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The 5 mobile technologies to watch in 2014

Report: Mobile technology

Take a step back from your iPad, iPhone, Galaxy, or whatever for a moment. What you hold in your hand today should undergo serious improvements in 2014, given the groundwork laid in 2013. For some people, taking advantage of those improvements will mean getting new devices, but many current device owners - especially those who bought Apple's latest models - will access them in what they already own.

1. 64-bit apps
iOS 7 debuted with the 64-bit Apple A7 processor in the iPhone 5s, iPad Air, and iPad Mini with Retina display. Apple's Xcode 5 IDE allows creation of 64-bit apps from existing code, so the iOS world will see 64-bit apps become common in 2014. As with the transition to 64-bit apps in Mac OS X Snow Leopard, most apps won't really take advantage of the greater processing and memory capabilities in their first 64-bit versions, both because developers won't have figured out how to get the maximum effect in the first go-round, and because they won't want the 32-bit versions of their apps used on older devices to be radically inferior until enough of the market has 64-bit devices.

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After Apple debuted the A7 in September, several Android smartphone makers said they too would ship 64-bit devices, likely using a recent ARM reference design. But that won't do much for them until Google has a 64-bit version of Android to run on it. Expect that in the second half of 2014, giving iOS nearly a year's lead time in 64-bitness.

2. Spatial sensitivity
Motorola Mobility debuted its X8 motion coprocessor in the Moto X this year, and Apple followed up with its own M8 motion coprocessor in the iPhone 5s, iPad Air, and Retina iPad Mini. You won't find these coprocessors in a PC, which tend not to be used in motion or with devices that move. But smartphones and tablets are used on the go and for items in motion, such as fitness monitors and navigation devices.

A motion coprocessor will make it easier for mobile devices to incorporate tracking of their own motion as well as that of peripherals into their computing. Using a coprocessor means there's less drag on (and power usage from) the main processor, so apps that use spatial sensitivty derived from motion can run all day - even when the device is asleep. If you use GPS on your mobile device and see how it burns through your battery in minutes, you know avoiding that drainage is critical to making it a capability you'll leave turned on.

As motion processing is built into more devices, apps and peripherals that can take imaginative use of them will proliferate - it's not just for runners and those trying to lose weight. Again, the iOS world will have a good year's lead time on this technology because motion processing is now standard in all new Apple devices, whereas only Motorola and parent company Google have it (so far) in the Android world.

3. Beacons
They're in your neighborhood Apple Store, and they're coming to sports stadia, shopping malls, and perhaps downtowns. These little devices use Bluetooth to communicate with your mobile device and a Wi-Fi or Ethernet connection to connect to the Internet, serving as an information waystation. That may sound like just a Wi-Fi access point, but it's not - in fact, beacons aren't access points at all.

Instead, they're location-specific points of contact. That means they serve a small area - Bluetooth's roughly 30-foot range - to provide custom interaction related to that specific area. For example, a walking tour, zoo, or museum could use them to know what you're looking at and provide links to relevant details or to play an audio or video for that tour segment. A stadium could use them to know where you are so that the food you ordered gets to you faster or to tell you the nearest restroom's location. A store's online help or inventory system would know what department you're shopping in.

Beacons don't require interaction, of course - they can simply record the Bluetooth network addresses of devices that come in range to build a model of foot traffic, where people tend to linger, and so on, all of which would be of great interest to retailers, urban planners, and police. But the interesting applications for individual users will involve websites and apps that interact with beacons to know where you are, then customize content and services accordingly. There's a lot of potential for innovation with beacons, as well as potential for marketing and other privacy abuses.

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