Technology and Gaming: What to Expect from 2014
The original images for this article have been omitted as the copyright owners could not be determined. I can also only apologise for the awful jokes that I wrote in my early twenties! - Ed.
As all avid blog readers know, pundits are notoriously terrible at predicting the future. As I clearly haven’t achieved enough in my life to be considered one I believe I can lend a fresh perspective when it comes to the age old problem of “Whoa… I mean… what’s going to happen in…like…THE FUTURE”.
For those of you still lucid enough to read this article without becoming distracted by the size of your own hand, here are some tongue-in-cheek insights from a developery-writery person into some of the more exciting things we can expect to happen in the next year. Unless they don’t because of a bizarre twist of fate that no one except Elon Musk saw coming.
Elite: Dangerous Will Take the World by Storm
If you have not already been following this game head over to https://elite.frontier.co.uk. Aside from the fact that this crowdfunded game is being produced by the legendary David Braben and his development team, this promises to be THE blockbuster title of 2014.
Not only do you have complete freedom to be a complete smeghead to every other player and NPC that you come across (and you will probably have your mind blown by playing it while wearing an Oculus Rift), there is also a good chance that the game will not like you’re editing a spreadsheet like “Eve: Online” often does.
Planet-fall, wandering around inside your own ship, and modelling your own character, are all actively being worked on this “alpha” stage title that shows a good deal of promise. Check out the game website for further details on release date, etc.
FaceTime Voice Will Flop Almost as Hard as iTunes Ping
Can you remember what iTunes Ping even is? Don’t worry, you are not in the minority. Ping was meant to be a social network grafted into iTunes, but rather than enhancing the application with social features, it felt more like someone had grafted Noel Edmonds’ head onto Peter Kay’s body. iTunes is already a bloated application that has to stop every so often to have a rest, but attaching an annoying tool that wants to let you know its opinion on everything whether you like it or not turned out to not be quite as popular as Apple intended, and so it was unceremoniously destroyed in 2012.
In the case of FaceTime Voice, Apple seem to have forgotten that a VoIP network is only as strong as the number of people you can actually call with it. For as long as it is paired exclusively to devices coming out of the Steve Jobs dream factory, the service will be a barren wasteland compared to more established cross-platform solutions like Skype and Google Hangouts.
If the “walled-garden” approach continues, then I do not think that this technology has much of a future; But Apple could surprise us all, and open up their VoIP system for the world to use. A sensible gambler would probably opt for the more pessimistic view on this one.
Internet TV Stations/Channels Will Become More Mainstream
Over the coming year we will see the expansion of IPTV from a range of devices like Google Chromecast, Apple TV, Roku & YouView boxes. We could even see the beginning of the transition of these boxes turning into USB dongles that you can accidentally drop down the back of your sofa, or they may be baked into the a “smart TV” you can wave your hands at to change the channel like a rubbish Jedi.
The one thing these devices have in common is that they utilise modern broadband connections to draw content from catch-up TV providers and streaming services like Netflix, LoveFilm and Hulu. However, there is nothing to say that existing TV providers will be the only networks releasing content; anyone will be able to create their own channel with content accessible from millions of devices around the world, instead of waiting for an evil corporate network producer to give them a thumbs up and then cancel the show just when it starts getting popular. User-contributed video sources such as YouTube and Vimeo will become increasingly important over the next decade.
This will also make a change from the usual trash TV designed to appeal to the lowest common denominator and will mean exciting niche content that we were previously enjoying through our web browsers from places like Rooster Teeth, College Humor and Geek and Sundry will be delivered your living room TV instead. The costs of production are lower, but the potential rewards and exposure for new talent could be similar to that which existing networks enjoy. This means we’ll see more interesting original content that will expand over time, only with the added quirk that your parents still won’t understand why you’re watching that instead of Strictly Come Dancing or The X Factor like a normal person.
Steam Boxes Will be a Runaway Success
Can you even call yourself a “gamer” if you do not have a vast library of Steam games that you have never even played? In fact, you don’t even know you even HAVE half the games you own. Week-in-week-out, Valve comes knocking on our metaphorical doors with yet another “Steam sale”, and it leaves us clutching our legs and rocking forwards and backwards in a cold shower muttering “WHY?! I need to EAT this month!”
Steam has blown everyone’s mind by creating an open specification for a “Steam box” games console, has created a control pad that makes geeks the world over collectively wet themselves with excitement, and will be running them on Linux. Gabe Newell has also become a hero in the world of technology by pointing out how crap Windows 8 is, and porting most of Valve’s titles across to SteamOS as a result.
We have been seeing videos of console prototypes for some time, but in 2014 we will start to see these devices hitting shelves at mainstream shopping outlets. It will be interesting to see how Microsoft, Sony & Nintendo respond, particularly as Steam boxes do not require a subscription for web-based features, or charge £70 to download a digital copy of game, that then charges another £50 for DLC containing features that should have been part of the game at launch anyway.
New Linux-based Mobile Devices Will Start to Conquer Emerging Markets
There is a whole string of Linux-based mobile operating systems that will either arrive on devices for the first time or partner with new carriers in coming years. If you have not checked out Sailfish OS, Firefox OS or Ubuntu Touch then there are countless YouTube videos, over-designed promotional websites and angry forum battles about which of them will dominate.
The level of success they will reach in Western markets could be limited given the proven dominance of Android (another Linux-based OS) devices, Apple’s iOS and Microsoft’s Windows Phone platform, all of which are presently eating up the lion’s share of the mobile market. However, in emerging markets such as Eastern Europe, Latin America, Africa & Asia there is considerable growth potential …assuming another system that has been in production longer called Tizen does not just strangle them all at birth.
Nuclear Fusion Will Become Efficient Enough to Enable Real World Trials Before the Decade is out
The current solution being mooted for the energy crisis is creating our own sun. The main issue however with creating your own sun is it takes more energy to create one than you get back out again. However, in the past year we’ve gotten dangerously close to building a self-sustaining nuclear fusion generator that produces as much power as we put in.
I am going to go out on a limb here and predict that in the coming year someone somewhere will have a breakthrough that will not only make a reactor that is self-sustaining, but will produce more power than it puts in; even if we do not see a breakthrough as major as that, we should expect to have self-sustaining fusion reactors before the end of next year.
If we achieve either of these things, it is not hard to see how by the time this decade is out we would not have fusion reactors that can be used for small-scale trials.
…or discover that we have accidentally roasted the entire planet by creating a fusion reaction that expands exponentially. But I prefer to be optimistic about these things; After all, the CERN supercollider did not result in us all being spaghettified and compressed into a single point of infinite density from which even light cannot escape.
3D Printers Will be Brought to Space for the First Time
Let’s be honest, 3D printers are pretty damn cool. You can create 3D reproductions of just about anything from a computer. When these things are in every home we will be truly living in the future …for real this time.
At the moment, 3D printers you will likely have come across will be those that just make objects out of plastic. However, there are examples of using 3D printing to build houses, prepare disgusting food, replace components of broken machines and cars, etc.
Unsurprisingly, this technology has applications for space travel and NASA are planning to bring 3D printers into space for the first time next summer. If you are not excited about this technology then you should be, as it will be getting cheap enough for everyone to spend hours figuring out how to use within the next decade or so.
Windows 8 Sales Will Continue to Tank Hard
This is one of those points that I don’t think I need to write an huge amount on. Windows 8 is like the ill-conceived lovechild of a table and a chair. You generally prefer to sit on a chair and eat off a table, but Microsoft have decided that grafting the two together so that you can eat off a chair and sit on a table is a sensible idea, because chairs don’t take up as much space and “chairs are the future”. The world has responded by pointing out that it would be much better to keep the two things separate, so that you can make the best chair you can possibly sit on, and the best table you can possible eat off of, rather than trying to change everyone’s dining habits. Microsoft has responded by offering an extra stool that you can sit on, but you still have to eat off the chair instead of the table while their designers thumb their nose at you and blow raspberries.
Unsurprisingly, Windows 8 is selling worse than Windows Vista as no one sees any benefit of upgrading from Windows 7. Some governments and companies are becoming so fed up with Microsoft’s shenanigans that they are buying Macs or installing Ubuntu instead! Some are even grimly sticking with Windows XP to the bitter end (i.e. until a 14 year old with some spare time hacks into their network and destroys them). I suspect the next Windows will be the beginning of the end of the interface Windows 8 introduced, but we may not see that until 2015 or later.
Bitcoin is (Probably) Doomed
This year bitcoin hit a dizzying high of $1000 per unit. That then halved a week later when the Chinese government pointed out it was not a real currency and they want nothing to do with it. Regulators around the world are also beginning to eye blockchain-based technologies with interest, and the flaws inherent with a deflationary currency with no central stabilisation mechanism may already be starting to come to fruition.
That is not to say that the idea behind cryptocurrencies is bad, as being able to transfer money around the world without transaction fees, and the ability to store money away in case paper-based currencies drop, will continue to be an attractive one that even cynics like myself can understand.
However, at the time of writing, the first Bitcoin bubble has just burst, and there is potentially a long way to fall before it will rise back to a stable price. Analysts are currently expecting that to be around $200 before it starts to recover, but as Bitcoin has no inherent value, and a number of alternative cryptocurrencies that could supersede it are now being developed, it is really very difficult to predict anything about Bitcoin and its future with any accuracy.
In short, Bitcoin is NOT a safe investment. It could stop existing at a moment’s notice and make all your money disappear, or it could last a decade and make you rich beyond your wildest dreams. There is really no way to tell, and anyone insisting that they definitely know it will be successful, is either deeply misguided or trying to scam you.
The Slow Death of Blackberry Will Meet its Gory Conclusion
Things are not going well for Blackberry. They’ve just had another nightmare quarter where they reported a loss of $4.4 billion. They also sold 10 million fewer devices than at the same time last year. Of those, three quarters of those devices were still running Blackberry 7, rather than the platform that they are currently pushing (Blackberry 10).
In better news, Blackberry Messenger was released on iOS & Android and has been wildly popular, but sadly Blackberry does not actually make any money from that! Businesses have also not been rushing to upgrade to Blackberry 10 because it needs them to purchase Blackberry Enterprise Server 10 …which is not compatible with their existing stockpiles of Blackberry 7 devices. What were Blackberry thinking?!
Though the company has $3.2 billion sat in its coffers for now, another quarter or two like this one will see its war chest depleted. Expect this company to be broken up and sold before the end of 2014, and if it does, by some miracle, still exist, perhaps because they have been bailed out by the Canadian government, or because QNX becomes its main cash cow, it will be a frail, struggling shadow of its former self.
BYOD will Become the New Normal in Most Workplaces …for Mobile Devices
With the collapse of Blackberry, the last thing businesses in this tough economic climate want to do is replace every corporate smartphone and upgrade Blackberry Enterprise Server, particularly when there might be no company left to support it by the time it is rolled out. For this reason, they will likely opt for the more cost-effective approach of letting employees use any smartphone that has a mail client. This will not be so great if your employer stops paying for business-related calls on personal equipment, but at least it will be one less device for everyone to carry around.
We will also see tablet PCs appearing in more office spaces over the coming year. Whether these are deployed by the businesses themselves remains to be seen, but employees bringing in their own slate devices to read documents, keep notes at meetings, read emails and sneakily check their Facebook account on company time will continue to become a more mainstream pursuit, particularly as tablet PC sales may already have overtaken desktop PC sales.
Community-Backed & Kickstarted Projects Will Continue to Grow in Popularity & Shake up Established Industries
We are already seeing crowdfunded projects that are changing our industry. Ouya for example has spawned dozens of copycat cut-price Android-based consoles, and it is now the go-to way to develop indie games for that platform. We will also see more interesting ideas such as community-backed magazines like Linux Voice and independent movies like Wish I Was Here.
Due to the nature of how Kickstarter & IndieGoGo work, it is hard to predict the kinds of ideas we will see over the coming year, but if 2013 is any indication of the future, then we should expect these platforms to continue being a hotbed of innovation and invention.
Tech Companies Will Pilot Drone Delivery Services
Amazon announced not too long ago that their R&D department is currently working on a service called Prime Air which will deliver small packages to you on the same day using company-owned drones. Just be careful what you are getting up to when it arrives, because these devices have cameras!
If Amazon does go ahead with this idea, then it could be start of a new drone delivery industry. That is great for courier companies, but not so good for the couriers themselves. Of course, there is also the potential that your package will be lost due to light cloud cover disrupting its GPS signal, or stolen because a teenager with a BB gun shot down your drone delivery so that they can read the paperback copy of “Fifty Shades of Grey” you just ordered. But at least if they do arrive you will receive products you are unable to 3D print a lot quicker than you otherwise would have.
Google Will (Hopefully Not) Become Skynet
Google recently acquired Boston Dynamics, a company primarily concerned with military robots. Given this is the same company that aggregates the collective knowledge of the entire human race and knows everything about you, there is a potential nightmare scenario in which Google creates a new anti-virus programme with its own AI that becomes self-aware, hacks into the Pentagon and starts World War III.
More likely though, by the end of 2014 we will see the first successful trials of self-driving cars in the UK, and Google will play a major part in making that happen. While the case for funding that technology instead of increasing public transport capacity seems questionable, I hope that happens rather than robots from the future turning up to kill John Connor!