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December 30, 2013

In technology, 2013 was a more amazing year than you think

If you go by the headlines, the iPhone 5S and Google Glass were the big technology stories of 2013, and Twitter's IPO was the event of the year. The coverage of Glass focused mostly on its privacy implications — not its ability to change the world. And iPhone and Twitter were just more of the same. So we could end the year really disappointed because nothing dramatic seems to have happened on the technology front.

But look again, at the stories we missed. So much happened, in fact, that I believe we have set the stage for the transformation of entire industries.

Smaller has become cooler in computers. Tablets sales continued to increase and have eclipsed PCs and desktops. The iPad mini, which at first seemed to be a disappointment, was a major success. Prices are continuing to plunge as computing power and functionality grow exponentially. With the U.S. availability of the India-made $37.99 Datawind tablet, there will be greater downward pressure. It won't be long before Amazon gives you a free tablet for signing up for Amazon Prime.

This will spell disaster for old-line computer companies such as Dell, Acer and Microsoft.

Electric cars proved their mettle. Despite a disparaging review by The New York Times, which it later conceded had "problems with precision and judgment," and negative rumors about safely, range and reliability, Tesla achieved astonishing success. Its customers, who include me, lauded the car. Its stock rose to new heights. Consumer Reports gave Tesla's Model S its highest ranking ever. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reaffirmed its 5-star safety ratings. Tesla has proven the viability of electric cars and demonstrated their superiority. All major car manufacturers are now developing electric cars for a market that will surely grow.

Technology is improving health care. Quantified Self devices such as Fitbit and Nike Fuelband are becoming widely available. You even see these on the shelves of Apple Stores. Companies are running contests using these devices to encourage employees to get more exercise. Smartphone add-ons such as the Alivecor heart monitor are being prescribed by doctors. Interestingly, Apple recently patented a heart monitor sensor for the iPhone. Our smartphones are destined to become our prime medical advisers. I expect they will one day chide us to get more exercise, drink less alcohol and watch our calorie intake. They will tell us when we are about to get sick and which medicines to take. We will only turn to our doctors for refuge.

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