I've looked at Clouds through Glasses and Windows

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By Laura Haight

Originally published as The Digital Maven column in Upstate Business Journal

Technology moves so fast, it’s hard to fathom that just seven years ago there were no tablets, there were no smartphones. Most of us were hoping to get a new PC at work and mobile employees were angling for a new PCMIA wireless card so they could connect to the office via a wireless VPN.

Today, according to the Pew Research Center, 56 percent of all American adults have smartphones and another 36 percent have tablets. That’s like zero to everywhere in just a few years. It may be the fastest adaptation to new paradigm in modern history (if you are old enough, think back to the first gas crisis in 1972. Forty years later, we have barely crawled forward toward alternative fuel vehicles).

Here’s my take on the top tech trends of 2013.

Clash of the Titans

Technology is starting to look a lot like politics. Apple people hate Windows people and Android people hate Apple people and so it goes. 2013 sharpened the arguments with Apple winning a significant lawsuit against Samsung, and Microsoft coming off the ropes with an improved Surface RT and Pro tablet that claims to be the tablet for people who work.

Windows 8 was another shot over Apple’s bow although adaptation is slow. Many businesses don’t have the touch screen hardware necessary to take advantage of the tile interface, which is designed for touch not a mouse. Said one local software developer: “It’s the first time I ever had to go to a manual to figure out how to close an application.”

There have been casualties along the way: The PC was declared dead, then not dead but maybe sleeping. My opinion: the PC - the big black box on the desk (or floor) - is probably terminally ill. Small businesses are the PCs biggest adapter and the least prepared to just ditch a significant fixed asset investment. But when they are depreciated in five years, they will probably NOT be replaced with another PC. Maybe it will be a laptop, or a laptop/tablet hybrid, or maybe whatever hasn’t been seen yet. But it won’t be a PC.

Mobility and BYOD

Part of why it won’t be a PC is mobility. The adaptation to smartphones and tablets has changed the way we live, work and communicate. An expanding infrastructure, increasing understanding of and less fear of cloud-based apps and storage, are all leading us to be untethered from our offices. Again, technology changes have done a 360 double-Salchow with a sit-spin. It took Y2K (c’mon, you remember that, right?!) to make businesses look at technology as a critical business function. That’s when businesses started developing IT staff, establishing professional standards and accountability for computing, bringing chief information officers into the board room and building data centers managed by professionally trained staff.

By 2008, businesses around the country were dismantling what they had just built and now - with mobile devices as the driver we are back to Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) to work and allowing our employees to use their personal equipment for work. Why is this significant?

1. It starts to take responsibility for providing the employee with the tools to do their job away from the employer

2. It requires - no, it DEMANDS - that employees stop being babies about security. No, your 15-year-old cannot play online video games on your unsecured device that is connected to your business network. And for employers, this does not take you off the hook. What will you tell your customer? “We didn’t do it, it was Bob’s iPad that was hacked!”

Through a glass darkly - what things will we see?

They look funny. And have you ever seen someone walking down the street wearing Google Glass and gesturing with their heads? It’s a hoot. You may be tempted to write it off as a fad, but that would be short-sighted. Google Glass is just a toe in the water but the ripples will extend significantly. Wearable tech may take many forms and you may be using some of it now: wristbands that track your steps, heart rate and sleep patterns, for example, like Nike’s Fuel or the FitBit.

2013 is also the year that we started to talk about The Internet of Things or Internet 3.0. Devices monitoring themselves,  communicating with each other, adapting their programming to changing conditions without the benefit of human interaction. It’s very “i Robot” with incredible benefits intertwined with real risks. The warning label here should read: Pay Attention.

Happy 2014!