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2014: What Google searches tell us about the year in tech

The technology sector reeled off plenty of innovation in 2014. Here's what Google search trends tell us about the year in tech.

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If you are wondering what people care about, looking at their search history is probably a good place to start. Search companies like Google probably know more about their users' behavior than the people's neighbors do.

Every year, Google releases an annual Year in Search list of the top search trends and some of the growing interests in specific categories. Previously referred to as the Google Zeitgeist, the information and its accompanying video highlight show us what we went looking for in 2014.

As you can imagine, major headlines and pop star weddings took center stage, but there was also some interesting information regarding science and technology. Here are some of the top tech trends that Google identified in its look back at the year 2014.

1. Mobile

According to Google, five of the top 100 global trends for 2014 were occupied by phones. Apple, Samsung, and Nexus were the frontrunners, which isn't surprising given the popularity of the releases by those companies this year.

While the sale of feature phones dropped by 25% in the third quarter of 2014, according to Gartner research, the sale of smartphones jumped by more than 20%, reaching over 300 million units. Samsung was the top dog, selling more than 73 million units, with Apple in second place after selling a little more than 38 million units.

The interesting point from this recent Gartner data, though, is the rise of upstart vendors Huawei and Xiaomi, who took third and fourth place respectively selling more than 15 million phones each. Both of these vendors are trying to capitalize on emerging markets. Their quick success gives us a clear picture of the hunger for smartphones around the world, which Gartner said is increasing.

When it comes to operating systems, Android continues to stand way ahead of the competition with close to 85% market share in the third quarter of 2014, according to IDC. iOS and Blackberry dropped by roughly one percent, and Windows Phone dropped by about three quarters of a percent. With its focus on both entry-level devices for emerging markets and high-end premium lines, as well as its broad vendor partnership, it's clear that Android will be the top mobile player in 2015.

2. Wearables

Without a doubt, 2014 was the breakout year for wearables. South Korea led the interest in wearable tech with Japan following second and Singapore third. According to Google's data, interest in wearables has grown slowly all year, peaking in mid-March and early September.

The peak in March was undoubtedly a product of the Motorola announcement of the Moto 360 smartwatch, and the peak in September was due to the Apple announcement that included information about the Apple Watch.

Apple and Samsung weren't alone, as many of the top smartphone vendors stepped into the wearables space with smartwatches. Gartner is predicting that smartwatches will make up roughly 40% of wrist devices by 2016, and smartwatches will drop in price down to $30 as new vendors enter the space worldwide.

However, smartwatches weren't the only devices driving the wearable craze. Fitness trackers, heart monitors, connected jewelry, and other devices such as Google Glass all contributed to the conversations that took place around wearables.

Wearable devices haven't proven their staying power just yet, as smartwatch critics point out their dependency on a smartphone, and fitness wearable users tend to lose interest after a few months.

For wearable manufacturers moving forward, fashion and design will need more focus as some have pointed to merging form and function as the key to wearable success.

3. Quantum computing

Quantum computing, the concept of using the laws of quantum mechanics to process information had its share of internet interest as well in 2014. While the interest remained fairly steady throughout the year, there was a major spike in May that can likely be attributed to Google's D-Wave announcement.

The D-Wave was born out of a Google partnership with NASA, and it currently resides at the Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California. The computer is powered by a niobium wire chip, instead of the standard silicon, and it is billed as the first practical quantum computer.

There were some quantum computers in existence before, but most are no where close to being considered practical. Japan led the interest in quantum computing, according to Google, but Canada, the US, and Germany all showed heavy interest as well.

4. Drones

While drones were typically considered only for military use, the rise of consumer-grade drones drove online interest in the flying craft. Spain was the most interested in Drones, with the US right behind it in terms of interest. Uruguay rounded out the top three.

In addition to the general availability of consumer drones, the popularity of the "drone selfie" also added fuel to the fire and sent more people online looking for information. "Dronies" as they are sometimes labeled, even have their own channels on video sharing sites and are easy to find on Instagram.

Corporate interest added another layer to the drone hype, as companies looked into ways to utilize the technology to promote products. Amazon was the cornerstone of this movement with its Prime Air drone delivery service, which drew a ton of media interest. Additionally. other companies have looked to drones for advertising, and some organizations are using them to film events, like a football game.

5. Virtual reality

If the internet was as ubiquitous in the 1980s as it is today, there would definitely be some searches for virtual reality. In 2014, virtual reality stepped back into the limelight as consumers re-imagined what could be done with the technology.

The US was the most interested in virtual reality in 2014, with Malaysia, and then Canada, following close behind. The interest was fairly low to begin the year, but the announcement of Facebook's acquisition of Oculus Rift saw a surge in online interest in late March. In fact, Google's no. 1 query for the category was "virtual reality oculus."

Other companies have jumped into the virtual reality market as well, with Samsung releasing a headset for its Galaxy Note 4 and Mozilla launching MozVR, a site that shows off virtual reality capabilities on the web.

Virtual reality presents some unique possibilities for the future of gaming, but it will be interesting to see hot it plays out in other consumer applications or in the enterprise, if at all.

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About Conner Forrest

Conner Forrest is a Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He covers enterprise technology and is interested in the convergence of tech and culture.

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