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Top technology to watch in 2015, from hoverboards to wearable tech, and the gadgets we really want

It is the year Back to the Future II predicted sneakers would lace themselves and kids would fly about on hoverboards.

Technology in 2015 technology may fall short of those lofty goals but there is still much to anticipate, from virtual reality to smart motorcycle helmets and, yes, at least one hoverboard.

We peer into the crystal ball to deliver 10 top technologies to watch next year.

Virtual reality headsets

It’s been promised before but virtual reality really is coming this year. Honest. Samsung announced its much-anticipated Gear VR headset will arrive in “early 2015,” and the company that helped create Samsung’s headset, Oculus, is rumoured to be releasing its own virtual reality goggles in November. The Samsung Gear VR ($249) will deliver virtual 360-degree video using a Galaxy Note 4 phone as a screen, while the Oculus Rift will feature its own 7-inch OLED display with stereoscopic 3D.

Turns out you don’t need to be on Verizon to buy Google Pixel

You saw pictures this week of the new Google Pixel and Pixel XL. You want to buy one, but you read somewhere it’s only available on Verizon. Is that true?

To quote Walter Sobchak from “The Big Lebowski,” “You’re like a child who wanders into the middle of a movie.”

You’re not sure what’s going on.

Let’s start by clearing up this Verizon exclusive business. In the United States, the Google Pixel phones are available as exclusives through Verizon, both online and in its stores. However, that doesn’t mean the Pixels will only work on Verizon’s network.

Usually, the word exclusive means “restricted or limited to.” In this case, Verizon is the exclusive carrier selling the phone — meaning, you can’t buy one at an AT&T or Sprint store. However, you can buy a Pixel online through Verizon or the Google Store and use it on any major carrier. Just slap in another carrier’s SIM card and you’re good to go.

Whether bought through Google or Verizon, “the phones are already unlocked,” confirmed George Koroneos, who is on Verizon’s corporate communications team. But if you try to preorder a Pixel on the Verizon website, it forces you to add a plan. So this would not be the best way to get a Pixel if you’re not going to use it on Verizon.

So here’s my recommendation: If you’re already on Verizon, buy the Pixel from Verizon. The company offers its customers up to $300 savings (in the form of account credit) for trading in an old device. If you’re not on Verizon, buy the phone through the Google Store and choose whichever major carrier (AT&T, Sprint or T-Mobile) you want. It’s a simple decision, really.

The Pixel starts at $649 outright for the 32GB model (£599, AU$1,079). Both Google and Verizon offer financing for the Pixel. Verizon’s financing is $24.08/month for 24 months and Google’s is $24.04/month for 24 months. If you preorder the Pixel, both Verizon and Google will throw in the $79 Daydream View virtual reality headset for free.

The Google Pixel and Pixel XL are currently available for preorder and will be available in stores and online starting October 20.

BMW to introduce self-parking car tech at CES 2015

BMW is set to demonstrate a prototype system that will automatically park a car in a multi-story car park without the use of GPS or the presence of a driver.

Called the Remote Valet Parking Assistant, the technology combines onboard laser scanners with a map of car park’s layout to enable the driver to exit the vehicle before it navigates itself through the structure autonomously.

The car will then find an empty spot, park, lock itself and then wait to be summoned by the driver when they are ready to depart.

The Remote Valet Parking Assistant is controlled via the driver’s smartwatch, which also monitors the driver’s location so the car can meet them at the car park exit.

BMW says the same sensor technology can be used to bring crash-free driving closer to reality. Similar to the autonomous emergency braking (AEB) systems seen in existing vehicles, the system developed by the Bavarian car brand monitors 360-degrees around the car, and acts to stop the car when it detects an obstacle.

BMW will showcase the new technology aboard an i3 – their all-new fully-electric car – bringing together its green drivetrains and driver safety systems.

This isn’t the first time BMW have dabbled in autonomous driving, however.

In 2009 a development version of a modified 330i called the Track Trainer navigated the 22.8km, 154-corner Nordschleife circuit using the ideal racing line and at racing speeds.

The BMW Track Trainer has also driven racing-speed laps at Laguna Seca in the US, Zandvoort in the Netherlands, Valencia in Spain as well as the Hockenheimring and Lausitzring in Germany.

BMW’s autonomous vehicle development continued in 2011, with a development vehicle taking to the motorway between Munich and Nuremberg without driver intervention (although one was present in the car).

BMW’s self-parking i3 will be on display at the Consumer Electronics Show, which runs from January 6 to 9 in Las Vegas.

Sierra update arrives on Macs: Four things to look for

The latest software update for Mac computers, MacOS Sierra, brings iPhone services to Apple laptops and desktops and further breaks down walls between devices.

The latest software update for Mac computers, MacOS Sierra, brings iPhone services to Apple laptops and desktops and further breaks down walls between devices. It also borrows an iPad feature for watching video while you work and offers ways to automatically free up storage space.

The free update is available Tuesday through the Mac’s app store. If you have any crucial third-party software or accessories, you might want to hold off until you verify that they will work properly with Sierra. Check with the software or accessory maker, or look for any complaints online. Be sure to back up your data before upgrading.

Once you have Sierra, here are things to look for:

iPHONE COMES TO THE MAC

Sierra brings two features already found on iPhones: the Siri virtual assistant and Apple Pay.

Siri can help with directions, web searches, reminders and even Mac-specific commands, such as putting the Mac to sleep. I find it odd, though, to talk to a computer, so I still use the keyboard and trackpad most of the time. Unlike Microsoft’s Cortana assistant on Windows computers, however, Siri won’t take typed requests in public settings such as coffee shops; all you can do is talk to her.

Where Siri helps is in letting me pin results to the Mac’s notification center, so I can continually get baseball standings and scores after asking Siri just once. I can also drag and drop Siri results such as weather and maps into email, Word documents and other apps.

Apple’s payment service, meanwhile, now works with websites that enable it, although you’ll still need an iPhone or Apple Watch nearby to complete the transaction. Apple Pay saves you the trouble of re-entering credit card and shipping information.

DEVICES WORK AS ONE

Apple’s devices now all work together much better, though you’ll only notice if you have an iPhone or Apple Watch in addition to a Mac. When you copy text or an image from one device, you can paste it in another signed in to the same Apple ID.

This feature proved crucial on a train when I typed a passage in a Word document but didn’t have Wi-Fi to send it in before a deadline. I copied the passage with the usual Command-C combination. I then pasted it into email on the iPhone with the usual long press on the screen. I sent that in with the phone’s cellular connection. My boss didn’t need to know I wasn’t in the office yet.

It works the other way, too. When I see an interesting website on the phone, I can paste a relevant passage into a Mac document without revisiting the site.

And if you have an Apple Watch, you can now unlock the Mac simply by waking up the computer with the watch on. No more typing in passwords. Setting that up took time because the Mac required that I tighten my Apple ID security settings first, but now the Mac unlocks instantly.

SAVING SPACE

Sierra brings several space-saving features, including the automatic deletion of files from the trash can after 30 days. Normally, you need to manually empty the trash can every now and then.

As space runs low, the Mac will also remove files you can get again online — namely, iTunes video and email attachments. If you choose to sync your desktop and document folder through iCloud, the Mac will also delete older files and keep them online only. You’ll still see the file on the Mac, but when you open it, the Mac will retrieve it from iCloud, presuming you’re online.

VIDEO ON THE MAC

A picture-in-picture feature, already in iPads for a year, lets you watch video in a small window that stays on top, even as you move windows around. It works with iTunes and some Safari video.

In fact, as I wrap up this story, I’m watching the movie “Inside Out” in a corner.