Washington: Each year in an effort to keep its finger on the pulse of emerging technologies, the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), comprising over 2,000 tech companies, releases a list of trends for the upcoming calendar year.
The latest list released this week gives tech enthusiasts a preview of what trends experts say will become mainstream in 2013.
Three-dimensional printing, also known as additive manufacturing, is heading straight for the mainstream, CEA analysts say. Common products created via 3D printing include jewelry, figurines and cell phone cases.
Rather than creating a detailed object by sculpting it from materials, computer savvy consumers can create designs online and download them turning them into physical objects, creating them layer by layer.
While the technology has been around for decades, prices are dropping and the CEA predicts the technology will become commonplace in consumers` homes.
There is a potential for future concerns surrounding the creation of counterfeit goods. Current intellectual property laws do not cover items created with a 3D printer, so there may be a grey area for 3D printing and physical replication analysts say.
When it comes to the future of televisions, picture quality is everything. The CEA says TVs offering double the picture quality we see today are just months away from hitting stores, and are just a hint of what is possible in the future.
One option for the future is 4k TV, something John Taylor of LG Electronics describes as "the HDTV experience on steroids". And with four times the resolution of your current set, the CEA predicts the technology will begin to catch on in 2013.
Another popular option is the Organic Light-Emitting Diode, or OLED TV. It has significantly better picture quality than HD sets today plus lower energy consumption.
The challenge facing both of these new, crisper, options lies in getting consumers to switch.
"Most people are going to look at their TVs and say, `It looks really good and crisp to me. Why do I need four times as many pixels?`" said Chris Chinnock, president of Insight Media, a market research company focused on emerging display technologies.
Thanks in part to the invention of the iPod, the CEA says MP3 players and ear buds created a new standard of how American`s listen to music.
The same is now true with premium headphones, championed by the success of rapper Andre "Dr. Dre". Dr. Dre brand headphones promises to deliver studio sound quality to anyone willing to pay the $199-$399 price tag.
Marrying convenient digital music with professional sound quality in a home audio system is just one audio trend CEA sees going mainstream in 2013. But this is not just about the sound; it is also about functionality.
"Modern consumers put a priority on products that are both connected and portable," wrote CEA`s Sean Murphy.
For the past 20 years, Africa has lagged behind the rest of the globe when it comes to internet connectivity. Mobile phones have single-handedly leveled out the playing field, a trend the CEA predicts will continue next year.
"Mobile phones (in Africa) are used for absolutely everything and used to the extreme by everyone," says Bruce Krogh, professor of electrical and computer engineering at Carnegie Mellon University.
In the areas of banking, business, and social networking mobile phones have been a game changer for the continent.
"Today, social networking in Africa is used for everything from connecting people with ex-pat family and friends to helping farmers track corn harvests and trade exchange rates," writes CEA`s Rachel Horn.
"While the West experiences its own mobile revolution, it must look to Africa for ideas, opportunities and inspiration."
Schoolchildren today have traded their paper notebooks and tablets for electronic versions, and that is only the beginning.
When it comes to technology in the classroom, analysts say it facilitates individualized teaching, where students can learn in the way that best suits them.
"In addition to classroom webpages and online lectures, social media is now heavily utilized by students as well.
"While social media is not a new concept, its usage within the school system is still in the preliminary stages, with fewer than half of adults reporting that their children`s schools use this technology," the CEA reports.
Challenges facing technology stem primarily from funding and debates over how much is too much technology in the classroom.