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The 7 Biggest Tech Stories of 2014

Grace Dobush

As the year wraps up, let’s take a moment to review what happened in the tech world in the past 12 months. Here we recap the seven biggest tech stories of 2014, with notes on what to watch for in 2015.

Phones got bigger; tablets got smaller

Supersized smartphones – let’s just retire “phablet,” OK? – took center stage in 2014, blurring the lines between phones and tablets. The Apple iPhone 6 Plus (5.5”) wasn’t even the biggest of the bunch: Many phones topped 6 inches, including the Samsung Galaxy Mega (6.3”), Sony Xperia Z Ultra (6.4”), Google Nexus 6 (6”), Nokia Lumia 1520 and 1320 (6”), LG G Flex (6”). Size-conscious consumers had many options for small tablets this year: the Apple iPad Mini (7”), Amazon Kindle Fire HD 7 (7”), Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 (7”) and LG G Pad (7”).

What to watch for in 2015: More than half of all online American consumers own tablets, and 70 percent plan to buy one in the future, with total tablet sales expected to be about 80.4 million by the end of 2014. Rumors are swirling about whether a folding tablet from Samsung will debut next year. 

Consumer interest in 4K Ultra HD TVs grew exponentially

4K Ultra High-Definition TVs are no longer just a techie dream. In the United States alone, 800,000 4k Ultra HD TVs were sold in 2014, compared to about 154,000 in 2013. These next-generation televisions provide an immersive viewing experience with a minimum resolution four times standard HD’s.

What to watch for in 2015: CEA expects consumers to buy 3 million 4k Ultra HD TVs in 2015. Just this month, Amazon announced that its Instant Video service supports streaming in 4k Ultra HD. The 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janiero may be a tipping point for broadcasting 4k Ultra HD content.

Wearable tech got stylish

The first fitness trackers debuted at CES four years ago and the category has only grown since then. In the wristwear category, Sony SmartWatch 2, Samsung Galaxy Gear Watch, Microsoft Band and Pebble saw sales rise. And Google Glass opened the door for more experimentation with eyewear, including Intel and Luxxotica’s partnership to develop technologies for fashion brands.

What to watch for in 2015: Apple’s long-awaited watch will make its debut in the spring, and Gartner predicts half of consumers considering buying a wristband next year will buy a smartwatch instead. CEA expects sales in the wearables category to reach $400 million in 2015. Explore the Wearables, Sports Tech, Fitness and Technology, Health and Wellness and the Smart Watches Marketplace at CES to see what’s next.

Cybersecurity was at the forefront

This past year was a difficult one: The Ponemon Institute says 43 percent of firms reported data breaches in the past 12 months, with a number of retailers experiencing widespread, highly publicized cyberattacks. Symantec reported that hacking attacks were up 62 percent in 2014. Adding insult to injury, the Heartbleed bug – a major vulnerability that left about 500,000 seemingly secure websites open to attack – was publicly disclosed in April but had been in existence for more than two years. The Pew Research Internet Project reports that only 23 percent of Internet users believe their personal information is very secure; 46 percent say it is somewhat secure; 26 percent believe their information is not too secure or not secure at all.

What to watch for in 2015: Forrester Research predicts 60 percent of organizations will discover a data breach next year, and Pew found that 61 percent of Internet experts they surveyed believe there will be a data breach that causes massive harm by 2025. The world will only become more interconnected, so companies that pay attention to security and privacy now will protect themselves and their reputations. You can learn more at the Cyber Security marketplace presented by Gold Key at CES.

Virtual reality became reality

In 2014, VR hardware started changing the ways we entertain ourselves and each other: The Oculus Rift, Samsung’s Gear VR and Zeiss’ VR One are taking consumers to new dimensions. But VR isn’t just for fun and games: Its many uses for education and training are just starting to be explored. And the auto industry has been using VR to design and visualize new vehicles.

What to watch for in 2015: The augmented and virtual reality space is expected to grow by 15 percent each year through 2018, when it’s expected to be a $1 billion market. Explore VR in the Gaming Marketplace at CES.

The Internet of Things went mainstream

From the smart homes straight out of the Jetsons’ future to smart grids for public utilities and real-time monitoring of the environment, the possibilities of Internet of Things were on everyone’s minds this year. Connectability is practically presumed for consumers, whether they’re buying tech hardware or home appliances.

What to watch for in 2015: A study in October by CEA and Parks Associates found that 20 percent of households with broadband intend to buy at least one smart home device in the next year, bringing the total in use to 20.7 million units in 2014 and 35.9 million units by 2017. Forrester Research predicts we will see increased focus on software and applications for Internet of Things hardware in 2015, and Pew predicts the Internet of Things will thrive by 2025. Explore the possibilities of the Internet of Things’ in the new Smart Home Marketplace at CES.

Beacons got creative

Beacons are making microlocation marketing a reality, creating timely, specific and relevant interaction with customers based on their location, down to the inch. And unlike a QR code, beacons don’t require any action on the user’s behalf once they’ve downloaded the corresponding app and opted in. The range of hardware and protocols grew this year: Samsung just released Proximity to compete with Apple’s iBeacon, and both use Bluetooth LE technology.

What to watch for in 2015: Forrester Research says 2015 will be the breakout year for the “digital store”: smart retailers will integrate beacons and digital sales assistants into their bricks-and-mortar locations to serve customers better. We also anticipate that companies will devise more creative ways to use beacons as the public becomes more comfortable with the technology. If you’re attending CES, you can experience beacons using our mobile app to navigate the show.
Read more about what to expect in 2015 in i3’s Five Tech Trends to Watch