Big things tech for 2006

Happy New Year! Whatever you got up to last night, I'm sure your celebrations were livlier than mine which involved drinking martinis with my family while a terrible TV special by the people behind the Back of the Y accompanied us into 2006.
What will be big in 2006 tech wise? I've written my Herald on Sunday column on just that topic. You can read it here if you've a subscription to the Herald Online. But it basically boils sown to this in my opinion:
1. Apple and the iPod have about another year's grace before anyone has a chance of catching up with them. The iPod will have wireless built-in for seamless syncing with iTunes. The TV content deals Apple is striking in the US will become more sophisticated, especially when the TiVo software that allows you to transfer recorded content from your PVR directly to your video iPod becomes widely available.
I can see the iPod adopting a digital satellite tuner and Apple getting into bed with an operator like XM Satellite, which operates dozens of radio stations beamed off satellites positioned over North America. The advantage of satellite radio is that you can pick up the same radio feed wherever you are and more channels can be broadcast at better quality. There are many digital satellite radio receivers on the market but imagine how powerful the iPod will be if a digital radio receiver is built into it and iTunes users can subscribe to pick up various radio stations.
I doubt the Motorola ROKR, the phone that hosts the iTunes store will survive. It will go down as one of the big failures of 2005. But I can see a better phone that allows users more flexibility taking off this year.
2. Blu Ray and HD-DVD players will hit the market eventually transforming how we store media. The two flavours of technology basically let you do the same thing - let you store upwards of 25GB of data on a single disk. The average hard drive is around 60GB. So with two or three disks you'll be able ot back-up the entire contents of your hard drive uncompressed. That's very useful. The disks have so much capacity on them that there'll be no excuse for three-disk box sets for movies. Everything will fit on one disk in high-definition quality. The big drawback with Blu Ray and HD-DVD is that you need a high definition TV set to see the content in high definition. A small but rapidly rising percentage of TV screens in this country support high definition. The market will take the whole year to settle down. The CES consumer electronics show being held in Las Vegas later this month will showcase new devices like Pioneer's Blu-Ray drive for computers. The technology means less shagging around with CDs and DVDs, more ease in recording long stretches of TV and once the entertainment industry gets its act together, movies released to the home video market in much better quality than standard definition DVDs now deliver. I can't wait.

3. Microsoft's Xbox 360 may not have got the Japanese excited but who would it? You would'nt expect the Ford Taurus to do well in Japan. They're a patriotic bunch when it comes to technology and Sony's Playstation reigns supreme. Elsewhere the Xbox 360 has been selling out leading to ludicrous bids being placed on eBay for the consoles being flogged for those with their eye on high denomination greenbacks rather than high quality gaming graphics.
Surprisingly, with hype around the 360 and the gaming industry in general at feverpitch, the game publishers are talking downturn. The theory is that with the release of the Xbox 360 and the pending release on the Playstation 3 and the Nintendo Revolution, gamers with the old consoles are holding off buying gaes until they've invested in the next generation of hardware. Is the games industry ever happy with the billions they take?
The Xbox 360 will be huge in 2006, especially if Microsoft and Bungie get it together and release Halo 3 during the year. These next generation gaming consoles are unlike anything we've seen before. Their graphics processing power is staggering. And they combine gaming with wider entertainment options like live TV recording, playing music and internet access. As such the 360, which goes on sale here on March 2 and PS3 will be the most functional gadgets to capture our attention in 2006. The problem will be getting enough of them out of Chinese factories to meet global demand.
4. The so-called PMP (personal media player) took its baby steps in 2005 but was held back by high pricing and a lack of understanding of where it fits in the market. The PMP is a small tablet with LCD screen that’s generally smaller than a portable laptop. It has the ability to play video and audio and display photos and documents and is usually wi-fi enabled so can connect to the internet over a wireless network. It’s ideal for use around the house though many of them are also small enough to carry with you. Manufacturers such as Creative, iRiver, Archos and Nokia are already in the PMP camp but the fall in price of laptops has made these new devices expensive by comparison. Nevertheless, the huge demand for digital media and the lure of having a high-resolution, full-colour screen handy will ensure its success. Think of Sony’s PSP but with music, video and pictures rather than gaming at the forefront.

5. Methanol-based fuel cells will debut in 2006 in Japan with the aim of meeting the power-hungry demands of increasingly sophisticated gadgets. The power cells will initially appear as external “gas tanks” that can be connected to electronic devices to charge their batteries, but eventually will be built into mobile phones, music players and laptops. Toshiba has already shown prototypes of its Gigabeat music player powered by a fuel cell and the race is on among laptop makers to come up with the best designed fuel cell. The technology will increase the battery life of electronics and remove the need to connect to a power supply to recharge. They promise to be more fuel efficient with the cells replenished by adding a few drops of methanol to the tank.

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