Convergence was one of the buzzwords of 2010—and next year should see the concept branch out into wider areas of the consumer marketplace. The tech industry’s vision of the 2011 consumer is someone who wants to be constantly watching YouTube videos, listening to podcasts, reading blogs, and tweeting—all at the same time. For this to be possible, by late 2011, most household goods will come with their own media players and social networking functionality—from Twitter-enabled toasters that can automatically sear trending hashtags on your bread to Foursquare-compatible furniture that will announce to your friends when you’ve arrived at your settee.
Mobile Cloud Service
Implementing pioneering GPS and weather-monitoring technologies, mobile cloud services will enable you to find out, without having to look up, whether or not a cloud is directly above you—and even tell you whether it is a cirrus or cumulonimbus (cumulus is not yet supported). It is thought the technology will prove most popular with people suffering from neck injuries and those with nephophobia—a fear of clouds.
Next year we’ll see location-aware applications roll out into every aspect of our lives—it’s believed that the average U.S. citizen will own at least four different devices helping them work out whether they’re here, there, or five minutes away by next summer, reducing the likelihood of feeling lost by as much as 64 percent. Lateness, however, is expected to increase by 23 percent, as people wander around trying to find a signal for each of their different devices.
Replacing the semantic web—2009’s vision for the future of the internet which, due to clumsy semantics, no one really understood—the hybrid web is a vision of a future internet that will be powered by a special “green” combination of renewable and fossil fuels. Experts predict that by late 2011 the internet will rely on this technology for as much as 15 percent of its power—replacing the huge, coal-powered servers currently used by the likes of Cisco and IBM. It’s a little-known fact that Facebook—responsible for 25 percent of web traffic in the U.S.—generates more carbon emissions than Yemen and Albania combined.
The technology used in Microsoft’s Kinect for the Xbox 360 will be incorporated into other types of media interfaces, assuring TV remote controls, keyboards, and mice will be things of the past by this time next year. This vision of a button-free work and entertainment space means eventually all you’ll need to control the different electronic devices in your home is to learn a complex series of head-tilts, arm swivels, and hand gestures. Prototype button-free light switches are being tested in China that simply require the user to stand exactly three feet in front of the switch and blink 17 times.
Web 3.0 is believed in many quarters to be not quite as good as the original Web 1.0, but may provide solace to all of those who felt that Web 2.0 was just a heartless cash-in, and disagreed with the casting of Orlando Bloom.
3D technologies will continue to be integrated into all aspects of our lives—some experts believe as much as 80 percent of the population will view the world in three dimensions by the end of next year. Two-dimensional film is also believed to be making a retro-comeback, with major film studios preparing several releases that will focus on old-fashioned filmmaking tropes like “plot” and “acting” to capture that authentic 20th-century cinema experience.
The past couple of years have seen augmented reality emerge as a powerful new technology which, using a camera device, layers audio or graphical data over a real-world environment. The next step is the development of diminished reality—or DR—which actually removes data from the environment to provide a less cluttered and more relaxing view of the world. DR technology, available in devices ranging from smartphones to special digital video glasses, should hit stores next spring, and will water down your view of the world so much that you will go entire days without reading a single word, or having any idea where you are.
Strides continue to be made in the world of nanotechnology, where scientists are close to creating miniature robots small enough to maintain the miniature robots required to make miniature nanotech robots. It is believed a major breakthrough may be finally made in 2011, despite claims that this is little more than a technological ouroboros.
Biometric devices such as fingerprint scanners will feature heavily on the 2011 tech scene, particularly as, due to the obesity epidemic, fingerprints are becoming much wider and easier to read. Eyes are, however, getting smaller as fatter and fatter eyelids push them back into the skull, meaning optical readers may in fact be slowly edged out of the market.
Death of Physical Media
The success of digital media platforms like iTunes means that more entertainment products will become available as downloads as the year progresses. The next step for this technology will see it move into other consumer markets—Walmart, for example, is trialing a system where small, downloadable groceries can be pumped down your broadband line, including trickles of milk and particularly small peas and beans.
The success of the Facebook game Farmville has created a huge new gaming market over the past couple of years. 2011 is likely to see so-called “casual” games supplemented by “super-casual” games—games that require such a casual interest, you don’t actually realize you’re playing them at all. For example, Zynga is expected to release a Farmville spinoff where you play as a shareholder in a farm, and rack up points for standing idly by as your farm spirals out of business due to the poor economic climate.
Also referred to as “smart” or “perceptual” computing, this technology works by monitoring the context in which the device is being used and adjusting the device’s functionality accordingly. For example, a context-aware smartphone could know that, in the living room or office, it was used simply to make phone calls or send emails, but when taken onto a bus or train it could automatically adjust its settings to become primarily a device for irritating fellow commuters—like selecting specific, contextually relevant Black Eyed Peas ringtones or adjusting phone reception levels to force loud conversations in particularly quiet train cars.
Internet commentators predict that next year will see paywalls of varying sizes being erected all across the web. Though the height and thickness of the walls will vary from site to site, it’s believed that by the end of 2011 a handful of pictures of cats wearing bonnets and the midi version of the soundtrack to Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan will be the only things left on the internet that you don’t have to pay to access. Currently in development, the next-gen paywall—or the “payfort” as it has been dubbed—will take this process to the next level by charging web users not just for content downloaded, but also for stories overheard in a bar or read over someone’s shoulder at a bus stop.
WikiLeaks’s remarkable “cablegate” project has irrevocably changed the world’s attitude toward data and the internet. 2011 will see scores of copycat movements spring into action—and the fast-moving tech market will be responsive as ever. Handheld wikileaking devices should be ready for sale by late summer next year, and will enable government agencies and embassies to log embarrassing and confidential information and then instantly publish this data across the internet. Whether they’re criticizing allies in the office, condemning U.S. foreign policy at an office party, or making catty remarks about world leaders while hiding in the can, a portable wikileaker will be the must-have item for disgruntled government employees. Doubles as a grenade.