Column: The Bleeding Edge
From the December 2010 Issue
Economists and consumers could point to a few bright spots in an otherwise bleak year, and the technology sector was certainly one of them. In a year marked by continuing high unemployment, upside-down mortgages, the largest oil spill in history and another lackluster finish by the Washington Redskins, this was a year of substantial gains for tech — particularly with hardware and the Internet.
At the outset of the year, the U.S. Departments of Commerce and Agriculture began to award $7.2 billion in federal stimulus funds for broadband projects, ultimately putting money up to build middle-mile fiber projects in almost every state. This, in turn, generated renewed activity in the markets for fiber and other core equipment, as well as planning for new data centers and interconnection points.
Broadband Internet continued to expand, covering up to 96 percent of U.S. households by the middle of the year (according to the Federal Communications Commission reports). Connection speeds continued to increase for consumers nationwide, except for cable and wireless broadband, which remained slow and expensive.
Facebook amassed more than 500 million users, as increasing numbers of seniors flocked to the social networking scene to correspond with their families and to tend their crops in the outrageously popular game of “Farmville.”
And tablet PCs crashed back into the marketplace with the introduction of Apple’s iPad, once again revolutionizing the way we look at computing hardware even if didn’t exactly capture the business world. What did capture the business world was another device, Amazon’s Kindle, which entered its second generation with solid growth as an indispensible tool for the thinking executive.
With all of this activity as a background, we took our annual stab at predicting technology for 2010 at the outset of the year. Here’s what we predicted and what actually happened:
Prediction: Cellular broadband will begin to dominate wireless.
Actual Results: No question we got this one right. With the market for smartphones now in a three-way cat fight between the iPhone, those based on Google’s Android operating system and Microsoft’s System 7 for phones, data use over cellular is growing at a pace unforeseen just two years ago. The downside? Capacity shortages in some major cities.
Prediction: Multitouch screens will go mainstream.
Actual Results: It’s not just the iPad and other touch-screen applications. All-in-one computers have become the rage this year, with models from almost every manufacturer. The upside is convenience and cool. The downside is that the technology needs to mature and the software needs to catch up.
Prediction: PDF files will dominate filing.
Actual Results: Remember “DOCx,” Microsoft’s abortive effort to challenge Adobe in the document portability arena? Don’t feel bad, neither does anyone else. DOCx will go down in history as that annoying new default in Microsoft Word that made it impossible to trade files for nearly two years.
Prediction: Telecommuting will finally get real.
Actual Results: You can thank the winter of 2010 for this. Massive snow storms early in the year paralyzed the federal government and forced business and government alike to start getting real about telecommuting as a disaster response. A little federal legislation and the support of the White House didn’t hurt, either.
Prediction: The future of “cloud computing” will be … cloudy.
Actual Results: Just when it looked like the entire world was ready to ditch their hard drives and head for the “cloud,” someone noticed some not-so-tiny concerns about data security and the potential for government intrusions. With the cost of storage falling and privacy concerns rising, “cloud computing” may not be the only storage solution in the future.