Tech predictions for 2009 (Feature)
By Jay Dougherty Dec 22, 2008, 1:08 GMT
Washington - World economies may be on shaky footing, but consumer technology is moving steadily forward. And 2009 promises to be a particularly exciting year, with a mix of both new and improved products that represent more than mere incremental advances. While some of what's on tap will take existing technologies and make them better, other products will shake up entire industries and ask us to work a little differently, with the goal of enhancing both our productivity and our enjoyment. Here's what's in store.
--- SSDs threaten hard drives
Solid state disks (SSDs) are faster, cooler, more durable, quieter, and use less power than traditional hard drives. So what's not to like? Capacity and cost. Current SSDs top out at around 128 GB, and they cost almost 10 times more per gigabyte than the hard drives that are in most people's PCs today.
Still, we've seen this story unfold before. When demand is there - and it is with SSDs - cost will come down. Expect SSDs to compete seriously for your attention in 2009, especially if you're looking for notebook computer storage, where capacity needs are often lower than for desktop PCs. In terms of cost, even now, a 64 GB SSD retails at under 200 dollars and provides all the storage that most notebook users need.
Sure, a traditional hard drive of the same capacity is a lot cheaper, but when it comes to speed and having the peace of mind that your hard drive won't decide to die in the blink of an eye, a bit of extra cost is worthwhile to many. Today's major hard drive makers - Seagate, Hitachi, Western Digital, Samsung - aren't going to like the shift to SSDs because the companies well positioned to move in this market are chip makers, not disk makers. But the Seagates of the world are starting to play now, as well, which should add yet more downward pressure to SSD prices.
--- Windows 7: Virtually here
Still haven't moved to Windows Vista? You might not need to. Given the tepid response to Vista, Microsoft is rushing its successor - dubbed Windows 7 - out the door, and you can expect to hear a lot about Windows 7 late in 2009. In fact, you might even see the first Windows 7 computers roll off the assembly line in time for the 2009 holiday season.
That's what Microsoft wants, but given the company's track record of releasing major operating systems that are less than stable in their first iteration, you'll be wise to watch from the sidelines, at least initially. Still, much of what Windows 7 has in store comes in response to user complaints about Windows Vista. Windows 7, say Microsoft representatives, will focus on improvements in responsiveness and usability. A major emphasis in Windows 7 will be to improve the 'day one experience' of the operating system. That means Microsoft will attempt to improve most of the things that annoy people about Windows Vista: user account control, sluggishness, and an interface that slows people down.
The most significant feature of Windows 7, though, is likely to be virtualisation, a technology that allows one computer to run operating systems or applications that used to require several different systems to handle. Windows Server 2008, designed for businesses, already offers virtualisation, and the technology now seems destined to migrate to the consumer level. With virtualisation, you'll be able to run Linux, Windows 95, and DOS all on the same machine, at the same time. The benefits are many: energy savings, cost savings on software upgrades, and accessibility to a wider range of applications.
--- Online apps take off
In 2009, you'll be tempted to move more of your real work online. The Internet is quickly becoming not just a place for research and leisure but also the platform on which all business documents can be created and, more importantly, shared. Google Docs - with its very capable and free online word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation program - has led the way. But ThinkFree Office and Zoho represent significant competition. Even Microsoft has announced plans to move its Office suite of productivity tools to an online format. All of this is part of a movement that's being widely referred to as 'cloud computing,' which essentially refers to software and applications being delivered to you over the Internet.
With 'always on' Internet connections becoming increasingly common, the case for working and storing documents online is compelling. You no longer have the concern over where your documents are stored, since they're always available from any computer connected to the Internet. And because you're working online, you have the ability to collaborate with others, no matter where they're located. At this point, the main obstacle that online app vendors have to overcome is reluctance among users. With all of the big players in the industry moving to online applications, expect to have your reluctance challenged in 2009.
--- USB 3.0 gains attention
USB has been the most successful connectivity standard in the history of computing. It made the promise of plug-and-play a reality for PC users after years of frustration, and it triggered an avalanche of add-on products - everything from external hard drives to USB-powered beard trimmers. USB 2.0 cemented the standard's usefulness - providing speeds that rivaled FireWire and making transfers of large amounts of data a possibility.
Expect to see the first USB 3.0 products appear in the latter half of 2009. Offering backward compatibility with USB 2.0, USB 3.0 will boast maximum data transfer speeds up to ten times faster than USB 2.0. With that kind of speed, you could transfer 27 gigabytes of data to an external device in about 70 seconds, while the same amount of data would take 15 minutes to transfer over a USB 2.0 connection.
USB 3.0 also provide two-way communication with devices and ports, meaning that data can be written and read simultaneously over the same connection. With USB 2.0, data could not move bi-directionally.
--- 802.11n and powerline take off
'Draft' 802.11n products are here, now, and you can expect to live with the 'draft' moniker well into 2009. In fact, given that the major stakeholders who must agree on final ratification of the standard are deadlocked, it's possible that we'll never see a fully ratified 802.11n.
It doesn't matter. The world needs faster wireless transmission speeds, and it has them with the 802.11n draft products now on the market. Couple 802.11n draft routers and add-in cards with today's powerline Ethernet products that use the electrical wiring already in your apartment or house to transmit data, and you can set up a fast in-home network without snaking a single cable through a wall.
--- Rise of the netbook
As more of what we do moves online, why not design a simple notebook computer that's intended primarily to get us there? That's the idea behind the netbook, and the success of early models from makers including Asus and Dell suggest that 2009 will see this category of computer gaining widespread attention.
The appeal of netbooks is obvious: they're about half the size, and half the weight, of a typical all-purpose notebook computer. They focus on what matters to working online: a decent keyboard and a nice screen, fast wireless Internet connectivity, and enough local storage - in the form of a solid state disk - to store the essentials. Gone are the CD/DVD, power-hungry screens, and traditional hard drives. The result: a notebook that's a joy to carry, pleasant to use, and that gets you online to check your e-mail, write documents, or surf the Internet.
2009 will no doubt be all about saving money for many, and the tech products that will excite us next year will justify their place in our lives by providing an obvious return on investment. They'll help us to save time, save money, and to do more with less. What more could we ask?