The Next Big Thing(S) in Tech

All of the technology products we use today--from touchscreens to tablets to social networks--were once the "next big thing in tech." Experts predicted that each of these things would become a part of everyone's tech life, before most of us had even heard of them.

By David Daw
Tue, January 03, 2012

PC World — All of the technology products we use today--from touchscreens to tablets to social networks--were once the "next big thing in tech." Experts predicted that each of these things would become a part of everyone's tech life, before most of us had even heard of them.

Slideshow: 20 Most Anticipated Tech Products of 2012

Of course, experts also predicted that Apple would go out of business before 1998.

No prediction of the future is perfect (not even if you're Tom Cruise in Minority Report), but that isn't going to stop us from making our predictions for the next big thing in tech.

Smartphones Will Replace Desktops

John Herlihy, Google's VP of online sales, believes that the desktop has about three years before phones replace it. And he first made that prediction a year ago.

Previously, only businesspeople with BlackBerrys used phones for everything, including simple tasks such as email. Now, according to a new Nielsen smartphone report, 43 percent of mobile phone users have smartphones. People use phones to do things that used to be reserved for desktop PCs, such as surf the Web, play games, and watch video.

Eventually, mobile devices will replace traditional computers completely. Morgan Stanley analyst Mary Meeker thinks that smartphone sales will surpass computer sales as early as next year.

Nanotech Batteries

Battery technology announced in September by the National University of Singapore reportedly will hold 20 times the charge of a traditional lithium ion battery and be ten times cheaper. This battery will use a flexible organic material held between two plates of graphite.

Such a battery-tech revolution could finally resolve one big complaint about mobile devices: that the battery life stinks. Even when the problem doesn't involve software glitches--as in Apple's recent iOS 5 battery-life issues--general battery life just isn't all that great. The reason for this, as my colleague Megan Geuss notes in her story "Why Your Smartphone Battery Sucks," is that battery tech hasn't advanced as quickly to hold a longer charge as smartphone tech has advanced to drain said charge. The last real breakthrough in battery technology was the lithium ion battery, which hit the market 15 years ago.

However, all of this may be set to change, thanks to advances in engineering on the molecular scale.

Augmented Reality

In October, Microsoft posted a vision of an augmented-reality future. What is augmented reality?

Imagine having reminders of your meetings for the day display on the lenses of your glasses when you walk into your office, or having the history of the Bay Bridge pop up as you walk past it. This is the promise of augmented reality, a technology that overlays information from the Web and other sources on the real world.

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