Tech in 2013: Smartphones look to drive future

Driverless cars hovering in background but mobile device predicted to take over PC as the widget du jour for the majority

Google is developing a version of a driverless car and its co-founder, Sergey Brin, thinks people will be able to get hold of one in the next five years.
Google is developing a version of a driverless car and its co-founder, Sergey Brin, thinks people will be able to get hold of one in the next five years.

If 2012 was when a dog first drove a car, next year is picked to be when driverless automobiles might be seen on the world's roads.

According to the Economist, motorists should not be surprised to spot a car next year where the driver has their hands off the steering-wheel and the machine is in control.

"It will be a few years before you can buy a driverless car, but experimental vehicles will be taking to the roads in greater number," the Economist's World in 2013 report said.

Google is developing a version of a driverless car and its co-founder, Sergey Brin, thinks people will be able to get hold of one in the next five years.

General Motors, Ford, and the owners of Mercedes-Benz are also testing driverless vehicles and while you might be hard-pressed to find such a car on State Highway 1 this summer, other technology predictions for the next 12 months are far more likely to ring true in the local market.

According to research firm Gartner, 2013 will be the year where mobile devices overtake personal computers as the most common avenue for people to access the internet. This is presumably driven by the sharp uptake in smartphones, which around 44 per cent of New Zealanders own.

Ericsson believed this figure would reach 50 per cent by the end of this year, while one in every five New Zealanders will be using a tablet computer by February, the Swedish company predicted.

In this shift from PC to mobile, tech-behemoths like Dell, HP and Microsoft will lose out with mobile-makers that have been too slow to move into smartphone territory such as Nokia and troubled Blackberry-maker RIM.

While causing strife for these firms, the rise of the smartphone also has implications for the bricks-and-mortar retailers already weathering the storm that online shopping has brought to their industry.

Next year is expected to see the worldwide growth of "in-line shopping", a practice Ericsson lists as one of its top 10 tech trends for the year ahead.

Despite being a clumsy portmanteau, in-line shopping - which combines elements of online and bricks-and-mortar retail - is already a force in the United States.

According to a study published in November, around 40 per cent of US smartphone owners use their devices while in stores to pay for goods or take advantage of coupons.

The most popular service is a barcode scanner which customers use to compare prices with other retailers or find out more about the product they are interested in.

For this shopping practice to catch on locally, it will likely require mobile wallet and payment systems to be rolled out across New Zealand - a service talked up by telcos but one which shows little sign of being launched on scale here in the near future.

Another local service that is unlikely to get much traction in the coming 12 months is the Government's much-vaunted ultra-fast broadband (UFB) scheme.

The $1.5 billion UFB project aims to offer internet speeds of around 100 megabits a second - up to 20 times more than the speeds average residential users experienced in 2010 - to 75 per cent of New Zealand by 2019.

Although residential customers got their first taste of fibre in 2012, the appetite for the service could hardly be called strong.

In September only 1600 people had connected to the new network - a mere 2 per cent of the 76,000 premises which Chorus and the Government's three other build partners have rolled fibre past.

Commentators do not believe this will drastically increase come 2013 and in November IDC predicted that only around 10 per cent of New Zealand premises will be connected by 2015, increasing to 50 per cent by 2020.

But what may improve in the coming 12 months is the availability of online television and movie content, which was identified by the Commerce Commission as a key driver for the uptake of fast broadband services.

"2012 was a real watershed year for (online) music streaming," said technology commentator Peter Griffin.

"The options have multiplied and it's sorted now. You cannot say that there's a lack of competition in that market, everyone has access to music in multiple formats. They've nailed that problem I think next year we might see some action on the video side."

Online movie service Quickflix launched in New Zealand this year, but is now in a bad shape and might not be around for much longer, he said.

"The elephant in the room is really Sky TV and the stranglehold they have on content. There's a Commerce Commission inquiry into that under way which will play out next year, but it may be that people can work around that in 2013 and get other (video and movie) bundles delivered over the internet. "

Griffin said television was the "last big consumer experience due for an overhaul" but that this could well happen in 2013.

- NZ Herald

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