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Posted by Tom Cheesewright on

Trends past and future: a look back at the tech of 2010 and on to 2011

Over Christmas I popped in to the BBC Radio Manchester studios to have a chat with Darryl Morris about the tech trends of the year just passed, and my views on the outlook for 2011. Here’s a little summary of my thoughts:

My trends of 2010

– The mobile web went fully mainstream: We’ve had the mobile web for a very long time. You may remember BT Cellnet’s infamous ‘silver surfer’ adverts in the early days of WAP (2000). Geeks like me have been using it pretty consistently since then. But last year it seemed everyone was suddenly familiar with, and using heavily, the mobile web. Every teenager had a Blackberry, iPhones became the de facto device for the 20s set, and suddenly half your Facebook friends were updating their location from wherever they were. It’s not that there was new technology, so much as that technology sliding along the adoption curve well into the early (or perhaps even late) majority.

– Social networks became normalised as a method of communication: Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are nothing new. But they seem to have moved from being a website that you visit to a primary communications channel, as valid as email or the phone. I spend a large proportion of my time online, but I didn’t wake up to this trend quickly enough, missing messages sat on my Facebook and Twitter for days at a time because I hadn’t got into the habit of monitoring them that closely.

– Telling people where you were became one more piece of private information we now willingly share: It started with Foursquare: a location-based game of sorts where you check in when you arrive at various locations. It gave people a social incentive to tell the world where they were. Then along came Facebook with places and as noted above, suddenly the most unlikely people were sharing potentially the most sensitive personal information. It’s a trend that’s likely to continue as the incentives for sharing — notably location and time-sensitive deals — become more widely available.

– Tablets arrived: I remember a long chat with the sadly-missed Guy Kewneyabout tablet PCs on a train journey back from a visit to BT’s research labs out at Martlesham Heath. This was a few years back when, following a flopped attempt by Microsoft to popularise the tablet PC format, they were largely domain of a few specialist manufacturers. Guy was the only person I knew to use one as his primary device. That all changed this year when Apple did what it does best and revamped an existing format with better design and branding, and most importantly a great interface and a ready-made apps market. The rest of the market wasn’t far behind and tablet devices in all shapes and sizes dominated this month’s CES, the global gadget fair in Las Vegas.

– New interfaces started to cut through: The biggest feature of the tablet device is not so much its form factor but its interface. Touch is a much more natural and intuitive way of interacting with a machine than a keyboard and mouse. As is motion, the basis of the new Xbox Kinect and PlayStation Move consoles. This is a trend I hope and expect to see continue into the future — it makes me feel like I’m in a sci-fi movie, and that has always been a bit of a dream.

My expectations for 2011
 — The big shrink continues: Like every year for the last forty, improvements in power, processor and screen technology will enable ever smaller, lighter digital devices. Expect ultra-thin TVs and tablet PCs, lightweight laptops and cameras.

– Chips with everything: Advances in chip technology and manufacturing will mean that more and more devices become ‘smart’. Look for more and more appliances beginning to connect to your home network and share information over WiFi. Only thing that might scupper this is the Chinese bumping up the prices on rare earth elements, though since most stuff is made there anyway it may not have too much of an impact.

– No more wires: Maybe not in consumer applications just yet, but wireless power and superfast broadband combined will soon mean phones and remote controls never need plugging in. Even TVs may soon be hung on a wall like a picture and powered and fed with a signal without any external wires.

– Location-aware apps and devices: With more of us sharing our locations willingly, expect to see more and more devices and applications taking advantage. TomTom HD already shares live journey information with other motorists, crowdsourcing traffic data. Facebook will soon be offering Deals — special offers based on your location.

– Energy awareness: As much for financial reasons as ecological, we’re likely to be watching our units this year. After years of the green lobby pushing energy ratings on our white goods, this year we might actually start to pay attention.

– Faster broadband (finally): It may not be happening as fast as some would like but in 2011 we may finally begin to move away from the creaking old copper telecoms infrastructure and begin to embrace true broadband using fibre optic connections all the way to the home. Fingers crossed.

Tom Cheesewright