Netbooks and left hooks: tech in 2010


With the first month of 2010 already spawning a new breed of portable computer, Seán Mc Kernan asks what the remainder of 2010 has to offer in the world of technology


2009 saw the emergence of many new technologies, the most prominent of which was the netbook. The smaller, more portable version of the laptop has seen a huge increase in sales in past months. Touchscreen technologies also increased usage in devices like the laptop and mobile phone. So with 2010 now upon us, what can we expect? Will the hovercar be released; will phones continue to get smaller and easier to lose?

January has been a good month for new gadgets with the release of the iPad and the CES convention in Las Vegas setting the standard for the year.

Only last Wednesday, Apple ended almost a year of speculation by finally unveiling the tablet that the world knew it was planning all along: the ten-inch iPad. Comparable in size to four iPhones stuck together, the tablet will be capable of running most programs available on a laptop and all apps currently available for iPhone. With no keyboard, the iPad’s main innovation is the fact that input is based entirely on touching the screen.  The iPad will be able to download and display e-books and magazines, as well as browse the internet through its in-built WiFi access and 3G mobile internet capability.

It does have major flaws, however, such as no support for Adobe’s Flash Player – meaning that unless Apple provides custom software, the iPad won’t play YouTube videos. Windows versions of the tablet computer have been on the market for years, and although less hyped than the iPad, perform much of the same functions. Regardless, disputed figures suggest that sales in the tablet computer market may reach ten million this year, so Apple will be ensuring their slice of the action.

The Consumer Electronics Association product show in early January is one of the largest trade shows in the world, showcasing the latest domestic technologies. This year the largest selection of gadgets on display belonged to the television sector.

The television has largely remained unchanged since it was developed, with the only improvements being size, picture quality and amount of channels (mostly showing Friends reruns). Stagnation in these fields, along with the increasing use of the internet to watch video, has forced the development of new technologies.

The greatest of these is 3D-TV, where the viewer wears a pair of polarising glasses that create a three-dimensional image in their minds. The 3D market is burgeoning and is particularly supported by Sky, who have installed 3D-enabled televisions in London pubs to broadcast select football and rugby matches in high-definition and in 3D. This summer’s FIFA World Cup will be the first major sporting competition in which every game will also be filmed in 3D as well as in the standard 2D format.

The third dimension isn’t just confined to TV: computers are also getting in on the action. Computer games can already be converted to 3D to a limited extent, but full 3D games are expected to hit the market by the end of the year.

In addition to 3D games, consoles will become increasingly interactive. Following the Wii, both Sony and Microsoft have announced the introduction of gesture-recognising cameras that can eliminate the need for controllers in the next generation of PlayStation and Xbox consoles. Instead of using a controller, the player becomes the controller with all movements monitored – even down to the tiniest twitch of the fingers. The camera can also identify users based upon their voice and faces.

No longer satisfied with dominating the internet search market, Google has decided to enter the mobile phone and operating system markets, with the Nexus One phone and the Chrome OS respectively.

The Nexus One touch phone, already available in the UK and due for release across Europe later this year, has been described as an ‘iPhone killer’, with many ingenious features such as a voice recognition programme that can translate into another language and speak it aloud.

Google Chrome OS, meanwhile, is a new operating system planned to be officially released this summer, aimed at heavy internet users and designed specifically for netbooks. Its main claimed advantage is that it minimises the number of files saved on your hard drive by allowing files to be stored online, or “in the cloud”, instead of on one single hard drive.

With all this technology to look forward to, 2010 is shaping up to be a good year for any nerds out there. Still, I won’t be satisfied until I get my hands on a jet pack.