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December 27, 2006

Chris's Crystal Ball: Technology

If 2006 was the year of user-generated content, 2007 might be the year that the big boys bite back.

The iPlayer

If the new BBC Trust give it the go-ahead, then the BBC iPlayer (or whatever it ends up being called) will be the first step towards the fourth generation of TV. The first was black and white, the second was colour, the third was Digital TV and the fourth is online and on-demand. Forget setting the video recorder. From 2007 you can just go online and – legally – download any of the programmes you’ve missed. You’ll be able to watch every BBC channel online and it’ll be the first time many people have come face-to-face with High Definition. I’m very excited.

Mobiles

Where on earth will mobile phones go next? Do they need to go anywhere else? Well, you won’t be surprised to hear that the phone companies are throwing more pointless twaddle inside phones to make them more attractive. Surely it’s only a matter of time before there’s a phone with in-built SLR 10-megapixel digital camera. We’ll be watching more TV on our mobiles (apparently), and using more of that squint-or-you’ll-miss-it mobile internet. Can you tell I’m sceptical? Anyway, it’s rumored Apple will bring out an iPhone in 2007, which few people think will be very good. And finally, if 2005 was the year of the clamshell, 2006 was the year of the sliderr, then 2007 will be the year of the… Nope, my crystal ball fails me.

Online

Despite what people might tell you, virtual worlds like Second Life will only ever appeal to those people who spend hours in Games Workshop or play first-person shooters all day long and fancy a break. I’m not expecting Tony Blair to maintain a permanent presence any time soon. But I think 2007 will be the year that we start using the virtual ‘real-world’. Google Earth is halfway there, but something called Microsoft Photosynth is nearly the real deal. It blends photos of well-known places into one never-ending (in theory) 3D canvas. It’s a bit hard to explain, but combine this with a Google Earth or Microsoft Virtual Earth and we might start approaching a virtual 3D model of the planet. Combine it with one of these sexy 3D controllers (only about £30 and built especially for such tasks) and you’ve got a whole load of possibilities, including online shopping where you click on the shop you want to buy from (Selfridges on Oxford Street, for instance).

Blogging

Every product has a life-cycle. Even KitKat bars will one day leave the shelves (probably to be replaced with something healthier). But when will blogging peak, and once it has, will it start to decline? I think it will, as cleverer things come along instead. But I’m not sure it’ll happen as early as 2007. Meanwhile, vlogging is still a bit too cumbersome, but expect to see something ‘embedded’ in just about every blog entry by the end of the year, whether it’s something from YouTube or an utterly pointless Flash movie.

Computers and Consoles

Britain will get its hands on the PS3 in March, although expect people to have a Vicky Pollard-esque ‘un-bothered’ face when it eventually arrives. The Xbox 360 has already got the serious gamers (and more importantly, many of the serious games) and the Wii has opened up the market to a new generation of game-players. It seems PCs will continue to be neglected by the big game-makers. While things like Call of Duty 3 appear on just about everything, it’ll still look better on a console. The only exceptions will be the games that work better with a mouse and keyboard, although someone’s built a box that lets you use them on an Xbox anyway. But PCs aren’t resting on their laurels. Windows Vista hits in the next few months, and offers a few things that will delight gamers. Namely, DirectX10, which might level the playing field with consoles. There’s also MS Office 2007, which won’t be radically different to Office 2003.

Radio

You might think “technology… radio?” but DAB is taking the radio further and further away from being a good old wireless. And not only because they consume so much electricity you have to plug them in at the mains. This year you’ll be able (on certain players) to buy tracks that you hear, as you hear them. Commercial radio stations are looking for new ways to make money, and selling you an MP3 of a track is a pretty good way of doing it. There’ll also be an auction for another batch of national digital radio stations. Channel 4 are among the frontrunners, and by the end of the year we might have an extra 7-10 stations on that dial.

And beyond 2007…

I still think that Virtual Real-Worlds will be the technology that really revolutionises the internet, making blogs and YouTube look tame. Another technology I think might, eventually, take off is video-goggles. Semi-transparent sunglasses with video-screens built into the lenses. It’ll make it worthwhile watching video on the move (rather than with those ‘portable’ media players) and could be the next shape of mobile phones too. Beyond that, who knows?


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