January 1, 2009

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The road ahead
Totally non-random predictions for 2009

By John “jaQ” Andrews  jandrews@hippopress.com

Playing oracle in the technology industry is a double-sided coin. Heads, there’s so much going on that any semi-educated guess will probably end up being at least partly true. Tails, everything moves so quickly that it’s easy to miss something from left field that makes something you predict obsolete before it even happens.

Nevertheless, half the fun of prognosticating is being amusingly wrong later, so it’s something I’ve never hesitated to do. Here’s a few things you can absolutely, 100 percent, no doubt bank on for 2009:

 • Less plastic packaging you can’t open: You know the kind I’m talking about — the stiff, clear plastic that’s molded to the shape of the product inside. Sometimes called blister or clamshell packaging, it’s the bane of cheap buyers’ fingers everywhere. Since it’s so tough, you need sharp implements to get it open, producing shards of downright dangerous detritus. And forget about putting it back together if you need to return your purchase.

Amazon.com feels your pain, and has launched the Frustration-Free Packaging initiative, which aims to cut down on this kind of product wrapping. They’ve started with just 19 products from Fisher-Price, Mattel, Microsoft and Transcend, but more companies are jumping on board. It means more recyclable (and recycled) cardboard instead of plastic and twist-ties. That certainly makes sense for online ordering, where presentation of the retail box isn’t that important, and it will spread into brick and mortar stores quickly as otherwise indistinguishable products seek a competitive advantage with friendlier boxes.

Also, keep an eye out for clearance prices on clamshell-packaged stuff as it’s phased out.

• Still no 802.11n: Yes, you can buy “pre-n” routers and cards. The wireless networking standard still isn’t approved, though, and isn’t currently scheduled for final approval until January 2010. Assuming no delays. The final standard should bring wireless transfer speeds of up to 600Mbps, more than ten times higher than the current 54Mbps offered by 802.11g. Worth the wait? Sure — if you absolutely need it faster now, you’re probably wired anyway.

• Sub-$100 Blu-ray player: Now that the high-definition video disc format war is over, manufacturers can get down to the dirty business of price warring. Players hit bottom near $150 this holiday season, so chopping another third off that number should be doable by next Christmas. Assuming we don’t just download all our movies by then. Which we won’t.

• 3-D screens without glasses: The red and blue cardboard spectacles have their retro appeal, sure, but 3-D video is a gimmick until viewers’ faces can be totally naked. 2009 could be the year it breaks out, with LG planning to test in “one or two markets” this year, according to a press release. A company called Spatial View is boasting about its new screen overlays for the iPhone and MacBook that supposedly enable 3-D viewing of games, videos and pictures. A removable lens right on the overlay makes glasses unnecessary, though how the whole contraption looks probably won’t be revealed until the MacWorld Expo, when those two products and a 3-D 19-inch monitor go on display.

• Laptops with secondary touchscreens: No, not a touch-sensitive main screen. It’s more like a customizable control panel that complements the primary display. You can run a customized application on it, or just drag a window to it. One Fujitsu notebook is already shipping with a 4-inch secondary touchscreen, and more are on the way.

Write these down and prepare to berate me, folks. Twelve months goes faster than you think.