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Technology Predictions for 2008 and beyond

Technology trends and predictions are a big part of what Blah, Blah! Technology is all about. It’s as much about social patterns as it is observing technologies. And for the first time, I’m listing my technology predictions, for 2008 and beyond…

The future of technology — in no particular order

Quite recently, an article wafted under my nose; a list of technologies that don’t exist yet — some of which never will, either. The key problem to overcome when thinking about the future is to avoid thinking about technology trends in painfully straight lines. After all, the future is curly thing:

“As an example, at the turn of the 20th century, it was predicted that passenger air balloon travel — pioneered by the likes of Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin — would be commoditized and become the pre-eminent means of mass transit.”

Of course, aeroplanes put paid to such derisory dirigible nonsense.

1. Gadgets go skin deep

Some technology predictions were better than others, such as “Interactive Tattoos”, skin-implanted gadgets being something I predicted back in late July 2007:

“Now that we’re harnessing the abundant power of the human body, there’s no longer any need for batteries and such like.

And our bodies no longer simply power such devices, they play host to them, too.

What remains of the gadgets we once knew are merely the fascia’s. In a very real sense, we “skin” these devices to suit our very own skin.”

Not likely to make an appearance in 2008. Such things are subject to medical regulatory approval. In the short-term, you’re more likely to see such stuff being used by the army.

2. Wall-to-wall entertainment

Our office and living room walls will be our ‘screens’, giving us a truly immersive Imax-style entertainment environment.

Here’s an excerpt from a science fiction novel of mine called Aeon. In this scene, our protagonist is dictating his personal journal:

“He walks away from the wall. The paragraphs of his spoken words follow him around the room on the walls. Sliding over and into corners, the block of words forming and flowing over the fading sunset over the deserts of Arizona.

Knotted tufts of tumble weed blowing from one side of the room to the other with the ghostly whisper of the winds, around the walls and disappearing into the distance under the window looking out onto the lake.

This is his most treasured room mood, every face of the wall projecting the images of the long day of the Arizona desert into the still room.”

Imagine a room where the entire surface of each wall is a screen. Imagine then your home entertainment linking scenes to moods. In preparation for a small gathering of friends for a house party, you would render each wall as a night scape city scene — sky scrapers standing tall above your guests, as the soft music intermingles with the sound of quiet chattering and the tinkling of glasses.

With the advent of electronic paper PDA’s, the technology is underway, but it’s a question of cost and quality — the former being high and the latter being low. There’s a better than average chance there’ll be some gadget show or hi-tech interior exhibition demonstrating something like this next year or the year after.

3. Green gadgets

Much has been said about the energy crisis and how our thirst for gadgets isn’t helping matters. 2008 will be the year of the green gadget — increased power efficiency, better battery life and innovative power sources, such as inductive charging, for example:

“To the likes of Apple, that’s not so much a barrier as a challenge. Imagine if you will, charging your iPod without cables.

What if Apple was to build inductive coils into their MacBook and MacBook Pro line, as well as the Mac Mini and the iMac? Imagine being able to charge your iPod or your iPhone wherever there’s a Mac?

Better yet, what if you could share power and data at the same time?”

In simple terms, inductive charging relies of a series of charged coils, from which an electrical current is passed to whatever device is in close proximity. So no need for ugly “wall wart” plugs, or the customary tangle of wires and connectors for each gadget.

Right now, all of the technology is in place — used by some electric shavers, of all things — so inductive charging could happen right away.

4. The web as a social network

Let’s not forget that it was MySpace who broke the ground on Social Networking by making it mainstream, part of the nomenclature. However, it’s unlikely that MySpace will be the last word in Social Networking:

“Predicting the future of social networks exclusively misses the larger point – these evolving online social destinations are laying the groundwork for the new social web which we believe is becoming infinitely more personal, more portable, and more collaborative.”

Social Networking must mature, and to do that, changes — both monumental and incremental — must be made.

First of all, Social Networks need to become portable and secure. Secondly, we need a more fine-grained way of determining the value of the people we meet. Calling everyone we meet on-line a ‘friend’ just isn’t good enough. We need to be able to say more about those people.

From a technical stand point, Google or Yahoo! could easily develop an open architecture to measure the value of our contacts.

Chris De Wolfe, CEO and co-founder MySpace goes on to add: “[Social Networks] must engage users while empowering portability.”

Moving forward, it’s likely that Social Networks will surround almost every kind of brand, product and service — everything from software, clothing and jewelry brands, to computer and auto manufacturers.

We’ll begin to see the outlines of the end product towards the middle portion of next year, either in the form of Google’s troubled OpenSocial, or via some other developer, working with pre-existing open standards.

5. The wonder of Wii

Because of the unexpected success of the Nintendo Wii, both Microsoft and Sony have been wrong-footed by a video games console that makes up for in pure interaction what it lacks in graphics performance.

As I reported way back in late December 2006, for the very first time, a video games console is getting people off their couches and exercising more than their thumbs.

It’s too late for the PlayStation and the Xbox this season, but expect to see those consoles preview their own take on interactive games and similar wands and joy pads in 2008.

However, in time video games consoles per se will vanish, eventually taking on the form of more specialist home entertainment computers, sporting keyboards & mice in addition to joy pads.

Just what is technology?

Want to know more about technology? You know what to do…

Recommended reading

By Wayne Smallman

Wayne is the man behind the Blah, Blah! Technology website, and the creator of the Under Cloud, a digital research assistant for journalists and academics.

11 replies on “Technology Predictions for 2008 and beyond”

Interesting list. I’m going to respond randomly to just a few of those.

1) I’ve been pondering a certain form of subcutaneous body art for awhile. (Not for myself but as something I thought might be worth patenting if one could work out the logistics such as power source and govt. approval. )

2) Those wall to wall screens probably aren’t that far off. Friends of mine in macromolecular engineering have been discussing disposable displays. These would be thin light-emitting polymer sheets that can be thrown on a wall like a giant post-it note, attached to computers and used for giving presentations, watching T.V. or whatever. I think these would be disposable, but the same idea in a more permanent solution could be made into wallpaper.

4) When it comes to social networking I see my universe continue to expand as I blog, build sites, and develop profiles hither and yon. But I think this expanding universe will also in time collapse back onto itself as more of these outlets are connected with one another.

As this happens I wonder if online friendships can be measured in degrees of connectivity and activity. I.e. If we’re connected through 6 different channels we might be closer than I am with someone I connect with in only 3 channels. But the number of connection channels would be offset by the amount of communications activity on each. Thus if I was connected to X via 12 channels but X and I rarely communicated, X would get a lower ranking despite having more nodes of connectivity.

Hi there Heidi!

The thing about technology trends (in addition to what I covered earlier) is that they’re invariably needs-driven.

It’s rare that someone comes up with a solution to a problem that doesn’t yet exist and then have that product succeed.

Just look at the Apple Newton — way ahead of its time and in turn, totally useless at the time.

I like the thoughts on Social Networks. Which is the kind of thing that sits neatly along side my own ideas…

1. Agreed. Biocompatibility is a very grey area still, and will continue to evolve, usually long after a device has reached the market place. People are also becoming increasingly sensitive to technology. Devices that are proven safe one day will become only usable by some or none longer term.

2. The transformation of rooms into such interactive experiences that combine both audio and visual stimuli and feedback has however been installed in spaces for many years now. It’s everywhere from shopping malls, museums to homes. The market is by no means saturated yet with this technology.

Gesturetek started in the 1980’s with the Mandala. Their patented Ground FX (wall and floor transforming interactives) go all the way. Although some might initially say “we are only limited by our imagination in using this technology”, as an industrial designer currently championing the implementation of the technology in a space, I have come across a major limitation. The usability (what a human being can actually do with it before being overwhelmed or confused) is the main limitation. Sometimes technology evolves too fast or can be designed with too complex an interface for both adults and children to effectively enjoy it, and sometimes we need time to evolve to cope with the technology.

I believe 3M has brought out a new digital paper on massive rolls, which can be made interactive with external devices such as infra red sensing of touch across the surface (with a matrix of infra red LED’s). Hm, I must get some in to trial this for the next exhibit and test it against the effectiveness of TFT touch screens.

5. Interestingly Gesturetek appear to have been the first to commercialise the Wii effect (minus the controller) and appear to have licensing agreements with the major players, which will ensure more such interactive consoles… as well as multi touch screens and other gesture controlled interactives.

It’s true that the Wii does get kids active and a local yet well renowned clinic I liaise with has revealed that the heart rate of children is increased when using the Wii, but nothing compares to real intense exercise outdoors, plus the incidental activity and creative learning the outdoors provide. The advertising for the Wii seems misleading.

You may agree as an industrial designer that humans have evolved to use tools (such as hand tools and gadgets), but it will be interesting to see how much hands-free (gesture aided and mind controlled) interactives will soak up the future markets before an equilibrium between the two are established.

Too true. I can’t afford the patent application for my mystery project anyway.

There was a guy at my last job who had a Newton. It was cool, but it was also invariably covered in a slew of little post-it notes! I expect some future iPod or Mac Notepad will be the eventual follow-up to it.

3) Many may not know this, but releasing a product that is marketed as being predominantly environmentally responsible (in some countries at least) is a business strategy that is fraught with far greater danger than many other marketing strategies. As a past provider of industrial design and commercialisation services to entrepreneurs, I discovered through my angel investor-contacts that it was too high risk to market a product predominantly as “green” due to the monopolies that corrupt and well connected industry leaders had set up. Eco sustainability was just another business opportunity too good to pass up for many greedy and ambitious entrepreneurs who did well to capitalise on the hype early on. They secured their market share through contacts in parliament that could change legislation and corporate bodies and distribution channels that could ‘enforce’ their monopoly. Having discovered that, I then put the hype of being “green” to one side and returned to the basic principle that all products should consider their environmental impact as much as ergonomics, styling, manufacturability, utilisation of electronics,.. That’s slightly off the topic. Still, you are right, green technology is the future so long as we can improve on something or simplify an idea.

Hi Krister and thanks for the wonderful comments. I really appreciate your time.

“The transformation of rooms into such interactive experiences that combine both audio and visual stimuli and feedback has however been installed in spaces for many years now.”

Yes, I’m aware of such things.

But where my ideas differ is in the interactive nature — such as being able to touch and manipulate items on these sheet screens, much like the new iPhone.

So durability through interactivity is a major differentiator here.

“It’s true that the Wii does get kids active … but nothing compares to real intense exercise outdoors, plus the incidental activity and creative learning the outdoors provide.”

Agreed. But something — however little — is always better than nothing.

“Many may not know this, but releasing a product that is marketed as being predominantly environmentally responsible (in some countries at least) is a business strategy that is fraught with far greater danger than many other marketing strategies.”

The market for “green” consumer goods is still very much nascent in many respects.

Of course, there’s been Energy Star compliance for many years, but there are so many other areas that are still lacking.

As with any new market, there are the early movers and early adopters. There are also those quick to capitalize on the ignorance of those early adopters.

As the major players emerge and settle in, quality and consumer awareness lift the shared perception to a point where cheap tricks can no longer thrive among an edified consumer population.

So in time, people begin to make informed purchases, forcing the manufacturers to drive their R&D people to create ever more sophisticated, energy efficient devices.

In the end, we all benefit…

Yes, I think a digital paper / wall may have benefits to a digitally projected and gesture controlled spaces, and drawbacks too. We study in our museum design department as much as we test, hack, improve and sometimes create new technologies, and it’s a fine luxury to be able to do this so much. I’m currently implementing the gesture-controlled and touch operated systems I am talking about, and it comes with a steep learning curve if you want to be the first in the world to create something using them. From my experiences here, I can see it will take years before the wall paper becomes properly established,.. many things to nut out and much additional research into human factors of the device is needed.

For example, as soon as you get close to a wall or stand on a digital floor space, you can only interact with a small area, and you need to stand back to appraise the creation (depending on its size). For that reason I think fewer walls will be completely covered with the wall-paper, even if it was cheap to install. You just wouldn’t install it wherever it is considered a waste of real estate. But the exception might be for high budget and temporary entertainment applications. Anyway, I’m turning your blog into a hardware review and that’s not right, he he 🙂 Good work, love reading your stuff.

Hi Krister, I have no problems with people (such as yourself) sharing the pros & cons of technology. That’s the kind of stuff I want in the comments.

You’re at the cutting edge of the very things that I’m talking about, so anything that grounds those ideas and concepts in reality is great to read.

So thanks!

Thanks for the encouragement, looking forward to reading and commenting more. I might see you on StumbleUpon.

In response to your comment on social networking sites needing to better define your “friends”, OohYa Chat already does that by allocating “acquaintence”, “friend”, and “special friend”.

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