Three non-obvious predictions for 2014

December saw a flurry of 2014 technology forecasts. I predict the same thing will happen next year.

Forecasts fall into two categories. First there are those along the lines of ‘cloud computing company predicts 2014 will be the year of cloud computing’. In other words: advertising. Some are clever, some are ridiculously unsubtle.

A second group of forecasts are what Basil Fawlty would describe as “the bleeding obvious”.

In contrast here are three things I think will happen in 2014 that you couldn’t figure out simply by drawing a straight line graph though recent data:

The smartwatch is dead

Last week I had coffee with Fred Russo who runs Samsung’s PR here in New Zealand. While we were talking Fred took an incoming call on his Galaxy Gear watch hooked up to a smartphone.

On one level it was impressive in a vaguely science fictiony way. We’re talking nerd nirvana.

And yet that’s all it is. Smartwatches are ugly, clumsy devices that add  little, other than cost, the smartphone experience.

Sure, they’re likely to be a hit with the male geek crowd. And yes, Samsung, Sony, Pebble and others will inflict a million or so smartwatches on early adopters over the next 12 months or so.

A million devices is not a hit product. Smartwatches will not become mass market products like smartphones. Unless Apple does something great with the format.

Chromebook or something like it will thrive

Apple and Microsoft have left a yawning gap in the market for a low-cost, simple to use laptop. MacBooks are nice but expensive. Too expensive for many users. Meanwhile, rightly or wrongly the jarring Windows 8 user interface scares off potential Microsoft customers. And Windows laptops can be too complex for people who prefer simplicity.

Google’s Chromebook can be dirt cheap and is all the computer many users need. The category is new, yet companies like Acer have already squeezed prices below NZ$400. There’s potential to pack more value into Chromebooks in 2014. The devices could take off.

It’s just as possible tablets could fill the low-end, simple computing void and Chromebooks will never command a large market share, yet I can see Chromebook thrive.

Desktops, laptops, tablets and smartphones matter

Computer makers, particularly the second-tier Asian brands spent much of 2012 and 2013 playing with alternative computer formats. For example transformer-like devices that turn a smartphone into a desktop PC or something that is both a tablet and a laptop. We saw a few wackier items too.

This was a healthy exploration of the alternative formats and something of a creative flowering. It was also a dead-end. We now know the only formats that matter are desktops, laptops, tablets and smartphones. Yes there is blurring between these categories, but for now the key, practical device formats are locked in place.

Formats will change when computers get better at understanding human speech. You can see a hint of how this will work with Google Glass, but that device isn’t ready for mainstream acceptance.

Google’s NZ digital expert plan, not what it seems

Google NZ scored favourable publicity for its 'training plan' but it isn't philanthropy

Google NZ scored favourable publicity for its ‘training plan’ but it isn’t philanthropy

Hats off to Tony Keusgen and Google New Zealand for training recent graduates in the art of helping companies with online strategies. It may help ease smaller businesses into the online world ahead of the UltraFast Broadband roll-out.

Keusgen announced the plan to train 100 people at the recent Telecommunication Carriers Forum Mind Storm conference in Auckland.

He told delegates at the event the UFB network on its own will not get local companies moving online – partly because there aren’t enough people with the right skills serving smaller companies. He has a point.

The plan isn’t what it seems to be.

Google’s two-day training course will give people Google+ certification. The course details show it is about selling the company’s AdWords product.

In other words, it is not general training in online strategies, but training in using Google products and services to offer those online strategies. In other words it will bind 100 young people into Google’s world and by extension will make it easier for Google to sell to the thousands of companies they will consult to.

There’s nothing wrong in this. Nothing at all. Technology companies provide training to help customers and others buy things from them all the time. The products and services are complex. Sales people can’t whizz through these things in five minutes.

While there’s nothing wrong with it, it is not philanthropy. It is business development.

Yet that’s not how Google sold itsmessage to the Mind Storm audience and it is not how the media reported it. See The New Zealand Herald and at Radio New Zealand.

Reputation management, online advertising: not a good mix

Tweets began appearing within minutes of yesterday’s yarn about the launch of a New Zealand book on managing reputation risks. At the bottom of the page was an advertisement for Nickelback’s Auckland gigs. For those who don’t know, Nickelback is a Canadian faux rock band that most rock fans regard as, well, let’s just say dubious .

The advertisement damaged my reputation as a cool dude around town. There’s a lesson in that.

I’ve experimented with WordPress’ WordAds programme. WordAds is like Google Ads, serving up advertisements to readers based on words found in the posts.

Google Ads gives users a little control over the ads it displays, WordAds gives you no control at all.  Given the choice I’d prefer not to promote Nickelback on my site, after all I’ve a reputation to protect.

I fail to see how the WordAds algorithms made a link between reputation management and Nickelback. Ah, hang on, no perhaps it isn’t.

Either way, the important point is advertising is yet another avenue of reputation risk for online publishers to worry about. It was easy in the old days when publishers sold their advertising directly, but there’s less scope to reduce risk when using an automated service like WordAds.

Jokes about Nickelback aside, WordAds hasn’t shown anything flaky so far. I’ve used Google Ads on other sites and some advertisements have been extremely embarrassing. So, if you’re  worried about your online reputation, you may need to accept you can’t afford to display advertising.