10 tiny tech advances that will make 2015 awesome

We won't settle for anything less

2014 was a pretty great year for tech - we got big iPhones, curvy TVs, and more smartwatches than your wrist can handle.

But 2015 is going to be even better, what with virtual reality, shiny new satellites, and even a few tweaks to the very fabric of the internet itself. Here's our list of the tiny tech advances that we think will make 2015 a year to remember...

1. Battery tech

Batteries power the tech you spend most of your time with, but the design of the lithium-ion batteries commonly used is decades old, and severely limiting. Better batteries wouldn't just mean a week of smartphone use, or longer Netflix binges - they could make electric cars viable, provide a boost for renewable electricity, and maybe make your laptop a little lighter.

Note 4

Science has promised us faster-charging and longer-lasting batteries for decades, but 2015 might be the year that we finally see some progress. Research has provided solid leads on both improved lithium batteries, and quick-charging versions that last for 20 years. If just a tenth of these potential fixes gets into production, you could be visiting sockets far less frequently next year.

2. Galileo

GPS

By this stage, everyone is familiar with the Global Positioning System, the American satellite magic that helps you find your dinner restaurant, and tells you where to go when you're driving. But Europe has been working on its own version, Galileo, which is set to start working (albeit in a limited capacity) in 2015.

The most exciting improvement offered by Galileo is a search-and-rescue function. At the moment, distress beacons are detected by a decades-old satellite system, which uses a Doppler effect to local the signal - but only down to an accuracy of five kilometres. Galileo's satellites carry detectors for emergency beacons, and thanks to its geo-locating abilities, Galileo will be able to pass that distress signal on to the relevant authorities within minutes, rather than hours.

Galileo will also offer more precise location and faster connection than the existing GPS system, which is good news for the millions of us who rely on smartphone location day-in day-out.

3. VR's the star

Oculus Rift

We've spent the last few years admiring the dual promises of wearable computing and virtual reality from afar, technologies embodied by Oculus Rift and Google Glass. In 2015, it might finally be time for consumers to get their sweaty paws on both products.

Although Oculus Rift has shied away from putting a precise date on the release of its much-vaunted VR system, signs are pointing towards a 2015 release, with a price somewhere between £150-300. Even if we don't end up getting Oculus Rift next year, there'll be a bevy of other VR toys to play with, starting with Samsung's very new Gear VR.

On the wearable computing front, Google Glass is also slated for a 2015 launch - that is, assuming Google hasn't given up on the project altogether.

4. HTML5

HTML 5

One of the biggest changes you might notice in 2015 will be under the hood of the internet itself. HTML5, the latest iteration of the framework that powers web pages, was released in October this year. It's a major update, promising to speed up apps, kill off Flash altogether, and generally make the web prettier and faster.

However, it also requires developers and web designers to re-work their websites and code, and as such it's not an overnight change. Now that the standards for HTML5 have been firmly hashed out, you can expect it to become the default in 2015. Your overloaded browser will thank you, even if you don't notice.

5. Retina Macbook Air

MacBook Air

The Macbook Air has long been the best laptop for most people, but with one important caveat: the screen kinda sucks. While you can buy a Macbook Pro with a luscious high-pixel Retina display, or an iMac with the kind of screen than makes you fall in love with an inanimate object, the Macbook Air has been left out in the cold. Hopefully, that will all end next year.

It's been two years since Apple did anything significant with the Air (and even that was 'just' a re-working of the guts). Given Apple's Retina-ifcation of the iMac this year, and the general clamour for a Retina Macbook Air, it's almost inevitable that we'll see one this year.

Provided that the wizards at Cupertino can keep the Air's stellar battery life and svelte body with a Retina machine (and not require the pawning of three or more limbs to own one), the 2015 Retina Macbook Air could be the ultimate laptop.

6. Good Smartwatches

Android Wear

2014 was a big, bold year for smartwatches, but 2015 could be even better. There's the obvious: The Apple Watch will be landing sometime in the first few months, and chances are London's Regent Street might actually collapse under the weight of queuing fanboys. But 2015 will also be the year that smartwatches as a category truly matures.

In the Moto 360 and LG Watch R we saw devices with bags of promise, but still some deal breaking flaws. Now that companies have had a year or two to get to grips with software, work out the physical limitations and run a few thousand prototypes past focus groups, we might start seeing devices that look nice, run great, and don't need charging every single evening.

Not to mention smartwatch old-timer Pebble, which will probably be pushing out its third iteration this year. And you know what they say: the third instalment in a trilogy is always the best.

7. Windows 10

Windows 10

Statistically speaking, you're probably reading this article on a machine powered by Windows. It's not glamorous or exciting, but Microsoft's OS is still one of the most popular pieces of software around. And next year Windows 10 will be released.

Windows versions run in a hot-and-cold sequence: XP good, Vista bad, 7 great, 8 terrible. So by that logic, Windows 10 is going to be a hit. That hypothesis is backed up by our initial testing, which has shown Windows 10 to be the operating system that 8 should have been: all the speed improvements, none of the stupid home screens.

One other difference could be in how you pay for Windows 10. Apple has released the last few versions of OS X for free. Now, Microsoft's unlikely to follow suit - Windows is one of its last remaining cash cows - but it could well move to a different pricing model.

Specifically, Microsoft has moved to a subscription payment system for Office, and a similar move could be in the works for Windows 10. How much you'll have to fork over is still up in the air; but if we don't have to pay every few years for the latest version of Windows, it'll be a welcome change.

8. New Wi-Fi

Wi Fi

You might think that Wi-Fi is a decidedly old-hat technology, since it's been around for decades now. But in actuality, it's undergoing constant improvements to improve speed, reliability and security. 2015 could see some major improvements for your YouTube video streaming, with any luck.

The Wi-Fi 802.11ac standard has been around for over a year now. But to benefit from its vastly improved speeds, you need both a router that supports 802.11ac, and a phone with a compatible chipset. Unless you bought your home router and a brand-new phone this year, then there's very little chance that you're actually using 802.11ac.

But next year, every higher-end smartphone sold will likely have a ac-compatible chipset embedded, in the same way that you'd be hard-pressed to find a handset without 802.11n on sale today. Internet providers will also be upgrading users to 802.11ac-packing routers. Hopefully, you'll have an internet connection worthy of the new speed.

9. Fast-charging tech

Petalite Flux

With batteries still a major problem for smartphone users, a few companies are turning to a fairly simple fix - faster, wireless charging. A crowdfunding project for Petalite Flux, a portable battery pack that charges in just 15 minutes, has seen a lot of attention, and it's just the tip of the iceberg.

The Flux uses charging tech that's normally reserved for electric vehicles to charge 2600mAh in 15 minutes. That's about the same size battery as found in a smartphone, charged in about a sixth of the time.

Although the battery looks cool, the real excitement would be a smartphone manufacturer integrating the same tech into the phone itself. It's something that companies have proven surprisingly willing to do - the Galaxy S5 uses high-speed charging, as does the iPhone 6 for that matter.

If fast charging doesn't do it for you on its own, there's also the potential for fast, wireless charging. Freescale is a new wireless charging standard that promises to work three times faster than existing wireless chargers. If it can do that while not adding too much weight or cost to handsets, it could finally push wireless charging into the mainstream.

10. Steam Machines

Steam Machines

If you're a gamer, you might already be aware of the SteamOS project. It's a plan by PC game company Steam to get the power of PCs into your living room, with the same size and simplicity advantages as gaming consoles.

The system has two key components: SteamOS, a free version of Linux that'll run games happily, so you don't have to touch Windows when you want to game. And the Steam Machines, small form-factor PCs designed specifically for their gaming chops.

It's a very promising project, but sadly it's been delayed a little. Although you can download a beta right now, full release has been delayed until 2015. Hopefully, that'll be enough time to fix the minor bugs (and for them to finish work on Half Life 3, of course).