Analyst Opinion - The current Computex tradeshow means that almost half this year is over. Time to look at what technology trends this year has brought so far and draw some conclusions. There are major changes in spending patterns that may impact not only in the short term, but in the long term as well. Here are my top 5 for 2008 so far.
1. Smartphones over laptops and MP3 Players. We spend an increasing amount of time on our phones and smartphones like the second generation iPhone, Samsung Instinct as well as the upcoming RIM Bold and Thunder are redefining what can be done on a phone. AMD (graphics), Intel (battery life), and VIA (price) are all chasing each other to create the first portable always connected device, with Nvidia possibly being the company that could have the last laugh. It is anyone’s guess (Apple is the safe bet) for which device we will next line up to buy. I think we are at the front end of a trend similar to the one that created the laptop computer in the first place. Much like it was back then; it will take a while for folks to figure out how to get the performance, size, and battery life to where we need it to be. But once they do, we are likely to leave the computer at home and take our phone onto the road instead.
But it is not just the laptop that is being displaced: It is the MP3 player that is replaced by phones that can do everything that the old MP3 player could do plus streaming video. I don’t think it will be long before companies start wondering why they are buying phone systems and instead put cell phone repeaters in office buildings and let people just use their cell phones (many seem to be using cellphones for inbound calls most of the time right now).
2. Visual Networking. We started out with basic networking for moving files (over a long period of time), doing email, and handling transactions. Then we got more bandwidth and larger files, pictures, and even video started becoming available. However, with a huge focus moving to HD video and the increased need for low latency video communications (some of it having to do with saving gas), the next phase is Visual Networking which we spoke of earlier.
Whether it is in our homes or businesses, we are increasingly going to want real time entertainment, communications, and collaboration to work over long distances. In addition, Social Networking sites have seen a massive increase in the use of video content. Visual networking not only requires high download and upload times, but low latency on demand for video conferencing. Services like Verizon’s FIOS offering and Microsoft’s IP TV service are both indicators of this trend which is already being showcased by gigabit and higher home and business networks.
Read on the next page: HD video on demand, affinity social networking, all-in-one computers
3. HD Video on Demand. With Apple, Amazon, Netflix and most of the networks trying to get this opportunity right, this trend would be farther along if it wasn’t for the nasty nature of video rights and the historical problem of piracy. Even so, products like the Vudu box (which I started using last month) and Apple TV clearly demonstrate that - if you have the bandwidth - you can see anything you want at any time. For instance, my TiVo didn’t pick up the final episode of Reaper and we were able to stream it (with annoying commercials that change the window size) for free in almost-HD quality. Granted, I would have gladly paid a buck to drop the commercials, particularly since they screwed up the screen and played at what appeared to be twice the volume.
We haven’t seen a perfect solution yet. Vudu is the best I’ve tried so far, but even if it has a limited library of movies, I have to note that Netflix’ initial download offering is standard definition and even more limited (I understand that something better is coming.) Still, this is about trends and this one is clear. It will take a while before HD video on demand will be good enough for most of us.
4. Affinity Social Networking websites. Facebook and MySpace continue to be growing like blockbusters, but as they grow, they start becoming more annoying than useful and I’m starting to long for the days where a site focused on my interests rather than everyone’s interests. You now have growing sites like Peerflix, which specialize on those that want to exchange videos or DriverSide, which just launched and is focused on those who love their cars. Both sites have social networking community characteristics.
I think the trend here is away from sites that are generalists and towards sites that specialize. They increasingly have social network attributes so that on-line friendships that are created through them have a core of common interest to them. Of course, after this we are likely to see these affinity sites get aggregated again under common banners and we will wonder why Yahoo didn’t do all of this first.
5. I mentioned the final trend in more depth last week: The move to All-in-One computers and the likely addition of multi-touch. With both Apple and Microsoft apparently on this path, it is hard to miss this trend. I was fascinated over the number of Apple fans that apparently didn’t think this was a good thing. Microsoft recently showcased a technology at a labs event called LaserTouch, which could be added to an existing monitor for under $50 or built into a monitor for less than half of that.
Independent from the multi-touch trend, the general direction to all-in-one computers seems to be clear at HP, Dell, Sony, and Gateway. They all have been launching products; though Gateway’s offering didn’t does that well. The most interesting is likely this one from Xtreme Notebooks, which can be purchased with a performance processor and Nvidia graphics. Of course, my personal favorite is the Steampunk All-In-One PC, which is so much better looking than an iMac (even the keyboard is cool). But Apple clearly is well ahead in terms of an easy setup. As a side comment, if you like Steampunk, you can get a Steampunk keyboard here, but it will cost you $1500 (wait to you see what this guy does to monitors).
Wrapping Up: Trends change
One big trend I almost left out that swamps all the rest is Cloud Computing, the concept that many things you currently do on the desktop, and if you work at a company on local servers, will be supplied as a service with charges for only what you actually need to use. Google is built on this concept and Microsoft is fast converting to it, in a few years we’ll likely wonder how people lived with the pain of locally run applications. Even video games are moving to the cloud and promise to eliminate latency, the Sci-Fi channel is actually creating a TV show that will be fed by the major effort created by a break out company called Trion and based on their Battlestar Galactica series.
By the end of this year, these trends are likely to change. And if you look at it we have been in a decade of change anyway. Apple went from living on the edge to driving several markets. Communications became critical and more and more of us are finding it vastly more cost effective to work from home. We may even see the death of the SUV before this decade is over. Stay tuned, because the only thing I’m sure we can be certain of is that it isn’t wise to be certain of anything.
Rob Enderle is one of the last Inquiry Analysts. Inquiry Analysts are paid to stay up to date on current events and identify trends and either explain the trends or make suggestions, tactical and strategic, on how to best take advantage of them. Currently he provides his services to most of the major technology and media companies.