Innovation

Sanity check: The four trends that will change PCs and computing over the next two years

The Intel Developer Forum is a regular harbinger of the hot new technologies that will soon impact the computing industry, and based on IDF 2007, TechRepublic's Jason Hiner sees four important trends to that IT pros should follow.

If there's one thing you can count on from the annual Intel Developer Forum, it's that you won't be bombarded with the kind of pipe dreams and vaporware you get at most of the events that cover "emerging technologies." In the 10 years since IDF began in 1997, the conference has been a regular harbinger of what's to come in computing, from the emergence of Wi-Fi to hyper-threading and dual-core processors.

The leading trends at the Intel Developer Forum regularly become mainstream within two years because Intel has usually been very good at picking winners and putting its resources behind the right technologies.

At IDF 2007 on September 18-20 in San Francisco, I spotted four important trends that IT professionals should keep an eye on over the next two years.

4. Cleaner and greener technology

A ton of momentum and collective will is building around environmentally conscious "green" technologies, from energy-sipping CPU chips to cleaner power to technology recycling programs. Large companies like Hewlett-Packard are trying to educate users and make it easier to recycle equipment. Startups like fuel cell maker Medis are producing low-cost power packs to give extra hours of battery life to portable devices, and doing it in a way that does not damage the environment even if the fuel cells -- which are recyclable -- are thrown in landfills.

So the PCs and devices are consuming less power, battery power is getting longer and more versatile, and a lot of tech manufacturers are working toward building equipment with less-toxic, more recyclable materials.

There was a whole section of the Technology Showcase at IDF 2007 dedicated to eco-friendly technologies.

3. The wire-free desk (and living room)

Just as we've heard about the "paperless office" for years but have only slowly made progress toward it, the idea of a wire-free desk enabled by near field communications (NFC) and personal area network (PAN) technologies has been swirling around for years but with only a few devices, such as wireless keyboard/mouse and Bluetooth headsets, going mainstream. With the advent of Certified Wireless USB and Bluetooth 2.1, over the next 12-24 months a lot more devices are going to cut the cords, including LCD displays, laptop docking stations, printers, digital cameras, and much more.

These short-range wireless technologies will be assisted by Universal Plug 'n Play (UPnP) to make the devices much easier to recognize and configure than the current Bluetooth devices, which can be a major headache for the average user.

2. The incredible shrinking PC

David Perlmutter, senior vice president and general manager of Intel's Mobility Group, predicted that by 2009, laptops will pass desktops in revenue. Not surprisingly, some of the hottest devices at IDF were small form factor desktops, ultra-mobile notebooks, and phones and pocket devices that are as powerful as the PCs that people were buying five years ago. It's ironic that PCs and notebooks are shrinking as desktop displays get larger, but that's another story.

There's a new generation of powerful small form factor devices aimed at business professionals on the run. Nearly all of the big PC makers have ultra-portable laptops powered by Intel's dual core Centrino chips, which are as fast or faster than the pre-dual core CPUs that ran the previous generation of desktops.

However, there's also a new variety of small, low-cost laptop PCs aimed at emerging markets. The One Laptop per Child machine is the most well-known, but there's also the ASUS Eee PC and Intel's Classmate PC. I tried out the Eee PC and Classmate PC at IDF and they are both quite useful, even if they are underpowered compared to today's business laptops.

Intel CEO Paul Otellini shows off the ASUS Eee PC (right) and Intel Classmate PC (left) at IDF 2007.

All three of these will cost around $200 or less. The Eee PC, which runs Linux, could even be appealing to some business users and IT professionals as a functional machine for doing a few simple tasks in a remote or highly mobile environment. The arrival of these machines could help drive down the cost of low-end laptops in general. Plus, there could conceivably be high-end smartphones that are more powerful and versatile than some of these low-end laptops. One thing is clear: The days of the big, ultra-powerful tower are definitely over, unless you are a gamer or a graphics professional.

1. Broadband everywhere

WiMAX is another technology that has been promised for years, but with little visible progress and very few real world examples to show for all of the hype. However, as developments over the next 12 months will show, there has been a lot going on behind the scenes to make WiMAX the next great broadband technology, at the very least -- and potentially the next great leap in computing, if it can truly spread broadband everywhere and connect new types of devices and technologies that haven't even been conceived of  yet.

In talking about WiMAX at IDF, Intel's Otellini said, "We are on the cusp of a new global network."

Sprint's Xohm WiMAX service will officially launch in Chicago, Baltimore, and Washington D.C. before the end of 2007, and will then spread to a variety of other U.S. metropolitan areas in 2008. Clearwire, which has partnered with Sprint for WiMAX roaming, will launch its WiMAX service in the U.S. in 2008, most likely in many of the smaller metro markets. There's also a entire ecosystem of vendors that are planning WiMAX launches in Asia, Europe, and South America over the next 12-24 months. Plus, Intel is going to start embedding dual-mode WiMAX/Wi-Fi cards in Centrino laptops in 2008.

However, while WiMAX starts spreading over the next few months, 3G HSPA technology -- which already has a strong foundation in place in the cellular networks across the globe -- is attempting to beat WiMAX to the punch with roaming wireless cards and fixed wireless modems that can bring broadband to rural areas and other places with little or no broadband options.

Whether WiMAX or 3G cellular ultimately wins, or they simply coexist, the future of broadband covering the far-flung corners of the earth and connecting devices of all sizes looks like a possibility that is finally coming to life.

Check out my photo gallery from Intel Developer Forum 2007 for photos of these technologies and more.

Intel and its PC partners had the latest (and upcoming) models on display at IDF 2007.

Which of the four technologies listed above are you most interested in following over the next two years? Which ones could potentially have the biggest impact on your organization? Join the discussion.

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 book, Follow the Geeks.

80 comments
richard.n.carpenter
richard.n.carpenter

Intel isn't in this business but could your analysis have failed to address this area of rapid evolution?

FlatAffect
FlatAffect

I don't live at the end of the earth, but I can see it from here. When you say "broadband everywhere" you need to remember that there are places where a Sprint cellphone doesn't work and probably won't really ever will until the service comes from straight above. We have a lot highways running through narrow canyons with high walls. We have fairly good Verizon cellphone coverage, but not its broadband service. When I input my zipcode, they all just say it's not available.

ls1313
ls1313

I've just moved to an area of town with limited high-speed options. For this reason, I find the whole wireless broadband concept very interesting. Does anyone have any inkling about what technoolgy will be used to secure a wireless broadband network?

ebouza
ebouza

Hello, What I am most interested in is the WiMax Technology, that would be great to be able to always have broadband speeds anywhere you go. It is nice to see that we are finally starting to look for ways of not hurting the enviroment and I am totally behind this movement, I hope it catches on like wild fire.

the.pitts2
the.pitts2

Hi, isn't it about time someone put solar panels on the back of lap tops? P.S. All good stuff chaps, keep up the good work, and thanks, without you I would still be in the dark ages! Regards R.S.P.

ipeters61
ipeters61

I don't really care about the environment, so I don't really want the green technology (AKA I am pro-Conservative).

nooly77
nooly77

Just purchased an ACER 22-inch wide screen for $222 after $50 dollar rebate...Big and cheap is here!

norab
norab

I foresee a good market for smaller PCs and laptops. But in a country like india broadband may not be a reality for rural areas yet and for lower income groups even in urban areas.

nentech
nentech

We will just have to wait and see if the old barriers will get in the way of this new(not so new ideas)technology For wireless it has always been cost and capacity (bandwidth) Lets see if they can beat the bills into submission Lets also see if they can cram more into the airwaves without cutting back the bandwidth just to fit in more channels For portable devices it has always been battery life Longer battery life may be lost as they use smaller battery sizes to make them easier to carry around Col

rolph232
rolph232

These are indeed good choices for dynamic trends. I think that another factor may be along the lines of who the target is going to change into. Meaning who OEMs and VARs are planning to sell to. The face of our population is rapidly changing, perhaps even who 'our' represents.

digitus1inOz
digitus1inOz

As for WIMAX superceeding wired broadband - not likely in the boondocks where I live.....

willroberts
willroberts

So - Nothing "new" then! These are all trends that have been around for years. What you are saying is that they will continue. I notice that the physically small PC market will grow. I see that as a polarization of the market rather than a trend to smaller and smaller PCs. Perhaps it is better to think of "static" v "portable". Certainly, the huge towers will gradually fade, but a need for large real estate screens will continue - not only for gamers and graphic designers. The only thing that stops me from ordering a massive screen that will display two pages of letter or A4 paper at normal (or larger) size is the price. Since the price will drop in time, the market for these will grow. There will always be a market for the static desktop albeit with everything wireless. Actually, wireless? I still need a raft of sockets for all the power cords. - System unit, screen, printer, router, palm charger, phone charger as well as a general purpose charger for all the batteries in the wireless devices. Now where did I put that wireless mouse? Ah - found it. Damn - the batteries have gone. Just as an addendum, what is it with all these widescreen monitors? Most documents are in portrait! Will

drmikemiles
drmikemiles

I am fascinated by the possibility or rural broadband in North America - actually, desperate for it!!! I spend a lot of time in Romania where Vodafone has a great 3G system. I use it and a Bluetooth connection to my 3G phone to do all my Internet activity. Return to Canada (where I live) and step out of any major city and broadband is but a dream on the horizon. Does anyone know a today-solution to this problem that won't kill the bank? Mike Miles ___________________

tony85
tony85

I know we have heard this before, but it is now far more likely to happen. HP is positioning itself in that direction. The very cheap basic laptops you showed in the article, plus terminal server and WiMax, I have a scheme that makes it cheap and easy to have my mobile workers on line to the basic apps they need in a secure way. I don't have to worry about whether or not their home PCs are secure - I give them a cheap locked down laptop with as little software as possible, minimising my need for patching etc. There is only downside to this approach - the large amount of licensing I have to pay to Microsoft now exceeds all other costs.

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