Alistair Charlton looks into the IBTimes UK crystal ball to try and determine what the biggest technology stories of 2014 will be.

"I truly believe that one day, there will be a telephone in every town in America." - Those words were uttered shortly after Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone, and go some way to explain why predicting the future of technology is so difficult.

It's a given that most inventions get faster, smaller, more powerful and cheaper - but the rate at which things will happen, and how much this rate will accelerate, is all but impossible to predict.

So, with some trepidation, what follows are my predictions for technology in 2014.

It's make-or-break time for smartwatches

Samsung Galaxy Gear smartwatch
The Galaxy Gear failed to be a success; now all eyes are on Apple to announce the iWatch in 2014. Reuters

I lost count of how many times I typed 'iWatch' in 2013. Apple's smartwatch is yet to be made official, but that didn't stop Samsung and others scrambling to beat it to the punch - because when Apple tries its hand at something new, great things tend to follow.

But where the iMac/Pod/Phone/Pad all made perfect sense, immediately filling a gap in the market, the smartwatch hasn't yet made an impressive pitch for itself. Samsung's Galaxy Gear received poor reviews and could well be replaced in early 2014 if rumours are true.

Apple's entrance to this nascent market will be a big step, because while the eyes of the world will no doubt be on Tim Cook's company, the use case for a smartwatch by any manufacturer is limited at best, and downright confusing at worst.

The iWatch will arrive in 2014 and it will look great, but I can't see it enjoying the same mainstream success as previous iDevices.

Better battery technology

Software improvements went some way to improving battery life in 2013, but a fundamental change in battery technology is needed if smartphones are to last more than two days.

Until a scientific breakthrough, it'll be down to chip manufacturers and software programmers to get the most out of what's currently available. Apple and Intel proved in 2013 that a laptop can (just about) last all day - now I want to see a smartphone which can last all week.

Death of the hybrid computer

Acer Aspire R7
The Acer Aspire R7 demonstrates all that is wrong with hybrid computers. A track pad in the wrong place and a design last seen in Star Trek. Acer

Windows 8 let manufacturers go wild in 2013. The regular laptop was replaced by a huge range of alternatives which fell somewhere between tablet and laptop, but were unable to replace either device successfully.

Laptops with rotating, flippable and detachable screens arrived, claiming to revolutionise computing - but all they really did was confuse consumers by presenting solutions to problems that never really existed.

Hybrids will die in 2014, just as netbooks did a couple of years earlier. It was fun while it lasted, but manufacturers will soon realise they cracked the basic laptop design more than 20 years ago. If it's not broken, don't fix it.

Biometrics is the new password

Too many people use terrible passwords to keep their phones locked and online data safe. A massive data breach which saw the theft of millions of usernames and passwords of Adobe customers revealed the extent of the problem - not just of the hack itself, but of the sheer number of users who choose '123456' as their password.

Touch ID
Biometric security will become more widely used in 2014. Reuters

Apple made some headway in 2013 with the iPhone 5s and its Touch ID fingerprint scanner. More of this, along with compulsory two-step authentication for social networks and email, will help keep us safe in 2014.

Ericsson ConsumerLab agrees: "Our research found that 52% of smartphone users want to use their fingerprints instead of passwords and 48% are interested in using eye-recognition to unlock their screen. A total of 74% believe that biometric smartphones will become mainstream during 2014."

Bitcoin and crypto-currencies

When I started this feature I had bitcoin labelled as a positive story for 2014, with its price soaring just as the Winklevoss twins predicted. But then China's central bank banned financial services from using it, causing its value to tumble from more than $1,000 per coin to less than $500 in a single week.

Bitcoin's volatility will continue through 2014, but as less restrictive countries continue to invest in making bitcoin more usable and easily accessible, its value will rise once again. Ultimately, the currency's success or failure will hinge on decisions made by governments, central banks and the US Senate.

Providing China's approach is not copied by others, bitcoin's value should recover in early 2014. Expect to see weekly stories of countries stating their position on the currency, and high-profile retailers accepting it as payment.

Smartphone design more important than ever

I'm forever being asked what the best smartphone is, and I'm increasingly having to explain that they are all just about as good as each other. Choosing a smartphone is down to personal preference now more than ever, with screen size and price dominating proceedings.

With performance reaching a plateau, manufacturers will focus on design and giving their products a higher sense of value. Plastic will give way to aluminium and carbon fibre, and 2013's trend of adding gold to gadgets will continue - for better or for worse.

Sapphire crystal will also become more widely used by smartphone makers as a tougher alternative to glass. 2014 will be a year of good-looking phones, as consumers grow bored of cheap-feeling glossy plastic. I hope Samsung is listening.

Connected homes become affordable

A connected home was possible in 2013, but only for the particularly well-heeled. 2014 will see the price of connected gadgets fall, and the use of them dramatically increase. From smartphone-controlled light bulbs and thermostats, to connected cars and home automation, the Internet of Things will enter the mainstream.

Difficulties will remain, however, as until one company or one standard is used across all home equipment - from your curtains to your toaster - a truly connected house will be difficult to achieve and complex to use. There's huge potential here for Android and iOS.

Television shifts evermore online and on-demand

Kevin Spacey, House of Cards
As more television is consumed online through services like Netflix, more TV series will debut online, as House of Cards, featuring Kevin Spacey, did in 2013. Reuters

In 2014 our television viewing will be in our control more than ever before. Services like the BBC iPlayer have helped to start the revolution, but ever more affordable Smart TVs will see on-demand jump from laptops and tablets to the television.

And it won't just be catchup services which excel in 2014; content creators will follow the Netflix model of releasing entire series of programmes at once, leading to changes in the way writers tell their stories, knowing viewers may well consume an entire series over a single weekend.

Commercial space flight begins

Virgin Galactic will begin offering commercial flights to space - or at least to the edge of space - where passengers will experience six minutes of weightlessness for $250,000.

Virgin Galactic
Commercial space flight will begin in 2014, headed by Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic offering trips for 0,000. Reuters

The very fact that commercial spaceflight has been made possible in the same lifetimes as those who saw man first venture into space is incredible in itself, and this will no doubt pave the way for rival operators to join the market.

Looking further ahead, Virgin Galactic founder Sir Richard Branson wrote in The Economist: "Using our second-generation payload vehicles we will eventually build space science labs and hotels, providing the capability for missions beyond the orbit of time, we will launch missions to Mars and beyond."

Tesla kickstarts UK electric car market

I named the Tesla Model S as one of the greatest technology innovations of 2013, and the company will sell right-hand-drive models in the UK from March, starting at £49,900.

Exempt from road tax and the London congestion charge, the Model S could pose a real threat to the likes of Audi and BMW, whose mid-range saloons are snapped up in the hundreds by the managers of company car fleets.

If Tesla can install a network of superchargers large enough to remove drivers' range anxiety and offer attractive bulk-buy discounts for large fleet orders, the company could see success in the UK and Europe.