Tech Trends for 2009

With the sun now set on the great year for tech that was 2008, New Year’s confetti swept, apologies made and vomit mopped up, it’s time to look forward to 2009 and the bevy of products that the next consumer electronics show will usher onto store shelves. Though many analysts predict a gloomy year for tech as consumers hunker down with their wallets and prepare for the months of recession ahead, CE companies will still be doing their best to bait buyers with the latest and greatest of everything – and with the newfound industry emphasis on affordability, you might not even need to borrow against your house to buy it all (if you still have one). Here are a few of tech trends we think are on the brink of becoming big during the coming year.

Growing Greener

Everyone is looking to cash in on “green” as a catchphrase, and when it comes to consumer electronics, that will mean a load of new ultra-efficient devices that now use only a fraction of the power they used to. We’ve already seen plenty of PR flacks pushing run-of-the-mill office computers and other dull devices this way in press releases (“It’s not slow, it’s green.”) But hopefully, in 2009 we’ll see more of an effort on real technical advances and less on rebranding. Expect the usual culprits like desktop power supplies and televisions to cut down on power usage, but perhaps some less expected devices too, like amplifiers. Heck, maybe in 12 months your neighborhood audiophile with a solid-state amp that throws off more heat than a radiator will be looked upon the same way as the neighborhood classic car collector with the ’69 Chevelle that gets seven miles per gallon.

Streaming Everything

For those too impatient to rent movies, there are downloads. And for those too impatient to download movies, there are streaming movies. With the public’s capacity for patience being what it is, streaming will reign in 2009. We’ve already seen this crop up in 2008 with Blu-ray players and other set-top boxes that can stream movies from Netflix, and it isn’t likely to end soon (especially with broadband becoming ever more prevalent). Just last week, LG announced a box that would play Blu-ray movies and stream movies from Netflix and CinemaNow, plus YouTube. Run an Ethernet cable behind the TV now, because this is the future.

TVs Get Connected

Along the same line as this shift toward streaming movies, TVs are going to begin to incorporate more content from the Web as well. Just look at last year’s CES, when many manufacturers’ flagship models incorporated features like portal-based Web browsing, live weather, and RSS feed reading right in the televisions. This technology will likely become a lot more common (spreading to lower-end TVs) and a lot more powerful in 2009. We might even see the functionality of a full PC built right into the TV. (Though some manufacturers have already pulled this off from a hardware point of view, the interface will have to become more seamlessly mated with the TV’s interface for it to catch on.) We also hope to see TVs ditch hard wires and networking over power lines in favor of Wi-Fi compatibility right out of the box.

Netbooks, Netbooks, Netbooks

If you thought netbooks blew up unbelievably in 2008, wait until you witness what happens in the next 12 months. These little budget machines should continue to sell briskly as consumers jump ship from pricier full-size notebooks to save money, and every manufacturer in the biz will continue to scrap it out over who will own the biggest piece of the pie. Right now, the originator of the netbook, Asus, has actually lost its crown to Acer, demonstrating just how easy it is to get ahead in this new market. They’ll chase that crown begrudgingly, though, since the lowest of the low-cost netbooks sell on incredibly slim margins. Because of that, we’ll probably see continued attempts to push the market upstream with pricier models (rumors already indicate that Asus will trump its $699 S101 with an even bigger model). What’s next? Video cards, WiMax compatability, bigger screens, more differentiated styles, you name it.

A New Kind of Hz Race

Chip manufacturers are done one-upping each other with bigger and bigger numbers in front of the Hz abbreviation for the time being, but TV manufacturers could just be getting started. This year saw the rising popularity of 120Hz TVs (which refresh at twice the rate of a standard 60Hz set) and already, manufacturers seem eager to push that number even higher. Sony has already released 240Hz sets, and as of last week, LG just promised 480Hz sets for the second half of next year. What’s next? 960Hz? 1920Hz? With all content produced at only 30 frames per second, will anyone even be able to tell? Check back in 12 months.

Android

T-Mobile’s G1 proved that Google Android was a viable operating mobile operating system. Now it’s up to the hardware guys to see what they can do with it. Having already put the OS through its paces when building the G1, we suspect HTC will have a successor up its sleeve in 2009, and Motorola has also pledged its allegiance to the OS quite vocally. What specs these models will actually have is a total mystery, but we suspect the winner will have a large capacitive touch screen (for multi-touch, ala the iPhone), a rock-solid QWERTY keyboard, a 5-megapixel (or better) camera, and of course, a killer design. There’s a possibility Palm’s new Nova OS or Windows Mobile 7 might upset Android dominance, but we would stack our chips on Google at this point.

OLED TVs Get Bigger

This one has been a long time coming, but 2009 will be the year these TVs finally make it off drawing boards and into living rooms. Sony would be a logical company to watch, having introduced the very first commercial OLED TV in North America at last year’s CES (especially after CEO Howard Stringer promised last May that the company would unveil a 27-inch model within a year). But other companies hold promise as well. Samsung, for instance showed off a 31-inch prototype last year’s CES, and Panasonic is rumored to be working on production as well. Though we’re confident we’ll see something bigger than 11 inches this year, prices will likely remain sky high, and they won’t move away from rarity status any time soon.

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