There are many big battles brewing in the technology world this year as companies search for new gadgets to entice consumers to spend. In the living room, three television brands - Sony, Sharp and Philips - have come together to support a new Android TV platform for their new smart TVs, which will ignite the next app war against market leaders Samsung and LG.
Meanwhile, just about every consumer tech company is coming out with a smartwatch this year, as the industry expects exponential growth in this nascent wearable gadget category. All eyes are on the upcoming Apple Watch, but its rivals are not sitting still.
Reprieve is on the way for PC users fed up with the snazzy but hard-to-navigate tiled interface of Windows 8. The next iteration of Windows, dubbed Windows 10, is expected to launch later this year and will bring back the familiar Start menu and desktop interface.
1. The new TV wars
The new battleground for TVs this year is no longer just about which brands can come up with sharper images and spiffier-looking displays. Form is still important, but the bigger war this year is all about substance.
Sony, Sharp and TP Vision (which makes Philips TVs) announced a few days ago that they will start shipping smart TVs this year powered by Google's new Android TV operating system (OS). Buying a TV running on Android TV means that the user will now be able to access a common Google Play app store, which sets the stage for developers to start creating new apps designed for the TV. With multiple leading TV brands opting to go for Android, it becomes commercially viable for app developers to do so.
Even if the apps are not officially available on the local Google Play store - such as Netflix and Hulu Plus because they have not been launched in Singapore and therefore are geographically blocked - tech-savvy users should be able to download the apps directly from Internet forums after a few simple tweaks to their TV settings, a process Android geeks call "side-loading".
Fans of video-streaming services Netflix and Hulu Plus will now have more avenues to get their United States movies and TV shows. Instead of buying a separate Internet TV set-top box such as Apple TV and Roku or accessing these apps via their Xbox and Playstation game consoles, fans can now get the apps directly on their goggle boxes.
What is interesting is that the top two TV makers - Samsung and LG - are sticking to their respective TV operating systems. Samsung is adopting the Tizen operating system while LG is using the webOS system, but they are the only major TV makers to choose these platforms. Both Samsung and LG have their own smart TV app stores but the convergence of the other TV makers around a common Google Play app store will set the stage for a new battle of the apps - the same way it has been fought on smartphones and tablets by Apple, Google and Microsoft.
2. Can you wear it?
With slowing tablet sales and flat PC growth, the industry is desperately searching for new things to sell. Wearables is one such group of devices that the industry is hoping will succeed. Market research firm IDC expects the sales of these smart watches, fitness trackers and just about any gadget you can put on your body to grow exponentially from the estimated 19 million units shipped last year to 112 million units by 2018. The first wearables were wrist-worn fitness trackers such as Fitbit and Jawbone, which tracked the number of steps the user took a day as well as monitored his or her sleep patterns. But they were limited in their functionalities. The Jawbone, for instance, did not have a screen, and you could view your data only by syncing the device to your phone.
The buzz is now over smartwatches, which can tell the time, alert users to notifications such as new Facebook comments, e-mail messages and news updates, and even double as a heart-rate sensor. The Samsung Gear S even lets users make and receive calls on the wristwatch. Last year also saw Google releasing its new Android Wear platform for hardware makers to quickly jump onto the bandwagon via the Android Wear software. Motorola, LG, Sony, Samsung and Asus have all come up with their own smartwatches which run on the Android Wear platform, but so far only the LG G Watch R has been launched here. This year will see more of the Android Wear watches hitting stores here.
Another mega battle is in the works between Google's partners and Apple as the latter will be launching its highly anticipated Apple Watch later this year.
The coolest thing about smartwatches is the customisable faces, which lets users buy and even create their own watch faces to reflect each user's unique identity. And for users who want to have the best of both worlds, Mont Blanc is releasing an e-strap which can be connected to any analogue watch while offering a digital screen in place of the clasp. The screen can be paired with the user's Android or Apple smartphone to receive notifications on the screen.
3. The return of the PC
Over the last two to three years, PC sales have been spiralling downwards in tandem with the explosive growth of touchscreen tablets. After a disastrous 2013 that saw Samsung, Sony and Toshiba giving up on their consumer PC business in Singapore, the industry appears to have turned the corner late last year.
One reason is that the tablet craze has subsided. Market research firm Gartner predicts that global tablet shipments will grow only a modest 8 per cent this year, compared with its heyday in 2012 when they grew by over 70 per cent in just one year. Many users are now looking at buying PCs again, though Gartner expects only a 1 per cent growth in global PC shipments this year.
A dearth of new thin and light laptops last year means consumers can expect more models to launch this year. Chipmaker Intel has launched a new Intel Core M laptop processor that is so power-efficient that it can do away with the need for a fan to cool it down. Going fanless means new laptops can be much thinner than their predecessors. Only Lenovo has launched an Intel Core M laptop here, so consumers can look forward to more models from the various PC brands this year. On that list is the Asus Zenbook UX 505, a thin 13.3-inch laptop which weighs a mere 1.2kg and comes with a stunning 3,200 x 1,800 resolution display. There are also rumours of new MacBooks running on the Intel Core M chips which will be even thinner than before.
Another major development this year will be the launch of Windows 10 in the second half of the year. Windows 10 is the latest iteration of the Windows family which will bring back the classic Start menu and desktop interface for Windows users who have been struggling to adapt to the current tile-based Windows 8 operating system.
This article was first published on Jan 9, 2015.
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