The new year has come and gone like so much glitter on the sidewalk. Looking at the first big technology event of 2010, CES, I realize that I tend to measure the years by what technology focus is more apparent.
For the past 3 years, ever since the original iPhone was released, there was a very strong focus on smart phones. The first year not as much because other manufacturers were scrambling to put up a competing product, but certainly in 2008 and 2009 everyone was in a rush to create a better knock-off of the iPhone than the original. Google developed Android and many vendors used it along with new buttonless or at least mostly screen phones to capture those users who migrated.
In 2008 the Kindle was pushed out and suddenly eBooks seemed like a viable idea. I know that Sony had a reader for a while and probably a few other companies, but the content wasn't there and the usability just didn't feel right. When amazon made a store large enough to rival physical bookstores (if not quite its own physical catalog) and made accessing it a part of the reader itself, that's when I feel 'normal' people too notice. I remember looking at eBook readers back in the late 90's and wishing that they would become mainstream. I knew that it would happen eventually, I just had to wait. Looking at CES this year, 2010 is most likely going to push eBooks and eBook readers into the mainstream, just like in 2000 the DVD took up adoption.
It seems like roughly 1/3rd of the products being talked about are eBook readers. Some using eInk, some using lower power displays that can do things like color and video (at an expense of battery life and probably readability). Ones with touch screens, ones that are low feature and hopefully low price. The plethora of devices makes me believe that more publishers are going to get on board with releasing their content in digital form. Hopefully they won't make the same mistake the music industry originally made with high DRM, though they will. In the end they will probably learn just like the MPAA is starting to that releasing non-drm versions will still be bought, won't effect piracy (people will always pirate), and customers will be happier, we just have to wait until they relearn the lesson of those that came before them.
Also, almost as interesting as the surge of ebook readers is the sudden push for tablet computers. Tablets are not a new idea at all. They've been made in various forms for a while now, and I remember that Bill Gates always pushed them as one of his favorite form of computer. Unfortunately the masses weren't very impressed and no one really bought them. To be fair there weren't many choices, and the ones that existed weren't very good. Now with the rumored announcement of a possible Apple tablet, manufacturers are rushing to beat Apple to the punch by releasing their own versions before Apple can once again dominate a market like they did with digital music players and user friendly smart phones.
This is of course great news. The iPhone, Kindle, and non-existant iSlate (or whatever it might be called) has been spurring competition this year for companies to create new and innovated devices at lower prices to fight over the consumer. That is exactly what we need in these industries as the customer can only benefit from those efforts.
The last technology that I've noticed are being pushed, but that I don't think will pick up as mainstream this year, is 3D movies in the home. For the last few years movie theaters have been pushing 3D movies using polarized or shutter glasses. Some of the movies have been pretty gimmicky in that regard (Journey to the Center of the Earth), but some supposedly have enhanced the experience (I've been told Avatar was good in 3D). Now there is a push to make 3D TVs and 3D blu-rays that you can wear home glasses to watch. There will most likely be a limited content selection as I think only 2 movies are announced to be released in 3D blu-ray this year. Also the price on those blu-ray players and 3D TVs will probably be prohibitively expensive, so I don't see this as being a mainstream thing. Maybe in 3-5 years we'll start seeing some of them pop up in middle-class households, but even then it depends on how well it is received.
The concept of 3D displays at home isn't really all that new, it's just been in a different area. Nvidia has had the ability to turn video games into 3D using special monitors and nvidia glasses to do basically the same thing. Again it's an expensive setup and not many people have installed such a thing. However I think nvidia has an advantage in that currently existing games can be put into 3D without any code changes. The graphics hardware can just convert the 3D images generated by the game into images that can be viewed with the glasses. This increases the content to, well, your current game library assuming you're willing to spend the money on the monitor and glasses (and that you have an nvidia card).
Overall I think this year will be quite interesting as far as gadgets and technology goes. Microsoft will be releasing Natal for the xbox 360 for home motion capture. Sony will be releasing their wand thing. Ebooks will get a bump in popularity as it becomes more mainstream.
The thing I'm really waiting for however is a la cart TV. Netflix streaming is already showing the potential, and some cable companies have some form of On Demand (that usually isn't that great). However I know that sometime in the future there will be something like Netflix that covers everything, or at least most, of what's shown on TV that can be viewed at any time without commercials for a flat monthly fee.
Or at least that's my dream.