Microsoft's Project Natal will bring motion sensitivity to the Xbox 360
February is already upon us but as fast as the months seem to go, the tech world moves ten times faster. As January has already suggested, 2010 is shaping up to be an interesting techy year.
Here Adam Maguire lists the ten tech trends that are likely to catch people’s attention in the months ahead
Computing in tablet-form
Apple’s big secret has finally been revealed and as the rumours implied it was a touchscreen tablet device that resembles a giant iPhone.
Tablet computing has been around for many years now but has always failed to captured people’s imagination – with Apple leading the charge that could easily change in 2010. Just as the iPhone changed the mobile phone market completely when it arrived in 2007, expect this device to do the same with portable computing.
The competition is expecting this too and is moving fast to bring out rival devices to stop Apple from gaining an insurmountable head-start in the area. Microsoft has already shown off a tablet it is creating with HP while other manufacturers like HTC and Asus are said to be hard at work on similar devices.
Will tablets be revolutionary? It is too early to say but there is potential for them to wipe out the burgeoning netbook and e-reader markets in one swoop, while also saving the print media industry from dropping newspaper sales. If the hype for Apple’s iPad is to be believed it will do all of this and much more.
A rather touching trend
If the expected influx of tablet computers was not enough of a clue the following year is likely to see a significant rise in the application of touch-screens in consumer technology.
Mobile phones will continue to lead the way in this regard as manufacturers get better at implementing touch in their devices; hopefully this will see fewer frustrating phones on the market.
With Windows 7 and Mac’s OS X operating systems both being moved toward touch-capability it is likely that regular home computers and laptops will also start to get touch-screens installed – one rumour even suggests Apple’s iMac will have one by the end of the year.
However this trend will move beyond the computer and phone – expect companies to try and put a touch-screen in everything. A new TV showcased by Samsung recently has a touch-screen remote, for example, and it is not too hard to imagine the same being used for washing machines and microwaves too.
The real motivator, however, is the fact that these companies are already churning out touch-based panels for some of their devices and economies of scale mean the more they make the cheaper each panel will cost.
3D or not 3D?
There was plenty of hype around 3D in the cinema in 2009 but this should transfer to the home in 2010.
Sky have already said they will launch a 3D channel in the coming year, 3D TVs are entering the market and games console makers are moving to ensure they can cater for 3D games too.
That said the costs associated with “going 3D” – which included buying a new high-end TV at the very least – will make it prohibitive for most for the time at least.
There are also still question marks around the viability of 3D beyond its initial ‘wow’ factor. As good as it gets 3D is still likely to be something viewers use from time to time – hardly enough to justify the up-front investment required.
That said, expect there to be a lot of talk about 3D in 2010.
Communications companies to connect four
The term ‘triple-play’ has entered the Irish lexicon in the past year – thanks to the investments and acquisitions made by certain companies.
Chorus/NTL and Vodafone both offer variants of ‘triple-play’ – where three services are combined under one brand – but in the next year it is likely that ‘quad-play’ will become a factor too.
UPC – the company behind Chorus/NTL – are shaping up to offer a mobile phone service within the coming months, which will add to the TV, broadband and home phone they already offer. Eircom may also become a quad-play player, assuming the digital terrestrial television consortium it is involved in gets off the ground.
Gaming with e-motion
Nintendo’s Wii has enjoyed huge success in the past few years – largely because of its novel motion-sensing controller.
Its rivals in Microsoft and Sony initially laughed off the idea of motion controls but in 2010 they will both launch their own attempts at the idea.
Microsoft’s Project Natal is due to arrive towards the end of the year while Sony’s as-yet-unnamed device has been pushed back to the Autumn for now. Both companies have already shown their devices in action but few outside the respective companies have gotten their hands on either.
Naturally all types of claims are being made about how well they work but users in Ireland are unlikely to know until the year is nearly over, it seems.
The year of the gamer
With no small thanks due to the aforementioned Wii, gaming has recently been seeping into the mainstream at a faster rate than ever.
Blockbuster titles like Grand Theft Auto 4 and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 had generated huge revenues and matching hype, while the idea of gaming in general has become that little bit more acceptable.
2010 promises to be bigger still for a number of reasons. Firstly the three consoles – the Wii, Xbox 360 and PS3 – are all in the middle of their life-cycles which is about the time developers begin to get the best out of them.
As well as this a lot of the games that started production before the recession really bit are due for launch in the next 12 months, meaning they should be more than bare-minimum sequels.
Developers seem to be getting innovative too. Games like Alan Wake, Heavy Rain and Red Dead Redemption promise to be more than just point and shoot titles with a bit more grey matter required for their full enjoyment.
More moves in the music market
Services like iTunes should continue to grow as a source for music in the next year but rival offerings, and new pay models, should make things more interesting.
Spotify – the free and legal music catalogue – will hopefully be available to Irish users in the near future while Sky Songs is due for an Irish launch this year too. Apple are also rumoured to be considering an “all you can eat” model of subscription to compliment their pay-as-you-go service that currently exists.
What is interesting is the role the music industry will play in this. Record companies seem a bit happier with subscription models as it provides a regular income and only really loans the music to the user. Whether enough users are happy with that situation too is still the great unknown.
WiMAX to challenge 3G
3G broadband has been the saviour of many who cannot get or rely on their landline connections – that said it is hardly ideal when it comes to speed and reliability either.
This year will see a lot of talk around WiMAX – a new wireless standard that has been in transit for many years but never actually available.
WiMAX is comparable to WiFi except it has a far greater range – measured in kilometres as opposed to metres. It is also capable of high speeds too, although they decline the further the connection is stretched out.
Late last year Imagine Broadband began to roll out its WiMAX network and companies like AirSpeed Telecom are also working to deploy the technology. ComReg is expected to put some spectrum up for sale in the next year too which will allow the winner to build a reliable national network.
Interestingly Intel has also pledged to start integrating WiMAX capabilities into its processor chips in the coming months. In other words the laptop you buy later this year might be WiMAX-capable out of the box.
Social to go public?
Rumours are swirling about a potential IPO (Initial Public Offering) from Facebook in the coming year – something that could see the company’s coffers swell significantly. The downturn is sure to have set back any plans they may have had but with many now seeing tech as the best investment to make for the coming years a new web bubble may emerge that will suit the company down to the ground.
Offers are sure to be made for other social media companies too – namely Twitter – although so far anything along those lines has been rejected. Whether it is just a matter of getting the right price or an actual plan by the companies to stay independent for now is hard to know.
What is for certain is that the likes of Google and Microsoft will be at the fore of any bidding war or stock purchases when it comes to Twitter and Facebook. Microsoft already owns a small piece of Facebook and will happily snap up more – Google is trying hard to keep up with the real-time search that services like Twitter offer and would gladly consume it given half the chance.
Blu Ray’s big break
Blu Ray has been the de-facto successor to DVD for some time now but it has failed to interest people beyond the early adoptors.
The reasons are varied – for a start many had just made the swap from VHS to DVD when Blu-Ray arrived and saw no reason to go through the hassle and expense again. Also Blu Ray is only worth having if you have a HD TV and – obviously – a Blu Ray player, both of which were expensive options until recently.
Now Blu Ray has passed the tipping point and canny shoppers can find the odd sub-€100 player if they look hard enough – even Aldi has started selling them.
HD TVs have also become more common and the increased adoption of the PS3 – which has a Blu Ray player built in – has pushed this up further.
Most importantly the amount of Blu Ray titles available has increased and the cost of each disc has dropped closer to the DVD cost – as opposed to twice or three times the price.
Of course DVD will stay around for some time if not forever. 2010 will see Blu Ray become that bit more common, however.
An edited version of this article appeared in the January edition of Business & Finance magazine.