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5 Big Tech Predictions for 2013

Tuesday - 1/1/2013, 7:00pm  ET

Editor's note: A previous version of this article incorrectly referred to genomic nucleotide markers as genes. The Fool regrets the error.

We're ready to step forward into a new year. How will it unfold? That depends on whom you ask. This past year has been full of surprises, from Google's Project Glass to the rise of 3-D printing's "maker movement" after nearly two decades of the technology's existence. Neither of these technologies had the impact on human life that the headlines promised, but 2013 is a new year, with the promise of new advancements.

What major technological developments will 2013 bring? Robot butlers and flying cars aren't on the horizon just yet, but there are some exciting -- and terrifying -- new trends that I think will capture the world's attention in the upcoming year. There were many to choose from, but the five that follow are going to be the most notable, in my opinion. Let's take a look at them now.

Wearable computing becomes the next high-tech status symbol
Apple's iPhone quickly became an aspirational device for millions around the world after its 2007 release. After six generations in six years -- and a likely seventh in seven -- the classic device is starting to lose its cachet. This isn't to say that any other smartphone has replaced the iPhone as a status symbol. When it comes to computing, "cool" only takes you so far, and a smartphone doesn't mean much when the masses already have one.

The stage is set for wearable computing. No, I'm not talking about an iWatch, although that would certainly fit the bill if properly designed. Status demands visibility, and you can't get much more visible than Google's augmented-reality Project Glass eyewear, which will be available for select developers in early 2013. Although consumer models aren't anticipated before 2014, the public visibility of early Project Glass efforts should serve to build hype for this product in advance of the first sales.

Health-related wearable computing is also earning much greater cool cachet than the egg-shaped pedometers of years past. Nike's Fuelband is part of the leading edge of consumer fitness technology, and as developers find more ways to incorporate the accelerometer-enabled band's Nike+ system  into users' fitness lives, the users themselves should find more ways to show it off to their friends. A number of startups are also working on health devices, which should gain greater prominence as Obamacare takes hold across the country.

These are just a few examples of the potential wearable-computing devices that are set to capture the world's attention in 2013. Beyond Project Glass-like augmented vision and health-sensing body monitors, there are eclectic ideas like GPS-enabled shoes, a pendant-projector that reads gestures, and even electronic patches over (or even on) your skin. Thanks to a resurgence of interest in hardware development, innovation in this field should be faster, and more varied, than it has been in years past.

Mobile security steps out of the shadows
When was the last time you heard about a major hack directed at mobile devices? I had to search for such an instance, but I came up empty. The worst mobile security breaches you often hear about involve apps trying to get more information than they should, but this hasn't translated into a major event on the scale of website password grabs or network breaches. In 2012, one of the largest examples of mobile security failures came when a number of Android apps were modified with malicious code, infecting 250,000 phones. By comparison, the 2011 PlayStation Network hack compromised more than 77 million accounts.

The days of relative calm may be over now that more than 1 billion smartphones are in use worldwide. That number may double in the next three years, giving hackers as many mobile targets as PC targets  for the first time. We store all sorts of personal data on our smartphones, and the link between a point of entry and financial resources is much narrower on a smartphone than it might be on a PC. Google's open market for apps makes it more vulnerable than the App Store, and 100,000  apps on the Google Play store could be considered suspicious right now.

Mobile security software is projected to grow markedly as a result, with 50% annual sales growth until 2014, by which point it will be a $2 billion market. AT&T already plans to market a mobile security suite  to its mobile customers in 2013, and the other carriers are likely to follow closely on its heels. Most major antivirus makers, including Intel's McAfee, already offer mobile security software, often for free -- but many mobile users haven't considered the fact that their devices could be at risk. A big, bold hack in 2013 would be dangerous, but necessary, to wake people up to this threat.

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