In the fast-paced world of consumer technology, nothing is the same for very long and every year brings new innovation, themes and trends. So what surprises will 2014 bring? Here are three trends that I think will help define the consumer electronics industry in 2014.

1. Wearable tech

Sports gear makers, watch manufacturers and electronics companies are rushing to label their latest products “wearable tech”. The reason? Research confirms that wearable tech is one of the hottest tech trends around and likely to be a significant category in its own right in 2014.

According to a survey conducted by Wakefield Research for software group Citrix, 91 per cent of Americans are excited about wearable tech – including watches (30 per cent), clothing (22 per cent) and glasses (19 per cent). In addition, most Americans (60 per cent) think wearable tech will be as common as smartphones, on average, in six years.

The appetite for wearable technology has been primed by companies including Nike, Jawbone and Fitbit with their fitness wristbands (called FuelBand, UP and Fitbit Force, respectively). Typically, these are paired with smartphone apps to deliver some data analytics. For example, Jawbone’s UP24 app takes advantage of the device’s continuous feed of data, which includes how long you sleep, and how well.

“Many wearable devices are currently companion devices to other smart devices, in particular smartphones,” says Oliver Rowntree, research analyst at Futuresource Consulting.

Other companies including Google, with its Google Glass project, are exploring the potential of using technology to “enhance” reality, for example by providing additional information about the objects, people or scenes being viewed. Conversely, companies such as Looxcie and V.I.O. are offering wearable video cameras designed to capture real-time point-of-view video clips.

Meanwhile Sony and Samsung have joined a handful of specialist companies delivering smartwatches designed to work with Android-based smartphones.

Overall, Juniper Research estimates that smart wearable device shipments – including smart watches and glasses – will approach 130m units by 2018, 10 times more than this year.

2. 3D Printing

3D printing – or additive manufacturing, as it is more properly called – involves depositing successive layers of material to create a 3D object.

Most 3D printers are currently used for building prototypes for the medical, aerospace, engineering and automotive industries, but with advances in digital technology, these machines are becoming smaller and cheaper – putting them within reach of consumers for the first time.

Signalling this, the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas will next month feature a “tech zone” devoted to 3D printing. Meanwhile, several companies including MakerBot and 3D Systems have begun offering 3D printers and scanners designed for consumers and hobbyists.

3D Systems sells a simple scanner for $1,300 and recently rolled out a $400 handheld scanner called Sense, capable of scanning small and large objects, people and scenes. Similarly, MakerBot recently began selling its £1,790 MakerBot Replicator 2 desktop 3D printer and £1,190 Digitiser Desktop 3D scanner at the Science Museum shop in London.

Prices will have to come down further before 3D technology finds its way into every home, but the direction is already clear.

3. TV – the revolution continues

The TV hardware industry was banking on 3D TVs to slow the decline in HD set pricing. It did not happen because consumers found the technology flaky, the eyewear associated with it uncomfortable and 3D content uninspiring. Today “3D-capable” is just another feature box to check. It turns out consumers are much more interested in “smart or connected TVs” capable of displaying content other than standard TV fare.

But that has not stopped the TV-industry marketing machine ratcheting up the buzz around three new developments – “4K” or Ultra HD TVs, capable of displaying four times the resolution of current HDTV; OLED (organic light-emitting diode) flat screens that deliver exceptionably rich colours and deep, dark blacks; and curved panels designed to provide a more immersive viewing experience.

The first Ultra HD began appearing 18 months ago but cost $25,000 or more. Since then Sony, Samsung, LG and Toshiba have all brought out 55in Ultra TVs with price tags around $3,500, while Sharp’s 70-inch LC-70UD1U costs about $5,000. Some also feature OLED and curved panels. Unfortunately, however, there is still very little Ultra TV or video content available, which may limit the appeal of these next-generation sets.

Meanwhile it is a fairly safe bet that the “cord-cutting” trend – substituting video content delivered via the internet for traditional broadcast, cable or satellite services – will accelerate. Leading Over-the-Top (OTT) content providers including Netflix, YouTube and Hulu are likely to benefit. ABI Research forecasts that the OTT video market will grow from $8bn in 2012 to more than $20bn by 2015.

Source: Financial Times