The Technology Coming to a Gadget Near You

Marc RosenthalWhen it comes to the "next big thing," I'm usually pretty skeptical. (It's from all those years I've spent trying to get gear to work as advertised.) But in 2008, we will see some long-promised technologies--like the connected home, truly smart "smart phones," and environmentally friendly tech--start to bloom. And even if they don't live up to all the hype, they'll make life a lot more interesting.

In 2008 you'll see more devices connecting to the Internet and to one another. Expect your next portable media player to have a browser and Wi-Fi built in, à la the iPod Touch or the Archos 605, says analyst Rob Enderle, principal for The Enderle Group.

"If a gadget needs to grab data from somewhere and doesn't have an Internet connection, you're using last year's model," he adds.

That networking capability is also spreading to stereos, DVD players, and flat-panel TVs, says Parks Associates analyst Kurt Scherf. For example, Pioneer's S502 tabletop radio uses Wi-Fi to access MP3s on your PC, along with Internet radio stations and Rhapsody. HP MediaSmart LCD TVs have 802.11n adapters that do the same with stored video. Look for more devices of this type in 2008.

Even dorky photo frames are going Wi-Fi. By 2011, half of all digital frames sold worldwide will be wireless, according to Parks Associates. Along the way they'll evolve into information portals like the clock-radio-size Chumby, which will display news, weather reports, Flickr photos, your Netflix queue, eBay auctions, and more when it appears next year.

The next step? Enderle says that in 2008 manufacturers will begin making networking components modular, so you can upgrade your gear when standards change, without having to replace the whole device. Scherf says to look for devices employing ultrawideband--a low-power technology that transmits large amounts of data over short distances--and faster versions of Bluetooth as cable replacements when Wi-Fi is overkill.

Apple's iPhone is impressive, but its keyboard and screen are too dinky for most humans to use comfortably. Expect other vendors to challenge the übergadget with handsets that offer users better ways to get data in and out.

For example, the iMate Ultimate 8150 Windows smart phone features a slide-out QWERTY keyboard and an XGA-out port, allowing you to view your phone's display on a TV, monitor, or projector. The Redfly Mobile Companion, due in early 2008, will let you connect an 8-inch display and a keyboard to a smart phone via Bluetooth or USB, bringing your handset even closer to becoming a laptop replacement.

You'll also see a lot more handsets similar to the iPhone and the BlackBerry 8820 that use Wi-Fi to bring the Net to your pocket.

Another thing you'll hear more about in 2008 is environmentally friendly equipment. Aside from devices such as the Solio 1000 (a solar-powered cell phone charger), however, most of the "green" will be behind the scenes: more-efficient power management, increased use of recycled materials, and better options for disposing of old electronics. "I'm still waiting for a "Toyota Prius-like poster child for environmental gadgets," says Enderle. Maybe in 2009. A lot can happen in 12 months.

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