26 December 2008

Christmas Review and 2009 predictions

Well, it's been a long time since I blogged, and I have completely failed to deliver part II of my previous entry. Things have gone a bit quiet on that front, so for now I will stick my head in the sand and hope that none of you notice the omission. (Reality is probably that none of you really care, but I'd rather avoid believing that for as long as possible!)

Anyway, I'd like to look back at the technology predictions I made this time last year, to see how well I did, and make some similar predictions for 2009. So without further waffle, here goes.

Last year's predictions

1. LED lighting will become mainstream.
Hmmmm. It's true that further development has happened in the market for LED lighting solutions. You can buy a wider range of products than this time last year, and prices do seem to have been driven down somewhat. There are even some new applications I didn't expect, for example some new models of car now have LED 'daylight running lights', e.g. Audi. Having said that. progress has not been as much as I had predicted or hoped for. In short, LED lamps are still not really competitive with compact fluorescent lamps for general lighting applications. The increase in electricity prices won't really have much effect here as long as LEDs don't exceed the performance of their long-established competitor. The fact is, while CFLs have overcome criticisms about poor colour rendering, whereas LEDs haven't. Even the development of 'warm white' LEDs doesn't convince some people. This will limit them to certain applications where colour rendering isn't important, e.g. outside lighting, fridge lights or interior lighting for cars. I suspect 2009 will bring further improvements and decreases in price, but probably not a revolution in lighting. So I'll give myself 5/10 for this prediction.

2. Flash-based hard drives will become mainstream
Well, I think the rapid expansion of ultra-mobile PCs such as the Asus EEE, the MSI wind and the Acer Aspire One (which I am now the proud owner of one) have really shown this to be a good prediction. OK, I bought an Acer Aspire One with a rotating hard disk as I anticipated wanting a lot of storage, but I think it's fair to say that flash drives are mainstream as one of the options for such devices. I don't see much evidence of them taking hold in the server market, but the UMPC market has been a resounding success and I reckon will spur further developments in 2009. I'll give myself 9/10 for this prediction.

3. Many more computer devices will come with GNU/Linux pre-installed
Well I think this was also a good prediction, largely for the same reason as prediction number 2. It's also clear that Microsoft see this as a real threat, and seem to have been fighting hard to prevent Linux completely taking over this market sector. They have just announced another life extension to Windows XP, as Vista is totally incapable of running on these devices as it's such a resource hog. That to me is a sign that they see and understand the threat. I'll give myself an 8/10 for this one. There have been moves in the desktop sector as well, but perhaps not as much as I would have thought.

4. Internet video will become usable
Bingo! The BBC have just rolled out a beta version of a new iPlayer which is cross-platform and allows for downloads. I have tried this out on my home PC which runs Ubuntu 8.10 and it really does just do what I expect. I did a comparison of the quality and it seemed to be a lot better than the streaming service, even with that set on high quality. It's worth pointing out that there was no high quality streaming service this time last year, so even this is new. Youtube.com have also made a high quality service available, although I haven't actually seen any content using it yet. The only area that is still lacking is video-conferencing, using services such as skype or the instant messaging-based services. This will always be limited by the uplink connections speeds provided by ISPs that are currently available. There are some services available with higher uplink speeds (including interestingly the mobile broadband offerings based on the 3G HSPA technologies) but I don't expect services to take advantage of this until there is significant uptake of connections capable of providing these speeds. I'll give myself 9/10 for this prediction.

5. Many people will become concerned about Google's near monopoly on information retrieval and search.
An interesting comment I heard was that Google have now got a near monopoly on information retrieval and search, yet for some odd reason most people aren't concerned about this. I think there's some truth in this. The fact remains that Google tries very hard to avoid alienating its customers as it knows full well it doesn't want to stir up such worries. When there was an outcry over the original terms of use for it's new Chrome web browser, it backed down and addressed the concerns by publishing updated terms. Outcry successfully stamped out. I suspect it will continue with this approach and do everything to avoid being seen as the new Microsoft. Perhaps I can only give myself 3/10 for this one, as although Google's plans to take over the internet have advanced significantly, my prediction was mainly about people becoming concerned about it.

So what for 2009? Here are my predicitions.

1. There will be a second generation of UMPCs, based around ARM processors for extreme low power. Many of them will run GNU/Linux.
The UMPC concept is a good one and has worked well. There are also many smart phones which offer internet connectivity via HSPA and wifi. The next generation will have the form-factor of the current UMPCs but will be internally more like the smart phone and not at all like a PC. They will be 'always on' like a phone, when you shut the lid it will only turn off the display and go into a low power mode (rather than hibernating where a PC can't really respond to external events). They will have UMTS modems and therefore be like a phone; they will behave like a normal mobile phone by connecting to a Bluetooth headset. Battery life will be upwards of 24 hours (at least if on standby). You will carry it in your handbag/rucksack/coat pocket and the Bluetooth headset will be what you keep on your person at all times instead of a traditional mobile phone. As a result, Bluetooth headsets will gain new features such as a display for caller ID, basic menus and eventually the ability to type instant messages/emails (the latter won't happen in 2009 though).

2. Hybrid cars will take off in the market.
This is based on a number of things - firstly the spike in energy prices in 2008 has raised the issue of cost in people's minds, so they are looking for efficiency improvements. Secondly, Formula 1 motor racing have new rules which include KERS devices - which stands for Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems. Thirdly - motor manufacturers are struggling because of the recession. While the motor industry are just one of a number of industries queueing up to be bailed out by public finances, I don't believe they are a worthy recipient of this - unless, that is, such a bailout is conditional on them investing the funds of such a bailout in technology fit for the 21st century. Smart governments will insist on this. It's unclear whether Barak Obama will do this in the USA, nor whether European and Asian governments will. However there are a number of technologies available which could facilitate this. Batteries have their drawbacks, but other technologies capable of storing much smaller amounts of energy can contribute almost as much to efficiency savings without many of the drawbacks. Expect to see the developments in Formula 1 spilling over into the mass market. Maybe 2009 is a bit premature for this, but the technology would be ideal for roll-out in specific applications such as buses, trains, and even small city cars. Current electric cars such as the G-Wizz have limited appeal and some drawbacks, but the inclusion of a small internal combustion engine overcomes most of these. Whilst it would be good to see the internal combustion engine go the way of the dodo in cars, the alternative technologies need to gain critical mass first and a number of hybrid technologies will enable this.

3. 2009 will see many more 'household names' going bust because of the recession.
OK, this isn't exactly a spectacular prediction given the current economic climate. But I expect we'll be in for a lot of surprises. Who knows, it may even be whole nations - the USA? UK? If confidence in the US dollar falls and all those people around the world who have lent money to the US by buying dollars decide to pull out, there could be a spectacular fall in the dollar. This would have massive ramifications around the world, and could even trigger my fourth prediction:

4. The UK will be forced to abolish the pound and will join the Euro
This is perhaps a bit more far fetched, but not totally inconceivable. It would only take a scandal on a large scale to hit the UK, its companies or its institutions and confidence could fall out of the pound totally. The recent Bernard Madoff scandal has had big effects but the US economy is big enough to be able to cope. A similar scandal in the UK, especially one which exposed weaknesses in the regulatory environment of the UK, could cause the UK economy to spiral downwards, taking the pound with it, and forcing us to adopt the euro. Personally, I reckon we'd be better to pre-empt this by adopting the euro at a time of our choosing on terms more favourable to ourselves, but that's another story.

5. Can't think of a fifth right now, but will update if/when I do.

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