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Top Tech Trends for 2009 Part II: I’ll Have That To Go!

In this second part of our series on the top tech trends for 2009, we take a look at mobile technology, a category that’s hot and getting hotter!

By Barry Myers

OK, netbooks are definitely not phones, but they are most certainly communication devices. They’re also an entirely new product in the flourishing mobile computing category that’s predicted to be one of the most exciting sectors of the consumer electronics industry in 2009.

These little beauties weigh in at under 3 lbs (sometimes under 2 lbs), are about 1” thick, and come with screens measuring around 10” or less. They are built primarily for Internet surfing and electronic communications and are not really for running productivity software like Microsoft Office or processor-hungry activities like high-end gaming or video editing.
Netbooks are not entirely new. They are actually a rebranding of what had been called Ultra Portable Computers or UPCs. Intel coined the new term netbook back in the middle of last year. The first netbooks to gain traction were produced by little known companies like Asus, MSI, and OQO, but today they are offered by every major PC manufacturer.

Netbooks generally have about half as much memory, processing power, and hard drive space as you would find on a mid-level laptop. But they are equipped with the very latest in wireless connectivity, including WiFi for hotspots, 3G for connecting to the Internet over the cellular network, and Bluetooth.

What’s interesting is that they are becoming very hot items for two very different groups. On the one hand, there are numerous professionals that today rely less on running their own software and more on what’s known as cloud computing. In cloud computing, users pull applications like word processing off the Internet when they need them, making full installation of software like MS Office unnecessary. These folks love the portability and, in this economy, the price tag of netbooks, which generally cost $400 or less.

Portability and price are two of the reasons that netbooks have gained such favor with another key consumer group: women. In the face of market saturation and razor thin margins, CE manufacturers are increasingly designing for and marketing to the rapidly growing number of female gadget lovers. Unlike the cloud computing crowd, however, women seem to be purchasing netbooks as an adjunct to their home computer, where all their key documents and multimedia (music, photos, and videos) remain safely stored on the hard drive.

Like everyone else, women have become increasingly reliant on the Internet for news, keeping up with their favorite blogs, shopping, and communicating via e-mail, social networks and instant-messaging. Netbooks are perfect for all these on-the-go functions.

Competition for the iPhone… finally!

With the launch in 2007 of the majestic iPhone, Apple rewired the entire mobile phone industry. Not long after, Samsung and LG launched the first of many over-hyped “iPhone killers” and, ever since, there has been a proliferation of smartphones, each one hoping to take a bite out of big, bad Apple.

While the first iPhone competitors were fairly well-received, they did not come close to matching Apple’s sleek design, amazingly simple interface…or record-breaking sales. But three recently-arrived smartphones will be watched very closely in 2009 to see if someone can finally give the iPhone a run for its money.

BlackBerry Storm
Satisfying the needs of business users with respect to e-mail and other B2B applications is the one area where the iPhone is lacking. So it’s not surprising that the first real competitor came from BlackBerry, the company that has all but owned mobile business communications for the last several years.

The BlackBerry Storm, which was introduced last November, is a striking device with a gorgeous touchscreen that makes BlackBerry’s superior e-mail and messaging capabilities available to those people who craved the iPhone form but were put off by that device’s less than stellar business performance.

But the Storm is not satisfied with being just a business device. The single biggest “wow factor” with the Storm is its unique "click" technology called SurePress, which allows you to click the screen down like a mouse button. This gives users the physical sensation of clicking when you type or navigate and also being able to "hover" without selecting or moving an on-screen element.

Another advantage of the Storm is that it runs on Verizon’s network, which is widely regarded as the best cellular network in the US.  The iPhone, of course, is only available with service from AT&T.

Palm Pre
Palm, the company that practically invented the smartphone category, is perhaps the only other brand with the pedigree to challenge the iPhone. At the recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Palm basically stole the show with the introduction of the Pre, their first attempt at producing an “iPhone killer”.

The drama surrounding this announcement was unique. It was universally agreed that Palm was hanging on by a thread the last couple of years. They had produced no new phones of any note and had not updated their mobile operating system in a very long time. With the launch of the Pre, they did both with one home run swing!

The early reviews of the Pre have been gushing. It actually has more features than the iPhone including: multitasking, copy and paste, an LED flash, web integration, and a wireless charger. But the first thing you notice is that it has a full slide-out keyboard in addition to its touchscreen.
Beck Worley at ABC News believes this is evidence of the Pre being designed with women in mind, since long nails make it very difficult to use the iPhones’s touchscreen!

The Pre will be exclusive to Sprint at first, but is likely to be available through other carriers after the first year. Other details, including when it will become available (online rumors range from mid-February to late June) and pricing, are not yet available.

Google Android
The next and last really compelling mobile storyline to watch for in 2009 comes to us from none other than Google. However, Android isn’t a phone. Rather, it’s a new and open mobile operating system that Google made available last October as part of its Open Handset Alliance initiative.

What does that mean? It means that Google has made the inner operating software of Android phones open, and provided developers with tools to collaborate on creating amazing new mobile services for consumers. With multiple operating systems all clamoring for attention in a highly competitive market, there is sure to be a shake-out in the not-too-distant future. Putting its almost limitless budget behind an open system gives Google a very strong horse in the race.

The first Android smartphone, the T-Mobile G1, was launched last September and the reviews were very promising. If you’re not suffering from Google-itis (the feeling that Google is taking over the world!), you’ll love how the G1 integrates with the mobile versions of Google services like Gmail, search, Google Maps, Google Talk, iGoogle, Google Calendar and so on.

So there you have it – the top trends to watch for in the fast-moving mobile tech category.

Next up: Part III in our series: Digital Cameras and Camcorders.

See Part I: Top Tech Trends for 2009 Part I: Televisions

Barry Myers has been helping consumer technology brands communicate with consumers for over 12 years. Most recently he was a co-founder of DigitalLife, the country’s biggest consumer-facing technology conference and exposition. He’s currently hard at a work on his own niche social network. Barry lives in Manhattan with his wife, two-year old son, and twin cats Al and G.

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