vol 7, issue 12

Looking forward - 2013 predictions

17 December 2012
By Crispin Andrews, Vitali Vitaliev, Mark Harris, Chris Edwards, James Hayes, Mark Venables
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Who will be the winners and who the losers in 2013?

Who will be the winners and who the losers in 2013?

Communications graphic

Mobile phones are set to become our preferred web access device

Red bus graphic

Real-time information will feed transport apps

Drilling graphic

Fossil fuels continue their long reign but new extraction techniques could see production outstriping demand

Android graphic

Global mobile penetration will approach full saturation by the end of 2013

For rent / sale graphic

Success and failure within the electronics sector is fairly predictable due to the amount of momentum required

Information tech graphic

Can "big data" solutions start to pay their way?

UK map graphic

The UK's infrastructure budget could require an addtional £200bn investment over the next decade and beyond

E&T staff and contributors take a punt at predicting what's in and what's out across the seven engineering sectors in 2013.

Communications

Lucky for: Windows Phone, tablet devices, Web apps, HTML5, cloud storage, smart packaging
Unlucky for: laptops, non-smart mobile phones, local storage

According to technology research company Gartner mobile phones will overtake PCs as the most common Web access device next year. By 2015 over 80'per cent of the handsets sold will be smartphones. However, only 20 per cent of those handsets are likely to be Windows phones. By 2015 there'll be half as many media tablets sold as laptops.

No single tool will be optimal for all types of mobile application, so enterprises should expect to employ several. Six mobile architectures – native, special, hybrid, HTML 5, Message and No Client – will remain popular. There will be a long-term shift away from native apps to Web apps, as HTML5 becomes more capable. Gartner says that native apps won't disappear, and will always offer the best user experiences and the most sophisticated features. However, developers will need to use new design skills to deliver touch-optimised mobile applications that operate across a range of devices in a coordinated fashion

In 2013, the personal cloud will gradually replace the PC as the location where individuals keep their personal content, access their services and personal preferences and centre their digital lives. Communication and computing will merge at this portable, always-available place where increasingly people will go for all their digital needs. No single platform, form factor, technology or vendor will dominate. The personal cloud shifts the focus from the client device to cloud-based services delivered across devices.

It won't just be smartphones that can connect to the Internet, though. As consumer items go online, the term 'mobile' will no longer refer only to use of cellular handsets or tablets. Cellular technology is being embedded in pharmaceutical containers and automobiles. Smartphones and other intelligent devices won't just be using the 3G cellular network, they will be increasingly communicating via NFC, Bluetooth, LTE and Wi-Fi to a wide range of devices and peripherals, such as wristwatch displays, healthcare sensors, smart posters, and home entertainment systems.

Crispin Andrews

 

Transport

Lucky for: transport apps, TRL technology, eCall, wireless charging, electric vehicles, smartphone GPS
Unlucky for: travel company websites, deflectograph testing, gaz guzzlers, standard speed cameras, standalone satnav

Next year will be the year of the transport app. These apps will send personalised public travel information to people's smartphones. There will no longer be any need to trawl the Net for travel company websites, and then spend hours deciphering timetables: real-time information about disabled access, bus and train times will be delivered directly to travellers.

In response to the European Union's Transport Infrastructure Monitoring project (TRIM), the UK's Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) is trialling technology that analyses a road's structural integrity at high speed. TRIM encourages highways authorities to rethink the way they collect structural data from roads and pavements, and the TRL tech replaces the slower, site-based deflectograph tests used previously. The new technology allows analysts to drive a lorry along the road and take readings about how well the road copes in real time.

If you're in an accident, eCall technology could soon save your life. When airbags are deployed a SIM card embedded in the car automatically sends digital information about location and the type of vehicle straight to the emergency services. The SIM also keeps an emergency line open for voice contact if any of the car's occupants are able to speak. Motorists will no longer have to worry about their phone running out of charge or credit, or being able to reach it, after an accident. European Commission legislation is on the way to make this mandatory and trials are taking place now.

Several UK companies are trialling new ways of charging electric vehicles using inductive coupling. Charging by the roadside in designated areas such as taxi ranks or bus stops, or while on the move in embedded loops in the road, replaces charging at the beginning and end of journeys.

Speed cameras that record a specific speed at one point will be replaced by technology that measures the average speed between cameras. It will record the number plate several times over a segment of road. Route guidance systems in cars will be on their way out. The car will provide a screen but the intelligence will increasingly be in a hand-held device that interfaces with the car when plugged in.

Crispin Andrews

 

Energy

Lucky for: fossil fuels, wave power, hydro power, nuclear power
Unlucky for: photovoltaic manufacturers, wind farms

Fossil fuels will remain dominant throughout 2013. Oil prices are highly dependent on geopolitics but new shale drilling techniques will continue to exert downward pressure on them by increasing production in North America and around the world. The International Energy Authority (IEA) expects oil production slowly to outstrip demand, leading to a global buffer of around six million barrels per day by 2017.

While the USA is unlikely to achieve its much-hyped (but macro-economically dubious) goal of 'energy independence' in 2013, it will become a net exporter of natural gas within the next couple of years. A production tax credit for wind farms due to expire at the end of 2012 may not be renewed by a truculent Congress, while experimental wave power and methane hydrate harvesting projects could show initial results during 2013.

The price of polysilicon, the key component for photovoltaic solar panels, is likely to continue its slide, bottoming out in 2013 at around $21 per kilogram according to research firm NPD. Low prices and over-supply mean that many photovoltaic wafer, cell, and module makers are expected to close in the year ahead. On the positive side, surviving companies will increase market share and could benefit from the growing phenomenon of 'grid parity', where solar power becomes cheaper than power from the electric grid. Germany hopes to achieve grid parity for solar during 2013.

Thirteen nuclear power stations are due to go online during 2013, with a combined generating capacity of nearly 14GW. Apart from one in Russia, all are in developing nations (one in Argentina, two each for Korea and India, and seven in China). Renewable generation is also shifting to new markets, with non-OECD countries accounting for two-thirds of growth, largely via hydropower. China alone will account for almost 40 per cent of the 710GW of new renewable electricity capacity the IEA expects worldwide between 2011 and 2017.

As EU states finalise requirements for smart meters, the first large tenders are expected in the second half of 2013. Until then, the smart-meter roll-out is being led by Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America, with sales up over 50 per cent year on year.

Mark Harris

 

Consumer Tech

Lucky for: Android, Windows Phone 8, games consoles, Kindle, Google Nexus, Ouya, OLED Tvs, eTExt
Unlucky for: iPad, non-HDTVs, DVDs, CDs, paper

Gartner predicts that by 2013 mobile phones will overtake PCs as the most common connected devices. The global mobile subscriber base, already at over 90 per cent penetration, will approach full saturation by the end of the year. The Android operating system will continue its surge, accounting for more than 75 per cent of all smartphones sold and Microsoft will start a slow comeback with Windows Phone 8, although its market share is not expected to move beyond single figures.

Tablets will also enjoy a fantastic year, with Forrester Research predicting that a third of Americans will own a touchscreen device by 2016. Apple iPad's over 50 per cent market share will continue to decline, affected by strong challenges from Google's Nexus, Microsoft's Surface and Amazon's Kindle ranges. Mobile services will explode to match, accounting for nearly 40 per cent of total worldwide consumer technology spending in 2013, over half a trillion pounds.

It promises to be a big year for home entertainment too, and it will be make or break time for Microsoft and Sony, launching their eighth-generation Xbox 720 and PlayStation 4 consoles in time for Christmas. The powerful, expensive consoles will offer unprecedented graphics and gameplay but will arrive as casual and mobile gamers start to outnumber serious 'core' gamers. A surprise winner here could be Ouya, a low-cost (£65), open source Android-based console offering free gaming and HD graphics, due for release in April. OLED televisions will arrive on shelves in early 2013, although only in very small volumes.

Gartner expects consumer cloud content services to be built in to 90 per cent of all connected consumer devices by the end 2013, a trend that will accelerate the decline of traditional music and video technologies. Screen Digest expects video spending to fall steadily. Only video on demand will grow, in the US matching consumers' spending on music (around £6 a month) by the end of 2013.

And while you've probably heard of peak oil, you might not know that western Europe has already passed peak paper. In 2013, worldwide page volume from printers could dip beneath three trillion pages. Gartner reckons spending on e-text content including ebooks and online magazines will triple in the next four years.

Mark Harris

 

Electronics

Lucky for: Intel, Samsung, TSMC, ARM, Google
Unlucky for: Apple, Microsoft

For such a fast-moving industry, few companies implode in the space of a single year. Even fewer suddenly break into the big time. Despite all the talk of product lifecycles measured in months, it takes years to gain momentum, and to lose it. The success stories of 2013 sealed their fate some years ago; others will find their mistakes, or those of the wider economy, finally catching up with them.

Intel, Samsung and TSMC have the benefit of bulk in volume chip manufacture and have been using the cash from their operations to expand their factories. Although fabless Qualcomm – which publicly criticised supplier TSMC for supply problems in 2012 – briefly nipped ahead of Intel in terms of market capitalisation, you don't want to bet against the companies with the fabs even if their plants are not running at full capacity. Any downturn will hurt the weaker foundries and fab owners more. The exception will be ARM. For the short term, chipmakers have little choice but to keep on buying its processor cores and this will see the company expand from its mobile-phone base.

The revolution in mobile devices will continue but the emphasis will shift away from the very profitable high-end, where Apple has dominated, and down into the arena controlled by players such as Google. The mobile industry has shown in the past how renting devices can grow market share and, in a cash-strapped, depression-beset world, this model promises to make a bigger comeback. In turn, more of the money will flow to companies such as Google that piggy-back on the hardware makers and mobile operators.

The shine has already begun to come off Apple and it will take time for management changes to take effect. However, for most competitors, the company will be like Microsoft in losing in the most profitable way possible. But the odds are not good for Microsoft to address its long-term issues and provide good news for the companies waiting for Windows 8 to deliver on its promises.

Chris Edwards

 

Information Tech

Lucky for: Business Intelligence/analytics/data Scientists, cloud computing management/SaaS, data centres, mobile systems management, networking, security, virtualisation
Unlucky for: Flash development, in-house enterprise applications development, in-house systems skills, Microsoft Windows XP, printer support, telecoms switchboard maintenance, UNIX

The IT market has always been driven by technological trends and buzzwords, and for the last few years it has been on a roll with vendors and analysts in cahoots over emphasising the big-data phenomenon. It's easy to see why. Here is an industry phenomenon that provides opportunities for suppliers of both hardware and software solutions, with the added appeal that it presents ways for consultants and other kinds of service providers to offer 'big data'-branded offerings.

Many market-watchers are of the opinion that IT budget allocated to big-data solutions will repay its investment as organisations derive new value from existing data assets. However, 2013 may be the year that many big-data believers lose out as the truism that you can only find value in data if it actually exists hits home. Delving into their bloated data-sets, they discover that they are nowhere near as valuable as they had hoped. Worse still, they also find that the little value they do extract is not equal to what's been spent on big storage and analytical tools.

Winning IT departments in 2013, meanwhile, will look at their strategic investment plans and realise that pricey tools and consultants can only take them so far, and that what they really need is in-house expertise adept at 'sniffing-out' the value in existing data-sets, who are also smart enough to redefine data-management strategies with full respect to future requirements.

Enter the 'data scientist': a staff brainiac from a mathematical and statistical background, rather than computer science or Web analytics. The role of the data scientist was recently described by Harvard Business Review as the 'sexiest job of the 21st century', one "where the role is clear but the job description isn't". Data scientists will grow in demand: what will make them rarer is that an ability to understand the relationship between business data and business objectives is now an absolute requirement, as is the ability to become 'embedded' in directorates and project teams, and not remain closeted away with the IT crowd.

James Hayes

 

Built Environment

Lucky for: Internet of Things, building physicists, nano materials
Unlucky for: traditional building materials, light switches

Populations continue to grow around the world, placing greater stress on the Earth's depleting resources. Infrastructure has a role to play in transforming lives. Construction is always needed, but that need is becoming more urgent, as shown in the UK government's National Infrastructure Plan.

The NIP envisages an additional £200bn+ of investment in infrastructure over the next decade and beyond. This will help rebalance the economy and create growth in the future.

Overall, the sector faces many new challenges, or opportunities, depending on your point of view. Greater convergence with IT and control and automation continue to grow in importance as the built-environment sector grapples with sustainability issues on the road to delivering the smart communities of the future.

Possibly the most significant game-changers may come from technologies not usually associated with engineers within the sector. Sitting atop that list is the 'Internet of Things' (IOT), which, according to IT research firm Gartner could transform the way businesses and buildings work.

Another new job title is entering the lexicon of building engineers: the building physicist. The use of advanced analytical tools, skills and techniques allow engineers and architects to work with clients to design buildings that are comfortable to occupy, easy to use and light in their environmental impact. Building physics is the application of the principles of physics to the built environment, bringing a fundamental understanding of physics to improving the design of building fabrics and surrounding spaces. Underpinning this discipline is still the need for sustainability and driving that is making building more energy efficient.

Building materials themselves are continuing to develop, and innovations such as phase-change materials, breathable walls, solar glass and nano-materials are continuing to make inroads into the sector.

Another interesting innovation to keep an eye on may be the increased focus on attempts to run devices on DC that according to research from Bath University could make them more secure and energy efficient. The development could fundamentally change the way buildings are powered. If the study is successful, the homes and offices of the future could be powered by direct current electricity. There are many challenges to overcome, not least of all overcoming the inefficiency of the conversion process.

Mark Venables

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Transport: Travel technology

According to the Global Trends Report, released for the recent World Travel Market in London, the growing holiday tendency in 2013 is going to be the so-called 'digital detox'. More and more holidaymakers are going to opt for hotels and resorts with no Internet access to truly relax and to get away from it all. A number of hotels in Europe and America have started to advertise 'technology breaks' and 'be unplugged' packages, and the bookings have so far exceeded all expectations.

Travel industry experts explain this phenomenon by the increasing technologisation of everyday life often perceived as leading to tiredness and stress. It looks like the relatively new breed of 'techno-hotels' may find themselves in the 'unlucky' column, whereas pristine and technology-free resorts can expect an upsurge in bookings in 2013.

Some airlines charging excessively for excess baggage may find themselves among the unlucky too, simply because the whole procedure of luggage check-in seems to be balancing on the verge of extinction. Experts from Anglo-Pacific, UK's largest independent international removals company, insists that airlines would like checked baggage to vanish altogether as it slows down the turnaround on the tarmac, and baggage handlers have to be paid regardless of the number of pieces going into the hold. Also, if five years ago 85 per cent of passengers would routinely check in their baggage, now this figure has gone down to less than 20 per cent. In 2013, this trend is very likely to keep growing.

Summing up these two forecasts, here's my 'confidential' tip to all next year's would-be jetsetters and holidaymakers: in 2013, travel light by leaving some of your seemingly indispensable technology gadgets at home!

Vitali Vitaliev

Economics: Geopolitics

Now that US President Barack Obama has secured a second term, he may begin to act on his campaign promises of doubling research funding for 'key' government agencies. His ultimate goal is to invest more than three per cent of America's GDP in public and private R&D. Obama may also try to revive his Clean Energy Standard, a proposal to generate 80 per cent of the nation's electricity from clean energy sources by 2035. He will face stiff opposition from Congress, however, and further stimulus-level spending on energy technologies is very unlikely.

With growth estimated at around two per cent, America's slow recovery should continue into 2013 unless its politicians fail to avoid the looming 'fiscal cliff'. The European Commission expects the Eurozone economy to remain very weak, posting just 0.1 per cent growth in 2013, with the UK performing slightly better at 0.9'per cent. Even China is slowing down: it is likely to experience growth of seven per cent or less, its weakest figures in two decades.

Nevertheless, China's technology market will continue to enjoy growth of over 10 per cent, according to Forrester Research, compared to just five per cent in the US. China will also cement its position as the world's largest market for smartphones, accounting for more than a quarter of all sold in 2013. It remains to be seen how China's new premier will react to increasing technological protectionism in the EU and USA, as shown by the high tariffs likely to be imposed from 2013 on subsidised Chinese solar panels.

Governmental oversight of digital technologies is likely to accelerate in 2013. Regulators in the EU may follow the US lead in allowing retailers more freedom in discounting ebooks (annoying Apple) but preventing them from selling entire ranges at a loss (an allegation levelled at Amazon). The EU is also considering action against Google for privacy and antitrust violations, and against Microsoft for failing to ensure browser choice among Windows PC users.

Scarier for multinational tech companies will be a crackdown on tax avoidance strategies such as profit-shifting and transfer pricing. UK Chancellor George Osborne and Germany's finance minister are backing an OECD initiative on corporate tax reform to be presented at the next G20 meeting.

Mark Harris

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