Hot Tech for 2009

By Nevin Buconjic
For Fresh Magazine
(Originally published – January 2009)

In January of each year the world gets a glimpse at the next generation of great technology at the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.  It is this year’s show that serves as part inspiration for this article, as well as other observations I have made in tech.  Below are only a few of the products that I feel will be hot in 2009:

Netbooks

Last year a new genre of laptop computer was introduced – dubbed the “netbook”. These small (7 – 10 inch screens) devices are essentially miniaturized notebook computers which are useful for surfing the Internet, email, listening to music and other casual computing activities.  Because the devices are relatively underpowered they cannot fully replace a “real” laptop but have proven to be immensely popular, with price points of between $299 – $499.  Beginning with 7 and 8 inch screens, more recent models have expanded to 10 inch screens, making them much more user friendly.

Netbooks have quickly proven themselves as popular and now most of the top PC companies have released models.  The only major holdout remains to be Apple, which said it would continue to watch the space develop.  There was speculatation that Apple would announce a netbook at the recent MacWorld event, but alas this did not happen.  2009 should prove another successful year for the netbook category as these tiny devices continue to improve in both style and capability.

Touch Screen Computing

Millions of iPhone owners have proven that consumers like touch screen technology. Competing smartphone models have been introduced by numerous competitors such as Samsung, LG, HTC and more recently Blackberry.

Another technology that never fully caught on (tablet computing) touch screen computing has begun a resurgence in popularity.  Microsoft has had a Windows Tablet version for several years now, but recent devices have fully embraced “touch” and consumers finally seem ready for it.

HP recently introduced several sleek “All-in-one” touch screen computers (up to 25” screens) that allow users to move objects, open windows, edit photos and much more using their fingers instead of a mouse.  Microsoft itself has developed a Surface computing device which resembles a table – but the entire surface is a computer screen that responds to touch!

Net Connected TV’s

Fresh off the 2009 Consumer Electronics Show, almost all of the major TV manufacturers (Samsung, LG, Sony, Panasonic) have announced net-enabled TV with direct access to streaming movie or video services such as NetFlix, Hulu, YouTube, as well as streaming news, weather and more.  These TV’s have built in Ethernet (some also have wireless capability) allowing for direct connection to the Internet.  Direct access to streaming movie services could mean a world of hurt in the future for video rental chains such as Blockbuster, Rogers Video and others.

Ebooks

Once thought to be the next big thing — Ebooks have been kicking around for at least a decade.  An interesting idea – a digital copy of books you can read on a handheld device — they have just never fully caught on.  But 2009 might be the breakout year for the ebook.

Amazon.com’s Kindle ebook reader was introduced in November 2007 and sold out in 5 hours.  With more inventory, sales resumed in 2008 and the company has had difficulty keeping the unit in stock ever since.  An endorsement from Oprah in October – as one of her favorite products – created another four month waiting list for the device.  Oprah’s endorsement may have finally opened the market to mainstream consumers – which represents a huge market opportunity compared to traditional buyers of these devices.

Amazon may have achieved what no other manufacturer in this space has done before – not only making a device that is easy to use but one that has easy access to a large inventory of new digital books.  With over 200,000 titles currently available for download using the device’s free wireless service, consumers can purchase ebooks for typically much cheaper than printed versions (New York Times best sellers are only $9.99).  Unfortunately, the Kindle is so far only available in the US, where it offers the free wireless service.  Hopefully in 2009 they will expand to other markets, including Canada!

Although unconfirmed, some analysts estimate that Amazon may have sold up to 1 million devices to date.  Sony’s latest readers have also been selling well, and smartphones such as the iPhone are also proving to be capable and popular devices for downloading and reading ebooks.  In 2009 it is expected that Amazon will release the next version of their Kindle device and a number of other companies are set to release readers as well, to capitalize on the ebooks growing popularity.  Even with increasing sales, ebooks still represent less than 1% of book sales, but this may be the year that things begin to change.

Blu-Ray High Definition

Last year at this time, Blu-ray finally defeated its rival, HD-DVD, in the high definition (HD) war.  Now that consumers were not forced to choose sides in the war of competing technologies, Analysts predicted that Blu-ray would explode in popularity.

Blu-ray HD video was finally poised to take the reins from DVD in the consumer video market.  But so far consumers continue to overwhelmingly support DVD.  The trouble with HD is that consumers faced a double whammy – requiring both an HDTV and a Blu-ray player – both being costly investments.

I stated in a previous article that I believed the price for Blu-ray players would need to come down to $200 (from $600-$1,000) before sales would pick up.  This has happened just recently and along with the dramatic reductions in the cost for HDTV’s, I believe that Blu-ray has finally reached a price point that will register with consumers. Unless the economy continues to take the wind out consumer spending, Blu-ray should experience greater success in 2009,

Conclusion

I have briefly discussed only a few products that I think will be hot in 2009.  As technology has proven throughout the years, it just keeps getting cheaper, better and faster.  By this time next year, we are bound to see even more exciting developments in computing, gaming, home audio/video, GPS, smartphones and more.   Here’s to another exciting year in tech!

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