Expect tech sector to remain hot in 2014

This past holiday season showed yet again how popular tablets, smartphones and laptops are with consumers. It’s of little wonder, then, that a recent story in USA Today forecasted that 2014 will see huge profits for technology companies. The same story predicts that tech companies will continue to be some of the most profitable U.S. businesses. Again, this isn’t much of a surprise.

A strong performance

The USA Today story says that in 2014 technology companies that are part of the S&P 500 index should earn a net income that is 9.3 percent higher than it was in 2013. This information emanates from FactSet, a firm that calculates the earnings estimates of Wall Street. This coming year, then, stands to be an improvement from 2013: In that year, tech companies only saw their earnings rise by a tiny 1.9 percent.

Big profits

And USA Today expects tech companies to remain extremely profitable in the future. The story says that the tech sector annually ranks among the most profitable industries in the United States, a thing that the newspaper says shouldn’t change in 2014. According to the USA Today story, the tech sector should see a profit margin of 15 percent to 16 percent this year, a healthy figure.

A tech love affair?

Of course, this shouldn’t be shocking to U.S. consumers. Technology has long been a favorite of the U.S. shopper. With the exploding popularity of both tablets and smartphones, this really is something not going to change in the near future. So if you’re betting on which companies are going to have successful 2014s and beyond, look first to those that specialize in consumer technology.

Tech is about to get a lot simpler

Technology makes our lives easier. That’s undeniable. But it can also add to the stress and anxiety we face every day. Thankfully, technology should become a little more consumer friendly in 2014. At least that is what the Christian Science Monitor newspaper projected in a recent story.

Too much information?

Currently, the amount of technology and data accessible to us is overwhelming. The Monitor story states that the digital universe is doubling in size about every couple of years. It also said that we have more than 600 million websites now crowding cyberspace. And if that’s not overwhelming enough, Apple’s App store today features more than 1 million apps for consumers to download.

Where’s the simplicity?

The good news in the Monitor story is that simplicity is the big tech trend of 2014. Consumers are demanding that their technology be easy to use and easier to understand. Indeed, what’s the point of having all this tech if you have to be a genius to understand how to use it?

Google, Apple show the way

This makes sense because we already know that simple can pay off. Just have a look at Google and Apple. These two tech giants already offer some of the simplest yet powerful tech tools out there. Consider the elegant simplicity of Google search or the out-of-the-box computing power of the iPad. Let’s hope that Google and Apple can inspire other tech providers to move toward simplicity.

Can tech make Target-type data breaches history?

Giant retailer Target generated the wrong kind of headlines during the 2013 holiday season. Hackers had stolen data on the credit-card accounts of 40 million customers who’d shopped at the retailer’s stores. A recent report from CBS Minnesota, though, says that new technology might make such data breaches far less common.

Waiting for smart cards

What would help? CBS Minnesota points to smart cards, which are already widely used throughout much of Europe. These credit cards, which store all of a consumer’s accounts on one card, make use of microchips and PINs, which makes them far more secure than the low-tech bank cards consumers in the United States use. Smart-card data breaches, simply put, hardly ever happen. Regretably, it might still be several years before these high-tech cards arrive in the United States.

The power of masking

Shoppers in the United States can already take advantage of masking technology. CBS Minnesota reports that masked cards generate temporary numbers whenever consumers use them to buy something online or at brick-and-mortar stores. This number goes away once the transaction is done, making it worthless for hackers who manage to steal it.

More options

Of course, following the Target disaster, consumers have the right to wonder why safer smart cards aren’t currently available in the United States. There’s no easy answer. But many speculate that credit-card companies have not yet upgraded to the new equipment necessary to make these high-tech cards work. And until they do? The smart cards won’t arrive in the United States.

Tech failures were common in 2013

The past year wasn’t without its major tech disasters. And the Telegraph newspaper wasn’t shy about showcasing them. In its year-end look into the biggest tech failures of 2013, the Telegraph focused on three miscues that truly showed how tech can backfire when it’s not adequately tested or monitored.

The healthcare fiasco

Pres. Obama fought to get the Affordable Care Act enacted. Then when it was time to roll out the Healthcare.gov website that was to be the online home of the new insurance plan, he and his fellow White House staffers stumbled big time: The site was a total disaster. It rarely loaded. And when consumers were lucky enough to log on, they struggled to find the insurance information they wanted. The site has been mostly fixed since then, but the fiasco has left a stain on Obama’s legacy.

Travel foul-up

Online travel booking site Sabre had a rough 2013, also. The site went down for three hours last year at the height of the student travel season. This left thousands of passengers stranded at airports throughout the country, and resulted in countless flight cancellations. And just think, the site went offline for only three hours.

Walmart’s “bargain”

In October, consumers visiting Walmart’s website thought they’d found a great bargain when they managed to buy computer monitors and other gear for just $8.99, even though these tech items were valued as much as $500. Walmart blamed tech glitches and refused to honor the discount deals. You can bet that customers were angry. If you wanted proof, you just needed to log on to social media.

Does $38 get you much of a tablet?

Remember when tablets that were priced under $100 were a big deal? Now tablet makers are offering their products at prices much lower. The big question, though, is if these budget-priced tablets are worth the money. Time Magazine recently took a look at this question, reviewing the new Ubislate 7Ci tablet from Datawind. What’s interesting about this tablet? It only costs $38.

Price wars

Tablet makers have been involved in a protracted price war. The goal? To get at the dollars of the country’s more budget-minded customers. The economy may be improving across the country. Yet it is not improving rapidly. And many consumers are still seeing tight budgets at home. Business owners, too, are looking to save money when considering tech purchases.

The Ubislate

It seems odd to ask if the Ubislate 7Ci is worth it. It only costs $38. But Time’s review says that the tablet performs about as good as you would think a $38 tablet would perform. It doesn’t provide much storage. Its viewing angles are lacking. Its battery dies too quickly. And its performance definitely falls into the sluggish category.

How cheap?

Still, although the performance isn’t great, Time does acknowledge that the Datawind price point is notable. And Time’s review suggests that this tablet will not be the last cheaply priced device to hit the market. Datawind’s chief executive officer recently told the Washington Post that his company hopes to one day unveil $20 tablets. That would be awfully impressive.