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5 Predictions for Mobile Tech in 2013

Mashable

If denial isn't just a river in Egypt, then mobile isn't just a city in Alabama. And if 2012 proved one thing, it's that there's no denying mobile is the present and future of technology.

Sales figures for mobile devices reached new heights in 2012. Market research firm Gartner predicted tablet sales would near 120 million, about doubling the total sold in 2011.

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In addition, the number of active smartphones eclipsed 1 billion during the past year. That's one for every seven people on the planet. And while it took almost two decades to reach 1 billion active smartphones, research firm Strategy Analytics projects there will be 2 billion by 2015, fueled by growth in developing economies in China, India and Africa.

It's not just phones and tablets though. All sorts of smart mobile technology flourished in 2012, from watches and wristbands to glasses that can project video on the inside of the lenses. Speaking of glasses, in April, Google sent the tech world into a tizzy when it unveiled plans for a futuristic headset called Project Glass.

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Well, if you think mobile came a long way in 2012, this year could be even better. Here's an outline of where we think mobile technology is headed in 2013.

Brand Wars Will Drive Innovation

In terms of smartphones, mobile in 2013 will be like an evening of boxing. For the main event, heavyweights Apple and Samsung will square off to see which can produce the world's most popular device.

The Samsung Galaxy III recently dethroned the iPhone for that honor. While Apple went conservative with new features on the iPhone 5, Samsung went bold, equipping the Galaxy S III with an enormous 4.8-inch display, near field communication (NFC) technology (more on this later), a burst-shooting camera and a voice-enabled assistent akin to the iPhone's Siri.

Apparently, Apple is preparing to counter-punch. There are already rumors that Apple is testing its next iPhone, identified as "iPhone 6.1" which runs iOS 7.

Behind the iPhone and Galaxy a host of capable contenders are hungry for a shot at the belt, including devices from Motorola, HTC and Nokia.

There might even be some new players in the game. It seems likely that Amazon will debut a Kindle Phone sometime in 2013. There was even talk that Facebook was working on its own smartphone, but CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg squelched those rumors in September.

What does this all this mean for us? It means better phones. Competition drives innovation. Look for these brands to consistently try to one-up one another with faster processors, better cameras and more innovative features.

That's not the only battle that will play out in 2013. Another one to watch will be the fight for third place in mobile operating systems. Android is the undisputed number one with nearly 75% global market share. While Apple's iOS is miles behind Android, it is still firmly entrenched at number two.

In 2013, the top two contenders for third place will be Windows Phone 8 and BlackBerry 10, which is expected to launch in the coming months.

A few dark horses are running in this race for third. Mozilla plans to launch a Firefox OS sometime during 2013. Then, there is Tizen, a Linux-based mobile OS. Samsung recently revealed plans to release Tizen-based devices in 2013.

Both Firefox and Tizen are open source mobile operating systems, but they won't be the only ones. There are two other open source mobile operating systems to watch going forward. Jolla expects to release smartphones and possibly tablets running its Sailfish OS in 2013; and Ubuntu-based smartphones should hit the market by early 2014.

No NFC Mobile Payment, Yet

Before leaving the house, most will check to make sure they have three things: keys, wallet and cellphone. Well, thanks to NFC technology, cellphones might soon lighten the load by essentially replacing wallets with an "e-wallet."

It seems like we have been talking about NFC for years now. Basically, it enables two devices to make a very short-range and secure connection through radio technology. If a smartphone is equipped with NFC, as are most newer-model Androids, and if a retailer has an NFC terminal, one could make a purchase by simply tapping the phone on the terminal.

NFC technology also has other applications, such as data transfer between phones, but mobile payments is the feature most often discussed.

Services like Isis and Google Wallet are already in place. They secure one's payment information within a device.

The reason why mobile payment through NFC has not yet hit the mainstream is that device penetration is not at the point where it has prompted retailers to update their technology. Basically, not enough smartphones have the technology. Androids have started to adapt, but unlike iPhones, Android hardware is not uniform across the various devices.

While the wheels have been in motion for some time, they're really spinning now that most new Androids, including the Galaxy S III, come with NFC. If Apple releases a new iPhone during 2013, and if Apple decides to include NFC this time around, it will probably tip the scales in favor of rapid adoption of mobile payment.

Even if all that does happen, however, there probably won't be a new iPhone until later in the year, so odds are you're not going to see NFC penetrate the mainstream during 2013. Maybe 2014 will finally be the year of NFC.

Flexible Smartphones

Here's something you never knew you needed -- a flexible smartphone. These devices will be lighter, more durable and the screen will be bendable. This feat is possible by making the display out of an organic light-emitting diode (OLED) and shielding it in plastic rather than glass. Samsung is reportedly moving forward with plans to start producing a bendable phone.

Samsung is not the only player in this game, however. Many companies are developing bendable screens. At Nokia World in London in 2011, Nokia showed off a device which not only bends but is controlled by bending. Check it out in the video below.

Since there are quite a few companies working on this, it seems likely that one will try to be first to market in 2013. There are rumors that the next model of Samsung's Galaxy will feature a bendable HD display. We'll find out much more about this at the Consumer Electronics Show, scheduled for next week. Stay tuned for updates.

The Future of Smartphone Cameras

Cameras and phones have been married for about a decade (they dated, previously). In that time, the relationship has been constantly improving in terms of specs, which has led to higher-quality photographs.

Nokia upped the ante significantly in 2012 when it released the 808 PureView, a smartphone equipped with a 41-megapixel camera. The iPhone 5 has an eight-megapixel camera. Granted, more megapixels doesn't necessarily equate to better pictures, but it's certainly one important element. The gallery below features pictures taken with the 808 PureView.

Nokia 808 PureView

The Nokia 808 PureView comes in several colors. It's heavier than your average phone, with the camera lens protruding from the back. By far its most interesting feature is the 41-megapixel camera, which takes amazing photos.

Click here to view this gallery.

In 2013, we can not only expect more megapixels, and better sensors, flashlights and shutter speeds from smartphone cameras; there are also some futuristic developments in the works.

One most likely to hit the market in 2013: a sensor developed by Toshiba that will allow users to adjust the area of focus of a shot during post-processing, much like with a Lytro cameras.

Another development to anticipate is greater availability and lower cost for smartphone cameras that shoot 3D photos and video.

While all of these improvements are exciting, it's not just smartphones that are getting better cameras. Better cameras are literally being turned into smartphones. In 2012, Samsung released a Galaxy Camera which Mashable's tech editor Pete Pachal described as an "incredible device."

Connected cameras might not become the norm in 2013, but they will definitely become more common.

Eventually, there could even be cameras that have the ability to penetrate objects such as thin walls, clothing or even skin. While the technology is in place, don't look for it in 2013. The world probably isn't ready for x-ray vision quite yet.

Wearable Tech

It's not enough to carry technology anymore. Nowadays people want to wear it, too.

In April, the Pebble Watch, which integrates with both Android and iOS devices, received Kickstarter funding totaling over $10 million from nearly 70,000 backers. Pebble still has not shipped watches. It is currently accepting pre-orders, but has not announced a release date. It's relatively safe to assume these watches will be available in 2013.

Although there are other smart watches currently available, Pebble may face some serious competition if the rumors about Apple producing a smart watch prove true. In fact, Apple recently received 22 patents that would enable the company to move forward with a range of wearable smart technology, including sneakers, shirts, skiing gear and more.

Patents alone mean very little. So unless you hear otherwise, don't expect Apple smartpants (which, if they do happen, should definitely be called "smartypants") anytime during 2013.

And speaking of extremely exciting wearable technology that probably won't happen during 2013, let's all re-watch this video for Google Glass while wistfully longing for the future to arrive.

On the bright side, since we survived the Mayan apocalypse, it looks like we might eventually make it to the future, after all. In case you hadn't noticed, it seems pretty obvious that when we get there, glorious mobile technology will abound.

Images courtesy of Flickr, SETUP Utrecht, John Biehler and via Isis

This story originally published on Mashable here.

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