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High-tech predictions for 2011

Today, fearless in my ignorance, I'll look at what's coming for the new year and beyond in personal technology. I'm comforted by the thought that — a year from now — most of you won't remember anything I'm suggesting.

Television meets the Internet

I was in the audience at the big Comdex computer show in 1996 and then again in 1999 when Microsoft's Bill Gates talked about the convergence of the computer and household devices like the television. Convergence soon became a buzzword.

Well, Gates was right, it just took a bit more than a decade for convergence to get rolling in a meaningful way. Now we're seeing all sorts of products that attempt — with varying degrees of success — to marry your television, the Internet and your computer.

There are real products on the market right now — televisions with built-in Internet connectivity and devices that stream movies and television shows to that big HDTV of yours.

Even now the technology is in its infancy. It promises, and to some degree delivers, the potential to deliver content from around the world to your TV.

But roadblocks remain, everything from legal questions about royalties for that content to the ability of the Internet to handle the enormous bandwidth requirements that would be created if most of us start using the Net to stream video as routinely as turning on the TV.

This convergence is the most exciting consumer technology on the horizon.

Watch closely

What if you could carry a 70-inch TV screen in your shirt pocket? You can do that right now. All it takes is a pair of ugly looking goggles that beam the picture right to your eyeballs. Hook them to your computer or laptop, put on the glasses and you have a large private screen. You can watch bigger-than-life movies from your airline seat, lie in bed watching one movie while your spouse watches another, or work at a laptop with the world's biggest screen.

The image quality is still disappointing. That's going to change and change fast. Big-screen HDTVs won't go away. But these goggles are going to change the way we watch TV and use computers.

As video quality improves these goggles will become common — no longer expensive novelties but a routine way to watch TV and work with computers.

It's happening in a flash

Even with processing chips that offer speed that would have seemed like science fiction a few years ago, there's a speed bump that holds back the performance of your desktop or laptop computer.

Most of your computer innards are solid-state electronics that offer an almost unlimited potential for speed. The speed bump is the hard disc that stores your programs and data.

While hard discs today are both larger and faster than I would have ever thought possible, they're reaching their speed limit. That's because they are partially mechanical devices that rely on spinning magnetic platters to store and retrieve data. That's why you are seeing the first examples of computers that use flash drives — the solid-state storage devices that have been common for years as keychain-sized ways to carry data around.

Until recently, flash drives with enough storage to handle the duties now assigned to the hard disc have been too expensive. But costs are dropping and you'll begin seeing more computers that use solid-state storage devices, which offers the potential for a huge leap in computing speed. Look for this to become more common over the next two or three years.

Giving you some credit

Credit cards changed how we shop. It happened so long ago that it's hard to remember the days when cash and checks were the only ways to pay.

But now the credit card will soon join cash and checks in the antique bin. This won't happen overnight, but you'll someday say goodbye to the plastic variety we carry today and pay the cashier with the click of a button from your cell phone or some other device.

If plastic credit cards are still used, they'll have built-in Near Field Communications (NFC), which eliminates the need to swipe your card. Data will be transmitted wirelessly.

All that is possible now, and happening to a tiny degree, but this is another infant technology. And it creates obvious security worries. It's a no-brainer to think that crooks will attempt to capture your credit information wirelessly. It'll take some robust security measures to let us safely and universally move to this technology. So for now, don't shred those old plastic credit cards.

High-tech predictions for 2011 01/14/11 [Last modified: Monday, November 7, 2011 1:55pm]
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