Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Tech trends for 2013: Five things to watch

By Nilay Patel, Special to CNN
updated 5:19 PM EST, Fri January 4, 2013
Nilay Patel asks whether Apple will be able to get its mojo back in 2013.
Nilay Patel asks whether Apple will be able to get its mojo back in 2013.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Nilay Patel: 2013 is the year of refinement and reckoning in the tech industry
  • Patel: There are five big developments to keep an eye on
  • He asks whether Apple will get its mojo back and what will Microsoft do?
  • Patel: Can Facebook grow up, and will Amazon be able to compete with Google?

Editor's note: Nilay Patel is the managing editor of The Verge, an online website that covers technology, science, art and culture. Follow him on Twitter: @reckless

(CNN) -- 2013 will be a year of harsh change for the tech industry. We've just experienced five years of rapid, messy and disruptive innovation, and smartphones and tablets aren't the future any longer -- they're the present.

Powerful mobile devices connected to broadband-speed cell networks are now an everyday reality, and it's going to take more than a bigger screen or faster processor to make an impact this year. Think of 2013 as the year of refinement and reckoning.

Here are five big developments to keep an eye on:

1. The future of Microsoft

Microsoft has been very candid about "missing a generation" of mobile innovation after Apple introduced the iPhone, and 2012 was all about the results of a furious catch-up effort: the company launched the completely rethought Windows 8 for PCs, Windows RT for tablets and Windows Phone 8 for smartphones. CEO Steve Ballmer also repositioned Microsoft as a "devices and services" company, and he introduced the Surface and Surface Pro, two tablets designed by Microsoft itself to compete with traditional PC companies such as Dell and Sony.

Nilay Patel
Nilay Patel

That's a lot of bold bets, and they all have to pay off in 2013. The PC era is over, and Microsoft has to show consumers it has something to offer in a world dominated by tablets and smartphones. Windows 8 and Surface sales appear to have been slow so far, so we'll see how the company does. There is one all-but-guaranteed bright spot, though: a new Xbox is due to be announced this year.

Top tech wishes for 2013

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



2. Can Apple get its software mojo back?

Apple found success in 2012 by introducing an iPhone with a bigger screen and an iPad with a smaller screen, but it'll have to focus on software in 2013 to stay ahead of the competition.

Apple CEO Tim Cook has now launched two iPhones since taking over for Steve Jobs, and both of them have come with buggy, incomplete flagship software features -- the iPhone 4S launched with the charming-but-not-so-useful Siri voice assistant, and the iPhone 5 launched with a homegrown Maps app so buggy that Cook was forced to apologize to customers.

In the meantime, archrival Google has begun shipping some of the best iPhone apps around -- I've replaced most of Apple's apps on my iPhone homescreen with Google-built replacements such as Gmail, Google Maps, Chrome and YouTube. Most of my peers in the industry have done the same. That's not a good sign.

Cook just fired Scott Forstall, the controversial head of iOS development who presided over Siri and Maps. Designer Jony Ive is now in charge of both hardware and software, so we'll see if the company can regain its reputation for state-of-the-art software design with the next iPhone and iPad.

3. Will Amazon go head to head with Apple and Google?

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos was very blunt when he introduced the new Kindle Fire HD in September -- he called it the "best tablet on the market." That was an obvious shot at Apple and the iPad, but Amazon's real competitor may well be Google, especially as the market for books, music and movies moves entirely online.

There's no way Amazon wants people searching Google to find content and products from multiple sources. Amazon wants to build an ecosystem so robust you never want to leave. Think of what Apple did for music with the iPod and iTunes and then imagine Amazon doing that for everything.

But the Kindle Fire products aren't good enough to compete with the iPad yet, and Amazon doesn't have all the services it needs to compete with Google either. It needs to offer at least e-mail and search, and a social experience wouldn't hurt either. That's not a small undertaking, but Amazon is one of the few companies with the scale, infrastructure and resources to make it happen. The rumors are getting louder. We'll see whether Amazon makes a big move in 2013.

4. Can Facebook grow up?

2013 will be Facebook's first year as a public company, and it has to prove that it can be a stable, reliable investment. That's no easy task: Facebook figured out how to make money selling ads on its website just as most of its users switched to smartphone and tablet apps.

Selling ads on mobile isn't nearly as easy, and Facebook has to figure out how to display relevant ads to smartphone users without crossing the privacy line -- a line about which users are increasingly worried. But CEO Mark Zuckerberg has to answer to his investors now, and the pressure to cross that line will increase every day that Facebook isn't making money in mobile.

5. Can Google take Android back from Samsung and the wireless carriers?

Here's the brutal truth of the smartphone market: the only companies that make any money are Apple and Samsung. Every other company, from HTC to Sony to Google's own Motorola, is struggling. And that's a huge problem for Google.

Apple obviously writes its own software for the iPhone, but Samsung's phones all run a customized version of Google's open-source Android, and Samsung is so dominant that it could very well split off and start building its own version of Android, just as Amazon did with the Kindle Fire. That would be a huge blow to Google. If the rest of the market can't make money using Android soon, it'll provide a big opening for Microsoft.

Google also has to find a way to limit the influence of wireless carriers on Android. Companies such as AT&T and Verizon are all too happy to load up Android devices with unnecessary crapware and bloatware that ruin the user experience while delaying important software updates.

The animosity between Google and the carriers has gotten so deep that Google's new Nexus 4 flagship device doesn't have an LTE radio; the carriers simply wouldn't cooperate.

That's in stark contrast to the iPhone experience, which is pristine and controlled by Apple from the start. It's a control that irritates power users but offers a sense of support and security to the rest of Apple's millions of customers. There's a happy balance between the two extremes, and Google needs to find it before Android begins to slip away entirely.

These are just five of the many interesting things to look out for in 2013, from the future of TV to the rise of wearable computing. After several years of rapid change, we've all got computers in our pockets. The next few years will be about what we do with them to make our lives better.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Nilay Patel.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 12:11 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Leon Aron says the U.S. and Europe can help get Russia out of Ukraine by helping Ukraine win its just war, sharing defense technologies and intelligence
updated 1:24 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Timothy Stanley the report on widespread child abuse in a British town reveals an institutional betrayal by police, social services and politicians. Negligent officials must face justice
updated 9:06 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say a new video of an American suicide bomber shows how Turkey's militant networks are key to jihadists' movement into Syria and Iraq. Turkey must stem the flow
updated 11:16 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Whitney Barkley says many for-profit colleges deceive students, charge exorbitant tuitions and make false promises
updated 10:34 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Mark O'Mara says the time has come to decide whether we really want police empowered to shoot those they believe are 'fleeing felons'
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Bill Frelick says a tool of rights workers is 'naming and shaming,' ensuring accountability for human rights crimes in conflicts. But what if wrongdoers know no shame?
updated 10:43 PM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Jay Parini says, no, a little girl shouldn't fire an Uzi, but none of should have easy access to guns: The Second Amendment was not written to give us such a 'right,' no matter what the NRA says
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat August 30, 2014
Terra Ziporyn Snider says many adolescents suffer chronic sleep deprivation, which can indeed lead to safety problems. Would starting school an hour later be so wrong?
updated 9:30 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peggy Drexler says after all the celebrity divorces, it's tempting to ask the question. But there are still considerable benefits to getting hitched
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
updated 6:42 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
updated 9:21 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
updated 9:19 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
updated 7:35 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
updated 7:26 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Jeff Yang says the tech sector's diversity numbers are embarrassing and the big players need to do more.
updated 4:53 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
updated 4:19 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Ed Bark says in this Emmy year, broadcasters CBS, ABC and PBS can all say they matched or exceeded HBO. These days that's no small feat
updated 3:19 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
updated 11:58 AM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
updated 3:50 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
updated 4:52 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
updated 12:29 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider say a YouTube video apparently posted by ISIS seems to show that the group has a surveillance drone, highlighting a new reality: Terrorist groups have technology once only used by states
updated 5:04 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
updated 5:45 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
updated 1:27 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
John Bare says the Ice Bucket Challenge signals a new kind of activism and peer-to-peer fund-raising.
updated 8:31 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
James Dawes says calling ISIS evil over and over again could very well make it harder to stop them.
updated 9:05 PM EDT, Sat August 23, 2014
As the inquiry into the shooting of Michael Brown continues, critics question the prosecutor's impartiality.
updated 6:47 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
Newt Gingrich says it's troubling that a vicious group like ISIS can recruit so many young men from Britain.
updated 10:50 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
David Weinberger says Twitter and other social networks have been vested with a responsibility, and a trust, they did not ask for.
updated 7:03 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
John Inazu says the slogan "We are Ferguson" is meant to express empathy and solidarity. It's not true: Not all of us live in those circumstances. But we all made them.
updated 8:23 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says he learned that the territory ISIS wants to control is amazingly complex.
updated 3:51 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Cerue Garlo says Liberia is desperate for help amid a Ebola outbreak that has touched every aspect of life.
updated 1:42 PM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Eric Liu says Republicans who want to restrict voting may win now, but the party will suffer in the long term.
updated 11:38 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Jay Parini: Jesus, Pope and now researchers agree: Wealth decreases our ability to sympathize with the poor.
updated 8:00 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Judy Melinek offers a medical examiner's perspective on what happens when police kill people like Michael Brown.
updated 6:03 PM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
updated 1:27 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT