Rich Warren: Let's take a look into the Willow Glass ball

Rich Warren: Let's take a look into the Willow Glass ball

Technology shatters crystal balls. So the glassmaker Corning Corp. invented flexible, nearly indestructible Willow Glass as mentioned last year. You'll be seeing it in and on current and future smartphones, tablets, TVs and possibly even car windows.

Forecasts are so yesterday. During the past two decades that this column predicted future tech, it scored about 90 percent plus prescient. Yet, here on the second day of 2014, the future simultaneously shimmers fuzzier and clearer than ever. As I wrote once before, nearly any technology about which you can dream will become reality. It won't take 70 years like the Dick Tracy wrist radio.

Like it or not, constant and intimate connection will bind us, enabled by some form of smartphone, tablet or similar device yet to be conceived. The Internet today. The Internet tomorrow. The Internet forever. A forest of copper, fiber, pulsed light and radio waves will capture us in its weave.

Free broadcast TV and radio will fade from the scene in the course of a generation. Newspapers and magazines will survive in new paperless forms. (Sorry, boss.) Does it actually make sense to power a TV or radio transmitter with huge amounts of electrical power? Similarly, what is the worth of a conventional printing press and expensive paper?

Thus, every product delivering entertainment, education, information, pleasure and/or enlightenment will involve connecting us and interacting with "the cloud." The successful products and technologies will do this smarter, faster and cheaper. This prediction is a no-brainer.

While the same cast of characters, such as Apple, Google, Microsoft and a few others will be on the scene in 20 or more years, a handful of new companies that don't exist today will dominate the scene. Picking survivors in technology is like illuminating an asteroid with a laser beam. Anyone remember Myspace?

I predict the following in the near term: All portable electronics will be dazzlingly thinner, lighter and probably flexible. There will be more shapes and tactile impressions. Even cheap screens will look as good as Apple's Retina screens today. It wasn't many years ago that anti-lock brakes and traction control were expensive options on cars.

Home TV screens will grow and curve to resemble IMAX. The new 4K ultra-high definition standard will not take off until it offers more than just improved resolution. Entertainment experiences will immerse you. Virtual reality will feel less virtual.

While expensive products create buzz, hardware will continue falling in price. The much anticipated Apple TV remains MIA. Entertainment, which includes movies and TV shows, will grow more expensive.

The biggest breakthrough in the next decade will be batteries. New forms and compositions of lighter, more durable, incredibly long lasting batteries still in the lab will safely power all of our new toys. Think of a smartphone with a full week or two of battery life. A decade ago, lithium ion batteries were a very expensive novelty. Today they finally power nearly every power tool and hand-held vacuum cleaner.

These two unlikely to succeed trends exemplify hyperbole. Google Glass, those glasses with tiny virtual screens, camera, and wireless Internet connectivity, may find a small niche market, but most of us will discover Google Glass comes with as many drawbacks and dangers as benefits.

Neither Amazon, nor any other company will deliver products using drones. Jeff Bezos, the head of Amazon, knows how to get publicity, and it was this holiday season's greatest publicity stunt. Think for a moment of hundreds, if not thousands of drones buzzing around like houseflies.

What about birds, power lines, piloted aircraft, weather and humans with less-than-noble attitudes toward them? We may see driverless, electric UPS and FedEx vans traversing set routes on set schedules, but they won't be flying.

The International Consumer Electronics Show takes over Las Vegas next week. We'll report on the newest, most significant products that you can enjoy this year.

Rich Warren, who lives in the Champaign area, is a longtime reviewer of consumer electronics. He can be emailed at

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