Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Tech trends for 2013: Five things to watch

By Nilay Patel, Special to CNN
January 4, 2013 -- Updated 2219 GMT (0619 HKT)
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
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 2245 GMT (0645 HKT)
LZ Granderson says the cyber-standing ovation given to Robyn Lawley, an Australian plus-size model who posted unretouched photos, shows how crazy Americans' notions of beauty have become
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1156 GMT (1956 HKT)
A crisis like the Gaza conflict or the surge of immigrants can be an opportunity for a lame duck president, writes Julian Zelizer
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1822 GMT (0222 HKT)
Carol Costello says the league's light punishment sent the message that it didn't consider domestic violence a serious offense
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1251 GMT (2051 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says saggy pants aren't the kind of fashion statement protected by the First Amendment.
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1852 GMT (0252 HKT)
Margaret Hoover says some GOP legislators support a state's right to allow same-sex marriage and the right of churches, synagogues and mosques not to perform the sacrament
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1831 GMT (0231 HKT)
Megan McCracken and Jennifer Moreno say it's unacceptable for states to experiment with new execution procedures without full disclosure
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1850 GMT (0250 HKT)
Priya Satia says today's drones for bombardment and surveillance have their roots in the deadly history of Western aerial control of the Middle East that began in World War One
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1635 GMT (0035 HKT)
Jeff Yang says it's great to see the comics make an effort at diversifying the halls of justice
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1555 GMT (2355 HKT)
Rick Francona says the reported artillery firing from Russian territory is a sign Vladimir Putin has escalated the Ukraine battle
July 27, 2014 -- Updated 1822 GMT (0222 HKT)
Paul Callan says the fact that appeals delay the death penalty doesn't make it an unconstitutional punishment, as one judge ruled
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 2225 GMT (0625 HKT)
Pilot Robert Mark says it's been tough for the airline industry after the plane crashes in Ukraine and Taiwan.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1510 GMT (2310 HKT)
Jennifer DeVoe laments efforts to end subsidies that allow working Americans to finally afford health insurance.
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1533 GMT (2333 HKT)
Ruti Teitel says assigning a costly and humiliating "collective guilt" to Germany after WWI would end up teaching the global community hard lessons about who to blame for war crimes
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1245 GMT (2045 HKT)
John Sutter responds to criticism of his column on the ethics of eating dog.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1302 GMT (2102 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says it's tempting to ignore North Korea's antics as bluster but the cruel regime is dangerous.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1850 GMT (0250 HKT)
To the question "Is Putin evil?" Alexander Motyl says he is evil enough for condemnation by people of good will.
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1803 GMT (0203 HKT)
Laurie Garrett: Poor governance, ignorance, hysteria worsen the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia.
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1349 GMT (2149 HKT)
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 2205 GMT (0605 HKT)
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1142 GMT (1942 HKT)
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT)
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1317 GMT (2117 HKT)
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1637 GMT (0037 HKT)
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1413 GMT (2213 HKT)
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1630 GMT (0030 HKT)
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1408 GMT (2208 HKT)
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
ADVERTISEMENT