With solid product introductions ranging from the iPhone 3GS to Windows 7, 2009 was a good year for technology.

2010 appears poised to build on the strength of trends already in place: greater mobility, a heightened awareness of data security, and web-enabled products and applications that focus on collaboration and interoperability. Here’s a taste of what’s in store.

Smartphones over netbooks

Netbook sales took off over the past few years, and for good reason: these tiny, light computers were tailor-made for the mobile user who increasingly performed most office—related activity online.

Netbooks provide some of the convenience and functionality of a full-fledged notebook while weighing less than half of even the lightest units and boasting battery life that can in some cases take you through an entire day without recharging.

But many netbook users quickly bump up against the limitations built in to this form factor. Screens are cramped, and processors are barely adequate for running Windows. In addition, a notebook computer - even if tiny and lightweight - is still a notebook computer, requiring you to stash it, and the inevitable accessories, in some bag that you have to carry around with you.

As smart phones get smarter and more capable, though, many are finding that they provide a reasonable - and in some cases even preferable - alternative to the netbook. Expect that trend to pick up steam in 2010. Surf the web on a smartphone? No problem. Send and receive e-mail? No problem? Put a smartphone in your pocket? Of course. Smartphones vs. netbook? Unless netbooks start offering much more, expect smartphones to get the nod in 2010.

Apple energises e-books

By now, no one underestimates Apple’s ability to transform markets with innovative products. The iPod, iPhone, and MacBook are all trend-setters that come to represent the cream-of-the-crop in their respective segments and quickly inspire legions of imitators.

Apple’s forthcoming tablet computer, rumoured to be called iTablet, appears destined to follow suit in 2010. Apple is expected to unveil the new device early in the year. Supposedly larger than an iPhone but smaller than a laptop, the thin iTablet can reportedly be used to read e-books, surf the web, play games, and even watch television - all wirelessly.

Apple has been working for some time with selected publishers to port their publications to the new device. When released, the iTablet could shake up not just the computer industry but the publishing industry as well.

Home servers make it home

It’s not often that anyone accuses staid old Microsoft of being ahead of the technology curve, but in the case of its Windows Home Server (WHS) product, released a couple of years ago, that case could easily be made. Windows Home Server is designed to back up your home computers, stream music and video throughout your home, and provide an online gateway to your home computers so that you can access them - and their data - while you’re on the road.

When WHS was first introduced, few saw the imperative of having such a device. Now though, with households regularly having multiple computers and the prospect of data loss being more critical than ever, a home server of some kind has become a necessity for many. In 2010, expect more people to realise that while the majority of their technology gets smaller and more portable, a data storage and backup box of some kind is a vital component of an increasingly digital lifestyle.

You enter the cloud

Cloud computing - which essentially amounts to saving, storing, and retrieving your documents and files online - is still struggling for widespread adoption, despite the emergence of very capable cloud computing applications such as Google Docs http://docs.google.com.

There are also some compelling benefits of cloud computing: backups become a non-issue, and you’ll have access to your files from any computer, so long as it has an Internet connection.

But cloud computing also means trusting a third-party with your data, and it means that you won’t have access to your files if your Internet connection goes down for any reason, so there’s almost built in resistance to the concept.

Still, adoption of cloud computing is likely to get a boost in 2010, due in part to the introduction of Microsoft’s Office 2010, which offers customers the option of using lightweight browser-based versions of its popular office productivity applications.

You won’t even have to purchase Office 2010 to be able to use the cloud counterparts of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, however. Microsoft has said that anyone who signs up for a free Windows Live account will be able to use the online versions of these products. That should increase the comfort level of millions of currently desktop-bound application users and add momentum to what will undoubtedly be a fixture of computing in the future.

Emergence of Web 3.0

Web 2.0 is all about social networking, community building, and the empowerment of the individual information creator. We’ve seen what that can do through sites like MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter.

We’ve also seen the limitations of this model, chiefly in the degree to which such megasites create data silos that require users to hop from one to the other in the course of gathering information.

2010 will see the emergence of Web 3.0, the chief goals of which will be to link these vast resources, open up architectures and create hooks so that web developers - and users - can access data from multiple sources using a single interface.

Google is already venturing into this territory by providing real-time search tools that mine information on social networking sites, and a growing number of Web 2.0 sites today are not only acknowledging the existence of other web-based communities and their data but openly providing users with a way to link resources.

Ultimately Web 3.0 applications will allow us to do away with the mountain of user IDs and passwords that we need for today’s web in favour of helping us mine the information we need with a minimum of surfing. And by almost any standard, that represents progress.


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