The new year will bring more than just an Apple Watch

Now might be a good time to look beyond yet another me-too tablet or smartphone. Here are the tech trends set to grab headlines in 2015.

The new year might be a good time to look beyond yet another me-too tablet or smartphone, with a wave of compelling technology ready to take centre stage in 2015. 

Despite the avalanche of gadgets and devices consumer thirst for new technologies is alive and well. 3D printers are now a billion dollar market; over 10 per cent of automobiles are connected; and the first mobile virtual reality (VR) headset designed for on the go use is hitting the market courtesy of Samsung.

The smartwatch market has become the domain of big name tech players and premium tier fashion brands while start-ups have already begun cultivating the next wearable battleground with a spate of sensor equipped clothing and footwear.

With that in mind, what new technology is set to raise pulses in the year ahead?

The fight for your in-car dashboard

Forget horsepower or handling - in-vehicle tech is the number one selling point when shopping for a new car. That’s why car makers are investing billions of dollars into developing connected cars and technology giants are piling in to get a piece of the action.

At CES, where a record ten automakers dominated the show floor, Google announced an alliance with General Motors, Honda, Hyundai and chipmaker NVIDIA to bring the Android operating system, Android Auto, to cars starting from this year.

Apple is already working with BMW, Ferrari, Honda, Hyundai, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, Volvo and others to begin rolling out CarPlay in new vehicles globally from later this year.

Blackberry’s QNX is set to power the in-car dashboard’s of the entire Ford line of vehicles by 2016 after dropping a seven year partnership with Microsoft.

It’s easy to see why tech giants are clamoring to become the platform of choice for car makers.

The average car now contains 60 microprocessors and more than 10 million lines of software code - the humble motor vehicle is fast becoming the next mobile device. The Consumer Electronics Association forecasts that factory-installed auto tech will become an $US11.3 billion ($13.89 billion) business this year alone.

With the number of cars connected to the internet set to hit 152 million by 2020 from the 36 million today (according to researcher IHS automotive), it’s a lucrative market that is set to grow at an exponential rate.

Apple CarPlay and Android Auto go beyond the existing Bluetooth phone and audio streaming services. Both platforms allow you to effectively mirror your smartphone to the vehicle’s display and use the in-built touchscreen, steering wheel mounted controls or other existing switchgear to perform tasks from your phone. Incoming notifications like email and text messages will be read to you and voice commands can be issued using Apple’s Siri or Google Voice. Supported apps stored on your smartphone such as music streaming content or navigation apps like Google Maps can be used through the in-car system.

Then there are the dedicated car apps from automakers that are designed to provide remote access to the car like locking and unlocking the car, checking windows and doors, tracking fuel usage and pre-conditioning the interior.

Hyundai ,for example, will be rolling out an app later this year that will let users locate your car complete with  turn-by-turn directions to guide you, control windows and unlock and start the car from a smartphone or smartwatch.  

But what if you could take it a step further and use your mobile device to tell your car to go and find a parking spot and have it pick you up when you’re ready? Well that’s exactly what automakers have in store for future models.

What’s more, all major car manufacturers have self-driving cars ready to go. Audi demonstrated how its A7 drove just under a 1000 kilometres straight from its office in San Francisco to the Las Vegas show floor at CES earlier this month.

BMW encouraged CES attendees to try and drive its latest i3 electric car into a wall to show off how its built-in 360 degree Collision Avoidance system, which uses a high-resolution laser scanner to pinpoint what’s around, can proactively stop the car once it gets close to obstacles.

While cars that can self-park, steer you away from harm and drive you to your next stop aren’t scheduled to hit the roads anytime soon, they’re not as far off as you might think. According to several car manufacturers, we should expect to see these impressive pieces of tech in select models of cars within the next five years (regulations permitting).

‘By 2018, one in five cars on the road will be self-aware and able to discern and share information on their mechanical health, their global position and status of their surroundings,’ said Gartner analyst Thilo Koslowski.

‘A system of camera sensors, vehicle-to-vehicle communications and computing power to process all that data will lead to intelligent cars that interact with their owners,’ he said.

The Internet of Things finally becomes a thing

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The Internet of Things or IoT is the buzzword du jour but this nascent segment is about to find its footing in a big way this year.

In an ideal IoT world, your car will tell your house that you are five minutes away and correspondingly turn on the air conditioning and the lights in the house. Or the alarm on your smartphone might trigger the blinds, turn on the morning news and get the coffee machine brewing. The IoT dream extends outside of the home as well. When you walk up to a digital kiosk, such as an interactive map at a shopping centre, your phone might automatically connect to it and change the graphic’s language to whatever you primarily speak.

The missing and crucial piece of the IoT puzzle has been the lack of a unified platform that handles the talking between devices particularly between different brands of products. That is all set to change from this year, thanks to the weight of three industry giants - Apple with its HomeKit platform, Google’s Nest and Samsung’s SmartThings.

All three act as a centralised hub to connect third-party devices, eliminating the need for ten apps to control the ten different brands of connected household items. Instead you have one app on your smartphone (or smartwatch) that gives you direct control of all the smart things in your home. Alternatively, you can use your smartphone’s built in OS level features like voice commands via Siri, for example. Ultimately, the goal is to use the vast amounts of collected data regarding user habits and consumer preferences (generated from the use of smart devices) and automate those devices without the need for direct input from the user.

The first step in the IoT journey is to make the smart devices as ubiquitous as possible, which is why you can expect to see an explosion of products flooding the market this year. Globally, Deloitte expects there will be 1 billion wireless IoT devices shipped in 2015, a 60 per cent increase from 2014. That will result in a global install base of 2.75 billion IoT devices. IoT is expected to grow on average by 13 per cent each year and connect as many as 30 billion items by 2020, becoming a potential $US3.04 trillion market, according to Gartner.

4K goes mainstream

The X9500B outperformed two rival 4K TVs in a side-by-side test.

While 4K (also known as UHD) was largely relegated to desktop computer monitors and premium tier televisions in 2014, this year expect to see 4K trickle down to affordable entry-level models that will greatly bolster adoption amongst mainstream consumers. In fact, consumers will find it hard to ignore 4K televisions when they walk into a store with most major television manufacturers packing their 2015 lineup with 4K sets and very few 1080p models.

Expect to see a much faster adoption curve than what we saw with HDTV with prices for 4K sets falling much quicker. For example, 55-inch 4K TVs from the likes of LG are already available for a sub-$1,000 price point and the price push will only become more aggressive as the year progresses.

The ace up 4K’s content sleeve is the support of online content delivery services like Netflix, Amazon and YouTube. The ubiquitous nature of these services means that most 4K television owners will have access to a steadily growing library of 4K content out of the gate (provided you have the requisite internet speeds) as opposed to waiting for cable and traditional TV broadcasters to adopt the new format.

Another shot in the arm for 4K in 2015 will be the arrival of Ultra HD Blu-ray disc movies and players at the end of the year which will no doubt entice physical media lovers and videophiles looking for the best possible picture quality.