Personal Tech 2008: Top 10 Trends (This year everything gets intelligent, social, cheap, mobile and wireless).
With each passing year, personal technology — phones, gadgets, media
electronics, and more — gets better, smaller and cheaper. With the
introduction of the Apple iPhone and other milestones, 2007 was an
But fasten your seat belts: 2008 is going to be even better. Here are
the trends that will fuel the best year in personal tech ever.
1. The year of flash-based superportables
As 2007 came to a close, the leaders in the PC, notebook and cell
phone markets were clear. But the space between cell phones and
laptops remained up for grabs. While hundreds of products, from Ultra
Mobile PCs to superportables to tablet PCs, came out last year, none
really captured the attention of the mainstream gadget-buying public.
The whole category has been a wasteland of failed products and
confused consumers, high prices and obscure vendors.
2. The year of free Internet access
Amazon clobbered Sony in holiday e-book reader sales with its Amazon
Kindle gadget. They both offered the exact same screen technology, but
Amazon had at least one thing Sony didn’t: free, unlimited mobile
broadband access baked right in. You never get a bill, and it never
stops working for the life of the device (unless you flip the switch
to turn it off).
Amazon can do this because the device is optimized for giving money to
Amazon. The main use for the wireless is to buy electronic books,
newspaper, and magazine subscriptions, and other content from Amazon.
Still, the e-reader’s supreme ease of use is a killer feature. Any
gadget maker that can pull it off — most likely in partnership with
carriers, who can sell things to gadget owners — might similarly
clobber their own competition.
Meanwhile, we’re likely to see new models for offering free Wi-Fi.
From airports to airlines (for in-flight access) to McDonalds to
Starbucks — Wi-Fi is going to get freer and freer. Why? As major
companies increasingly figure out how to justify access (usually
either advertiser-supported, or as a lure to buy other things, like
coffee), users will increasingly point and laugh at any company that
tries to charge for it as they log in to the free alternatives. By the
end of 2008, there will be greater access to free Wi-Fi connections
than there will be for hotspots that want to charge you for it.
3. The year of the home robot
We’ve all grown up watching visions of home robots on TV — from “Lost
In Space” to “The Jetsons” to “Gigantor.” Admit it. You’ve always
wanted a robot wandering around, making conversation and doing your
Although a few home robot products have emerged over the last two
decades, they’ve all been either too dumb or too expensive for broad
consumer use. Most robots available today are either niche products
for hard-core enthusiasts and programmers, or simple children’s toys
that everyone loses interest in after a few days of play.
4. The year of hyperconnectivity
People want all their devices connected to the Internet — not just
PCs and cell phones, but also MP3 players, e-book readers, digital
cameras, wristwatches, cars and more. And in 2008, they’re going to
get it. The trend toward “hyperconnectivity” started in 2007, when new
products like the iPod Touch and Amazon Kindle dominated the
competition in large part because of their built-in Internet
One of the most talked-about consumer products available right now is
the Eye-Fi card, which fits into a digital camera’s SD slot and gives
it Wi-Fi access for auto-uploading pictures to the Internet. Look for
dozens of new Internet-connected digital cameras to come out in 2008,
and a wide range of other devices with easy access to the Web.
5. The year of multi-touch
The Apple iPhone made the world safe for a once-obscure user interface
idea called “multi-touch” — the ability to accept simultaneous input
from more than one point on a screen. Multi-touch, combined with on-
screen “physics” (on-screen objects that move as if they have weight,
mass and momentum) and “gestures” (shapes drawn on screen that send
commands to the system) will in a few years’ time radically transform
the experience of using a computer.
But in 2008, we’ll be able to buy at least two new multi-touch
products. The next-generation iPhone, which we think will ship in
summer, will probably have even better multi-touch features than the
current version. And special software developed and already
demonstrated by Dell will transform its brand-new Latitude XT tablet
computer into an innovative multi-touch PC — we just don’t know
Apple is also rumored to be working on a multi-touch tablet —
basically a giant iPhone.
Microsoft is also planning multi-touch support for the eventual
successor to Vista, called Windows 7. In the meantime, the company may
be tempted to boost lagging Vista and Windows Mobile sales by offering
downloadable multi-touch support in 2008.
6. The year of location, location, location
Don’t look now, but GPS has gotten small and cheap. Meanwhile,
alternatives to GPS, including cell tower triangulation (already
available on Google Maps Mobile) and other “indoor GPS” solutions,
will increasingly inform phones and other devices of your location on
the face of the Earth.
In 2008, carriers, Web 2.0 startups. and gadget makers will start
getting creative about what to do with this location awareness. Social
networking will spill out into the real world, with your phone
alerting you to friends nearby, while messages from friends, relatives
and even strangers will be associated with physical locations like
7. The year of reading on-screen
Books, newspapers and magazines will take a huge leap toward
electronic “consumption” this year. Several trends are conspiring to
bring this about. The first is the growing size and quality of cell
phone screens. Thanks in large part to the Apple iPhone, cell phone
screens are becoming so good that reading Web-based versions of
newspaper and magazine articles and even e-books on a cell phone is
becoming not only possible, but pleasurable.
8. The year of social everything
No longer a hangout for teenagers with bad taste, social networks and
social sites of all kinds will explode in 2008. Google’s OpenSocial
initiative will start chipping away at the walls that separate
different social networking sites.
Social networking will become so ubiquitous and mainstream that people
will be participating in it without even thinking of it as social
networking. Business colleagues will stay in touch. Public relations
will be transformed. Hobbyists, bloggers, journalists, vacationers,
families, politicians, and others will all boost the quality of their
interaction through social networking tools.
Life-streaming — bloglike, real-time lists that keep you updated with
the activities of friends, family members and colleagues — will first
become useful, then necessary.
9. The year of haptic feedback
When playing console video games, your handheld game controller shakes
and rumbles to coincide with on-screen explosions, crashes, gunshots
and grenade detonations. Motion conveys subtle information to the
user. That “force feedback” is called haptics.
Haptics will show up with shocking frequency this year in cell phones
and other mobile devices. In some cases, haptics will help compensate
for the disappearance of buttons in cell phones. A little vibration
will tell your fingers when you’ve successfully pressed an on-screen
button as a substitute for the tactile feedback from a real button
that actually moves. But haptics will also return to its roots by
improving game play on cell phones.
At the start of this year, there were only two cell phones with
haptics available from major U.S. carriers — the Motorola RAZR2 V8
and the LG Voyager. By the end of the year, there will be dozens. The
feature may even show up in a new iPhone this year. (Apple patents
indicate a great deal of interest in haptics by the company.)
One way or the other, haptics will shake up the gadget industry in
10. The year of cell phone TV
Watching TV on a cell phone will go mainstream in 2008, even as
watching TV on a TV continues to plummet. Blame Apple, which both
created the video-friendly iPhone and sells TV shows via its iTunes
store. You can also blame the coming wave of Internet advertising,
which will make streaming TV shows worthwhile for networks. And,
finally, lay some blame on the traditional greed of cell phone
carriers, which will look for creative ways to drive up data usage.