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

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Thinner. Higher-definition. Less power-hungry. You can expect these traits to define monitors for desktop and laptop computers for the next two years.

Buyers want, and even expect, longer battery life and sleeker design with every generation of displays. So manufacturers have every reason to keep turning out devices that satisfy that market, recognizing that buyers deem the display to be a crucial part of the user experience.

Touchscreens: Windows 8 integrates touch support as no previous version of Windows has done. In the new Windows Start screen and in Windows Store applications, you’ll be able to use a multitude of touch gestures, many of them involving full, ten-point multitouch interaction; that is, the display will recognize the unique input from all ten fingers. And numerous multitouch displays that fully support Windows 8 are on the horizon.

Some new Windows 8 devices come with pressure-sensitive styluses that let you draw or paint digitally with predictable precision; we’ll continue to see more such products in the coming year.

And what about Apple? iOS devices have led the way for Apple in offering high-definition displays, so it stands to reason that its touchscreen technology may also be on the way to the Mac, de­­spite the company's long-standing reluctance to adopt it. After all, competitors like HP have been putting touchscreens on desktop and laptop PCs for years.
While Apple has so far been careful to maintain the boundary between its iOS and Mac operating systems, it would be harder to maintain that separation if everything had a touchscreen. The latest versions of the Mac OS have used trackpads as a touch-by-proxy system, and the market seems to like that compromise.

dell S2340T display
Dell S2340T: Display has flexible, tilting stand.

Better resolution, but slowly: The first rule of monitor shopping is, Don’t skimp on image quality! You can work around awkward pedestals and poorly located cable connectors. But you’ll be staring at your screen day in and day out, so it’s not the place to economize.

Luckily, current-generation touch displays, though expensive, appear to use high-quality components. Most boast IPS (in-plane switching) technology, which offers a wide range of satisfactory viewing angles plus good color fidelity. Samsung is coming out with new PLS (plane-to-line switching) displays, which the company claims beat their IPS rivals in viewing angle, brightness, image quality, and cost of production. Analysts expect to see Samsung’s series of low-end PLS-based monitors at some point in 2013.

Right now, you won’t find multitouch desktop displays capable of resolutions higher than 1920 by 1080 (also known as “full HD”). Even 27-inch touch displays are limited to 1080p; and no 2560-by-1440-resolution displays with capacitive touch are yet available for discrete, stand-alone monitors. Fortunately, however, the display quality at 1080p is great on many touch displays.

The possibility of integrating multitouch in high-res monitors is not far-fetched. Case in point: Dell already sells a 27-inch all-in-one—the XPS One—that features native 2560 by 1440 resolution. Whether future touch displays take this direction will depend largely on consumer demand and on how much consumers are willing to pay. Prices of 27-inch, 2560-by-1440­pixel panels are starting to drop, so it’s likely that we’ll see some high-resolution models with multitouch support in 2013.

In mid-2012, Apple began bringing its high-definition Retina screen to the MacBook Pro in stages. Those high-def screens are expensive, but so far consumers seem to be prepared to pay for them. Even so, the rollout could happen slowly on the desktop, largely because using standard-definition technology for displays of 19 inches or greater remains more cost effective. That means that the iMac could be the last to go Retina.

But larger displays might not even be the best use of Retina technology. You could argue that it’s overkill for a 24- or 27-inch monitor; it would be gorgeous, but it would also be awfully expensive.

More screen space and better ergonomics: Smaller bezels and shrinking profiles are likely to become the norm for both freestanding computer displays and all-in-ones. The newest line of iMacs are 45 percent thinner and 8 pounds lighter than previous generations of the computer, and offer a glimpse of what is to come across the board. One added benefit: The slimmer the display panel, the lower the power consumption.

Product designers are doing interesting things with stands and ergonomics, too. The Acer T232HL LCD monitor uses a single, curved bar attached via a ratcheted spring mechanism to enable the display to tilt at various angles, depending on how you want to use the hardware. Dell’s S2340T (a multitouch display, like the Acer) offers an impressively flexible stand that you can tilt easily at various angles—or even make completely flat. Plus, its USB 3.0 ports are located on the base and are easy to reach.

Because of the latest in touch integration, we can expect to see more such innovative ideas on the ergonomic front.      
Loyd Case and Joel Mathis

3D Printing

3d printing

What can you do with 3D printing? What can’t you do with it? Although the technology is still quite young, it’s loaded with potential.

Right now, most consumer-grade 3D printers use ABS plastic as their primary building material; ABS is the material that makes up Lego bricks, but it’s relatively brittle, which limits what you can do with it. You can expect to see more-versatile 3D printers come to market in the not-too-distant future. And 3D printers will become considerably more precise: The new Replicator 2 from MakerBot, for instance, can lay down layers of plastic that are 100 microns thick—about as thick as a sheet of paper. The thinner the layers, the better the result.

Consumer-grade 3D printing remains in its infancy, but the technology could one day revolutionize manufacturing. Imagine: Instead of running out and buying your kid a new action figure for her birthday, you could purchase and download a file that tells your 3D printer how to print one out for you. Now that’s instant gratification.       —Nick Mediati


Western Digital’s My Net 900 Central has an included hard drive.

The IEEE should ratify the 802.11ac standard this year, which will make people more comfortable buying routers based on that standard (rather than on a draft of the standard). The performance of 802.11ac routers from Asus, Linksys, Netgear, and other manufacturers knocked our socks off in 2012, delivering high throughput and surprisingly good range using the un-crowded 5GHz frequency spectrum. We also expect to see more 802.11ac media bridges shipping this year; buying two expensive routers so you can configure one as a bridge is an unnecessary pain in the neck.

Two other trends should be­­come stronger this year: First, more companies will manufacture routers that include integrated hard drives, similar to Western Digital’s My Net 900 Central and Netgear’s Centria line of routers. Second, routers will become even more connected to the cloud, which will make it easier for you to reach your home network when you are on the road.    —Mike Brown


Hybrid hard drives will be the norm in 2013.

We expect to see many more hybrid hard drives arriving in 2013. Seagate and Samsung were first to market with these devices, which combine a large cache of flash memory with a moderate-size mechanical drive. The hybrids deliver some of the speed of a solid-state drive as well as the voluminous capacity of a conventional hard drive. Both Western Digital and Toshiba plan to enter this market. WD has not disclosed its plans in de­­tail, but Toshiba has announced that it will offer a 1TB hybrid drive outfitted with 8GB of flash—enough memory to load an operating system and frequently used files.

Hard drive prices will likely remain high through the year—the industry is still recovering from the mass flooding in Thailand that damaged much of its production capacity. At the same time, the prices for true SSDs will continue to fall, as production of 20nm NAND flash ramps up.     —Mike Brown

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