Ten techs to watch in 2009

Keeping an eye on the future isn’t an option for IT watchers: it’s a necessity. In an industry where running to stand still is a challenge, keeping abreast of tomorrow’s technology can lead to considerable cost savings.

Those who predicted this year’s shift to netbooks might have saved hundreds of pounds compared with those who bought a pricey ultraportable at the start of 2008, for example.

To help you stay ahead of the game, the PC Pro staff and Real World editors have once again pooled their collective wisdom to predict the ten biggest technologies of 2009.

1. PICO PROJECTORS

Back in August 2007, Texas Instruments gave us an exclusive demonstration of its pico-DLP technology: a light source, lens and processing unit small enough to fit into the shell of a mobile phone. It was a prototype – the phone itself didn’t work – but it gave an exciting peek into the future of projection on the move.

Fast-forward to January 2008, and at CES we saw a tiny LED projector from 3M, which was again intended for mobile devices – the company claimed to be in talks with “several leading phone and camera manufacturers” with a view to launching before the end of the year.

But it’s taken until the final months of 2008 for the first working retail devices to emerge. Optoma unveiled a pico-DLP handheld projector, capable of displaying a 60in, 320 x 240 resolution image from 1.5m away. Aiptek has also unveiled a 100g, pico-LED handheld projector that can produce a 10-lumen image of up to 42in. It displays images and videos from its 1GB internal memory or SDHC slot at an impressive 640 x 480.

Both devices require much darker environments than normal projectors, and the quality drops off quite quickly as you enlarge your image, but then they’re only intended for quick projections on the move. And this is just the start.

A £200 dedicated pico-projector device is undoubtedly niche, but now that we know these things actually work, it’s only a matter of time before they appear in phones and cameras – and we’ll soon see them as just another feature on an ever-growing list.

2. APPLE INVADES CORPORATES

If there’s one number above all others that summarises what Apple has achieved over the past few years, it’s this: 9.75 million iPhones.

Casting aside the largely emotional judgements about the foolishness of iPhone purchasers, this is a massive presence in the corporate world, and the unthinkable has happened: you can interlink your iPhone 3G with an Exchange Server.

This is Apple playing at being Microsoft. To do the same thing with a BlackBerry requires a complete, separate server (often built by the mobile phone company).

it_photo_17887Apple is muscling in on a market that everyone thought was done and dusted, and it’s done it by getting inside the heads of the user-choosers. Suddenly, BlackBerry addicts are sad, and iPhone users are cool.

That isn’t the only place you can find Apple kit being given credence inside companies. Apple server software is more freely licensed than other commercial equivalents, and Apple servers deliver serious throughput, storage and manageability. It also makes nicer NAS boxes than the base-level closed-box Linux machines: no client-side patches a la Buffalo and no six-weekly reboots a la Netgear – Apple OS X Server is a poster-child for long-term survivability.

Surprisingly, the picture is somewhat weaker when it comes to the desktop. Prices of even the relatively humble (but very green) Mac minis remain high, and limited availability of the forthcoming wave of Intel Atom-based desktop machines will keep Apple’s volume products off the desks of the masses – but here’s where it gets interesting. Hackers have already run OS X on Atom: a bit like dire warnings about climate change, there are few reasons why a tiny change might not precipitate a sudden shift to a whole new view of the world.

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