Hard Case: 7 Products and Trends to Look Forward to in 2010

norman

These are not predictions.

Every year, tech pundits take stabs at predicting what hot new trends or gear will consume our interest in the coming year. I want to take a somewhat different tack, and talk about what I’m genuinely looking forward to checking out. Some of what follows is trends and industry happenings; I love this stuff, after all. Some of this represents tech that I’m really curious to personally check out. So without any more fanfare, here’s what I’m looking forward to in 2010, in no particular order.

The Ebook Reader Circular Firing Squad

I have to confess to being a Kindle 2 owner. I liked having a dozen books in my backpack while touring Europe this past summer, without the actual weight of a dozen books. So I’m one of those relatively early adopters who think this whole ebook thing is the cat’s pajamas.

Ebook readers are a hot topic. Whether or not ebook readers will be a true mass market item in the long run is less certain.
Amazon.com tried to jump start the business with the original Kindle, trying to make the Kindle be the iPod of ebook readers. But when Apple launched the iPod, no one believed that tightly integrating a piece of hardware to internet-connected software was a viable business model. Today, that model is all the rage. So only a couple of years after the Kindle launch, Amazon has serious competition from Barnes and Noble, Google and others.

Each company has a different stance on content protection, and differs on format implementations. So what looked to be a promising and convenient technology is rapidly becoming mired in walled gardens of content. We’ll likely see exclusives on different readers, just as we see exclusives on game consoles. On top of that, a few publishers recently announced they’ll be instigating time delays between hard copy publication dates and releases of said books in ebook format.

What will happen to ebooks? Who knows? But it will be fun watching the sniping and maneuvering, as the different companies jockey for competitive position. Curiously, I think Rupert Murdoch has one thing right: magazines and newspapers, pushed regularly to ebook readers, may be the winning formula in the long run. Too bad Murdoch also believes in walling off all his content from those pesky search engines.

Gulftown

Okay, so Intel is prepping a six core, 32nm successor to their LGA 1366 CPU line. I think only Gordon Mah Ung, Will Smith, about three other guys on the Internet and me are really looking forward to this.

I’ve been running a 3.3GHz Core i7 with 12GB of RAM for the past six months. In reality, I rarely stress the system. Games certainly don’t push it too hard, especially after dropping in a Radeon HD 5870 into the system. About the only time I wish for a faster system is when I batch up RAW file conversions in Photoshop and when I’m rendering DVD or high def content in Premiere Pro. Of the two applications, I don’t really wait that long for Photoshop, and I only generate video content in Premiere Pro three or four times a year.

Still, the thought of having six cores and lots of cache in one socket makes my mouth water. And when cheap 4GB DDR3 modules ship, I can have 24GB in my system. Whee!

Don’t ask me why I need six cores and 24GB. To paraphrase a Zen master, if you have to ask, you do not know.

Intel Arrandale

At the other end of the spectrum, I’m also looking forward to Arandale, Intel’s next generation laptop CPU. I’m uninterested Clarkfield (who really wants a 1.6GHz quad core CPU in a laptop, anyway?) My current laptop, with its Core 2 Duo T9600, is perfectly adequate for my current needs.

Actually, I’m not looking forward to Arrandale, the CPU, as much as what it will enable with laptops.  What I want out of Arandale is long battery life without the performance sacrifices you get in current Intel Core 2 low voltage parts. I’m not, however, particularly excited about what I’ve seen and heard about the next generation Intel integrated graphics.

Ideally, what I want is a thin and light system with a 14-15 inch screen and a halfway decent discrete GPU that weighs less than five pounds and gives my 6-8 hours of battery life. Hey, everyone’s gotta have a dream.

GPU Computing

The real promise of GPU computing has yet to be realized, despite all the press releases I get on the topic from Intel and AMD. 2010 will be a critical year for GPU compute, as mainstream applications and APIs built into mainstream operating systems ramp up to take advantage of the GPU.

While it will be cool to render DVDs and high definition content on the GPU faster than the CPU, it’s my belief that the real killer app for GPU compute still hasn’t arrived. Will GPU compute be a long slog to mainstream acceptance, or will some truly killer app emerge that makes even the average user have that “Aha!” moment? If so, I think we’ll see it next year, and I’m very curious to see what it will be.

The Lack of a New Console Generation

You read that right: I’m looking forward to the lack of a new console generation. Please strap in, so you can follow my tortured logic.

Nintendo’s Wii redefined the console business in an interesting way. By staking out a price point, coupled with innovative controllers, Nintendo sold boatloads of Wii consoles and raked in metric tons of cash.

What Microsoft and Sony seem to be doing is pushing the technology down the price curve, by taking advantage of semiconductor technology to create lower cost components, and hence build lower cost systems. They’re also trying to innovate on the controller end, as witness Microsoft’s Natal project. But Natal doesn’t look to become the next Xbox, as much as the next Xbox add-on.

As someone who is primarily a PC gamer, and only occasionally fires up a console game, I applaud this move. Maybe my 6-core, 24GB PC with its DirectX 11 graphics card will become relevant.

Like I said, a guy’s gotta dream.

The Increasingly Fragmented Internet

I’m looking forward to the increasingly fractious battle over content, as print publications continue to implode and old media is looking for new ways to shore up revenues and profits. When I say “look forward” I mean “look forward with dread.”

It will be like watching a slow train wreck: fascinating, disturbing, and yet I won’t be able to tear myself away from watching. Will old media turn the tide, and create these walled off gardens of content? Will the Internet generation win the day, allowing the Internet accessible content to continue to be available to anyone who needs it?

While my sympathies lie with new media, the issue isn’t simple, and there are really no good guys on the business side. You’ve got Google, who is increasingly flexing its business muscle to the detriment of end users. Eric Schmidt, Google’s CEO, apparently believes that privacy is something that criminals only desire. Microsoft is rumored to be cutting deals with Murdoch’s old media empire to enable these walled off gardens.

Then there’s the problem of news reporting in general. Blogs are all well and good, but there’s no substitute for boots on the ground by news reporters with good investigative skills. The problem is, those reporters are getting laid off in droves, and what passes for journalism these days seems to increasingly consist of uncritical regurgitation of opposing viewpoints, creating a false sense of balance.

Gadget Wars

In the past, you had very discrete borderlines between the gadgets you carried. You carried a cell phone, a digital music player and a laptop. Each had very different functionality, and there was relatively little overlap.

Going forward, we seem to be arriving at a continuum of communication, media and computing gizmos, with lots of blurring between types of devices. Smart phones can’t substitute for laptops in every capacity. Laptops are becoming thinner and lighter. Media devices, like the Zune HD are cool enough that you’d want one of those, in addition to your smart phone. And where do those mid-size mobile Internet devices fit in?

And let’s not forget ebook readers.

As we become a society increasingly dependent on continuous access to communications, media and computing, gear to support those needs will become commodities. How it will shake out in the long run is anyone’s guess, but it will be fun to watch.

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