Despite the past eighteen months’ economic downturn and the near stagnation of the information and communications technology industry as a result of that slowdown, 2010 was a good year if you’re into new technologies, the maturation of others and the invention of entirely new categories of product.
Often it takes adversity for a market to start innovating. Even though the technology industry is one that’s become well known for innovation, things were beginning to get stale. So in many ways, the pressure placed on the market by the static (and in some cases decreasing) average selling price of technology, is exactly what the doctor ordered. So to celebrate the success of some companies and their products, and reflect on the failures of some others, we thought we’d round off with a brief look at some of the technology trends that have so far shaped 2010.
One - Tablets to ease the pain
If you’re asking: ‘what’s a tablet?’ you really need to get out under that rock you’ve been living under for the past couple of months. The war for dominance in the personal, information-driven, touch-screen space is in full swing and the four players involved, namely Apple, Samsung, Microsoft and Blackberry are taking no prisoners. While there’s a fair amount of ‘hargey-bargey’ taking place around whether 7-inch or 10-inch touchscreens offer the better form factor and what combinations of other specifications suit the market better, the real battle is raging in the application store space. The vendors know if they’re able to get a user onto their platform, they’re likely to stay there for life – and make them a fortune in application purchases for the next several years. As usual, Apple’s gotten itself a great head start in this space by being the first mover, but the other vendors aren’t fools and are desperate to catch up quickly. Expect this market to become hotly contested in the coming year with Blackberry opening its application development platform up to as wide an audience as possible, Android tackling the issues of platform fragmentation and a complete lack of quality control and Microsoft trying desperately to still be perceived cool and relevant in an environment where it’s slipping further behind by the day.
Two - Smart phones and application stores change the web
When Apple released the iPhone a couple of years ago, the definition of 'smart phone' changed substantially. Classically, devices enable you to check your emails and maybe browse the Internet a little. Then, smart phones became mobile devices you could install and use applications on, portable multimedia powerhouses and the most sought after gadgets, no matter which demographic you’re speaking to. While the jury still has to pass a ruling down on whether or not all of that functionality has been truly beneficial or not, the mobile applications and application store phenomena have changed the face of the Internet forever. Many users prefer using purpose built applications to interact with information on the Internet – and the revenue is beginning to shift from those people with the content, to those people with cool applications. Again, it’s unclear whether or not this shift is a good idea and only time will tell. It is nonetheless an interesting trend and one that will be interesting to observe over the next several years.
Three- Software not yet a service
If predictions coming out of software companies and online giants a couple of years back were anything to go on, by now, software as a service should have taken the world by storm and all of the functionality, information and vital services we make use of daily should be in the cloud. But operating systems and applications continue to persist – and be a revenue spinner for vendors like Microsoft and Apple. While there’s good evidence that this trend will manifest itself in full swing over the next five to ten years – like the fact that Microsoft Office 2010 for Windows and 2011 for Mac have online components enabling collaboration with other users and the fact that that Google’s Gmail is growing more powerful by the day – we’re not there yet. Expect there to be a steady build of cloud based services as complements to existing on-premise applications over the coming years – there most definitely won’t be a step-shift change however, like so many software vendors would like us to believe.
Four – Gaming that moves you
When Nintendo launched its Wii gaming console four years ago everything was supposed to change. Sony and Microsoft – the vendors that had stolen the console gaming market away felt the empires they’d been carefully building come under threat and suddenly it didn’t matter how crisp your console could display graphics at, or how fast your console’s processor was. It was all about the experience and Nintendo had managed to create a fantastic one, and entice the nongaming market to give this geeky recreational activity a try. Needless to say it was a massive success. This year, Sony and Microsoft have come back with a counter-offer and both have now entered the motiongaming market. Sony has PlayStation Move, while Microsoft has Kinect. While Sony’s Move is more accurate than the Wii controller and as such great for creating a more immersive experience, you still have to make use of a controller. Microsoft Kinect doesn’t require a controller just a peripheral that records the movements of the player and translates them into on-screen action. Whether or not Sony and Microsoft can snatch the attention back from Nintendo remains to be seen. If anyone can do it however it will be Microsoft, since Kinect is a completely new idea.
Five – Internet TV s
Geeks have been dreaming of a world where audio, video and other forms of content just flow off the Internet into their home entertainment systems without any other intervention from them, besides choosing the media they would like to enjoy. And even though that’s been possible with some hacking, activities that border on the outskirts of legality and some homegrown, but really technical hardware, it’s never been available to the mass market. That’s until this year when Google started speaking to television vendors about building its Android operating system, which was designed for use on cellular handsets, into television sets. It’s not the full panacea that the techie-elite have been hoping for, but it’s a move in the right direction. The new televisions – one has already been launched by Sony – have embedded Intel Atom processors and a Google Chrome browser for scooting around the Internet. This is great for getting context to what you’re watching – like research team stats during a sports game, or getting the world’s sentiments on a live event, using twitter. There’s also links to a number of top news services and because it’s built on the Google Android operating system, the televisions will also support the ability to download and purchase thousands of applications from the Android marketplace.
All in all, not a bad haul for 2010 and we’ve only just scratched the surface of some of the things going on in the consumer electronics market. With the cloud computing/ software as a service revolution coming on strong, compelling devices like smart phones, tablets and connected televisions providing the perfect interface for accessing these services and motion gaming technology available that will ultimately lead to gesture-based control of our computers, it’s exciting to think what the future looks like.