The new hotness: Personal tech in 2007

If you're a gadget freak, fasten your seat belt and hang on - it's going to be one hell of a year

The year of the safe laptop battery

If 2006 was "The Year of the Exploding Laptop Battery," 2007 will be "The Year of the Safety Battery."

Sony received a massive public relations black eye when it was revealed that some of the Dell laptops catching fire and exploding in videos widely downloaded on YouTube and other video services were destroyed by faulty Sony batteries.

While Sony has still failed to restore its reputation, other companies are sensing a massive opportunity, and stepping forward to introduce safer, heat-insulated, spark-resistant batteries, including Panasonic. And the IEEE Standards Association has convened a task force to develop and promote a new Li-Ion battery standard. The group, which is co-chaired by representatives from Sony and Dell, should publish its recommendations by the end of 2007.

Companies are likely to implement its findings well before the official publication of the new standards. Also look for notebook vendors to heavily promote the safety of their batteries as selling points this year.

The year of high-def

Huge high-definition (HD) plasma and LCD TVs were sold in unprecedented numbers during the 2006 holiday season, but what about HD media? Now that the dust is settling and viewers are getting used to their new and massive HD-capable TVs, they're starting to look around for content. And they don't like what they see.

TV networks, movie studios and rental stores are all dragging their feet and failing to keep up with consumer demand. HD-DVD and Blu-ray players are still way too expensive (right now the cheapest Blu-ray device is a Sony PlayStation 3 game console).

This year, anything that can be used with those giant TVs will be hot: HD camcorders, game consoles, content, players, burners -- you name it. The ability of content providers and player makers to supply the demand for HD content will determine who wins and loses in the market this year. The mainstreaming of HD will come about as content providers realize that their survival depends on it.

Meanwhile, HD radio is going nowhere, because consumer awareness isn't there yet and because they don't see the need to buy special radios. HD radio advocates are facing an uphill battle, as neither chicken (hardware) nor egg (content) has yet gained any traction or sparked any demand with consumers. Satellite radio, on the other hand, will see a big year, and possibly a high-visibility merger between XM and Sirius.

The year of browser-based computing

Various companies -- especially the anti-Microsoft crowd, including Google, Sun and others -- have been pushing browser-based computing for years. But this year, three factors will finally push growing numbers of users to use browser-based computing for personal stuff:

- The rising cost of desktop software

- The growing improvement in the quality of online applications

- The rise of the smart phone

The biggest factor is cost. Microsoft wants consumers to shell out between $140 and $600 for Office and between $155 and $380 for Windows Vista. The anti-malware companies are bleeding consumers dry with pricing for Internet security suite subscriptions. All this software is super expensive, and requires ever-more expensive hardware.

It doesn't take a rocket surgeon to figure out that you can just buy a cheap PC and run apps online -- and save your money for new mobile gadgets and other consumer electronics hardware. Plus, online applications enable you to access all your personal stuff from work.

That wasn't really feasible a few years ago, but now the selection and quality of browser-based applications make it possible to do everything online. Google's offerings alone are sufficient to replace Outlook for most consumers: Calendar, Docs & Spreadsheets, Gmail and Picasa provide most of the basic functionality of Office. We'll also see this year a host of innovative browser-based apps from start-ups, such as the highly anticipated Scrybe calendar and task manager.

And finally, the growing use of smart phones will drive online applications for personal use. The first thing to go is Outlook. Why use Outlook, when Gmail gives you a superior mobile e-mail experience and superior antivirus protection for both desktop and cell phone and, unlike Outlook and the extra antivirus protection needed when you use it, it's free?

The idea of storing personal documents online and using online applications is especially appealing to users with smart phones, especially when the same applications can be used on both PC and phone.

It's going to be an amazing year for personal technology. Call 2007 "The Year of the Super Toy."

Mike Elgan is a technology writer and former editor of Windows Magazine. He can be reached at mike.elgan@elgan.com or his blog, therawfeed.com.

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Mike Elgan

Mike Elgan

Computerworld (US)
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