The year that went by set the foundation for those technologies that are expected to take off in 2009, with focus on energy efficiency and mobility - a bit greener and a lot more faster. Here are 10 of them to watch out for this year:
Mobile Applications: With the India's mobile telecom network expected to grow from over 300 million subscribers now to over 400 million by the end of 2009, mobile applications (m-apps) will become central to entertainment, information, banking and other services - and, of course, revenues for telecom companies.
You'll see many m-payment services, and banks will urge you to use SMS and m-banking. The media will get serious with the platform, with SMS, mobile web, widgets and m-apps.
And m-marketing... expect lots of SMS spam and the failure of do-not-disturb lists, until a service provider gets taken to court.
The mobile will drive a host of apps: global positioning system (GPS), digital photography, music distribution. These started off earlier, but will really take off in 2009. Your phone will be at the centre of a converged, digital universe. With 3G technology, and 16 GB of storage, it'll be your storehouse, your credit card, your identity.
Green Energy: The world is energy-starved, and this influences product development. Especially with mobile devices, which need to stretch battery life to handle 3G and multimedia.
Laptops are moving from a four-hour battery life to eight hours. While we do have long-life laptops (over 20 hours), they are not the norm. Low-power processors and displays, flash memory, and newer software will help more laptops move to the high-battery-life band.
The 'Energy Star' logo will adorn appliances and adapters. And policy will drive stricter energy standards for appliances (and cars), and e-waste and disposal laws by year-end. But the disappointment will come from batteries, as this tech won't see a quantum leap. So your overloaded mobile phone will last even less on a charge.
Green Lighting: Lighting will shift to compact fluorescent lamps (CFL). They consume less power and last longer, and you spend less on backup. Their high cost means that we'll see more power utilities subsidising CFLs.
You'll also see more LED lighting. Already popular for traffic lights and pocket torches, they'll enter areas where long life and low power offset high initial cost: vehicle and aircraft cabins, and some homes and offices.
One will also see electro-luminescence or EL, which has for years lit aircraft cockpits and 'Indiglo' watches. EL panels cover large areas - backlighting a ceiling or wall, drawing less power than a small light bulb.
Global Positioning System: GPS entered the Indian market in 2007 with maps. Last year saw several products, and software for phones - especially Google Maps and Nokia Maps.
In 2009, GPS will enter sub-Rs.10,000 mobile phones -- and midrange cars.
Up ahead will be 3D GPS landmarks. Nokia Maps 3.0 is testing this for its devices (check http://www.nokia.com/betalabs to see if your phone is compatible). And new tech will combine real-time video with turn-by-turn directions, as with Blaupunkt's TravelPilot 500 'SafeDrive' navigation. The iPhone may also integrate Google Street View images with satellite data, to provide a similar interface.
Next Generation Networks: Till 2008, India was stuck with second-generation mobile tech. We trailed in 3G, which Japan launched in 2001, South Korea in 2002. Over 40 countries had 3G networks by early 2008.
3G was finally launched in India last month by the state-run Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd (MTNL) in the national capital. It will roll out in other parts of India, first from another state-run company Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL) and then from Airtel, Vodafone and others by around mid-2009, thanks to the delay in spectrum auction.
3G allows fast internet access on the move and fixed access in hard-to-reach areas, without cabling. It spurs new services like mobile video and multimedia. You'll see PCs and laptops with built-in 3G, like Qualcomm's Kayak prototype. Many mid-range handsets are already 3G-ready, so you may not need to change your handset. But don't expect WiMax taking off. While we patiently await it, 3G may overtake this always-around-the-corner technology.
Green Mobile: The oil price swings of 2008 (up to over $140 a barrel, then down to under $40) were a gift for our planet. They forced the world to re-look at fuel-efficient cars. Sports utility vehicles (SUVs) went out of fashion. Even in the US, buyers bought smaller cars and hybrids. In India, the quirky Reva electric car generated interest again, and the Civic Hybrid was sold out on a discount scheme.
The car tech of 2009 will centre around fuel efficiency. Honda's all-new City will pick up some 'Car of the year' awards, with its blend of space, superb power, and driveability, combined with fuel efficiency.
You'll see more hybrids in India, and a range of electric vehicles - from buses to two-wheelers. The fuel cell will power some car models, globally. Other car tech for 2009 will include night vision, head-up displays, fog-penetrating laser scanners... and an advanced anti-collision system from Mercedes (who gave us airbags and ABS). The system brakes automatically, bringing the car to a stop if necessary.
The Netbook: We saw the Asus EeePC last year, and then other netbooks - ultra-portable, minimalist but connected notebook computers at Rs.20k to 30k. Rising global demand and Intel's low power Atom processor are helping flood the market with netbooks.
The Interface: The way we interact with devices is changing. Touch is supplementing the keyboard. The iPhone's multi-touch is reaching laptops. Lucid touch will let you point and touch from behind the display (so that your fingers don't block the screen). Non-contact interfaces (remember Tom Cruise in Minority Report?) will emerge. And folding displays, and e-paper. But the disappointment is that speech recognition is still impractical.
Content Delivery: Next in 2009 is a TV set-top box that is your connection to the world: high-speed internet access, an HD movie source for all your TVs, a Wi-Fi source for all your mobile devices, game consoles, laptops. It will store several hundred hours of HD video-and support telephony and VoIP.
High Definition Television: High Definition TV sets are in many homes, but there's no HD content. While Blu-Ray movie titles come in slowly (expect price cuts late in 2009), DTH operators will start off a few HD channels. The real move to HDTV will be around the Delhi Commonwealth Games next year. But the first HD push will come in at Indian Premier League (IPL) 2009.
(04.01.09 - Prasanto K. Roy is president and chief editor for ICT publications with CyberMedia, a leading technology and specialty media house. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Additional research by Hitesh R. Bhagat, tech analyst at Living Digital.)
- By Prasanto K. Roy