Future Tech 2013: The PCs, tablets and cutting-edge hardware of tomorrow

Credit: Illustration by Bryan Christie Design

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Expect to see more affordable full-frame DSLRs, like the Nikon D600.

We expect several trends to emerge in connection with this year’s new cameras: Big sensors in small cameras: Several excellent premium compact cameras have been released in the past few years, but 2012 was an especially innovative year for the category. That’s because the image sensors in these pocket-size cameras are getting much bigger and much better, and we’re reaching the point where a pocketable camera will offer the image quality of a DSLR.

The marquee models for this trend are Sony’s Cyber-shot RX100 ($650), a compact camera with a sensor nearly three times larger than the ones found in cameras of similar size, and the very high-priced Sony Cyber RX1 ($2800), which offers a full-frame sensor that’s bigger than those in most consumer DSLRs. Big sensors translate to outstanding images, especially in low-light settings. As other camera companies unveil their own big-sensor pocket cameras, we’re betting that this trend is just getting started.

And that just covers the point-and-shoots. In DSLR-land, full-frame sensors are showing up in more moderately priced camera bodies. Before the latter half of 2012, a full-frame DSLR fetched at least $3000, but two more-recent DSLRs—Nikon’s D600 and Canon’s EOS 6D—sell for around $2000 each. That’s not cheap, but it’s cheap for full-frame. Expect that more-for-less theme to continue.

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Cameras with big sensors will be popular in 2013, like the Sony Cyber RX1.

Strong sales for DSLRs and mirrorless cameras: Fewer people have been buying basic point-and-shoot cameras over the past few years, thanks to the con­venience and improved capabilities of camera-equipped smartphones. Smartphones are sufficient for handling everyday photography, but they’ve also introduced many casual shooters to the fun of photography—from which they develop an interest in higher-quality cameras that capture noticeably better photos.

According to 2012 estimates by the Consumer Electronics Association, DSLR sales are expected to increase by 13 percent this holiday season over 2011, while point-and-shoot sales will continue to trend downward by nearly 8 percent. And first-time DSLR owners will have a number of easy-to-use, well-priced op­­tions to choose from. You can find several good DSLRs for $500 to $1000 as a kit; and as noted earlier, some full-frame DSLRs are now available for about $2000.

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Samsung Galaxy Camera: It's connected.

Compact interchangeable-lens (or “mirrorless”) cameras have also matured nicely. Compared with just last year, the mirrorless category offers many more lens options to choose from, smaller bodies, and cameras built for both beginners and seasoned shooters.
App cameras and connected features: Wi-Fi–enabled cameras aren't new—they’ve been around since the Kodak EasyShare One debuted in 2005. However, we’ve never seen as many connected cameras as we have in the past year, and certainly not as many high-end models with wireless-sharing features.

Wi-Fi sharing is now an option in DSLRs and compact interchangeable-lens cameras, not just in basic point-and-shoots. Canon’s full-frame EOS 6D DSLR, Sony’s new NEX-6 and NEX-5R interchangeable-lens cameras, and Panasonic’s Lumix GH3 mirrorless camera all offer Wi-Fi sharing features to complement their high-end imaging and video capabilities. Sony’s latest NEX cameras also run proprietary, add-as-you-go apps that let you extend the camera's functionality over time.

On the point-and-shoot side, the 21X-optical-zoom Samsung Galaxy Camera is the most ambitious of the new breed, as it offers 4G and 3G connectivity, runs Android 4.1 and all its compatible apps, and boasts a huge 4.8-inch touchscreen. Nikon’s new Coolpix S800C compact camera also runs Android. Wireless sharing, apps, and smartphone-like features are bound to find their way into many more cameras in the next year.

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Canon's EOS 6D DSLR offers Wi-Fi sharing features.

4K/Ultra HD camcorders and DSLRs: Quite a bit of hype has surrounded 4K (or Ultra HD) TV recently, and you’ll see a few early-generation 4K HDTVs re­­leased in the upcoming year. But UltraHD is at least a few years away from being mainstream-ready, in large part because not a lot of 4K content is yet available for viewing. And no wonder: At 3840 by 2160 lines, 4K footage has four times the resolution of 1080p video.

Right now, the cameras and camcorders capable of capturing 4K footage are professional-level models, most of which cost several thousand dollars. The exception is the rugged $400 GoPro Hero3 camera, which can capture 4K video, but only at a sluggish rate of 15 frames per second. In the coming year, watch for more video-capable DSLRs and high-end consumer camcorders that can capture 4K video. These models will be strictly for the early-adopter crowd—very expensive and storage-hungry—and unless you've already bought a 4K TV or projector, will you notice the difference when viewing favorite videos?  —Tim Moynihan


Spoiler alert: Your current, top-of-the-line smartphone will be quite outdated by this time next year. That’s not entirely a bad thing: Advances in mobile technologies come at an astonishing pace, and smartphones will continue to get smarter and better as time goes on. So while you may think your current phone has a lot of nifty features, your next smartphone will be capable of even more.

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Nokia Lumia 920: It has Windows Phone 8.

But what kinds of improvements can we expect from smartphones in 2013? By looking at today's smartphones, we can get a sense of the kinds of features smartphone makers will focus on in the coming months. Here are some of them.

Wireless charging: This isn’t anything new: For years now, you’ve been able to charge your smartphone wirelessly, thanks to battery cases and charging pads from companies such as Duracell and Energizer. Only recently, however, have we started to see smartphones with inductive charging coils built into the handset itself, obviating the need for special cases or battery packs in order to charge the phone wirelessly. You can recharge models such as the HTC Droid DNA and the Nokia Lumia 920 with any wireless charger that supports the Qi standard, and more Qi-compatible handsets are expected in coming months.

Quad-core becomes the norm: Phones with quad-core processors may be newcomers, but we expect that they will quickly become standard in 2013. These processors let you run more-advanced apps on your smartphone, and they are especially good for playing games with high-definition graphics. If you still use a phone that has a single-core processor, it may be time to consider upgrading to something with a little more oomph under the hood.

Bigger screens: The era of smartphones equipped with small screens is quickly coming to an end. Most of the phones released in 2012 had screens measuring 4.3 inches or greater, and that trend seems likely to continue in 2013. While having a large screen makes a phone difficult to use one-handed, the extra screen space does have some significant benefits: You can view more of your content without constantly having to zoom in and out, and typing on the onscreen keyboard is much more enjoyable, thanks to the buttons' being larger and easier to tap accurately.

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The HTC Droid DNA has a built-in wireless charging feature.

NFC becomes big (again):Yes, it’s this old song and dance: Last year we predicted that near-field communication (NFC) would take off in 2012, and here we are a year later saying that it will surely happen in 2013. Most phones to­­day ship with an NFC chip, though many manufacturers, retailers, and customers don’t seem to know what to do with the technology.

Both Google and Microsoft let you use NFC to make purchases with your phone, but most people are reluctant to give up their physical wallet for a digital one. Samsung’s recent ad campaigns showing people sharing media via NFC may help in demonstrating ways that the technology can be useful for things besides mobile payments, but broad ac­­ceptance of near-field communication won't happen until the public is ready.

Armando Rodriguez


TVs and Digital Entertainment

In 2013, televisions are going to get bigger. Not in size, but in resolution, with the first displays to support Ultra High Definition resolutions hitting the market. The new Ultra HD standard offers two resolutions: 7680 by 4320 pixels (16 times as many pixels as on a standard HDTV), and 3840 by 2160 pixels (also known as 4K). Both can support frame rates of up to 120 frames per second for smoother video, and the higher resolution makes images sharper and more realistic. Several manufacturers have an­­nounced Ultra HD models: LG offers the 84-inch LG 84LM9600, and Sony has its Bravia KD-X9000. Because Ultra HD is so new, both are pricey—just under $20,000 for the LG, and $25,000 for the Sony.

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The Sony Bravia KD-X9000 is Ultra HD ready.

Ultra HD: These displays may share the problem that 3D TVs did at launch: lack of content. Although the Ultra HD standard has been finalized, no straightforward way to get Ultra HD content exists, as no Blu-ray or broadcast standard supports it. So buying an Ultra HD right now would appeal only to the most ardent early adopter, until a clear-cut way to deliver the content to your TV appears. In the meantime, Sony is lending early purchasers of its Bravia KD-X9000 model a server that is preloaded with Ultra HD content, including ten movies (ranging from the recent Spider-Man reboot to the classic The Bridge on the River Kwai) and other Ultra HD content, with the promise of more such offerings to come.

Smarter screens: Your TV may already be smart, but it will soon get smarter. Existing TVs can run various apps that let you do such things as watch Netflix movies and tweet—but that’s just the beginning. The range of apps available will continue to widen, with existing companies jumping into the TV app market. For in­­stance, Electronic Arts recently announced versions of the popular board games Monopoly and the Game of Life for Samsung Smart TVs, and other gaming companies are looking at this area.

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Because they are so new, Ultra HD TVs are pretty pricey, like the $20,000 LG 84LM9600.

The number of ways that your TV can receive this extra content will increase, too; the forthcoming ATSC 2.0 standard will allow broadcasters to send files to your TV on the same signal as the show itself, so they could offer things like alternate endings or behind-the-scenes videos similar to the ones found as extras on DVDs. This standard (to be finalized early in 2013) also offers the possibility for a TV to send data such as live sports stats to a second device—a phone or tablet, say—alongside the live video on the TV, for example, or a link to a website running a TV commercial.

However, the ATSC 2.0 standard won’t include support for broadcasting Ultra HD video; that will have to wait for ATSC 3.0, which won’t be ready until at least 2015. You’ll also have to add extra components to your media center when this standard rolls out, as current displays will require another decoder box.

Talking to your TV: Soon, yelling at your TV might actually be productive, since several manufacturers are adding voice control and other technologies to make your TV easier to use. Last year, Samsung launched sets with a feature called Smart Interaction, which blends voice, facial, and gesture recognition. This feature is being rolled out across a wider range of models in 2013.

The latest version of Google TV also includes voice control, so you can change channels or search by saying the name of the station or show. LG is the first maker to announce a TV that uses it: the G2 series will cost $1700 and $2300 for, re­­spectively, a 32- and a 47-inch model.

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LG G2 series with Google TV.

Apple has been experimenting with voice recognition for some time through Siri on the iPhone, and we hear persistent rumors that this might be one of the key features that its long-expected TV will offer, or that future models of the Apple TV receivers could include.
Richard Baguley

Next: Displays, 3D printing, and more

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