I've published a report for Forrester clients, "Predictions 2014: Mobility and Computing Technologies in the Age of the Customer." This blog post offers a sneak peak into the content.

With 2013 coming to an end, it’s time to bring out the crystal ball and make some predictions about 2014. Those who follow Forrester’s research will know that we’re living in the age of the customer, a period in which customer obsession will be the key to winning in all markets. Computing is a critical technology element in the age of the customer: The use of tablets by sales professionals creates richer experiences for prospects and customers, even as the use of wearable technologies by health professionals helps phlebotomists find the vein in a patient’s arm more quickly. Computing is a front-line, customer facing experience that helps companies win and serve customers more effectively.

With that context in mind, I present six meta-trends that will be critical for computing in 2014:

  • Mobility: Look for a sustained mobile mind shift. Customers and employees are beginning to expect that the information, services, social networks, and customer service will all be available to them in context on any device at their exact moment of need. In 2014, we'll see an increase in this mobile mind shift. Customers will actively shun businesses that lack mobile applications to enrich their experiences. Customers will gravitate toward businesses that use mobile technology proactively to solve their hardest problems. 
  • Fragmentation: Watch device proliferation and fragmentation continue. Fragmentation is already a way of life as we end 2013. In 2014, we'll see a continuation of that trend, as people trade off between multiple devices and find ways to thrive across operating systems. All those articles about Android becoming the Windows of the mobile world? Not quite. Android remains internally fragmented, with inexpensive, often forked, versions of Android inflating global numbers through non-standard devices in the Chinese market. Loyalty won't be achieved within ecosystems in 2014, though numerous players (Apple, Google, Samsung, Microsoft) will be trying to create stickiness across devices.
  • Wearables: Expect accelerated innovation in wearable devices and business models. Sure, wearables are facing a hype bubble. So did the Internet; that didn't make it any less significant in the long run. Wearables are just taking off and have a bright future ahead of them. I'm impressed with the wide array of companies, entrepreneurs, and agencies innovating in this space, which is really more of a long tail of different computing market segments. In 2014, we'll see commercial availability of a range of heretofor theoretical wearables (including Google Glass), a richer set of business models, the entry of bigger players (like Apple), and the maturation of business models. In a forthcoming report, I'll continue building my argument that enterprise wearables have a particularly rich future ahead of them, often in customer-facing situations.
  • Intelligent assistants: Anticipate their rise to prominence. Although names like Apple's Siri and IBM's Watson have made some headway into the mass consciousness, they haven't really made it into the zeitgeist just yet. In 2014, intelligent agents will start to look…. useful. Usable. More interesting. Easier. They'll help people shop, manage calendars, and surprise users by mining personal data. They'll start to reshape the way we compute altogether.
  • Gestural computing: Plan on seeing new applications and scenarios. With XBox Kinect in tens of millions of households, Leap Motion now commercially available, and Thalmic Labs showing off some exciting examples of the Myo device, gestural computing is finally hitting the big time. In 2014, expect the use cases to proliferate, with developers bringing out new applications that create value. In the enterprise, this will include in particular the healthcare vertical (manipulating and navigating medical imaging).
  • Channel: Time for discontinuous innovation. 2014 will be the year in which you walk into a store and it "knows you" and customizes your visit. Technologies will start to bring a greater sense of relevance and tailored experience to shopping, as Tesco is doing with facial recognition software that allows it to serve up appropriate ad content in its stores. 

In terms of device vendors, I expect to see a number of market dynamics taking shape:

  • Apple will reveal its new innovations… The most analyzed quote of 2013 might have been CEO Tim Cook's statement that Apple has big plans for new products in 2014. Apple will enter the wearables space, will continue its march into the living room, and will expand its offerings for in-car experiences — any of which could be a breakout hit. 
  • …while making slow and steady improvements to retain its market leading status. The most under-analyzed trend of 2013 was Apple's slow-but-steady march into incremental innovations in 2013: The iPad Air and iPad Mini with Retina dispaly required increased production because of strong demand, while the iPhone 5S has sold better than any previous iPhone model. In 2014, Apple will diversify the iOS product base with major refreshes and perhaps larger devices (like the rumored 13" iPad and iPhone Phablet).
  • Microsoft and its partners will make progress on operating systems. Don't look now, but Windows Phone is now the clear #3 smartphone operating system. Although its market share globally remains under 5%, the platform now enjoys over 10% market share in Europe's five biggest markets, and has sured up its app base to 200,000+. On the PC side, Surface Pro 2 and even Surface 2 have sold out in Q4 (though whether due to exceptional demand or diminished production remains to be seen). Almost every conversation I have with an infrastructure buyer at an enterprise client indicates that Windows 2-in-1 devices are under consideration, at least by technology management if not by business leaders. In 2014, you'll see a gradual shift in the conversation: while shipment numbers will still struggle for PCs, acceptance and sales of Windows 8.1 and Windows Phone will grow within that smaller pie.
  • Chromebooks will consolidate their market gains… Midyear, I exhorted infrastructure professionals to take a good, hard look at Chromebooks. Since then, Chromebooks have done very well, capturing increasing proportions of the laptop market and luring new vendors like Dell into producing them. In 2014, the mainstreaming of Chromebooks will continue. The big knock on them next year? A deeper discussion of the bandwidth requirements for enterprises and schools, which can be considerable.
  • …even as Google attempts to converge Chrome OS and Android. In 2013, Google united its Chrome OS and Android teams under one leader, Sundar Pichai. Although Google management has endeavored to deny it, expect 2014 to be the year when Google tries to unite the two platforms (or at least lay out a timeframe for doing so). If QNX could emulate Android apps, why not Chrome OS? The Chromebook Pixel's touchscreen display seems a natural first step in this direction.
  • Chinese vendors will make a play for top-tier status. In 2013, Xiaomi, Lenovo, ZTE, and Huawei all made significant strides into the mobile handset arena. ZTE even made a play for the US handset market, while Lenovo hired Ashton Kutcher to build its brand and its tablet products. In 2014, these companies will each attempt to become the next Samsung, leveraging their scale in the Chinese market, supply chain prowess, technological sophistication, and growing strategic and marketing savvy to break out of the pack.

I encourage Forrester clients to read the full report, "Predictions 2014: Mobility and Computing Technologies in the Age of the Customer."

J. P. Gownder is a vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research serving Infrastructure & Operations Professionals. Follow him on Twitter at @jgownder.