Technology luminaries, analysts, and other experts tend not to be shy about predicting what might be the bust-out developments in their respective fields. CNET News.com reporters asked several sources what they thought would be among the most important innovations in 2008 in their areas of expertise. Some, naturally, referred to their own projects, some to technologies and trends likely to emerge in the marketplace, and trends that have already gathered steam and are likely to grow in prominence. All responded thoughtfully. Here are some of their insights on topics such as automotive technology, broadband services, games, "green" transportation, Internet search, microprocessors, open-source software, photography, privacy and surveillance, security, enterprise software, and wireless technology.
As oil prices climb, automakers have responded to the growing demand for better gas mileage by offering more gas-electric hybrids, diesel-electric hybrids, and clean-diesel versions of existing cars and SUVs for 2008. High-tech, computerized car aids have also trickled down from luxury models to more-affordable vehicles for 2008.
Expect to see more cars equipped with systems that will automatically maneuver the car into a parking space, warn the driver when the vehicle departs from its lane or is in danger of a collision, automatically apply the brakes when the situation demands it, detect blind spots, and regulate the speed of the car to maintain a safe distance from other vehicles (adaptive cruise control). These technologies will become the norm. Bluetooth connectivity and touch screens on the dashboard will come as standard features rather than options, while infotainment and onboard navigation systems will be offered as options for most models.
Based on the concept cars displayed at the 2007 auto shows, consumers might eventually see cars that run on compressed hydrogen fuel and electricity; we'll also likely see plug-in gas-electric hybrids, and completely electric plug-in cars that charge from average household outlets. General Motors, for example, promises the all-electric Chevy Volt will be available to consumers by 2010.
While there's plenty of video accessible on the Internet, there isn't much commercial video available online. The dearth of such programming has been cited as one of the reasons products such as Apple TV, which allows you to play Internet video on your big-screen TV, have not really caught on. Internet communications pundit and VoIP industry pioneer Jeff Pulver says he aims to help change that in 2008 by launching an Internet TV service called pulverTV 24/7, which, as Pulver notes on his Web site, will produce its own programming in the spirit of "the early days of broadcast TV from the 1950s." Beyond his own project, Pulver said he expects 2008 to see the emergence of other Internet TV channels and more online delivery of video content from major media companies--plus "the first weekend premiere of major movies both in the movie theaters as well in our broadband home theaters." Next year, he adds, also will be a "breakout" year for Internet-video advertising.
Competition in 2008 between the phone and cable companies, meanwhile, will precipitate "the biggest war over customers we have ever seen," says Jeff Kagan, a wireless- and telecommunications-industry analyst based in Atlanta. Faced with slowing rates of subscriber growth, the phone and cable carriers will bundle their services--voice, video, Internet access, and even wireless--as attractively as possible to win customers.
"The next step is watching these separate technologies start to work together on the same network, so when the phone rings we can see who is calling on the television with a graphic of their picture, and decide to answer it or send it to voice mail," says Kagan. "Our wireless and wireline networks will start to work together. So when we walk into our home, the wireless phone will log off the cell phone network and log onto the wireline network. Then when we walk out of the house it logs back onto the cell phone network. That will save us money because we won't use minutes, and the quality of the call will be better."
"Yesterday both sides won," he adds. "Tomorrow the customer will choose one side for everything and say goodbye to the other. This will redefine the industry. Each company may have half the customers they have today in the markets where they compete, but those customers will buy more services and spend more money."
The most innovative product of 2008 could be one announced this year--the --according to another game-changing gadget maker, Blake Krikorian, chief executive of Sling Media, which created the Slingbox. "The Amazon Kindle will be the first successful e-book after dozens of attempts by other companies over the past two decades." Although many companies have attempted to develop electronic books offering the right combination of features and reliability, none found wide acceptance with mainstream consumers. Krikorian blames that on "a poor user interface, lack of content, or buggy software." But Amazon.com's first go at making its own gadget gets the formula right, he argues. "I think this is the first e-book solution to deliver on the promise. It has a great user interface, an impressive catalog of content, and a service that 'just works.'"
Though people working in Silicon Valley might beg to differ, most of the rest of the U.S. is not yet a completely technology-driven culture. But next year could be a turning point in what gadget geeks have been looking forward to for several decades--the true arrival of a culture of technology among American consumers, says Stephen Baker, vice president of industry analysis for The NPD Group, a tech industry analysis firm.
"Among the new activities and attitudes we will see in 2008 will be a more e-mail-driven contact culture spurred on by the iPhone and its competitors, bringing simple, easy-to-access e-mail to the masses," said Baker, who follows retail trends in consumer electronics. "The embracing of technology tools in our daily lives," he says, will feature regular use of tools such as "GPS in the car; Bluetooth in headsets and built into our cars to make communication easier; iPod jacks in our cars; more pervasive access to video through Slingbox-like devices, online downloading, and cellular access; demand for greater bandwidth and more pervasive Internet access in our devices like TVs, cell phones, PCs, and other mobile, portable devices."