'Tis the season for list making. While many tech sites are taking stock of the year's best (and worst) products, I'd like to focus on the future. Specifically, five tech developments I'd love to see accelerate next year, and five I'd rather not bother with. Your mileage may vary.
All I Want For Christmas...
1. More Android-based digital cameras: Two manufacturers tried to blend the Android mobile operating system with a camera in 2012 -- Nikon with the Coolpix S800c and Samsung with the more ambitious Galaxy Camera. Both efforts received decidedly mixed reviews. Yet it's an area so promising I'm hoping we see more from the big names in the camera market before 2013 is done. The reason is obvious: while smartphones have made huge strides in image quality, even the best can't deliver the results of a solid point-and-shoot camera in low light or other challenging conditions.
Adding Android and wireless capabilities gives traditional cameras the best of both worlds: better interfaces and always-on connectivity, plus great photo capabilities. Android opens the door for third party developers to do some interesting things with a higher-powered camera. It may not be enough to save the point-and-shoot from oblivion, but it's worth a try.
2. Killer Windows Phones: I'm not prone to tech tribalism -- let a thousand flowers bloom, I say (and full disclosure: I'm an iPhone owner). But any marketplace needs healthy competition and right now the smartphone market is increasingly locked in a duopoly that could serve to be shaken up. While it looks unlikely that BlackBerry can be this third force, there is still a window (if you will) for Windows Phone 8. That window, however, is closing rapidly.
Two big flagships this year - the HTC 8x and the Lumia 920 - didn't exactly win across-the-board plaudits (although HTC fared better than the Nokia). And in any event, may not be enough to decisively move the needle. Microsoft will need more apps and impressive new hardware to have a fighting chance. But they have the cash and, unlike BlackBerry, haven't entered into a seemingly terminal death spiral.
Could the wild card be a Microsoft-branded phone? Here's hoping.
3. More fiber to the home: Speaking of duopolies, wouldn't it be nice if your local cable TV company had some serious competition? While some markets across the country have a viable alternative to cable in the form of a telco (like Verizon or AT&T), competition is still lacking and America's lackluster Internet speeds and ever-increasing pay TV bills are the result. This year, Google Fiber debuted bringing blistering Internet connections (plus a pay TV service) to Kansas City. While this kind of investment is expensive, bringing high-speed fiber to the home opens the door to higher quality TV, blindingly fast downloads and a mostly "future proof" network infrastructure that can handle ever-larger web traffic.
4. A driverless car: Sure, Google has promised one in five years, but I can't wait. Driving is one of the world's dullest chores -- to say nothing of one of the deadliest. The prospect of "crash-free driving" -- or at least, fewer crashes -- is definitely appealing. As is the notion that texting-while-driving, drinking-while-driving and sleeping-while-driving all become instantly permissable (if not encouraged) when the cars are doing the work. At least, I'm hoping they will be...
5. An iPhone 5Z: The "z" in this case stands for zoom, as in: I want the next iPhone to have an optical zoom lens. As noted above, smartphone photography has made tremendous strides but one of the real inhibitors is the lack of a quality zoom lens. I'm not asking for much -- 3x would be fine and probably all that we'd be able to cram into the impossibly slender phone bodies being pressed out by Apple. With a decent optical zoom lens on a smartphone, even the best "Android cameras" would be hard pressed to compete.
What I Don't Want
1. A 3D printer: Sure, sure, they're going to change the world. At least eventually. I don't doubt it, I just don't need to fill my home with any more plastic toys (my two children and Wal-Mart have filled that bill nicely, thank you very much). Right now, 3D printing in the home looks fairly complicated, expensive and confined to toys and other niche products. Call me when we're printing houses and replaceable hearts.
2. An Apple iTV: If it's not going to change the way TV channels and video content are distributed -- and it's not -- than there's no point. The Apple TV set top box is a fantastic product for delivering streaming Internet and personal digital content to the big screen (as is Roku's box). Dumping that interface plus the questionably performing Siri onto an overpriced LCD panel isn't terribly exciting. The big changes required to faciliate a TV revolution are going to happen in board rooms, where content licensing deals get hammered out. There's always the chance that Apple can prevail in these talks and successfully "unbundle" cable channels like HBO and ESPN and make them available to you ala carte, as apps on an iTV, but that's a long shot.
3. 4K TV: Geoffrey Morrison wrote the definitive take down of this technology and his reasoning seems iron-clad (it has math in it). Suffice it to say, 4K TV reeks of a gimmick foisted on us by the same folks who brought that must-miss technology: 3D TV. It makes sense for movies to be shot in 4K, since movie theater screens are huge, but it's literally impossible for your eyes to resolve 4K on a standard size home TV and no network available today could possibly deliver 4K content without huge upgrades (ahem, fiber to the home). I don't need Lucasfilm (or Disney) trying to market me yet another copy of Star Wars in yet another new format.
4. Any kind of robot/Terminator/Matrix-style dystopia: Each year, robots and artificial intelligence make significant strides, moving us closer to a seemingly inevitable showdown between humanity and their machine creation. Articles in serious magazines arguing -- plausibly! -- that we need to begin programming morals into our machines is good sign we're well on our way. It's a showdown for which I am spectacularly ill-equipped (unless the hours spent watching Survivor Man count as training). If it happens, I'm far more likely to be a human battery pack living blissfully in the Matrix than Neo. Better for my kids (or better, their kids) to deal with that one.
5. Anything to do with Facebook: Seriously, it's getting creepy already.