7. Connected Devices (“The Internet of Things”)
2012 saw success of web-connected, app-controlled home technology. The Nest thermostat, Philips (NYSE:PHG) HUE programmable LED lights, even a smart wireless plant sensor that texts you when it’s time to water your flowers. Appliances are increasingly becoming web-connected too. Expect more in 2013. Connected devices leverage the ubiquity of smartphones and home Wi-Fi connections, while offering consumers power savings and remote control, making them highly desirable.
Despite the growing popularity of connected devices, mainstream adoption hasn’t happened yet, largely because each device tends to be made by different manufacturer and requires its own software — managing a “plugged in” home is a lot more work and configuration than the average homeowner is willing to undertake. The real takeoff point will happen when one company figures out how to manage them all, instead of having 10 independently controlled smart devices.
8. Technology in Automobiles
Automakers have been embracing Apple, with Siri-ready infotainment systems (the latest Ferrari includes an iPad Mini in the dashboard) and smartphone apps are being integrated with cars to control functions like unlocking doors, pre-starting climate controls or honking the horn. Look for increased integration in 2013 (including apps that can help work with onboard diagnostics to provide maintenance info) and a battle over dominance.
Apple was big news in 2012, with nine automakers committing to incorporating Siri support in their vehicles by 2013: BMW, Land Rover, Toyota (NYSE:TM), GM (NYSE:GM), Jaguar, Chrysler, Mercedes-Benz, Audi and Honda (NYSE:HMC) are all on board. However, Microsoft is still a player (powering Ford’s (NYSE:F) Sync) and Blackberry’s QNX powers many auto systems in vehicles from the likes of Hyundai, Acura and Porsche. Both of these companies will be battling to combat Apple’s intrusion — and with Apple’s widely publicized struggles with both Siri and its built-in Maps app, they may have some leverage. Android would like to be there too but has had little success in the automotive market, largely due to that platform’s diversity of devices and versions.
9. Wearable Technology
Google Glass, a wave of smart watches (including Pebble and possible offerings from Apple and Samsung) along with health and fitness devices from FitBit and others are the start of what is predicted to be a wave of wearable technology in 2013. Companies like Pebble have had a head start, but look for the independents to come under pressure as the big players flex their marketing muscle (including possibly packaging wearable devices with their smartphones the way they do now with headphones) and combining functions in a single device. For example, an Apple iWatch could combine smartwatch and biometric features, displacing multiple devices.
In the rush to incorporate biometric technology into mainstream consumer electronics, there’s a possibility that players like FitBit could become acquisition targets.
10. 3-D Printing
A big deal at CES, 3-D printers are hitting the magic $1,000 price point and adopting home-friendly designs in an attempt to market the devices at consumers. Once costing hundreds of thousands of dollars and targeted at commercial clients (such as auto makers who needed to prototype components), technology has advanced to the point that prices are dropping significantly. Combined with the nascent “maker” culture, 3-D printing could take off. This could very well follow the trend of inkjet and laser printers, which were first adopted commercially, then made their way into homes as prices dropped below the $1,000 threshold, eventually becoming commonplace.
With 3-D printers poised to make the leap from hobby kits and web order to store shelves, look for small 3-D printer companies like 3D Systems (NASDAQ:DDD), Makerbot and Ultimaker to become acquisition targets for printer giants like H-P, Canon (NYSE:CAJ) or Epson, who lack offerings in the area. Companies that offer the plastic spools used by 3-D printers are worth keeping an eye on too. (If you thought an inkjet printer ate supplies, a 3-D printer takes that consumption to a whole new level — historically those consumables can be far more profitable than the printers themselves.)
The biggest obstacle to 3-D printing having a breakout year in 2013 may not be consumer acceptance, but legal issues. With the growing recognition that once digital plans are shared online, people could conceivable print anything from replacement parts for their appliances to duplicates of best-selling toys like Lego, legal teams are gearing up for battle. Patents, copyright and DRM issues could sink or set back the industry before it has the chance to go mainstream.
Check back tomorrow for important tech growth markets and possible disruptors — and Friday will bring the stock-by-stock rundown of the tech landscape.
At the time of publication, Moon had no positions in the securities mentioned.