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10 predictions for future tech

Some will happen soon, others may take a few years

Hoverboards, a race of robots that rise up and take over the world, and excellent broadband provision in the UK. These are the ridiculously far-fetched concepts Matt Egan rejected in picking out 10 things we'll see over the next 15 years.

Given the exponential pace of technological change over the past 16 years or so, it’s virtually impossible to accurately predict what life will be like in another 200 issues from now, in 2028. But that hasn’t stopped us trying. So in the great tradition of Tomorrow’s World we’ve donned our thinking caps, spread some jam on a Compact Disc, and highlighted what we think are 10 trends and developments likely to shape the way we use tech in that time.

Some will happen soon, others may take a few years, but we guess that all of these 10 changes will occur in the next 16 years and eight months. Why not play along at home, and bury this copy of PC Advisor in a time capsule in the garden, not to be dug up before August 2028?


Every surface will be a display

Microsoft has already shown us a glimpse of this with its much-vaunted Surface technology, now seen primarily in shops and showrooms, but intended as a forerunner of the way we’ll interact with our computers. In the future table-tops will become touchscreen computers, like PacMan machines for the 21st century, wirelessly linked to a central computer that will pull in data from the cloud. The TV will be banished to the cellar as standard windows and mirrors morph from doing their day job to being touchscreen digital displays, adept at showing emails, movies, stock prices and live TV. Satnav data will appear on the inside of your windscreen, the kids will be able to watch movies on car windows, and taxi drivers will display localised ads to offset the price of your journey. Even humble household objects such as mugs, plant pots and pans will display contextual information, ranging from the temperature of the contents to how much water your poor old plant needs.

Plausibility rating 4/5


Smartphones will fit in your wallet

Ever wondered why a 10in tablet costs the same or less than a 7in device? In part it’s because making something smaller requires in turn tinier components, which are much harder to produce. Shrinking down already small devices is tough: a tiny phone still requires a power source, a processor and storage. And anyway, below a certain size, smaller isn’t always better. You need a fairly large screen, for instance, to be able to comfortably interact with the information displayed on it. That’s why Dell and Samsung are betting the family farm on 5in tablet/smartphone hybrids. The Holy Grail is a mobile device with a decent size screen that you can fold up and slip into your wallet. Foldable displays are possible today, but the issue is getting the other gubbins that make up a device to fit into a virtually 2D object. But it will happen, and as mobile payments become an increasingly important part of the worlds of on- and offline commerce, slipping your phone out of your wallet to pay a bill will become the norm.

Plausibility rating 3.5/5


Data will be in the cloud, and you'll access it from the nearest device

We’ve explored on page 108 how much cheaper storage has become over the past 16 years. But as information and entertainment grows in definition and complexity, and as we all get more demanding and wish for more flexibility in our lives, storing files, movies, music, photos and books on discs and disks will become increasingly old hat. Far more than just a safe, remote backup, pushing and pulling data to and from the cloud is set to become the most convenient way of enjoying access to everything, everywhere. It’ll be a monumental security nightmare, but if we’ve learned anything over the past 200 months it’s that convenience always trumps security concerns.

It’s not even that far fetched. From webmail to social networks to online photo-sharing and music streaming, most of us already throw a ton of information into the cloud.

Plausibility rating 4.5/5


You'll be able to transfer data and payment by touching devices

In the weird-and-whacky world of the HP TouchPad, this has already happened. HP’s Touch-to-Share technology was supposed to be the killer app for HP’s putative iPad rival, as a means by which you could transfer files and folders simply by touching the TouchPad to a compatible device. The trouble, and this was very much the trouble with the TouchPad and WebOS per se, was that there weren’t many compatible devices. Still, the technology is out there, and if the “oohs” and “aahs” from those who saw it were anything to go by it has popularity potential. Throw in the convenience of touching your smartphone to a scanner to make payments, and the future of touch transfer becomes exciting. The key will be making a universal touch-transfer protocol that all manufacturers can get behind, so the public can feel comfortable with it. Getting a standard everyone can agree to is, traditionally, a torturously slow business. But as the success of USB and Wi-Fi prove, it’s eminently doable, where the will exists.

Plausibility rating 4.5/5


Social will get scary

The days of a genius piece of malware holding the connected world to ransom will draw to a close. Cybercriminals look for the lowest-hanging fruit, and blasting through the combined defences of ISP, Windows and internet security suite is no longer the percentage play. The weakest link in any digital security setup is you, dear reader. And you are never more likely to make a miss-step than when you’re on a social network site, publicly chatting with your ‘friends’. Get ready for increasingly sophisticated scams, aimed at parting social networkers with their cash at the point they feel least vulnerable. Poisoned links, fake friends, the hacked accounts of genuine acquaintances… all will be used to target your account to get your details. Information you’ve publicly placed on one site will be automatically combined with details from another to spoof your ID and guess your passwords. And as more cash is transacted over social-media sites, you’ll have more to lose.
 
Plausibility rating 5/5



…and so will mobile

As mobile devices and connectivity improve, the amount of time and money we spend online on our mobiles will increase. And as more cash and data is shared across the mobile space, expect crooks to get interested. The biggest bar to malware on mobiles right now is the sheer variety of platforms a cybercriminal would have to cover in order to make a profit. But as the market matures, expect platform-agnostic web-based worms to appear. Piggy-backing on the work of legitimate developers, aimed at making it easier to share sites and apps across a variety of devices, malware writers will find ways of finagling their net nasties on to every phone and tablet out there. And as we increasingly use our handhelds as payment device, data store and encryption key, the smartphone will be the most valuable target for criminals. Right now antivirus makers are trying to sell you mobile products that you probably don’t need, but don’t let their crying wolf fool you. The risk is coming.

Plausibility rating 5/5



The UK will go wireless… everywhere

The UK’s broadband provision is shocking. Down among the sick men of the connected world, we rely on ageing copper wiring, built to carry a light smattering of phone calls, to quickly deliver large amounts of data. By and large, it doesn’t. The trouble is that we’re a long way from our own industrial revolution, and the means to dig up roads and fields and lay down fat pipes countrywide simply isn’t there.

Nor is the political will to ask the tax payer to fund increased hardwired infrastructure. Those who are happy with their setup see no reason to subsidise the rest, and BT and Virgin Media are interested only in supplying densely packed and lucrative suburban areas (on which, see our next prediction).

What the previous government did, however, was set in motion the change toward a better wireless connection for  everyone, phasing out the signals that carry analogue TV and radio in order to free up bandwidth for nationwide 4G connectivity. Ofcom has managed to bodge the job to the extent that we are unlikely to see 4G in full deployment before 2013, but with luck it will be just the beginning.

Satellite broadband is now available wherever you can see the sky, and several local governments are at least tentatively investigating the possibility of WiMax networks. It’s unlikely that we’ll ever have the fixed broadband we need on this island, but there’s a better than even chance we’ll be able to pluck something approaching a decent connection out of the ether. Whether individuals will be able to afford it is another matter.
 
Plausibility rating 4/5



There'll be amazing connectivity - in only the right places

There’s little incentive for BT and Virgin Media, Vodafone, O2, Three, T-Mobile and Orange to support rural areas. The nature of the privatised telecommunications industry pits them against each other in the fight for customers.

This means that densely populated urban areas will continue to be better served for connectivity, and those out in the sticks or in deprived areas willbe left further behind. And we’re not just talking about fixed-line broadband.

Mobile operators will take on the task of providing service to less populated areas, only with big wodges of tax-payer cash. Imagine how long that’s likely to last in this age of austerity.

Extending mobile coverage involves installing masts or base stations, which provide the signal. Each station is then connected to the network to enable traffic to be back-hauled and forwarded on around the network, or sent to the mast nearest the user. Such connections are usually fibre, and they can be shared along the same connection using time-division multiplexing (TDM), in which two or more signals take it in turns.

Rather than each operator having their own network in rural areas, the connection is often owned by a carrier that shares or leases a third-party pipe back to wherever they have a point of presence (POP). The question is who will own and maintain the new masts, and how usage will be paid for by the operators.

So expect some form of shaky wireless for the masses, and ultra-fast fibre connectivity for those lucky enough to live in commercially viable areas, with the wonga to pay.

Plausibility rating 3.5/5


Google will become Microsoft

Google’s gone from a tiny glint in two academics’ eyes, to a globe-dominating cash-raking machine in 10 short years. As odd as it seems now, for most of that period Google was perceived as the cool outsider taking on the technology establishment.

Google was once as famous for quirky office complexes and enlightened working practices as it was for innovation. With the world’s best-loved corporate value – ‘don’t be evil’ – Google seemed the very antithesis of faceless corporate technology. Just a few years ago, Larry and Sergey were still approving every single appointment to the workforce. Google never advertised jobs, instead directly targeting the best and the brightest of the tech industry and making them an offer they couldn’t refuse.

But such working practices, all well and good in a startup, are impossible to retain as a fully fledged multinational corporate. Google’s halo has slipped as it has made brutal business decisions in the key market of China, got tough on YouTube copyright issues, and as its Labs have failed to lay golden eggs. It’s been a while since Google has had a genuine hit and, with Android set to proliferate, it’s starting to look a lot like Microsoft: dominant, fantastically rich, but unloved.

Expect the next 10 years to see Google post a succession of massive profits, but few successful and innovative profits. And just how evil can it be with the world’s largest store of user data?

Plausibility rating 5/5


Apple will succeed.. on its own terms

Google’s only serious rival to the title of ‘top tech company of PC Advisor’s first 200 issues’ is Apple: the comeback kid. If you’d have asked us as we went to press with issue 50, we wouldn’t have held out hope for Apple making it to issue 200.

But the past 10 years have been phenomenal for the company, as a succession of hero products revived its fortunes under the watchful eye of the late CEO Steve Jobs – Mac OS X, the iPod, iPhone and iPad, even the Apple Store. Each claimed increased market share and turned a hefty profit, in some cases dominating markets in a way Apple had failed to do since the heady days of the Apple II.

And taking tablets into consideration, Apple may yet become the world’s leading PC maker.

So Apple’s future is assured, but how will it succeed in the absence of Steve? Contrary to popular belief, Jobs wasn’t directly involved in the design and build of many Apple products.

Apple employs a huge number of talented people, and Jobs created an ethos and structure that promoted research and design above all else. Apple products are never released unfinished or ill thought out, and the company is happy to miss out on the first blush of a new technology wave – it doesn’t see the value in being in the mix just for the sake of it.

Apple goes its own sweet way, and will continue to do so. Whether this means we’ll see more market-dominant products like the iPad and iPod, profitable niche products like Macs, or more likely a mixture of both, expect Apple to continue to delight and infuriate in equal measure, inspiring devotion in some, while maintaining a massive bottom line.

Plausibility rating 4.5/5

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