments go mainstream
In 2013, virtually every major Canadian bank and wireless carrier launched at least one mobile payment initiative. TD launched its Ugo mobile wallet and signed up Loblaws as its first retail partner, and RBC and Bell teamed up for a mobile payment initiative. In 2014, as more Canadians transition to mobile devices that sport technologies like Near Field Communications (NFC) and Bluetooth Low Energy (LE), secure wireless transactions will quickly move from pilot state to an everyday option. Security will continue to be a worry, but as consumers become increasingly comfortable using encrypted, multi-factor-secured smartphones over easily hacked credit cards, adoption curves will head skyward.

One trend conspicuously absent from this list is the cloud. Two decades after the emergence of the web turned the Internet into a consumer and commercial force, “the cloud” continues to be, for reasons that continue to confuse, a “thing”. If anything, the cloud is little more than a fancy definition of the web – which we’ve now been using for a generation. Perhaps the key trend in 2014 will be the trashing of high-level, difficult-to-explain platitudes that benefit marketers more than businesses and consumers. Either way, it promises to be a tremendously exciting year.

Carmi Levy is a London, Ont.-based independent technology analyst and journalist. The opinions expressed are his own.