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5 Leading Innovation Trends of 2012

How do we love thee, innovation? Let us count the ways trends.

This is by no means a complete list, but definitely a handful of some of the most active spaces this year. I expect the momentum they’ve gained to continue well into 2013.

1. mCommerce

Consumers and media outlets alike were all kinds of excited when Jack Dorsey and friends introduced mobile payment system, Square, back in 2010. The response from businesses (a.k.a. the catch-up game), however, owned the headlines in 2012.

By putting more control in the hands of consumers, mobile advancements from all corners of the business world now aim to change the way we shop and make decisions. One recent example comes from eBay, which added image recognition to a couple of their shopping apps, allowing consumers to virtually search for items by uploading a picture through their device.

Another examples comes from Dwell Media and AhaLife, which partnered this year in order to develop and release a shoppable magazine. Using the Dwell+AhaLife app, consumers reading the physical version can scan an item with their phone and be immediately directed to AhaLife’s site, where a one-tap function allows them to make a purchase.

2. Upgraded Interfaces

There was a lot of chatter surrounding Apple’s decision to focus on the screen this year. In addition to a larger iPhone display, the company announced retina display for a the 15 and 13-inch MacBook Pro as well as the iPad Mini.

Many other progressive consumer electronics companies have followed suit in the realization that simple and beautiful usage outweighs a mountain of features. The expectation is that we’ll see an even heavier focus on the capabilities of interfaces as we move into 2013, leading to interaction that’s more intuitive and easy for consumers to adopt.

For fun, check out a recent article from CNN, which predicts a computer’s ability to touch, see, hear, taste and smell by 2018.

3. Intelligent Personal Assistants

iPhone users had a great time harassing Siri when the mobile agent was first released, but today speech interpretation software is on the up in a very serious way. Accordingly, Android users rejoiced in October when the Dragon Mobile Assistant was released by Nuance Communications, allowing users to send texts, make calls, set appoints, etc. all by voice command.

“We’re at a transition point where voice and natural-language understanding are suddenly at the forefront,” said Vlad Sejnoha, Nuance’s chief technology officer.”I think speech recognition is really going to upend the current [computer] interface.”

Think about your personal computer or mobile device being to you what Jarvis is to Iron Man. Imagine being able say “tell everyone today’s meeting is cancelled” and having that message immediately sent to all participants.

Furthermore, companies like Nuance are looking to install speech interfaces in many more places, such as the television and the automobile.

4. Health-Tech

Tech is helping the healthcare industry step up its game in a major way by focusing on preventative measures and early detection.

Michael McAlpine’s new circuit is a personal favorite. The stamp-sized device is designed to send out a warning signal upon the detection of dangerous bacteria. The aim is to eventually get it down to a size small enough to fit on a human tooth, but for now McAlpine’s team is happy with the success they’ve seen with cow teeth.

“We went from a computer that fit in a room, to a computer that goes on your desk, to a computer that can go in your pocket,” he noted. Joining computers to the body, he says, is “the next logical step.”

Other notable developments include:

SkinVision: this app scans and monitors moles over time, aiming to prevent malignant skin cancers.

Zensorium Tinke: single-touch health stats right on your iPhone. Users simply plug the small device into an iOS dock connector, touch it and boom! Heart rate, breathing rate, and oxygen content in the blood are all detected by bouncing infrared rays through the fingertip.

5. Social Music

Let’s finish on a really fun note, shall we?

Forget shelves of CDs, having to upgrade the storage space on your mobile device, and even Pandora. Streaming music through social, subscription-based platforms is all the rage. Just ask Spotify, a company which this year moved from the tech periphery into the mainstream space with the help of Facebook and a few added features.

As it turns out, the majority of users don’t mind making their listening activities available to their friends, and access to (almost) everything wins out over ownership of some. We could get into how heavily that has shifted the music industry, pirating and other logistical problems, but then we’d be here all day.

I’m still irked that I can’t deactivate my Facebook account without killing Spotify (sometimes I just want to go off the grid with my music, you know?), but will admit that having a community has helped me to discover some of my favorite new tunes.