Hardware manufacturers by virtue of their razor thin margins will coalesce if only in response to their corporate survival instincts. Software companies, on the other hand, will be seeking to strengthen their positions and market niches against the ever growing Goliath from Redmond whose recent strategy seems to be to buy what they lack and include it for free (at least for a while). That tends to have a negative impact on competition. However, not all things will be gloomy. There are some fun things to look forward to.
Flat is Phat
I have to confess that the original heading for this section was going to be 'flat is where it's at', but the more I looked at it, the more it screamed '60's. Besides the new heading is a better pun.
Expect to see all things flat this year. Flat panel everythings will be invading just about every aspect of technology. There are several reasons for this. First, it's cool and the designers know this. Second, advances in technology that will allow better screen presentation in a variety of new form factors. Third, and possibly most important, is price.
Expect to see some serious price drops, especially in the LCD arena, by the third quarter of the year. Production yields are higher and this improved output coupled with a multitude of new applications will help bring prices down. This means that 20" LCD you've been eyeing may be an affordable reality by late summer. Another plus in the flat panel arena will be the introduction of second generation LCD panels filtering into the marketplace. We've seen them in prototype devices and visually, our first impression is that they are 20-30% brighter and crisper.
The Need for Speed
It is certainly true that we have more power on the desktop than we could possibly use for standard productivity applications. Technology, nonetheless, marches on. Sometimes it's to fill a need, sometimes its existence creates one. The next big advance in processor (CPU) technology will do both. Later this year both AMD and Intel will be releasing Dual Core CPU's for servers and workstations according to announcements from both companies. The simplest way of describing this technology is to say that it's like having two processors in one chip. We look forward to writing more about this as the chips are released.
The initial application of these chips will be for servers, followed closely by workstations. However, I'm sure gamers and overclockers won't be far behind as the technology is released. The speed and processing power these chips will bring to the party will most certainly inspire new and more powerful applications in both the commercial and consumer arenas. We don't expect to see these applications begin to roll out until sometime next year.
Speed, power and increased capability will also be evident in mobile and wireless technology. New chipsets such as AMD's Alchemy Au1200ä will be incorporated in that emerging class of portable curiosity called the Personal Media Player (PMP) or Personal Video Player (PVP). These are hand held devices that will enable you to move video content from your TiVo or DVR (digital video recorder) and carry it around with you on a pocket sized device (Is that "West Wing" in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?). Also, expect to see more convergence of all types of media and information on your PDA's and cell phones.
Speaking of things wireless, expect to see more content, bandwidth and capability on anything you can carry with you. With the emerging third generation (3G) networks beginning to take hold, mobile phones are going to start to look more and more like mobile computers and entertainment centers. I'm still not sure why you'd want to watch 'Alias' on your cell phone, but things seem to be moving in that direction.
On the wireless front, expect to see manufacturers try to squeeze more and more throughput on existing and emerging technologies. We already have 802.11 A, B, G, and pre-N, but we expect to see variations on the theme that exploit current standards with better 'promised' performance.
The Home Enterprise, Media Centers & Form Factor
I've put these three categories together because, in many ways, they are inextricably tied to each other. The Home Enterprise, as we stated in the past, is a microcosm of the larger business enterprise network. In this case, however, the enterprise is the home or home office. All of the same requirements and capabilities apply. The Media Center will become the home's central server. Expect to see more add-ons that will allow not only the sharing of media files, but also device control beyond the home theatre.
We've already seen the press releases from various home control manufacturers who are touting their interoperability with Microsoft's new Media Center software. This means you'll be able to control every connected thing in the home from a single remote control or keyboard. In addition, many will offer a web interface so that you can do everything from changing the temperature on the thermostat to operating a web cam to making sure the premises are secure, all from a remote location. The Jetsons are getting a little closer to reality.
Form factor is going to continue to be 'smaller and more efficient is better' (witness the new Apple Mac mini). This will continue to proliferate as a space and economic efficiency issue. Everything from desktops to handhelds to gaming devices will be smaller, sleeker and cooler.
There are numerous product categories we didn't address here and that is mostly for time and space considerations. The automotive accessories industry, for example, will be seeing some terrific improvements in navigation and voice control systems. And in general, all things consumer will be the driving force behind innovation and development. Overall, it will be a good year for the consuming public as quality and capability increases as prices descend. We'll talk more about individual products and things we see at CES (Consumer Electronics Show) in upcoming articles.