In an increasingly tech-driven world, what does 2014 have to offer? Geeta Padmanabhan turns the spotlight on some life-changing gadgets

Digiterati, have you tried Snapchat, the service that makes messages/photos/captions you send disappear in a few seconds once opened? The app with its swelling popularity among the young demands a re-think about data: do you need it around forever? In a remarkable step forward, 2014 may see Forever Internet and Erasable Internet living side by side.

What else is in store? “Your mobile devices and PCs will get more intelligent and remember your different passwords,” said J. Prasanna, AVS labs. “Advanced biometrics will enable scanning (fingerprint/retina) without devices. Sharper attack simulation on the cyber-world will force corporates to improve defence. Industrial houses will opt for more mobile devices — computers like raspberry pi — for logistics/checking. “You may not see a workstation at all!” Maria Xynou, The Centre for Internet and Society, foresees surveillance technologies getting smarter with artificial intelligence software, and people fending them off with crypto-like privacy software. “This might trigger more intrusive technologies,” she said.

Big data will grow bigger. Many of the products we depend on — Google's spell-checker, translation service, traffic maps, search-suggestions; Amazon.com's AMZN +0.13% media; Facebook’s News Feed, “friend” facilities — have come out of a huge cache of user data. But Kaspersky Lab expects cybercriminals to use refined mobile-phishing, banking-Trojans and mobile-botnets to hack and modify private information. VPN (virtual private network) services and Tor-anonymisers will become popular, demand for local encryption tools will spurt, it predicts.

Folding phones?

Now that curved display (G-Flex) is here, 2014 may bring in “roll-up or fold” smartphones/tablets to fit into our wallets. Also, with smarter tracking-tools and voice-recognition technology smartphones will become so intuitive and efficient that they may reflexively cater to our needs. “It will become a context engine — aware of where it is, where you are going, what you need,” said futurist Paul Saffo. Apple will launch the anticipated big-screen iPhones and iPads (12.9-inch or 13.3-inch), reports Digitimes. Upcoming iPhone models will have a 20mm chipset, and a choice between 4.7-inch and 6-inch display panel. But don't throw away your MacBook Air or MacPro yet.

“Prepare for a life-changing gadget,” says BBC, referring to Oculus Rift, a “consumer-focused virtual-reality headset”, to be launched by Kickstarter. You wear it and you'll see yourself running along a beach, flying in a spaceship, riding a roller-coaster, it says. Impatient for the “real” one? There are no tech hurdles to having a vehicle that is part-car, part-plane, part-drone parked outside your home, says Missy Cummings, Aeronautics/Astronautics Professor, MIT. The fly-by-wire Airbus is a drone, anyway. Automated systems with micro-second reactions will make transportation network — ground and air — safer. Your regular car will gain advanced tech features, from in-built sat-navs, parking assistance to voice-activated/touchscreen DVD players and radios.

Educator Sugata Mitra hopes to launch an entire school in the cloud — the tech-cloud. Retired teachers in remote areas will teach through Skype, classrooms will be beamed from all parts of the planet — “deep in the jungle, or high on a mountain.” Kids can just gather at one home for lessons, he said.

Robots will take longer strides in 2014. Google's Japanese start-up robot won the Darpa rescue-challenge by carrying out all the eight rescue-themed tasks ahead of rivals. Its dexterous, independent “robot army” will carry packages, push strollers. LiveScience reports Knightscope's five-foot K5 robot-cop's on-board sensor that can see, hear, touch and smell its surroundings will combine its observations with public data and use the information to predict if, when and where a crime is likely to occur. Asutosh Saxena's team at Cornell University has created a robot (PR2) programmed to free shop-assistants from drudgery — it packs purchases at check-out counters. Forrester Research's Jeff Ernst believes ICANN’s gTLD (generic top-level domain) program is a game-changer. The introduction of .brand and .category will help you choose products with ease and marketers fight off cybersquatters.

The best gift

To me the best gift of 2014 is the Copenhagen wheel. With an attached computer/sensor-aided device, this bicycle wheel monitors pedalling and activates an on-board electric-motor when you need support. Connecting wirelessly to the biker's smartphone, the device tracks distance travelled and elevation gained, shares with friends the number of calories burned, locks the wheel remotely as you walk away from the bike. An electric-hybrid bicycle!

Mark Anderson, Strategic News Service anticipates Apple's Siri-like products to get an upgrade, visualisation tools to usher in “seeing data.” Software-defined networking and storage will cause a “stampede to virtualise everything.” Technical work to break down barriers between clouds will spawn software that can run anywhere. E-mapping will include MALT (Micromapping, Advertising, Location/ID, Transactions). Indoor maps and location information will place advertising targeted at you, leading to transaction in which “your phone will direct you to where things on your shopping-list are. You pick them up, the store knows who you are, how you pay, and you’ll just walk out.”

Track these

- 2014 will see computers that can learn from their own mistakes.

- Spending on mobile, work-collaboration and video-conferencing apps will rise.

- Demand for “big data” analysts will soar.

- Small start-ups will raise money more through crowdfunding, less from venture capitalists.