How did our 2014 tech predictions do?

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As we approach the end of the year it becomes time to look back and reflect, and in the case of TechDigest, review just how right or wrong I was about the year. At the end of last year, I posted some predictions for 2014. So let’s see how I did.
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Prediction #1: KitKat makes Android as desirable as iOS

What I said:

“If you’ve had the chance to see Android KitKat in action (currently only available on the Nexus 5), then you’ll know it’s rather pretty. Whilst not a radical departure from earlier versions of Android, it’s both slick and works well with many of the things that iOS can’t do. As an iPhone user I can’t help but look on in envy at my girlfriend’s Nexus 5. Homescreen widgets, lovely Gmail support, and swishy graphics that look a whole lot nicer than Apple’s “my first mobile phone” flat designs. If Apple aren’t careful, they risk losing the one huge advantage they have: prestige.”

Result: Debatable.

One year on an Android is an increasingly desirable platform. Certainly in the software design stakes, Google has upped its game with its “material” design specification for apps, that was introduced with Android Lollipop (not KitKat, as I predicted). Like iOS, Android has gone more 2D – but is it as desirable as iOS? For me, Apple still has over all edge on slickness – with everything just feeling right.

On the hardware side, Apple is still in the lead too – with the iPhone 6 making for a beautiful piece of engineering compared to the many plastic Samsung horrors that we’ve seen so far this year. That said – the Galaxy Alpha – Samsung’s attempt at a metal body – is a very nice phone, and hey, the HTC One M8 doesn’t look all that bad either.
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Prediction #2: Apple up their game on iOS and do something (slightly) radical

What I said:

“Related to the above – surely Apple will have to do something radical to iOS? 2013 saw tinkering around the edges and a new lick of paint… but isn’t it time we had dynamic home screens like on Android, or maybe even proper multitasking? The iPhone will be seven years old next year – time for something fresher?”

Result: Correct…ish.

I’m going to claim a victory on this one. The release of iOS8, whilst lacking proper multitasking and major changes the homescreen, as I speculated did add a couple of new elements: Specifically, widgets for apps on notifications (so you can get, say, football scores without loading the app up, or archive an email without having to load it), and increasingly crucially the ability to send data between apps – such as having “widgets” in Safari and being able to send photos straight to Dropbox and the like from the Photos app. I did say “(slightly) radical” – and this does fundamentally change how iOS works.
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Prediction #3: Blackberry gives up (or switches to Android)

What I said:

“The writing is on the wall – and crucially, not being typed on a Blackberry. The company’s last ditch attempt at becoming a viable mobile platform holder with the Z10 has been a disaster – and they’re already exploring other options. Don’t be surprised if they try to go down the route of either making Android phones, or doing a Sega and focus on making apps… presumably they could carve out quite a niche in the business space, where the Blackberry name still has some credibility?”

Result: Sort-of Correct

2014 hasn’t been an amazing year for Blackberry, but it has been the start of the fightback. As I predicted, the company has sort-of given up – at least on the consumer market. And as I also predicted, it has (sort-of) switched to Android: The Blackberry Passport, which is being positioned as a business device complete with keyboard and larger screen has access to the Amazon App Store, and whilst it runs Blackberry’s own operating system, is cross-compatible with a wide range of Android apps. So in essence, the company has given up on running its own app platform and has outsourced it – a very sensible move.

One thing that I’d never have guessed in a million years is the surprisingly positive reception for the Blackberry Passport too – despite the weird screen size, and the fact it isn’t exactly selling like hotcakes, the phone has received a lot of critical praise.
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Prediction 4: Don’t expect to see any Amazon Drones

What I said:

“I’ve already explained at length why Amazon’s proposed drone service will be difficult to make a reality… so don’t expect it to go anywhere fast.. umm, literally.”

Result: 100% Correct.

Whilst not the most startling prediction, it does appear that Amazon’s drone announcement was just overblown PR fluff for the time being. That said, this year there has been more movement towards drone deliveries, with Amazon apparently hiring a drone test pilot in Cambridge, and Boris talking about drone delivery. Someone even came up with a drone that can help in medical emergencies.
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Prediction 5: Google Glass/Wearables to take off

What I said:

“Since Glass was unveiled last year it has been only available to developers… could 2014 finally see a consumer launch? Here’s hoping. Though Google will be entering a potentially crowded marketplace – whilst no one else is planning a headset that we know of, 2014 could be the year other wearable tech, like smartwatches, are taken seriously.”

Result: Depends how you interpret my loose language.

So back in June Google Glass did finally go on sale, but you still won’t get much change for a grand. Crucially, it hasn’t taken off in a big way, as I didn’t really predict anyway.

I did mention how wearables are going to take off, and whilst this is hard to quantify in any meaningful way, you can’t deny that this year has seen a lot of wearable action with fitness trackers taking off in a big way, and smartwatches growing in popularity. This year we saw Google launch its “Android Wear” platform and Samsung pump out a stack of new smartwatches – and of course, the announcement of the Apple Watch (will still won’t be available until next year).

So it has definitely been a big year for wearables – but sadly not Google Glass.
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Prediction 6: Women are taken seriously in games

What I said:

“There’s a mysterious group of gamers known as “women”, who actually make up the majority of gamers. And historically – and sadly contemporaneously – the “gaming community” has a habit of, well, being a bunch of dicks. Both metaphorically and literally.

The last year or so has seen some nice pushback though – with the likes of Anita Sarkeesian and others raising the problems with the gender politics of gaming… so hopefully developers have been taking note. Even if the studios are still run by slack-jawed misogynists, surely good business sense suggests it is not worth incurring the wrath of an increasingly vocal group of gamers who care about the representation of women?”

Result: Ah, how naive we were.

This year has been the year in which Gamergate managed to escalate the harassment of women in the games industry to whole new, depressing levels. But if there’s any good to have come out of the mess, at least we’ve seen almost every single vaguely credible figure in the games industry and beyond line-up to call out the neckbearded man-children.

Whilst there hasn’t been much material change in the way that AAA titles treat women, the excessive noise about the problem can only be a good thing – and it would be surprising if at least a few developers don’t take notice, at least even subconsciously when developing the next iteration of the major franchises. This year’s Call of Duty even had a woman in it. I mean, you couldn’t play as her, and you were still a meat-headed white bloke, but hey, its a good start, right?
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Prediction #6: No clear winner in PS4 vs Xbox One

What I said:

“Both consoles launched only a few weeks ago, only a week apart, so it will be very surprising if either manages to take a convincing lead. With near-parity on specs, and a near identical line-up of games and apps, there’s not much to differentiate the two – expect to see no clear winner next year, though chances are we’ll end up a situation similar to last gen, when the PS4 does slightly better in Japan, and the Xbox slightly better in America. Just don’t ask about Nintendo…”

Result: Too early to tell.

I’m definitely right that there is no clear winner – though just as at the end of last year, the PS4 does have a clear lead with it said to be outselling Microsoft’s machine by 2:1. That said, the Xbox One hasn’t been knocked out of the competition, and Microsoft is aggressively marketing its machine – having spent the last year repositioning it as a gaming console, for gamers, rather than as a multimedia device for TV viewers.

As expected, and after launching months later than in the West, the Xbox One was essentially dead-on-arrival in Japan, but it is still putting up a fight in America and Europe – even outselling the PS4 on some weeks, when particularly attractive bundles have been on sale. So don’t count it out just yet.
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Prediction #7: Third-party support for the Wii U dries up

What I said:

“It’s almost a grim inevitability but Nintendo’s 2014 third party support is almost certainly going to be worse than 2013. Developers have been running away from the ailing console already – not even FIFA 14 will be coming to the machine (and that’s released on pretty much everything). What has kept the Wii U afloat has been the ability to port across Xbox 360 and PS3 titles to the similarly spec’d machine though – hence why we saw Arkham City released with the console. This time next year though, what then? Whilst the rest of the gaming world has gone PS4/XBO, who’s going to be making games for the 360 and PS3, and thus something that could be easily moved across? (Downgrading a game made for the next gen is a lot more difficult).

So I predict with some confidence that the Wii U will be kept afloat pretty much by Nintendo titles alone.”

Result: Correct.

It was only last month that Watch Dogs finally arrived on WiiU, six months or more after it arrived on the other consoles – and even then it was clearly a lazy port, running at a lower resolution than on other systems.

Amongst the other major franchises, things were even worse: This year’s Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare and Assassin’s Creed Rogue (let alone Unity) didn’t even make it to the WiiU. To third parties, the machine is dead.

Of course, Nintendo fans do have a number of first party titles to look forward to after receiving Mario Kart and Smash Bros this year there is a new Zelda and a new Star Fox on the horizon amongst a few other first party titles. But there will still be a big space on the games shelf where all of that third-party support should be.
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Prediction #8: Nintendo milk retro appeal even further

What I said:

“Just how much more mileage can they get out of their back catalogue? Not content with re-releasing games, remaking them, or even remixing them (see NES Remix for Wii U) – Nintendo’s entire business appears to be backwards looking – panning for gold in an increasingly exhausted childhood memories of taking shrooms with Mario.

Don’t get me wrong – I like a little retro nod to the old World 1-1 music or Zelda pick-up as much as the next person… but it’s not exactly original, is it? It’s less about nods to the fans and more a nostalgia industry, that also devalues the original products. If only Nintendo would put the same effort to coming up with new games, formats and characters for the 21st century? Who knows, they could even come up with another female character who isn’t a princess!”

Result: Correct, of course. This is Nintendo we’re talking about.

So this year Nintendo has announced that it will be re-releasing Majora’s Mask on 3DS, and it has just finished re-making Pokemon Ruby and Sapphire for 3DS. We learned at E3 that next year we can look forward to “Mario Maker”, a piece of software that will let us design our own Mario levels in the old 8-bit style.

Then there’s the year’s big releases, of Mario Kart and Smash Bros which are essentially the same games as before, the Mario Kart DLC bringing in other Nintendo characters and perhaps most offensively of all, Amiibo figures. The idea with these latter toys is that you can use these figures of classic Nintendo characters (like Mario, Link, and, umm, Wii Fit Trainer) to unlock content in various Nintendo games.

Needless to say, Nintendo isn’t shy about looking backwards.
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So how’d I do? Not too badly, I think. Obviously some of the details were lacking, but nothing was outrageously wrong (as long as you’re being generous about Blackberry). So now the question is what about 2015? Check back soon for my 2015 predictions.
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James O’Malley