TIME the big picture

Why This Apple Watch Rival Is Very Important

Pebble Pebble Time

The Pebble Time offers an important alternative

The day the Pebble smartwatch went up on Kickstarter a couple of years back, I pitched in enough money that I got the device when it was finally made. The good news was the early version worked mostly as advertised. But Pebble’s early software was basic, hard to learn and unstable. Still, Pebble quickly addressed those issues, and to date the company has sold 1.1 million smartwatches — the startup was second only to Samsung in terms of smartwatch sales over the recent holiday quarter.

Not long after the first Pebble smartwatch came out, however, devices powered by Google’s Android Wear operating system hit the scene. I decided to retire my Pebble in favor of an Android smartwatch, but I kept my eye on Pebble, hoping it would continue to improve on its design. Indeed, like all good technology companies, Pebble’s team has kept making the company’s watches smarter and better. The company recently headed back to Kickstarter to raise a record $20 million for a brand new smartwatch sporting a completely new operating system with a cleaner user interface and streamlined app installation process.

That new watch, the Pebble Time, especially intrigues me. In designing it, Pebble execs looked hard at how people were using their devices and noticed a key trend — people used it in what Pebble now calls “timelines.” Built around this metaphor, the new Pebble Time will have 3 buttons connected to people’s timelines. One button is for the past and gives you things like a sleep score, calories burned, steps walked, and so on. The second button is for the present, like controlling music or checking texts. And the third button is for future items, such as a list of flight reservations coming up or dinner reservations. Pebble has also introduced smart straps that add functionality to its watches — for example, a strap with built-in GPS could add location services to the Pebble. I really like this approach, which should help Pebble stay competitive against the upcoming Apple Watch and the various Android Wear devices out there.

The new Pebble Time will be important for the smartwatch market for two reasons. First, the Android Wear operating system isn’t well designed, and most Android Wear devices have a long way to go in the style department. If you’ve got an Android device, you won’t be able to use the Apple Watch — but Pebble’s offerings give you an important alternative.

At $199 retail, the Pebble Time also offers a cheaper option for iPhone owners not ready to invest $349 or more in the Apple Watch. Those who have been using the Apple Watch tell me that it’s very intuitive and extremely powerful — but it may be more than some people need. The Pebble Time may appeal to plenty of iPhone owners who may never want or need what the Apple Watch provides (The Pebble connects with both iPhone and Android devices).

The good news for people in the market for a smartwatch is that most of them will soon have at least two platform options — Apple Watch and Pebble for iPhone owners, Android Wear and Pebble for Android users. While Apple and Android may get the lion’s share of the smartwatch market, the new Pebble Time offers a solid alternative and increases consumer choice.

 

TIME the big picture

Apple Is About To Change the Watch Industry Forever

Apple Inc. Reveals Bigger-Screen iPhones Alongside Wearables
Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images The Apple Watch is displayed after a product announcement at Flint Center in Cupertino, California, U.S., on Tuesday, Sept. 9, 2014.

Luxury watchmakers won't be able to keep up with what's about to happen

Apple has already disrupted the computer, phone and music industries — and now it’s poised to change the watch industry forever, too.

I’ve had a great interest in watches since my grandmother gave me a Hop Along Cassidy for my fifth birthday. Almost all of my watches have been cheap but functional, save a TAG Heuer I bought for $700 on a trip to Switzerland in the late 1980s. That’s still the most expensive watch I’ve ever owned, and today it holds great sentimental value even though I broke it playing golf a few years ago.

Before whipping out my credit card to spend a fortune on that Swiss watch, though, I worked at a Mountain View, California company that made some of the first LED watches in the 1970s. Those devices preceded the birth of digital timepieces, which posed a significant threat to traditional watchmakers: By the early 1980s, the market was flooded with cheap digital watches coming from Asia, forcing some European watchmakers to join the digital era. But there was much resistance, and even today brands like Rolex, Breitling and TAG Heuer make analog watches that appeal to the upper crust — evidence there will always be a demand for high-end watches purchased for their style over their utility.

When Apple introduced the Apple Watch last fall, I started asking people in the high-end watch world if they viewed the device as a threat. Surprisingly, many told me that the Apple Watch could very well redefine what a “watch” is and does. The same people pointed out that high-end watch brands are already responding to the Apple Watch before it even hits store shelves, moves evidenced by TAG Heuer’s announcement it’s making a smartwatch along with Google and Intel.

The Apple Watch won’t force high-end watchmakers to change course entirely, as the jewelry aspect of their business will always have appeal and lasting value. But talking to those in the watch world gave me a real sense that the Apple Watch is a game-changer. When digital watches flooded the scene, they were easily copied, explaining why the 1980s-era transition from analog to digital happened so fast. But Apple’s approach — they own the hardware, software and services — will be nearly impossible for watchmakers to replicate. Devices like the TAG Heuer/Google watch that run Android Wear will continue to try to compete, but from what I’ve seen from Apple, the Cupertino giant could have an edge for at least a year or two, if not more.

What Apple is ultimately bringing to the watch market is a redefinition of what a watch is — the watch folks use the term “wrist computer.” And because it’s a platform for apps, the Apple Watch can be many things to many people, not just an aviator’s watch or a diver’s watch. Traditional watchmakers understand this. While the basic concept of the watch won’t change, it’s clear that the Apple Watch, which analysts expect to sell between 22-24 million units in the first year on average, will cause a massive shift in the watch industry.

Tim Bajarin is recognized as one of the leading industry consultants, analysts and futurists, covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. Mr. Bajarin is the President of Creative Strategies, Inc and has been with the company since 1981, where he has served as a consultant providing analysis to most of the leading hardware and software vendors in the industry.

TIME the big picture

The One Thing That Makes Apple a Totally Different Company Now

Apple's focus on design means it's free to make all kinds of new products

In my 34 years of closely watching Apple, I’ve seen it go through plenty of life stages. For most of Apple’s life, it has been a technology company. But after Steve Jobs rejoined the company in 1997, it began to take on a new persona.

I met with Jobs on the second day he was back at Apple, during a very dark time in its history. When Jobs returned, Apple was in the red to the tune of $1 billion and only two months from bankruptcy. When I asked Jobs how he planned to rescue Apple, he told me the first thing he would do is take care of his core customers, meaning Mac owners using them for graphics design, desktop publishing and engineering.

But the second thing Jobs told me startled me: He said he would start focusing on industrial design. I remember scratching my head at his statement — I just couldn’t imagine how industrial design could save Apple. Of course, just a year later, Jobs introduced the candy-colored iMacs, forever changing what a personal computer could look like. Jobs then went on to make design a core tenet of Apple’s future, making the iPod, iPhone and iPad into sleek works of art, undoubtedly helping turn Apple into the behemoth it is today.

Apple Senior Vice President of Design Jony Ive was recently profiled by The New Yorker in a piece that made clear Apple’s focus on design has become a strategic piece of its mission. But even with Apple’s focus on design, I still consider it a tech company first and foremost. Still, a good friend of mine, Ben Thompson of Stratchery, recently wrote another excellent piece (subscription required) that puts Jobs’ 1997 comments to me into a new perspective.

“When I stated previously that Apple has always been a personal computer company, that is because Jobs believed so deeply in the potential of the computer to change people’s lives. If Ive, as this profile argues, now serves Jobs’ function as the soul of Apple, my characterization is surely obsolete: perhaps we need to think of Apple as a design company with a specialty in computers, not the other way around. And it’s much more plausible to imagine that Apple building a car.”

Thompson was primarily referring to rumors Apple might be working on a car, but his overall perspective is important. As Thompson writes, if Ive is now driving Apple, that could turn the company into a more design-focused firm free to create products outside its historical business model.

I still have trouble believing Apple is building an entirely new car instead of just working on car software. But if Apple’s top leadership has fully embraced industrial design, Apple could be free to create not only cars and watches, but anything that could be tied into Apple’s app and services ecosystem.

After more than three decades of understanding Apple by following its history, I have to admit that we could be witnessing the birth of a new Apple. For a lot of us, that means giving up our preconceived notions of what Apple is today in order to understand where it’s going tomorrow.

Tim Bajarin is recognized as one of the leading industry consultants, analysts and futurists, covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. Mr. Bajarin is the President of Creative Strategies, Inc. and has been with the company since 1981, where he has served as a consultant providing analysis to many of the leading hardware and software vendors in the industry.

Read next: The Biggest Misconception About Apple

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Why Chevron Is Helping Fund STEM Education

Chevron Posts Heavy Decline In Quarterly Profits
Justin Sullivan—Getty Images The Chevron logo is displayed at a Chevron gas station on May 2, 2014 in Greenbrae, California.

Chevron's STEM efforts should serve as a benchmark for other companies, says analyst Tim Bajarin

Over the last year, I’ve become more interested in the Maker Movement and programs that focus on STEM education — science, technology, engineering and math. Like many people, I believe the U.S. education system needs to do more to get kids interested in math and science, as technology sits at the heart of new job creation and is impacting our lives in ways none of us could have imagined 50 years ago.

I shared my thoughts in a TIME column last May about the Maker Faire, a very interesting program that has sought to bring technology closer to kids. The Maker Movement is quite exciting, and dedicated Maker Faires are popping up in many places around the world that emphasize how people can create all types of things from scratch and learn a great deal in the process. The movement has its roots in tech hobbyists circles, where people were using things like Raspberry Pi motherboards to create various tech gadgets. However, Maker Faires now include things like knitting, bee keeping, organic gardening and just about anything that involves making things.

At the beginning of the new school year last fall, I visited a unique STEM program that the San Francisco 49ers, with help from Chevron, created in their new stadium in Santa Clara, California. In a piece I wrote for TIME on the project, I shared how the 49ers were bringing 60 students to the stadium each school day to run them through three distinct activities related to STEM.

Here’s a short excerpt from that article that explains this program:

Each day during the school year, 60 kids from one of the various schools in the Bay Area are brought to Levi’s Stadium in one of the 49ers’ official team buses. They are then broken up into three different groups of 20 each to rotate through three distinct activities.

The first activity features a full tour of the stadium, focusing on the engineering involved with creating a stadium. It shows off the green aspects of the stadium, including a visit to the garden on the roof as well as a look at the solar panels and how they’re used to create energy. The tour also demonstrates how clean technology is used to irrigate the field in order to care for the grass and turf.

The second activity takes place in the new 49ers Museum and includes lessons using various games and interactive screens. Students learn how engineering and math are used to create 49ers football equipment, and how physics is applied to things like passing, kicking and running. The day I was there, they also included a section on careers in math and science. The third activity takes place in an actual high-tech classroom that’s built into the new 49ers Museum. This classroom has multiple screens as well as half a dozen touch-based video worktables created by Cortina Productions. They serve as interactive teaching tools that the students can use to do various projects. For example, one class might teach how a helmet is engineered. Another might be on the physics of throwing a ball, explaining how a physical object like a football deals with airflow, throwing mechanics and force, and how each impacts the direction and length of a throw.

The class on applied mathematics explains angular attack and game geometry as well as teaching about statistics, using the Super Bowl and its various Roman-numeral numbering schemes as part of the lesson plan.

I find the use of sports metaphors to explain physics, math and science a fascinating way to bring these subjects alive for kids. Since then, I’ve looked for other examples of how sports can be used to get kids interested in STEM. The folks from Chevron shared another sports example with me a few weeks ago.

At the recent AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am golf tournament, Chevron put up a huge tent in their area dedicated to STEM education. Inside, it had special areas where kids could learn about various aspects of golf, including the math and science that goes into a golf swing, the physics involved with hitting the ball and how air flow impacts its speed and direction, as well as lessons on agronomy, or the science used to create a golf course.

Hundreds of kids from the Monterey Peninsula were brought to the golf tournament to go through the “STEM Zone,” as Chevron called it, to do hands-on experiments and learn first hand how math, science and technology impact the sport. They also got to participate in some fun video projects. All of the kids I talked to at the event were having a great time learning about science in this most interesting way.

I had chance to speak with Blair Blackwell, Chevron’s manager of education and corporate programs, and asked her why the company was so interested in STEM education. She told me: “Chevron is an engineering company at heart, and needs well-qualified people in the workforce to hire as part of their team today and in the future.”

Chevron’s backing of various STEM programs around the world comes from over 100 years of early workforce development commitment. As one of the biggest companies in the world, Chevron needs to have an educated talent pool to draw from at all times. Chevron will spend $30 million in STEM-related programs in 2015 and has another $130 committed to STEM and other educational projects over the next three years.

The more I look into various STEM-related projects, the more I see major companies that need tech workers putting a lot of money and effort behind them. Many companies, like Intel and Boeing, for example, are doing the same as Chevron and backing STEM education in a big way. Many other tech companies are putting money and effort around the Maker movement too. Here in Silicon Valley, you need a serious education in math, science and engineering to get hired for key jobs at any of the Bay Area tech companies. And as more companies integrate technology into their work flow, the need for STEM-trained workers will multiply. That’s why it’s so important that Chevron and hundreds of other companies today work harder to get STEM programs in schools — and bring these programs to inner city areas where they can reach kids at all socioeconomic levels.

I’m impressed by Chevron’s financial commitments to STEM education as well as the amount of talent, effort and passion it puts into these specialized programs. I hope its efforts serve as a benchmark for other companies who help make STEM education central in schools all over the world.

Tim Bajarin is recognized as one of the leading industry consultants, analysts and futurists, covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. Mr. Bajarin is the President of Creative Strategies, Inc and has been with the company since 1981 where he has served as a consultant providing analysis to most of the leading hardware and software vendors in the industry.

TIME the big picture

Why Microsoft’s Future Suddenly Looks Bright Again

Satya Nadella Delivers Opening Keynote At Microsoft Build Conference
Justin Sullivan—Getty Images Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella delivers a keynote address during the 2014 Microsoft Build developer conference on April 2, 2014 in San Francisco, California.

Microsoft's new leadership is fundamentally changing the company for the better

The first time I visited Microsoft in the early 1980s, it was in its then-new red brick offices in Bellevue, Washington, packing less than 50 people. You could walk down the halls and see Bill Gates plugging away at his keyboard and Paul Allen coding in a small office. In fact, I was told that I was one of the first analysts to ever visit Microsoft, as it was just gaining ground with its MS-DOS operating system thanks to IBM’s decision to use it in its first PC.

Consequently, I got to watch Microsoft grow from the beginning. It quickly became a high priority for me as an analyst, as its actions greatly impacted the growth of the PC industry. The company even asked me to advise on several different projects over the years, from its early experiments in graphical interfaces to its first steps into mobile. However, I haven’t worked on any Microsoft efforts since 2004, and now mostly watch the company from afar.

While plenty of today’s pundits write about how Microsoft missed the boat on mobile, I was concerned about Microsoft’s Windows-only focus as early as the late 1990s. By then, the market was already starting to expand well beyond PCs and moving towards a mobile future. And after the turn of the millennium, I felt then-CEO Steve Ballmer had become so Windows-centric he could no longer see the tech world expanding and splitting into different directions. As Microsoft rival Apple gained important ground in music players, smartphones and tablets, I felt Microsoft was way too Windows-focused, causing it to miss the opportunity to expand the company well beyond the Windows brand that, while still important, was keeping the company from innovating.

Apparently Microsoft’s board had similar issues with Ballmer, who early last year was succeeded by Satya Nadella. While Ballmer and I had a strong relationship and often swapped ideas over lunch, I’ve only met Nadella once, and then only briefly. But since he has taken over, I’ve seen a new Microsoft emerge.

Microsoft is now more inclusive, finally embracing the diversity driving the next wave of personal computing. The recently revealed Windows 10 is a great addition to the Windows world, fixing the sins of Window 8. And Microsoft is finally doing something I lobbied for in the early days of its mobile efforts: Making a consistent Windows interface that functions about the same no matter what kind of device it’s running on.

If what Microsoft is doing with Windows 10 isn’t a strong enough indication of how the company’s culture is changing, this might be: When I visited Microsoft last fall, a software team leader pulled out his personal iPhone to show off Microsoft apps built for iOS, like the new Outlook app. For a Microsoft employee to show off an iOS app would’ve been unthinkable under Ballmer. But Nadella is extremely realistic about making Microsoft relevant to all platforms, mining for dollars well beyond the Windows brand. That’s fantastic for Microsoft, as it’s a strategy that’s going to give them broad potential in the future.

Read next: Apple Is Still a Startup

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Why Sapphire Isn’t the Future of Smartphones

Apple Unveils iPhone 6
Justin Sullivan—Getty Images Apple CEO Tim Cook shows off the new iPhone 6 and the Apple Watch during an Apple special event at the Flint Center for the Performing Arts on September 9, 2014 in Cupertino, California.

Sapphire just costs too much and doesn't make for good screens

Apple’s long-awaited announcement of its new iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus last fall came with an unexpected twist: Contrary to rumors, the company opted not to use an ultra-strong glass called sapphire for the devices’ screens. That was startling because Apple was involved in a major deal with sapphire company GT Advanced, ostensibly to provide the material for Apple’s newest phones.

After Apple announced its sans-sapphire iPhones, it was revealed that GT Advanced couldn’t deliver the amount of the material Apple required on time because of production issues. In a column I wrote last fall, I said Apple never planned to put sapphire screens in the iPhone 6 regardless of GT Advanced’s problems. However, it turns out that Apple did in fact enter into the GT Advanced deal wanting to use sapphire screens in its new iPhones, but by late 2013, the company realized that issues at GT Advanced meant that just wasn’t going to happen. Apple changed direction at the beginning of 2014, when it began working with Corning to deliver its newest version of Gorilla Glass for use on the iPhone 6.

Not long after the iPhone 6 was announced, the relationship between Apple and GT Advanced imploded, with the latter filing for bankruptcy. As of today, there’s no indication Apple is still seeking sapphire screens for any new iPhones — but its patent filings mean it’s impossible to rule out this possibility.

But there are other reasons sapphire won’t see the light of day in smartphones. First, it’s incredibly difficult to make sapphire screens in serious quantities at a cost that would make them feasible for even top-of-the-line smartphones. Also, the smartphone market’s trend toward bigger screens is making sapphire even more expensive to produce and buy.

I recently recorded a podcast with two professors of material sciences that helped me gain a better understanding about the costs and difficulty involved with creating sapphire screens in volume. Joining me in this discussion were Richard Lehman, a professor and chair of Rutgers University’s Advanced Polymer Center, and Dr. Helen Chan, chair of Lehigh University’s Department of Materials Science.

You can listen above, but here are some of the key points we discussed:

  • Glass is used in almost all smartphone screens, and is a great solution. Lehman pointed out that sapphire is used in watches and products that have a long life. But because smartphones have a lifespan of 18 to 24 months, the extra cost involved may not be worth it for most consumers.
  • Lehman said glass costs about a nickel per square inch to manufacture, while sapphire costs several dollars per square inch to make. He also pointed out that manufacturing glass is highly scalable, while Dr. Chan explained that it takes a 2,000-degree furnace to melt sapphire, which has a serious impact on the environment.
  • While both professors are not experts in manufacturing, they brought up key points on the virtue of sapphire as a potential material for screens, but questioned anyone’s ability to make these screens in large volumes. In addition to the melting process, sapphire must be cut razor-thin and subjected to extra polishing, according to Chan. It takes at least four different steps or procedures to produce each sapphire screen.
  • The issue of transparency came up, too. Lehman pointed out that with sapphire, “there is a high reflective index involved that cuts down on the transmission through the screen and it also could give glare.”
  • Lehman said Corning’s new Gorilla Glass 4 is twice as tough as Gorilla Glass 3, providing 80% more protection in standard tests on survivability.
  • The professors also pointed out that hardness (a key attribute of sapphire) might not be the best way to go with next-generation smartphones. Here’s a video from that illustrates this point well and explains the breaking point of glass compared to that of sapphire:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kVQbu_BsZ9o

Although the podcast and the video explore the possibility of using sapphire as a screen material for smartphones, they reinforce the idea that the long-term prospects of sapphire screens on smartphones just aren’t viable. Given the additional costs to make a sapphire screen and the increasing strength of more traditional glass, anyone pursuing sapphire for use on smartphone screens would be up against some pretty formidable challenges. For sapphire to be the future, we’d need to see a major breakthrough in its manufacturing process — and from what I can tell, that just won’t happen in the near future.

TIME the big picture

This Will Be the Most Disruptive Technology Over the Next 5 Years

Internet
Joe Raedle—Getty Images Miguel Chateloin (L) and Lazaro Gamio (R) use their computers to write code that would allow people living in Cuba to use email to post to blogs during the Hackathon for Cuba event on Febr. 1, 2014 in Miami.

The Internet continues to be the most disruptive innovation of our time

Robotics, self-driving cars, drones, sensors, wearables and so on are just a handful of the technologies that could change our world over the next five years. But Ben Bajarin, partner at Creative Strategies and Tech.pinions co-founder, believes it will be an older innovation that will be the most disruptive over the next half-decade: The Internet.

Speaking on a panel at the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Nevada last week, Bajarin said that more people will come online for the first time over the next five to 10 years than ever before will have disruptive global implications.

Bajarin pointed out, for example, that while the Arab Spring was clearly an important event, it could just be a precursor to more technology-enabled social change if people in repressed countries get more access to information via the Internet. And Internet-connected smartphones could help people conduct commerce and run their businesses, potentially increasing their earning ability.

His comments are based on research we’ve been doing at Creative Strategies as we forecast the longer-range demand for smartphones. More than 2 billion cellphones will be sold in 2015, with about 1.5 billion of them smartphones. However, thanks to lowering prices, nearly all cellphones sold will be smartphones by 2018. At the same time, new wireless infrastructure being built in developing countries is opening the door for an increasing number of people to get online via the mobile Internet. If those people get access to low-cost smartphones, it could have major political, economic and educational ramifications few of us realize is possible.

When smartphones get the next two billion people online, it will be like what the Gutenberg Press and the Bible were to the masses in the Middle Ages. Before the printing press, all knowledge was in the hands of a select few who controlled the flow of information — and so was the power.

Today, it’s hard to believe that kind of information control still exists, but all one has to do to find it is look to North Korea. North Korea’s rulers keep knowledge from the masses, lording their authority over the people. Imagine what might happen if North Koreans got access to a smartphone and, with it, broad access to information.

The breakup of the Soviet Union proves that access to technology can accelerate social change. Back in 1973, I went to Moscow with a group of protesters to demonstrate against the country’s lack of religious freedom. We were arrested and kept completely away from Russians so we couldn’t give them any outside information. More than a decade later, I was in Hanover, Germany, meeting with a clandestine group smuggling fax machines into Russia. Five years after the Soviet Union broke apart, I met former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who said those fax machines and other technologies helped bring about the end of the USSR.

Of course, repressive leaders could block Internet access and bar technology from crossing their countries’ borders, as we’ve seen them do time and time again. But even in these regions, technology is often smuggled in. Over time, I expect these borders will become even more data-porous, thanks to tools like Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) that can help users evade government firewalls. As more people in repressive countries get access to data from the outside, their knowledge base will expand. The impact on their lives could be dramatic.

Bajarin is the president of Creative Strategies Inc., a technology industry analysis and market-intelligence firm in Silicon Valley. He contributes to Big Picture, an opinion column that appears every week on TIME Tech.

TIME the big picture

The 7 Hottest Trends We’ll See at This Year’s CES

Newest Innovations In Consumer Technology On Display At 2014 International CES
David Becker—Getty Images A Samsung curved OLED television is on display at the Samsung booth at the 2014 International CES at the Las Vegas Convention Center on January 7, 2014 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

4K televisions, smarter cars and the Internet of Things will dominate the 2015 International CES

When I attended my first Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in 1976, I was in my mid-20s, new to the tech scene and highly impressionable. When I entered the show floor back then, my senses were bombarded by audio and video displays and vendors hawking their tech toys. In those days, Playboy Bunnies and Penthouse Pets were routinely used to draw dealers into booths — in fact, part of CES included an adult video section, since VCRs and their tapes were considered tech products.

Fast-forward to today, and CES has morphed into one of the most respectable consumer business events in the world. Hosted annually in Las Vegas, it spans more than two million square feet of show floor and includes enough gadgetry to fill 35 football fields. The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), which puts on the show, said it expects between 150,000 and 160,000 industry professionals to attend CES between Jan. 6-10, 2015, on par with last year’s show.

Every year leading up to CES, I get hundreds of requests to meet with companies that want to show off their latest and greatest gadgets. Based on those invites, I’ve got some guesses as to what will be hot at CES 2015:

1. 4K Televisions and sound bars

High-def televisions were the big news at CES five to seven years ago. TV makers’ goal was to get everyone to move from analog to HD digital TVs, and that push has been widely successful. Now the industry is set to take television to the next level with 4k TVs.

4K TVs are capable of displaying four times the resolution of today’s HD sets, provided you’re playing true 4K content on them. At this year’s CES, we’ll see well over 100 different 4k TV models from dozens of vendors showing off stunning images and video.

Sound bars, tiny sound systems that sit in front of your TV and pump out HD stereo and 5.1 surround sound audio, will also be hot at CES this year. 4K TVs tend to be very slim, meaning there isn’t much room for serious speakers inside them. Sound bars fill that gap, greatly enhancing sound quality to match 4K TVs’ incredible visual output.

Also, don’t be surprised if we see a couple of 8K televisions launched at the show. Although 4K will be the big thing for the next three-to-four years, 8K TVs will debut in time for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, which should be broadcast in 8K by that time.

2. Connected Everything

The Internet of Things (IoT) will be a major theme at CES 2015. Many devices will come with some type of wireless radio that can connect to the Internet or other devices within the home, enabling you to control various aspects of your home with your smartphone.

There will be an emphasis on home automation, with smart door locks being the next big category to be pushed by the IoT crowd. We’ll also see connected lightbulbs, thermostats and even beds that gather data about how well you sleep.

3. Intellegent Cars

About two years ago, the world’s biggest automakers decided they should attend CES. This year, we’ll see 10 car companies at the show, including Audi, BMW, Toyota, General Motors, Mercedes-Benz and Ford. The latter two will be giving keynote speeches on Monday and Tuesday of CES.

We’ll see several forms of self-driving car technology, as well as news from Toyota around fuel cell technology. The car makers will also be touting in-car Internet connectivity and smartphone-syncing features, with many showing off integration with Apple’s new CarPlay service.

4. Wearables

Even though the most anticipated wearable of 2015 — the Apple Watch — won’t be at CES, wearables will still be everywhere, with fitness wearables dominating the show. We should also see some new smartwatches and perhaps even some Google Glass-style headwear, although interest in smart glasses has waned dramatically since last year’s show.

Even though Apple doesn’t attend CES, its presence will still be felt in a big way. The Apple Watch will be a major part of the wearables discussion at the show, while well over 100 booths will feature wearable accessories for the iPhone and iPad.

Outside of Apple, the wearable I find most interesting will be from GoMore. GoMore has added EKG monitoring to its device, allowing athletes to monitor their stamina as well as heart rate. That could be valuable for anyone doing serious training.

If you’re attending CES this year, I’ll be moderating the CES Supersession on smartwatches on Wednesday, Jan. 7. The event, titled The Market for Smartwatches, will feature executives from Samsung, Motorola, Intel’s Basis division and Yahoo discussing who might buy smartwatches and why. Find more info here.

5. Consumer Robotics

CES 2015 will have a special section for robotics, and we should see some interesting new twists on robots for the home. While iRobot’s Roomba dominates this space today, we could see variations around robots as servants, doing things like cleaning up after your pets or washing your windows. And plenty of new airborne robots — drones — will be debuting at CES 2015 as the category becomes more mainstream.

6. Tablets

Although tablet growth slowed in 2014, tablets will again be big stars at this year’s CES. We’ll see lots of very low-cost tablets, with more of them focusing on application-specific functions, serving as personal TVs or alarm clocks. These single-feature devices could give new life to the tablet market in 2015.

Smartphones, meanwhile, won’t make much of a splash at CES 2015. New smartphone models typically launch at the annual Mobile World Congress held in Barcelona every March.

7. 3D Printers

The CEA says 3D printers are one of the top tech trends to watch in 2015. Indeed, 3D printers have come down in price significantly, and we should see several models under $1,500 at this year’s show. CEA’s 3D printer predictions include:

  • Double digit percentage growth in units shipped by 2018
  • $76 million in total revenue in 2014 (up 44% from 2013)
  • $175 million in total revenue by 2018

However, at prices around $1,500, 3D printers are still mainly being bought by hobbyists and those in the Maker movement. While some consumer devices, like HP’s 3D camera-equipped Sprout, are intriguing, it will take more hardware and software innovation — and lower prices — before 3D printers and cameras make it into the mainstream.

Read next: The Science of Why Your Kids Can’t Resist ‘Frozen’

TIME the big picture

Your Tablet Will Be Your TV: 5 Bold Tech Predictions for 2015

Tablet Television
Nick David—Getty Images 2 people watching television on a tablet.

And Apple will make the MacBook Air even thinner

Every winter for the last 26 years, I’ve taken a stab at predicting tech trends for the upcoming year. I’ve had a solid track record: Last year, I was half-right when I said Google would spin off Motorola — it was instead sold to Lenovo. I also predicted PC sales could actually grow in 2014, and that was basically true: In 2013, PC sales were down 10%, and this year they’ll only be off by about 2.5%. That resurgence came as people figured out their shiny new tablets couldn’t fully replace their PCs.

Oh, and back in 1998, I said Apple would be the largest consumer electronics company in the world within a decade. I remember that one mostly because the piece got so many comments calling me an idiot.

With that in mind, here are my top five predictions for tech in 2015:

1. Tablets will be positioned as personal TVs. The tablet market has become competitive enough to drive prices down to the point that about half of American adults own one. Tablets have become major hits worldwide, too, especially lost-cost models meant for consuming media.

But in 2015, we will see a major push to position tablets as personal televisions. Qualcomm’s new Broadcast LTE chip, which enables media to be broadcast directly to a smartphone or tablet, will help make this happen. One of China’s major TV broadcasters, for example, is creating a branded tablet marketed as a TV that can get all of the broadcasters’ content as part of a subscription service. The Chinese tablet will be $99 with a small monthly content fee.

I already turn all my tablets into televisions via Slingbox, but I need a secondary device to make it happen. Tablet owners can already get video content via apps like Netflix or over the web, but come next year, tablets will be marketed as televisions first and computing devices second.

2. Streaming media will be everywhere. HBO’s decision to offer streaming-only services in early 2015 is a big deal. This type of unbundling of traditional cable content is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to moving even more content into direct streaming models and services. Add to that the dedicated social media platforms being developed around streaming content and shared viewing from remote locations, and next year we could see streaming media expand its reach and have a big impact on traditional media distribution.

3. Apple will release a new ultra-thin, ultra-light MacBook Air. While Apple is rumored to be releasing a bigger iPad next year, I think Apple’s really big hit in 2015 — besides the Apple Watch — will be a newly designed MacBook Air. Apple’s MacBook Air pushed the laptop market to thin and light designs overall, but if Apple does something even thinner and lighter with a new MacBook Air (and maybe a retina display) it could make “ultra-thins” the next big thing in laptops.

4. Application-specific tablets will take the market by storm. Did you know it’s cheaper to buy a $99 tablet than a souped up clock radio for the bedside? And the tablet gives you not only a variety of clock faces and alarms, but the versatility to hear Internet radio, AM/FM radio, podcasts, police and fire radio bands and more. This is just one of the trends we’re seeing as people buy cheap tablets to hang under kitchen cabinets, place in bathrooms or put in their kids’ rooms for news, podcasts and television.

5. You will finally start using 3D scanners and printers. While 3D printers will gain more traction in 2015, what the market really needs are easier ways to design 3D products. I believe we will see the first laptops with built-in 3D cameras by end of the year. Along with a 3D printer, that would make it possible to take an object, put it in front of your laptop camera and push print. Don’t be surprised if Apple goes big on 3D cameras or ways to capture 3D images for use with 3D printers in 2015.

TIME Sports

Why 49ers Fans Totally Love High-Tech Levi’s Stadium

San Francisco 49ers Levi's Stadium Ribbon Cutting Ceremony
Michael Zagaris—Getty Images Workers head down the stairs during the Ribbon Cutting Ceremony for Levi Stadium on July 17, 2014 in Santa Clara, California.

They have Wi-Fi, food-ordering apps and more

When the San Francisco 49ers set out to build their new stadium, they wanted to make it one of the most tech-advanced in the NFL. Now that Santa Clara’s Levi’s Stadium has been open for nearly a full season, it’s time to see if they actually pulled that off.

When the new stadium was built, the 49ers laid close to 400 miles of cable that allows for all types of wired and wireless connectivity in the arena. At the professional level, that gave TV, radio and online broadcasters access to some of the most high-powered infrastructure and world class broadcasting equipment ever installed in a stadium. For 49ers fans, new Wi-Fi routers, beacons and an app make it possible to order food, beer and merchandise from their seats or stream replays on their phones or tablets.

12 games into Levi’s Stadium’s inaugural season, I headed to catch a game to get a sense of how successful all that new technology has been. I can report the new features have made the arena experience much more immersive and interactive, putting it on-par with watching a game in the comfort of your own home.

I talked to over a dozen people at the stadium who have used the new Wi-Fi and various apps, and they all seemed to love the experience, especially the ability to have food and drinks delivered to their seats. Many 49ers fans also told me about the Beacon-powered tools that helped them find their seats or check on the bathroom line without getting up and missing a key play.

However, there’s a catch-22 about Levi’s Stadium’s new tech: When the 49ers are doing well, fans seldom check their mobile devices, preferring to keep their eyes on the action. However, if the home team is struggling, fans’ attention drifts, and many of the people I talked to said they used the stadium’s Wi-Fi to go online and check email, surf the web, or post disparaging comments about the team’s performance.

About 21,000 to 23,000 people use Levi’s Stadium’s Wi-Fi per game, with the exception of Sept. 14’s home opener that saw 41,000 unique users, according to the 49ers’ IT department. The peak bandwidth usage has ranged from 1.5 GB/s (Nov. 2nd) to 3.1 GB/s (Sept. 14th). The team’s last home game, on Nov. 27, registered a figure of 2.5 GB/s. Most games have seen fans use more than 100MB of data each, no small feat considering how hard it can be to use mobile data during games at big sports arenas.

The various San Francisco 49ers officials I talked to say the stadium’s tech has performed well. They admitted there have been Wi-Fi glitches every once in a while, but there have been no major problems. They are also pleased that once people first try the stadium app, they often keep coming back to it.

The 49ers hoped that Levi’s Stadium could be a poster child for other stadiums, and have been very gracious in sharing details about their plans with other NFL teams. The fans, meanwhile, are happy that the 49ers went the extra mile to make the stadium experience even better through technology the ticketholders have widely embraced.

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