Game-changers: 10 potentially huge technologies

The iPhone caused a tectonic shift in the tech landscape -- what else out there will change our lives?

5. Social network integration

Social networking services such as Twitter and Facebook do not share data as easily as they might -- even if stopgap measures such as Twitterfeed.com, a service that feeds your status from one social network to another, do help. Open standards such as Y!OS and OpenSocial are paving the way for data sharing between services.

One combination that promises to be a game-changer -- at least in terms of unifying social network and Web services -- is the Palm Pre and the WebOS, which will make it easier to log in once for multiple services. It's unclear how the WebOS will accomplish the goal -- since Palm has not released specifics yet -- but the idea is to only need to log in on one screen on the mobile device, which then logs into all of the other social networks and e-mail systems you use.

"Social networks are not only increasingly interconnected but tie into other devices like cell phones and activities like online shopping, travel planning and entertainment," says Enderle, explaining that there is a need to unify the many social networks we use so they are easier to access with a single sign-on.

6. Netbooks in the enterprise

DisplaySearch, a market research firm in Austin, estimates that sales of netbooks will blossom this year with a 65% sales increase, compared with just a 3% increase for standard notebooks. One reason that netbooks are game-changing has to do with the economic crisis; most models cost about US$500 or less. They use less power, last longer than performance-oriented laptops, weigh less and work well for the most common computing tasks including word processing, e-mail and Web surfing. They may also become the new "thin client" as more companies move to cloud computing.

"Netbooks may eventually represent one of the best values for the forward-looking enterprise, which has hosted most of their applications," says Enderle. "While they don't yet fully embrace the manageability and security requirements of many shops -- there is no trusted platform module, for instance -- once they do, they may become the preferred choice for PC purchasers in business."

"The true potential of netbooks lies in their connected nature, their ability to tap the power of the cloud," adds Jeffrey Breen, an analyst at Yankee Group Research. "But in the short term, it is their familiarity which will attract corporate IT departments who are understandably drawn to $500 replacements for $1,500 laptops."

7. Smart grid

The smart grid is coming -- and local utility companies are racing to build it. Sensors located in HVAC and metering equipment connect to networks and can show consumers and companies how power is being used in real-time. Xcel Energy has already piloted a program in Boulder, Colo., and Des Moines, Iowa, has a proof-of-concept smart grid running at the State Capitol. In the future, appliances could be outfitted with sensors and displays that instruct consumers how to save energy based on usage.

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John Brandon

Computerworld (US)
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