4G

Five future technologies I can't wait for

If you think the past two decades have been amazing for tech, wait until you see what's next. See the five hottest technologies that are on the way.

This article was originally published on September 13, 2011.

Credit: iStockPhoto/audioundwerbung

"The future is already here -- it's just not evenly distributed." William Gibson

One of the best things about my job covering the latest technologies is getting early information about some of the amazing things coming down the pipeline in the years ahead. But, the flip side of that is that I often learn about some really cool stuff that won't be available to the general public at a reasonable cost for a long time, which often leads to a case of "Isn't that here yet?" that can last for years.

With that mind, here are my current top five picks for "Isn't that here yet?" These are the technologies that I'm seriously impatient to see show up in the real world.

1. Wireless docking of mobile devices

I've recently talked a lot about the utopian convergence of PC and mobile devices. I see this as the next big game-changer in the technology industry, and that's why I've pinpointed it as Microsoft's next big opportunity (and explained why they could miss it). However, the number one factor that's needed to make this happen isn't a super-fast CPU or a miniature SSD drive with lots of storage, it's a common standard for wireless docking. That's what will enable us to take a smartphone or tablet and set it on desk or on a charging station like the Palm Touchstone and then have it wirelessly connect to a keyboard, mouse, and large screen monitor. We need something easier and more robust than Bluetooth. A technology like Wireless USB could be the answer. The most important thing is that it will need to be a universal standard integrated into every phone and tablet so that we no longer need proprietary docking solutions like the ones for the Motorola Atrix. Timeframe: 3 years

2. Inexpensive mobile broadband everywhere

The arrival of true 4G wireless broadband is just beginning to hit critical mass in the U.S. in 2011 with the continuing rollout of Verizon's LTE service (I don't count the 3.5G of T-Mobile and AT&T as 4G). And, while LTE offers impressive speed and performance, it still has wrinkles that need to be ironed out (handoff between 3G and 4G often gets goofy). But, the biggest thing LTE needs -- from a user standpoint -- is a little more competition to drive the price down and force the telecom companies to fight tooth-and-nail for business by deploying 4G everywhere. It's a shame WiMAX is floundering in the U.S. because it was a legitimate 4G competitor and was aimed at delivered low-cost, high-speed mobile broadband everywhere -- and then just turning phone calls into VoIP calls (like Skype) since people are using their phones less and less for voice and much more for data. Still, 4G is going to happen because people want high-speed Internet everywhere and are willing to pay for it. There might even be creative companies that will give it away or offer a reduced rate for ad-supported access. Timeframe: 2 years

3. Three dimensional printing

One of the coolest and most futuristic things in the works has got to be 3D printing. No, I'm not talking about making a printout and using 3D glasses to create a silly illusion (that would be even dumber than 3D movies and 3D TV sets). The three dimensional printing that I'm talking about is where you make a three dimensional design on a computer and then send it to a special device to "print" a 3D model. There are already some expensive (over $15,000) models available in the real world and used by companies that need to make rapid prototypes of products. However, there will eventually be models available for average consumers and lots of templates of different things to create, which means it will someday be cheaper and easier to create certain things than to go out and buy them. In other words, this will likely be the first step toward the replicator in Star Trek. Timeframe: 5-10 years

4. HTML5 to make the web an app

There are a lot of things that HTML5 will bring to the web -- and some of these elements are beginning to show up in a few sites today -- but the biggest thing HTML5 is going to do is take the training wheels off the web and unleash it to compete with traditional software. The two things that I'm most excited about are that HTML5 is going to turn the web into app and it's going to eliminate the need for most of the plugins that slow down browsers and introduce extra security risks. With HTML5, constantly refreshing pages will become a relic of the old web as pages become far more dynamic and interactive, automatically loading the latest content and changing the page based on user clicks, mouse-overs, and multi-touch gestures. And, of course, multimedia will be integrated into the experience and plugins for Flash, Shockwave, Silverlight, and other helper technologies will become unnecessary. Timeframe: 2 years

5. Flexible OLED displays

Another technology that has been promised for years but still needs several breakthroughs before it's ready for the mainstream is OLED displays. We've seen some high-priced prototypes from Sony that feature ridiculously thin TV screens in small sizes (under 30 inches), but that only scratches the surface of what OLED will be able to do in the future -- at least theoretically. These ultra-low-power displays will be able to be almost as thin as plastic wrap and will be completely flexible (even when in use). The result will be screens that can be integrated directly into walls and be virtually invisible when turned off. You'll also see smartphones that can be folded in half and put into a pocket or a wallet, or even rolled into a bracelet. We could even see the re-emergence of the broadsheet as a way to read and consume news, but instead of unfolding a newspaper you'll unfold an OLED display that is tied to a subscription to The New York Times, for example (here's an example of how the Times is already envisioning this). Timeframe: 4-5 years

And you?

What future technologies are you dying to get your hands on? Post in the discussion below and include your prediction for how long it will take to hit the mainstream.

About

Jason Hiner is Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He writes about the people, products, and ideas changing how we live and work in the 21st century. He's co-author of the upcoming book, Follow the Geeks (bit.ly/ftgeeks).

382 comments
NickP2012
NickP2012

is there a device out there that will charge you device with wires or a charging pad?

The Daleks
The Daleks

OK, I know I'll never have a TARDIS. I can live with that. But a sonic screwdriver? Can that be so hard? And no, I don't have any bloody idea how it would work. Damn it, I'm a web developer, not an engineer.

WashingHands
WashingHands

3d printing is going to be big over the next fifty years and is already starting to be feasible with RepRap and other similar machines that are accessible to most middle class people already. Another big technology that might affect day-to-day life a bit is using cellphones to pay for stuff at stores. I think that would be very interesting.

skrabler
skrabler

I'm wondering how Hotspot 2.0 (http://blogs.cisco.com/tag/hotspot-2-0/) is going to affect these two technologies. Sounds like you're reflecting this spec in your comments about Mobile Broadband. Do you know, is there a working group for the Wireless Docking issue?

martin.reading
martin.reading

I have always thought how cool to have smells added to the dimensions provided to us via TV or our computer screens. Seems to a stretch too far to provide this sort of tech at the moment?

l_e_cox
l_e_cox

If this planet doesn't learn how to take better care of itself, all those dreams won't matter anyway.

nlack tiger
nlack tiger

it would be benefiicial for all the technical lead of companies,professors of universities,concept generators,in it the imaginative pictures can be easily plotted over the space without time delay and congestion of data and it would be clear in RGB 3-D format.....think it,no need of smart classes,no need of heavy books,just attend your lectures n get the 100%,it would be specially beneficial for engineering and medical students because they need more imagination power than others.

rrvau
rrvau

How on Earth can you NOT wait? Have you a time machine?

chdchan
chdchan

Many years ago, I thought of writing a program that was so intelligent that could amend itself. So far computers have been created to follow procedures, however, getting a bit off-track to let it change or improve itself should be allowed to certain extent to enable real machine intelligence in realms such as creativity and eternal learning from the human world. But these involve very ethical issues in computer science.

chdchan
chdchan

Hundreds to thousands years later, with advanced neurobiological knowledge unthinkable nowadays, scientific engineering of human thinking and brain power will emerge. Then, incredible things such as social network telepathy, interpersonal spiritual sex, artificial intellect instillation and object manipulation by brain can be commonplace.

chdchan
chdchan

Since we started to have SDLC for computer software manufacturing, 4GL and RAD came, but AI system rapid prototyping is yet to be realized. Till then, intelligent machines and robotics will reign, in distant future.

chdchan
chdchan

I am so curious to learn about the possibility of efficiently indexing, searching and locating any scenes from long videos with textual or graphical input as the search keys. Maybe requires big big databases and come true in 10 years.

djc14925
djc14925

How about some medical break throughs such as cures for cancer.....

Tuura
Tuura

When are we going to get the VR helmet with the console, so it would be like actually being in Halo? The neural interface and the holodeck may be a bit further away in time but at least the video and audio helmet with wrap around vision should be feasible. With all the motion detection gear pretty advanced now, turning your head would change your view in a realistic fashion. Secondly I am hoping we get over this irrational fear of all genetic engineering, and allocate some funds in developing plants to feed the projected 10 billion earthlings, as well as improve the nutritional quality of food - besides selling GM plants coupled with chemicals as seems to be the point of it now.

Hannahbot
Hannahbot

the Displacement Booth to replace flying.....

yooper
yooper

Although there's been major advancements in AI over the years, the fact still remains that for the most part, we can deal much better with visual input than computers, especially reacting in real time with our environment. Sure you can program a computer to recognise a car, but it can't contemplate the nature of the car parse' or hey! it's heading straight towards me, move! Us humans take in gigabytes of raw visual data a second and have to process that data in an instant. If you look at a dining room table for example, unless there's some out of place such as a gun you are able to process all the items intuitively without any real thought or concentration this something computer have trouble with. It would be nice to have a soothing sexy voice I could carry on with about the daily affairs, but there's too much cognitive number crunching on.

chdchan
chdchan

Think about buying redundant set of TVs or video equipment at your home or company, it should take a single wireless device to transmit/broadcast source signals from e.g. antenna/cable outlet, bluray players, PCs to any or all of your pure monitors with cablefree receivers. Maybe happening in 5 years.

davidemorehouse
davidemorehouse

A comfortable seat W/Power source attaches to interchangeable Bases, One for snow (snowmobile),Another for water,,(Jet-SKI), and another for Air (personal Flyer)

weslarson
weslarson

1 - Affordable Jetpack. I've seen the video of the guy with the washing-machine sized rotors. It's freakin cool! Now if only it can come down in price... and maybe improve it's fuel efficiency, too. 2 - Cheap, mass producible solar panels. I keep reading about new developments that have made significant improvements in the efficiency and reduced the cost of production of photo-voltaics, but when are we actually gonna GET this stuff!? 3 - Calorie free sweetener that tastes like sugar and doesn't kill you some other way. Ok, this is just cuz I'm fat and I like drinking Dr. Pepper too much and current diet sodas have that foul aftertaste that makes it undrinkable. Probably just an impossibility. 4 - Untethered Exoskeletons. Robotic exoskeletons are pretty freakin awesome, but are currently limited by having wired power. Untethered power-suits of different varieties could be usable by the physically disabled for better mobility, and usable by laborers for heavy and dangerous grunt work. I guess this could really be filed under "Better Batteries", but Exo's are cooler than batteries. 5 - Ok, I'll give him the Flexible OLED displays. I've had one too many cracked cell phone screens. That's my list.

garyleroy
garyleroy

Better than any of the stuff listed, something to kill all but emergency phone signals, g or otherwise, in any given 100-square-mile area. Imagine, people walking around and actually noticing their environment, or "thinking", or conversing with a companion that's right there. Finding their way to a Starbuck's without the navigational aid of the GPS (yes, it can be humanly possible), entertaining themselves without long-distance Scrabble, being able to actualy write or type full words, maybe even with capital letters where they belong, learning that photography is actually an art that can produce pleasant experiences, more than pointing your phone at something and uploading yet another snapshot to facebook or utube. Or, maybe we should just plant a chip in each person so they can communicate wirelessly just by thinking; after all, those touchscreens are complicated to use and use up our valuable time that we could be using to, um, to make more phone calls. With the whole device implanted through a hole drilled in the head, we'd then all of course be happy no matter what we did, and no need for actual thought or skils or interaction with live individuals. Don't worry, they still would be able to get business calls at any time, say when dining out or in the middle of a conversation...after all, we are indispensable and need to be in direct contact 24/7,

chdchan
chdchan

A bit fussy but can keep you in motion or sport while watching photos and movies. Best for virtual reality and training in life visual scenes. Similarly, you can scroll your computer screen by nodding or turning your head.

chdchan
chdchan

Housewife or househusband getting tired can take a break.

chdchan
chdchan

People have been devoting too much time on "computers and TVs", only to find the hassle of being called up sometimes. With mobile phones integrated to them, you may see SMS and converse with video call on any of your screens at home or office, in probably 2 years.

mlewus
mlewus

Cheap 4G? Certainly not in 2 years, probably never. This is not a technical problem that requires a "breakthrough". rather it is the economics of monopoly and collusion. 5 years ago you could get unlimited 2G data from Verzion for $20 a month. Then they "upgraded" you to 3G and the price went up to $30. Two years ago they capped it at 5GB/month. Then last year while they trumpeted 4G, the cap was quietly reduced to 2GB/month. You can still get the 5Gb cap if you want - but it now costs $50 a month, not $30. This is not progress. It took about 10 years to build out 3G, and 4G will take at least as long in part due to its need for many smaller cells to enable high bandwidth to all users. Just about the time it's done they will dangle "5G" data in front of you, at an even higher price per bit. Just like last time. These guys are almost as bad as the oil companies...

chdchan
chdchan

I'd like to have GPS-driven app capable of planning and leading through my way of travel package in foreign countries more precisely by fast real-time tracking, best with vocal tourist spot narratives and call numbers to reserve tickets or tables when I reach those essential places. Needs more accurate GPS and vast databases e.g. for geo-sensitive phone directory in 5-7 years.

chdchan
chdchan

I have been tired of using crappy built-in cameras of phones I ever got. Can there be, vice versa, better digital cameras equipped with phone SIM? With this in 1-2 years, reporters can live update news photos for their news agencies and web sites, and professional photographers can deliver their products to clients in no time. Alternatively, we can beam digital photos via camera bluetooth to our phones as a workaround.

chdchan
chdchan

With 4G rolled out already, I can anticipate in the 5-6G era (in 5 years), choir members need not sing in the same venue but over the phone via the net with their orchestral music and conductor gesture synced to each end. By that time you can in a similar way attend a Mass at home.

bob
bob

It is my understanding that true 4G (according to the official standard) is defined as being 100x faster than 3G. In that sense, Verizon does not have 4G either, even though it might be faster than the competition. I guess the marketing people at the telecoms just assume if they say 4G long enough, it becomes reality. So I guess maybe when they start talking about 5G, that might really be the original 4G? What an industry!

emgub
emgub

Item number 2 is not feasible. We are already pushing the boundaries of the amount of data we can fit in the spectrum, and any minor improvement is being completely outpaced by the trends that files are getting larger and larger as people use more and more data. Any wired connection will be far more efficient than a wireless one. Furthermore, no one has addressed the elephant in the room: wireless towers are adversely affecting wildlife, in particular birds. If you hope for a better, more connected internet, hope that the US follows parts of Europe by controlling where towers are built for optimal wireless signal coverage and by supplying a high-speed (fiber) wired infrastructure across the nation for cheap. Yours Truly, An Engineer

Greg Williams
Greg Williams

How about a GPS Device that shows the driver a virtual blueprint aerial view of a parking lot you've just entered and have the ability to view where open parking spaces are in real time? Time-line: 2 Years.

Greg Williams
Greg Williams

Question: Why is it that we have high-end cell phones that have digital camera capabilties with flash that we can recharge with a electrical cord plugged into a wall outlet, but we have digital cameras that use AA batteries? I want a digital camera that I can recharge like a cell phone. Time-line: 1 year.

a.neczwid
a.neczwid

WRT #5 Flexible OLED Displays, check out a magnificent video of the "near" future (as proposed near the beginning of the video) where info sources are everywhere, thanks to creative use of versatile glass, at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Cf7IL_eZ38 . If you're willing to pay enough, many of the ideas in the video can be implemented today...

rahn
rahn

We've already been able to eliminate individual islands of data storage using SANs and I think the next logical step will be to do the same thing with processing power. VMware has made my network a much better system but it still isolates the processing power to the VMs running on a particular host, imagine if that processing power could be pooled to be used on any VM in the entire cluster, regardless of the host it is running on. Every time we would add a host to the cluster we would increase the total processing power of the entire cluster for all VMs.

dianelipka
dianelipka

I thought that I had read about this somewhere (maybe here?). Since most people are getting rid of their home phones (landline Or VoIP), it would be really cool to be able to plug in your mobile phone to your home wiring so that you could answer your (mobile) phone at all of your extensions.

mehrabpuri
mehrabpuri

Nice predictions. I think the idea of Jason Hiner are exactly match with all IT Gec, But it vary culture to culture & region to region. Ideas are great predictions are accurate with some minor changes, the given time frame can not be authenticated. In a culture like Pakistan Mobile devices come out rapidly and beyond any prediction. The idea of 3D Printing can be substituted with the idea of Avatar, because 3D printing is current phenomena. The Idea of Wireless USB is greatly being expected by all IT Gecs. Another important expectation predicted by me is like Google Earth in reverse order. Google earth present an image of certain time, it is proved by the research that time be decoded, no event or action can be over but moved. This new invention will provide like a Google earth in reverse order where you can watch an area focused, person focused or any other criteria to see the image of passed action through a reverse Google. Muhammad Nawaz Mehrabpuri PhD. Scholar at FAST National University Karachi, Pakistan. Remarks From my teacher:- Good article , but i think he missed one main technology that is Fuel cells (Batteries to power devices and need to be recharged/maintained after 2 to 6 months)will be very common in next 2 to 5 years time frame and HTML5 is something whihc i am already using so this is not something which will happen in next 2 years, it is already present thing. Regards Waqas Mahmood

chdchan
chdchan

Imagine in 5 years, you can pay your bill without taking your visa card out of your pocket. That will ease up a situation when 10 persons go dutch at a restaurant.

chdchan
chdchan

I would expect hefty improvement of our satellite technology in 10 years that enables GPS tracking accuracy up to 10-20 meters and live multi-point motion tracking using a single device. By that time, there will be relevant war-game or high-end military apps. And clients can fast geo-locate virtually any shops/companies by simply dailing up their business phone numbers. Also you will be able to find out buses or vacant taxis running nearby from homes or any waiting stops, or ring up a taxi driver by double-clicking the moving taxi object on Google maps. And miniaturized GPS-attachment will make possible children, precious parcels or escorted items in transit being kept under close watch from remote.

paulfx1
paulfx1

One of my favorite cyberpunk authors. The present state of consumer grade 3D printing is pathetic. Basically it is a hot glue gun. I'm more into home based CNC milling myself. I'm almost done with the Z axis of my first machine now. Desktop manufacturing will change the world. There is an electronics printer that intrigues me though. last I checked the ink that prints transistors cost more than 5 times what gold did by weight. Gold has been going up recently so maybe parity will happen.

realvarezm
realvarezm

Hello Obi Wan,,, when some brand release that technology...that day i wont feel whole until i have it in my home.

M Wagner
M Wagner

I am sorry but I think it is naive to expect that there " ... will need to be a universal standard integrated into every phone and tablet ... ". In a competitive marketplace, no vendor is willing to make their product "just like" every other vendors products. There are no "true standards" - there are just "de facto standards" which come about when secondary and teritiary vendors finally accept that vendor X is so dominant that your survival depends upon being compatible with the dominant "standard". Inexpensive mobile broadband? That depends a lot upon what you consider inexpensive. I pay about the same for broadband from my cable TV company (covering multiple devices) as I do from my cell carrier for a single device. Both are unlimited but either vendor would clamp down on me if they decided I was abusing their system. On a cost per byte basis, TXTing on a cellphone is outrageous compared to data rates for e-mail on the very same device. Cell service providers don't want you to figure this out so they treat TXTing as an incremental cost. As long as customers will pay for these "extras" the carrier will charge extra for them. 3D printing sounds really neat but it is really a niche market - and I think it will be for a long time. I agree about HTML5 but I am more optimistic than you are regarding OLED. In 2007, an LED HDTV was a thousand dollars more than and LCD TV. Now, just about every HDTV out there is an LED TV ... and $1,000 is the high-end, instead of the low-end, as it was in 2007. The demand for ever more portable tablets and ultrabooks will drive this on a much shorter time-frame than you predict.

RealGem
RealGem

Wireless docking is incremental because we have docking and we have wireless. OLED displays are still just displays. HTML5 is nice because it pulls together features that are currently delivered with other standards and products, but it's integrative, not innovative. Pervasive cheap broadband - ok, that's enabling. I'll give you that one. 3D printing - ok, I totally agree with you on that one. Imagine doing your kid's homework project, say a diorama, with that. Awesome. Make your own Lego bricks, parts for broken toys, or anything made from plastic. But your obvious miss is: voice interface. It's getting close, but even the leaders like Dragon are not quite where they need to be. As soon as the voice recognition is better (and I think we're just waiting for better hardware), then voice command interfaces can become ubiquitous. Movie theatre kiosks, Google, ATMs, vehicles (just seeing the start of this), personal electronics, home electronics ("TV Command - record Big Bang Theory next Thursday on ABC"). This is transformative, like 3D printing.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

Wait until Smell-o-vision. We'd be hungry (and eating) all the time, simply due to the power of suggestion. Every time a food commercial came on, you would smell the food (with, knowing advertisers, an overlay of bacon, THE scent that gets every American's taste buds going).

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

The planet's doing fine. The people are phuqued, but the planet's doing fine.

garyleroy
garyleroy

They already have these, in some models, but it's generally not considered an asset for anything but cheapo, cell-phone-type cameras. #1, most non-blister-pack cameras don't use AA's, and haven't for years. #2 the device is not usable when it's plugged into the wall...most photographers would prefer to switch a battery and keep the camera ready to shoot, instead of having to disable it while charging. Fast charge? Most battery explosions or failures happen while charging; when they're out of the camera, they won't damage it, should that happen. Manufacturers don't want warranty returns caused by battery issues, especially explosions. Charging faster makes problems more likely. But you don't need to wait one year, there are already models that do what you want, and you'll be able to get them cheaper since most people don't like havng to plug the camera in to charge it.

garyleroy
garyleroy

Until you get the bill and discover that your RF-enabled card has generously paid the bill for the whole crew, and bought a round of drinks for the owners of those cute American Express cards over at the bar. And of course ordered itself a new Latvian Marmot skin wallet with fur-lined credit card slots from Amazon, while you were sipping your brew at Starbuck's.

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

George must have got it wrong or didn't look at the facts. Kind of reminds me of Mr Potato Head arguing with real people as to who is right. :^0 Col

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