'Augmented reality' in a hands-free 2013

Gesture-based computing will become one of the biggest trends in 2013 as devices begin to make use of our eyes, and different movements of our hands.

Just like the technology in the 2002 sci-fi film Minority Report, gesture-based computing will enable people to control their smart TVs and computers using only their hands, and without having to touch a remote or keyboard.

In 2002, gesture-based computing was the stuff of sci-fi films.

Gadgets such as Samsung's MV900F – a digital camera that can zoom in and out or capture a shot just by waving your hand – already make use of gestures.

But it will take a company such as Leap Motion to truly revolutionise gesture-based computing in 2013 with the release of its iPod-sized controller, which senses your individual hand and finger movements so you can interact directly with your PC.

On Friday, ASUS announced it would bundle Leap Motion's gadget with select new computers "later this year". This deal will ensure widespread adoption of the technology. Eye-tracking is also set to become more prevalent in computers by way of accessories such as REX.

Made by tech company Tobii, REX can be used with software to track exactly what you're looking at on a screen, allowing you do things such as scroll sideways or blast moving asteroids with your eyes. Tobii is due to sell 5000 REXs later this year with pre-orders starting in March.

2. Vodafone Australia begins to make a come back

It might sound like a bit of a stretch, especially when you consider that in the two years to July 2012, Vodafone lost a million customers (a loss attributed primarily to poor network performance).

But hear me out. The company said last year that in "early 2013" it would begin rolling out a 4G LTE network "in selected areas" (something Telstra began rolling out in September 2011 and Optus in April 2012).

With that in mind, and the fact that it has been upgrading its 3G network to cope better with traffic by utilising dual-channel HSPA+ (DC-HSPA+) technology, I predict that the telco will make a significant comeback this year after users begin to notice significant network improvements.

Once its 4G network is rolled out in capital cities, Vodafone's iPhone 5 users will be some of the first users to notice faster speeds. Those who use 3G phones will probably also notice a difference once 4G users jump off the 3G network and onto 4G, meaning the 3G network will become less congested.

Essentially, 4G will lighten the load of its 3G network. But will it be enough for the telco, whose reputation has been damaged by past under-investment in its network, to win back customers?

Telsyte senior research analyst Chris Coughlan believes "post 2015 as a more realistic turn-around timeframe".

3. Augmented reality gets closer

Debuted in June last year, Project Glass, a research and development program by Google to make an augmented reality head-mounted display, will start to gain some traction this year after prototype devices ship early in the year to US Google I/O (input/output) developers who pre-ordered them for $US1500 ($1436).

A consumer version is expected to be ready within a year of the device shipping to developers. Project Glass has a lot of potential, and that potential will start to become clearer once developers get their hands on it.

Looking at the sky might show you the weather; looking at someone whose name you've forgotten could also become less awkward with facial recognition built-in; and remembering to get the milk and bread your husband or wife told you to get at the supermarket will become easier when notifications based on where you are pop up with reminders.

4. Smartphones flex their muscles

Cracked and broken screens are a common smartphone curse, but Samsung has developed bendable screens to make phones more flexible – and much less prone to breaking. The company is expected to unveil a 5.5-inch bendable display with a high-definition resolution of 1280 x 720 and 267 pixels per inch at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this month.

Samsung isn't the only one testing out bendable screens. Nokia previewed a prototype flexible mobile computer in October 2011 that you twist and bend to control, and also a special coating that can be applied to gadgets to repel water, oily fingerprints, dust and dirt.

5. Wi-Fi technology gets faster

The 802.11ac Wi-Fi standard is expected to be ratified this year, meaning data transfers of up to 1.3Gbps will be possible, theoretically, on first-generation gear in perfect conditions.

Transferring data via 802.11ac should also mean longer battery life for devices using it, as data will be delivered quicker. Reports suggest Apple's 2013 MacBook line-up will make use of the new standard care of chip maker Broadcom.

Devices such as the iPhone 5 currently use 802.11n technology, which supports up to 300 Mbps under the best conditions. This makes 802.11ac more than four times faster than what's currently available.

6. Hackers target your mobile/tablet

Ransomware – hacker software that holds a user's PC to ransom for money after they visit an infected website – will continue to be a problem and will rise to become one of the best ways for criminals to scam money.

Security company McAfee predicts that Ransomware will this year begin to affect mobile and tablet users, as well as PC users. Similarly, hackers will continue to hold businesses' data to ransom by breaking into their poorly secured servers and demanding money for files to be decrypted.

Although this type of hacking has been possible for some time, hackers will begin targeting new industries that haven't thought about computer security in the past. One such industry affected in late 2012 was the health industry: at least three medical centres were targeted in Queensland.

7. 'Find my iPhone' comes to anything and everything

Apple made losing your iPad or iPhone and then attempting to find it almost fun with its Find My iPhone app.

Now, a Florida start-up is taking a similar experience to other gadgets with its "StickNFind" Bluetooth-powered locations stickers.

The stickers, which are being crowd-funded on indiegogo.com, can be attached to almost anything including people, iPads, cameras, books or wallets, and then found using a smartphone app with a radar-like screen, which locates them within a 30-metre range.

StickNFind plans to distribute the stickers to backers of its project beginning in March.

8. TVs get bigger, better and clearer

You'd think TVs couldn't get any thinner, but just this week LG started taking pre-orders in South Korea for its wafer-thin, 4mm-thick, 55-inch OLED TV.

Large OLED TVs were meant to come to market late last year but were delayed because of manufacturing issues. This year, we'll finally start to see LG and Samsung bring them to market.

It's unclear when Sony and Panasonic will do the same. OLED is a new large-screen technology that is much more energy-efficient than traditional liquid crystal display (LCD) screens.

But with an expected Australian price tag of $10,000, the power savings will be hard to justify. An OLED display works without a backlight – hence why it doesn't use as much power as an LCD. It can therefore display deep black levels, which is also why it can be a lot thinner and lighter than an LCD.

9. Wireless charging comes to gadgets

Last year, Nokia released its Lumia 920, which utilises wireless charging via an inductive charging power mat that uses an electromagnetic field to transfer energy.

This year, wireless charging will become more prevalent on smartphones and gadgets as manufacturers figure out ways to make it work with their devices.

Inductive charging has advantages and disadvantages, but when used in conjunction with regular charging, it can be a neat feature for those who just want to place their device on a mat and have it charge without having to fiddle with a charger (especially in the dark).

Advantages of inductive charging include convenience and a lower risk of getting electrocuted, while disadvantages include its extra expense and the fact that devices can't be moved while charging.

10. Anonymity on the web disappears

Foursquare is the latest social networking website to crack down on anonymity online, but it definitely wasn't the first.

In September 2011, I wrote about the death of anonymity online and throughout 2012 a number of social networking sites moved to make sure you started using your real name. Many policies resulted in suspension if you used a fake name, and Facebook even started trialling a pop-up that asked your friends to confirm your identity to try to see if you were lying about your name. Because of this, I don't see anonymity on the web lasting too much longer.

 This reporter is on Facebook: /bengrubb

smh.com.au, with stuff.co.nz's Claire Rogers

In 2002, gesture-based computing was the stuff of sci-fi films.

In 2002, gesture-based computing was the stuff of sci-fi films.

Leap Motion in action Photo: Leap Motion

Leap Motion in action Photo: Leap Motion

Can Vodafone's rollout of 4G help it make a comeback? Photo: Getty Images

Can Vodafone's rollout of 4G help it make a comeback? Photo: Getty Images

A Google employee wears a pair of Glass. Photo: Getty Images/AFP

A Google employee wears a pair of Glass. Photo: Getty Images/AFP

Nokia shows off its bendable prototype device.

Nokia shows off its bendable prototype device.

"Ransomware" has been customised to scare Australians. Photo: Botnets.fr

"Ransomware" has been customised to scare Australians. Photo: Botnets.fr

The technology that helps you find things you've lost that use it.

The technology that helps you find things you've lost that use it.

LG's 55-inch OLED TV that is just 4-millimeters thick.

LG's 55-inch OLED TV that is just 4-millimeters thick.

Nokia Lumia 920 with inductive charging Photo: Nokia

Nokia Lumia 920 with inductive charging Photo: Nokia


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