Project Glass

Tech predictions for 2014: IPOs, wearables, and culture wars

December 30, 2013: 2:19 PM ET

Square goes public, wearable computers become popular, and the San Francisco culture war heats up.

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FORTUNE -- No man is an island, the famous John Donne poem reads. It's especially appropriate for tech, where one new startup, app, or slab of hardware can bring about meaningful change in society.

As another year winds down for this dynamic industry, we look ahead. What do we think will be the major topics taking up the technology world's attention next year?

San Francisco's culture war gets worse before it gets better. What once seemed like a booming testament to the American Dream is generating scorn from city residents irked about the growing economic divide. Some are so bothered, they've organized small protests, including one that resulted in the vandalism of a Google (GOOG) bus in Oakland, Calif. two weeks ago. Expect the tension to mount in the coming months as more non-tech workers feel the effects of higher rents and a fiercely competitive job market. "I think the end result will be actual political engagement between the groups," Inkling CEO Matt MacInnis told me earlier this month. "It may not be what the inflammatory people want, but I think it's going to happen."

Wearables take off. (Yes, really.) 2013 was a year of baseless hype for wearable computer devices like Google Glass -- a market worth as much as $6 billion by 2016, calculates U.K. firm IMS Research. But in truth, wearables remained scarce this year, and those up for grabs, like Samsung's Galaxy Gear smartwatch remain too limited features-wise to be anything but niche conversation starters. As for Glass? "The delta between expectations that have been created and the actual reality shows they have a lot more work to do," Box CEO Aaron Levie told Fortune earlier this month. (The consumer version of Glass isn't even out yet.) A more polished Glass is expected to hit next year between $250 and $600. When it does, expect competitors to quickly follow.

More startups take the public route. Twitter's successful public offering -- at $63, it's priced 42% higher than its initial price -- will spur some companies to make good on their IPO ambitions. The recent debuts of Facebook (FB) and Twitter (TWTR) have paved the way for other startups to dive into the public markets. Square, Jack Dorsey's other company, may be one of them. The credit-card processing startup reportedly expects $1 billion in revenues next year. Others, including file-syncing competitors Box and Dropbox, may do the same.

Same-day shipping gets real. Delivery by Amazon drone is at least three or four years away, if it ever comes at all. But as businesses like Amazon (AMZN) and eBay (EBAY) swell their distribution ranks and trim delivery times, same-day will become standard for millions more instant gratification-loving shoppers. Never mind that same-day shipping still has its skeptics -- companies aren't charging consumers the full cost, Forrester research analyst Sucharita Mulpuru explained in November -- the race is now partly like a contest for bragging rights. In the eyes of the customer, whoever can get to your door quickest sends a powerful retail message, even if they don't opt for it much.

Electric vehicles inch closer to mainstream. Sales of battery-electric and plug-in cars could number under 100,000 for 2013, but that's roughly twice 2012 sales, says the Electric Drive Transportation Association. Thank Tesla (TSLA), the avant-garde carmaker from Elon Musk for changing their image with top-notch design and sports car performance. The company projects it will sell 20,000 of its $70,000-plus Model S sedan this year -- the most of any electric car. Also entering the mix next year: Tesla's Model X SUV, with 0 to 60 mph acceleration in 4.4 seconds and BMW's cheaper, puckish-looking i3.

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