Arik Hesseldahl

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Siri Gets Serious, Microsoft Gets Its Mojo Back and Everything Gets Encrypted in 2014

crystal_ball_predictionIf it’s December, it’s time to start predicting what’s going to dominate the headlines and trends of 2014. I make it a point every year to sit down with Mark Anderson, an industry analyst and CEO of Strategic News Service, and get an early look at the predictions he makes in a speech at an annual dinner at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York.

As with previous rounds of predictions he has made (See 2011, 2012 and 2013), some already make sense if you’ve been paying attention to the way things are going, and will become more pronounced in the year ahead. Others are a little more surprising.

mark-andersonSiris head into silos. There will be more products like Apple’s Siri, and they’ll spread out and dive deep into vertical markets. Current voice-recognition products are sitting in the range of 60 percent to 80 percent accuracy, which is still too frustrating to be effective for daily use. “You still get a lot of Siri jokes,” Anderson says. “But as that rate approaches 90 percent and above, they’ll get more useful and start appearing in industry-specific products.” Customers will start trusting these systems more.

Visualization goes mainstream. As more companies spin up efforts to harness the capabilities of big data and analytics, making the results more useful will become a higher priority. That’s going to bring a new emphasis on visualization tools. “Let’s stop talking about Big Data and start talking about seeing data. We haven’t yet had any big improvements in ways to help us use all this data we’re gathering.”

Price rules consumer electronics. Headline-grabbing features will become less important as consumer electronics companies struggle to win market share for their smartphones and tablets. That’s going to lead to a situation where price becomes the critical deciding factor for consumers. “I think we’re leaving the time where every new device is radically new, and entering one where people decide what they’re going to buy based on which thing is the lowest price. Features get better incrementally, but they also get cheaper.”

That leads to the next two related predictions: The most popular smartphones will be those that sell for less than $100. The most popular tablets and what Anderson likes to call “carry-along” devices will be those selling for $250 or less. “It will be a volume driven thing, rather than quality-driven thing,” he said.

Software plays on a flat hardware field, as we build out the global computer. Even as hardware improves, pretty much everything important that happens in the Enterprise IT environment will happen in software. Software-defined networking will pick up steam, as will software-defined storage. “The stampede has been to virtualize everything. We’ve virtualized the private data center, the cloud, and now the network,” Anderson said. “The energy in global computing is going to be around software that runs on flat hardware. All the technical work going into breaking down the barriers between cloud types will result in software that can truly run anywhere.”

The new Microsoft that no one expected. We know that Microsoft will get a new CEO, but the wrong question to ask, Anderson argues, is who that new CEO is going to be. “At some level it’s critical, but it doesn’t matter as much as the power structure at the top. The person they hire has to be someone who can run a very large global operation with many moving parts. But then that person will have to pick two people below them to run Microsoft’s enterprise and consumer businesses,” he said. “I really think there should be two presidents under the CEO who have a lot of power. That’s the more interesting question to me.” If so, there’s a pretty good chance that Microsoft will get its mojo back, he says.

Micromapping arrives. We’re accustomed to having our phones tell us how to get where we’re going, but that utility usually stops the second you step indoors. That’s going to change as numerous companies start working on what Anderson calls MALT: Micromapping, Advertising, Location and ID, and Transactions. Precise indoor maps and location information will be coupled with advertising that’s targeted at you and that can lead to a transaction that might not even require waiting in a checkout line. “Your phone will bring the store to you. It will know what you like, and direct you to where those things are, and when you pick them up, you’ll just walk out. The store will know who you are and how you’re paying, and you’ll just walk out.”

The quantified self goes mainstream. All those Jawbone Ups, and Fitbits and other fitness devices will be joined by more gadgets that measure the condition of your heart and how you sleep and all sorts of other conditions related to your health. And while it should be helpful information to have, doctors generally aren’t ready for patients showing up with so much data. “They’re going to have to start catching up and fast,” Anderson said.

Encryption everywhere. Call it the Snowden Effect. The biggest direct result of the revelations of the former NSA contractor about his former employer’s activities will be a massive surge in the use of encryption technology to protect data in transit and at rest. Google, Microsoft and Yahoo are already beefing up their encryption efforts. Everyone else on the Internet will follow suit. While the NSA will be the motivating factor, the end result will be that it will be harder for hackers from China and other countries to attack systems for the purpose of stealing critical intellectual property. “The anger that has come out of the Snowden disclosures has led everyone to start working on encryption,” he said. “The end result is it will provide more protection from people who want to steal your intellectual crown jewels, which is what I consider to be the real problem.”


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