Every January, a combination of rolled-over digits on the calendar year and the massive Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas get techie brains spinning about what’s to come in the months ahead. In 2008, smartphones were the talk of the town. In 2009, ultra-thin TVs with LED backlighting stole the show. This time around for technology enthusiasts, it’s, well, any number of hot up and coming trends. From the much-talked-about 3D TV to long-awaited rise of the streaming media box, here are the trends that many believe will define 2010, along with a healthy dose of reality that could cut many of them down to size.
What it is: Broadband on the go. Fourth-generation cell phone technology (hence the 4G) will allow your phone and other devices to move data at many times existing 3G speeds. Right now, only a handful of cities in the United States offer 4G service, mostly through Clear and Sprint. But the market will continue to expand as consumer appetites for data increase; Sprint claims it will blanket more than 120 million people with WiMax coverage by the end of 2010.
Our take: We got up close and personal with WiMax technology when Clear launched service here in Portland, and the speeds are promising. But right now, it’s only really useful for computers: both companies currently sell USB modems, routers, and mobile hotspots that turn 4G signal into Wi-Fi for surrounding PCs to use. That means an additional bill on top of your cell’s phone existing data plan. Ouch. We think 4G will really take off when cell phones – which consume the majority of data bandwidth on cell networks – start to make use of it.
What it is: Television that leaps out of the screen. Using extremely high refresh rates and active shutter glasses that strategically block off each eye over 100 times a second, 3D televisions create the illusion of depth within a TV. At this year’s Consumer Electronics show, all the major TV manufacturers, including Panasonic, Sony, Samsung, LG and Toshiba all announced televisions that will handle 3D content when they launch later this year.
Our take: Gimmick or not, you’re eventually going to buy it. Since most manufacturers have incorporated 3D technology into their flagship sets, even consumers who just want the very best 2D image quality will end up buying sets that also happen to do 3D. And if you just dropped $3,000 on a TV, we’re betting you’ll begrudgingly lay down another $300 for a Blu-ray player that will let you watch Avatar’s half-naked Na’vi running around in 3D. Since all these technologies eventually migrate down to cheaper sets, eventually even midrange buyers won’t have much of a choice at the retailer.
What they are: Digital books. Using e-Ink technology, e-readers are able to create a crisp, paper-like image that strains the eyes less than a computer monitor and doesn’t require electricity to retain, giving the devices extremely long battery life. Since many of them come with built-in 3G modems and lifetime service, owners can download books from online stores like Amazon and Barnes & Noble from virtually anywhere. The incredibly small size of e-books gives even a modest e-reader the ability to hold over a thousand titles.
Our take: It looks like 2010 will bring a slate of larger, more capable e-readers, but nobody has tackled the biggest factor holding back adoption yet: cost. Even the cheapest e-readers cost over $200, and some of the best we saw at CES, like Plastic Logic’s Que, will cost $800. Even worse, none of the major e-book stores offer much of a price incentive to purchase digital copies, despite the drastically reduced distribution cost and consumer restrictions (like the inability to loan or sell them).