What technological surprises does 2008 hold?

What’s in store for tech fans in 2008? Plenty. If the stirrings of the present are any indication of what’s on the horizon, technology buffs can look forward to products that are better, faster, and less expensive than those we rely on today. The best news of all is that some of the most exciting products should appear earlier in 2008 rather than later on.

iPhone successor unveiled

The iPhone may have been the biggest tech product roll-out of 2007, but that doesn’t mean Apple’s well-designed foray into cellphones was without flaw. Expect to see a successor to the popular iPhone some time in 2008.

What will Apple improve with iPhone 2.0? How about adding GPS, 3G, a higher-resolution camera and some perks that make it appealing to the corporate crowd, including operability with more wireless carriers? One thing’s for sure: with a few tweaks — including a more palatable price — the iPhone could see the kind of market penetration that would keep it on top for some time.

802.11n, finally

For several years now, the 802.11n wireless specification has promised wireless internet speeds up to 10 times faster than the current 802.11g generation of products. The trouble has been that the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers’s international standards committee has dragged its feet in ratifying the 802.11n specification. So we’ve had manufacturers lining up over the past two years to bring out ”pre-N” or ”draft N” wireless routers and network cards.

While these draft N products have provided a considerable boost in wireless performance, they’ve also had their share of compatibility issues. Expect all of those headaches to go away, finally, in 2008, as 802.11n will be ratified, and fully N-compliant wireless products will flood the market. That will be good news, as 802.11n connectivity speeds are about as fast as a typical wired network.

Vista, again

Early adopters of Microsoft’s Vista operating system were primarily average consumers. Corporations stayed away in droves, and even many of the brave souls who adopted Vista complain of the steep learning curve, annoying user-account control and overall slowness when compared with XP.

Expect Service Pack 1 (SP1) of Vista to change that. SP1 will appear early in 2008 and give Microsoft another shot at making the case for migrating to the new operating system. Atop the list of improvements will be compatibility and performance, and both will tempt consumers and businesses alike to give Vista a second chance.

Open source takes off

Expect 2008 to be the year that the world takes notice of open-source alternatives to expensive software products. While for years consumers have been focused on Microsoft Office and other productivity suites that cost big money, the open-source movement has matured — to the point where free, able alternatives exist for virtually every type of software that people want or need.

Up to now, open-source software — which is developed by a worldwide collective of developers and distributed freely over the internet — has been hampered by products that didn’t quite match up to their Windows counterparts. That has changed, though, as OpenOffice.org‘s free office suite is as slick and powerful as just about anything available on the shelves of your local computer store.

Add to that the growing cache of free programs available from the likes of Mozilla and Google, and you have a catalogue of programs that will do anything your average computer user needs.

Quad-core for the masses

Dual-core processors became mainstream in 2007, with both Intel and AMD providing dual-core chips that offered more speed for the same or less money than previous generations of processors. The few quad-core chips available were expensive and under-utilised by software.

Expect things to change quickly in 2008. Quad-core processors — which pack the brains of four discrete central processing units on to one chip — will be the chip of choice next year, as Intel perfects a new manufacturing process that decreases power consumption and heat generation while increasing processor efficiency, and thus speed. AMD is finalising work on a quad-core architecture that the company says will offer efficiency improvements over Intel’s design.

While the two chip titans duke it out in the press, consumers will benefit, as more quad-core offerings will drive down prices and make today’s dual-core offerings passé by comparison. Software makers, too, will get on board — offering applications that are multicore aware and can thus benefit from quad-core chips.

Hybrid storage arrives

The hard drive as you know it is on its way out, and 2008 will be the year that viable alternatives become affordable.

Already hard drives that combine nonvolatile memory with traditional rotating platters are on the market. But they’re expensive, and the meagre capacities they offer make them largely uninteresting to consumers.

Expect to see solid-state hard drives come down in price and be offered in notebook computers first. The durability of solid state has an obvious appeal to those who carry their computers, and the speed improvements these drives offer will eventually make their use in desktop computers inevitable.

Green everywhere

With initiatives such as EnergyStar, the tech industry has been in the process of going green for some time. But the movement is just now picking up steam. With computers draining a good bit of the world’s energy resources, expect 2008 to be the year that everyone from computer system manufacturers to power-strip companies will roll out products that boast lower energy consumption than ever before.

With tech product manufacturers touting the energy-saving properties of their products, the challenge for consumers will lie in trying to figure out how much of the story is just marketing hype.

Wii play games

The success of Nintendo’s Wii in late 2007 caught the gaming console makers off-guard. While Sony and Microsoft were busy pumping up the graphics prowess of their consoles, Nintendo wowed the game-playing crowd by creating a virtual-reality device that gets players up off the couch and moving around.

Instead of sitting down, punching a game pad with their thumbs, Wii players are moving their bodies, controlling the actions of on-screen characters with their movement. That kind of involvement trumps hi-res graphics any day.

Expect the other console makers to trot out their own form of interactive game play in 2008. The success of Wii will not go unchallenged, but Nintendo can take a bow for moving computer-based game play in a new direction from which it’s unlikely to return. — Sapa-dpa

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