Tech wish list for 2013

From the rise of 3D printing to finding an end to the ongoing patent wars, here are the 10 things we would like to see happen in 2013.

A year ago, I made 10 tech predictions for 2012 and I am pleased to say that they were mostly accurate, or at least not dramatically wrong. I, like others, did think that Apple would release a TV, which they didn’t and now I am less convinced that they will in 2013 and even if they do it will not be the “next big thing”. Although Apple didn’t fall apart after the loss of Steve Jobs, they haven’t actually convinced anyone that they are going to be the drivers of any revolutionary change either (expect more of the same from Apple in 2013).

However, rather than making any new predictions for 2013, I thought I would instead talk about 10 things I would most like to see happen in the tech world next year, regardless of how realistic they might be.

An end to the patent wars. Ok, so I also want world peace, so which one is more achievable? The only people that end up benefiting out of these battles are lawyers. The abuse of patents just serves as an excuse for not competing through innovation. The half-life of an idea is becoming so short that the notion of protecting them for 20 years is simply absurd.

Ubiquitous payment from my smartphone. NFC payment cards in Australia at least have become fairly ubiquitous – so why not through a smartphone? Wired reporter Christina Bonnington spent a month living without her wallet and using only her smartphone. She just about managed it, but she lives in San Francisco not Sydney.

Efficient roll-out of the NBN. Although I do think that everyone should have access to fast broadband for the sake of it, it is the societal changes that this may bring about that are going to be the things worth wanting. Yes, it is a lot of money and there are probably different ways of doing this but the government spends a great deal of money on many things that are of dubious benefit and a broadband-enabled economy does have the potential to bring many benefits.

An end to regional and format restrictions. I am pretty sure that pirating of movies would decrease overnight if movies were available world-wide online and on disc at the same time that they were released to theatres. Controlling the release of movies, books and other digital products in order to maximise revenues will become increasingly harder and will only serve to spur people to find ways around it. For books, which are digitally available from Amazon in one country but not another, the situation is equally absurd.

BYO Devices extends to BYO Apps. Corporate IT largely becomes irrelevant as everything is brought in. Together with cloud services provided by Amazon, Google and even Microsoft, there is really not very much for IT staff to do. Decisions that would have taken a panel of stakeholders several months to make will be made by individuals after a couple of Google searches and the use of a credit card.  

Personalised medicine. While we still struggle to make slow progress with making our health services digital, our general health is still declining with fewer and more expensive resources to hand. The only solution for sustainable health is to allow individuals to take more control over their health and wellbeing without a need for health professionals. This means better health education but also the technology to manage illness and in particular chronic disease. Standard treatment protocols with electronic decision support that can guide us to helping ourselves manage the problem.

3D Printing. I would love to be able to have things I order online materialise in my home instantly. Sadly, the world of 3D printing is a way off of that goal. Despite the fact that it is somewhat exciting to be able to make a novelty toy in plastic on your desktop, the benefits of this are still somewhat limited to the average consumer. But that's not to say that the dream isn't feasible and we might well see a few important breakthroughs in 2013.

Wearable computing. I was particularly disappointed when Apple decided not to enhance the iPod Nano as a wearable watch that could do things other than tell the time. The Pebble watch promises to ship in 2013 and will be able to interface with your smartphone and other devices. Together with a Bluetooth headset that actually worked, this would be a killer combination. For one thing, having a large format phone wouldn’t matter as you would never need to hold it to your ear.

Bluetooth headset that always works. I know this is trivial in comparison to the rest but is it too much to ask? I have tried at least a dozen portable headset and in-car systems over the years and not found one that reliably transmits voice as clearly as a wired headset and microphone. Inevitably someone will tell you that you sound like you are talking as if underwater, or more recently like a bad Skype call. Surely this technology can’t be that hard to master?

Technology that allows us to share less. Encouraged by tech companies generally, we have become over-sharers. Not only do we now read more news, opinions and general commentary, but we also read it multiple times from multiple sources. Most of it wasn’t that interesting in the first place and certainly didn’t bear repeating. Technologies like Flipboard would be good if they aggregated items and only included them once. The ability to mark certain people as favourites in my email inbox is a good start but it is a long way off of being a really intelligent assistant – and no, technologies like Siri doesn’t even come close to being useful in this regard.

David Glance is a director at the Centre for Software Practice at The University of Western Australia.

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