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Each year, we at GearBits post some predictions for the coming year. And then, in the interest of honesty, fairness, and self-deprecation, we take a look back to see how we did. Each of our predictions for 2008 are listed below, along with an update on what actually happened.
1) Blu-Ray Wins the Format War
Yep, I'm going to pick a winner and it's going to be Blu-Ray. The one-two punch of Warner Brothers's move to Blu-Ray exclusivity (from its Switzerland-like neutrality of supporting both formats) later in 2008 and Apple's announcement that BD will be the only HD format available in its products will cement HD DVD's demise. And none too soon. I don't really care which wins...just make it snappy so that prices on players and media can plummet, thanks.
As of now, the end of 2008, it seems like forever since Blu-Ray trounced HD DVD in the format war. But back in early January, it was anyone's guess. But then, on February 18th, Toshiba officially threw in the towel. Interestingly, the Warner Bros. move I thought would happen eventually was actually announced the day after I posted my predictions. Of course, Apple hasn't yet released any products with any form of HD optical drive, so that bit wasn't exactly spot on. And I'm still waiting for my $99 Blu-Ray player. But, overall, this prediction looks pretty solid.
2) Google's Android Shakes Up Phone Industry
For a while now, the cellphone industry has been fairly static. A few smartphone and mobile OS makers have generally tussled for market share, but the overall industry has been pretty evolutionary. Google's entry will prove to be a watershed moment, with open source finally making a big impact in the handheld space (and no, I don't consider the Zaurus to be a big deal...sorry). Actual handsets running Android will be announced, if not available, before the end of 2008.
Depending on your threshold for "shaking up" the phone industry, I think most people would agree that Android made quite a splash in 2008 when the HTC G1 was launched on T-Mobile in the US on September 23rd. And we've already heard of around a dozen hardware makers signed on to release Android handsets. While handset sales still pale in comparison to the iPhone, 2009 looks like it just might be the year of the Android.
3) Palm Supports Android
This is more of a hope than an actual prediction, as I just don't know whether the egos at Palm will let the company do the right thing and admit that their next-generation OS (which has been under development since 2004!) will be a viable contender against Android (which has essentially the same technical details but scads more developer support). But, if cooler, more rational heads prevail at Palm, they'll announce that they're plans will be to produce at least one Android-based product (probably to come out sometime in 2012 :-/ ).
Ouch...I couldn't have been more wrong. While I still think Palm would have been smart to advance their product refurbishment by a full year (maybe more) by going with Android instead of continuing to pursue Nova, the company stuck to its original, go-it-alone plans. We'll see how well that pans out in 2009.
4) Microsoft's HD Photo Replacement for JPEG Image Standard Goes Nowhere
I'm not saying it's a bad idea technically; I'm just saying that JPEG is so entrenched now that replacing it would be about as reasonable a thing to try as would be replacing MP3 with any of the multitudes of better formats. JPEG, like MP3, isn't great, but it's adequate (at least for consumers) and ubiquitous. We'll still be saving all our photos in JPG (and maybe RAW) at the end of 2008...and likely long after that.
JPEG XR, the official name of Microsoft's HD Photo format, has generated essentially zero traction in the camera industry. Part of that is Microsoft's less-than-swift transition of JPEG XR into its quasi-open licensing portfolio, a move that will have to happen for camera makers and developers to trust that they won't be bitten by huge licensing fees in the future if they move their products away from RAW to JPEG XR.
5) Subnotes Will Explode in Availability (and Maybe Popularity)
I've always been a fan of tiny, sub-3-pound laptops, but I think 2008 will see a huge number of these clamshell devices come out of every corner of the consumer electronics space. The Asus EeePC and the OLPC XO Laptop are two examples. While Microsoft had a good idea in its UMPC (Ultra-Mobile PC) concept, the hardware was just never executed all that well. Frankly, I think a 7" touchscreen for Windows is just too difficult. But, going with the traditional clamshell design and using cheaper and/or smaller technologies (e.g., flash memory instead of a HDD) will bring us a raft of interesting (and some good) designs at <$500 price points. Bring 'em on! And I think we'll start to see a lot more people toting these things along that traditionally avoided laptops for whatever reason (cost, weight, etc.).
Bingo. If the shelves at Best Buy and Circuit City are any indication, these "netbooks" (the now-favored term...at least by everyone except Psion) have multiplied faster than Tribbles on Cialis. One glance at the huuuge list of netbooks over at small-notebooks.com is enough evidence to suggest that this prediction was spot on.
6) The GPS War Heats Up
TomTom, Nokia, and Garmin will exchange hostile fire over the GPS market due to convuluted agreements regarding mapping data as well as market-share for hardware. Products will continue to decline in price and improve in functionality, and >50% of cellphones will have some form of GPS functionality available on them. I guess that's two predictions in one...oh well.
I'm going to give myself this one. While we haven't heard that much more about the complex licensing agreements involving the big three, you need only walk through a Staples, Radio Shack, or Target to see a vast assortment of portable GPS units now available for under $150, most even having text-to-speech and other advanced functions. That's in direct comparison to late last year, when it was difficult to find a decent unit for under $300.
7) DRM Hits Choppy Water
2007 saw some movement away from DRM (digital rights management), especially in the music industry, but I expect we'll see similar initiatives in all areas of media. DRM has been proven again and again to be little more than an expensive technological boondoggle, and the leading innovators at the consumer media interface (e.g., Apple, Amazon, and Google) will make some headway into reversing the trend of more encumbrance for our media. The RIAA and MPAA will continue to fight it...they know how to do nothing else...but economic results will start to demonstrate that DRM actually hurts profitability.
Nope...we didn't hear much consistent with my prediction. While some markets moved towards offering DRM-free downloads, most are still heavily laden. And the RIAA actually reversed its strategy and is now no longer suing everyone and their mother for alleged downloading. So that's two different ways I was off on this one. Just goes to show that there's no telling what the content owners are thinking.
8) Major Tech Stocks End 2008 Up Significantly
These are bound to be wrong, but what the heck...nobody pays me for stock tips. I think Apple will end 2008 at 235, Google will be at 960, and Microsoft will finish the year at 50. As for other stocks, iRobot will end up at either 46 or 12 (can you tell I'm a cynical shareholder?), IBM will show tepid growth to 112, and RIM, hurt by the continued weak US dollar and facing increasing competition, will struggle to match its 1-year high of 127.
Uh, no. While I doubt many saw the massive downturn in stocks coming, tech stocks are decidedly not even slightly better off than most. Let's see how my specific price predictions held up:
Apple (AAPL): Predicted = 235; Actual = 86.29
Google (GOOG): Predicted = 960; Actual = 303.11
Microsoft (MSFT): Predicted = 50; Actual = 19.34
iRobot (IRBT): Predicted = 46 or 12; Actual = 8.95
IBM (IBM): Predicted = 112; Actual = 83.55
Research in Motion (RIMM): Predicted = 127; Actual = 38.77
In summary, do not ask me to manage your stock portfolio...you would be better served by setting your money on fire, as then you could at least stay warm for a while.
9) I Buy a New Laptop and Am Disappointed
My Panasonic CF-W2 is now three-and-a-half-years-old and I'm starting to cringe every time I turn it on (my luck with hard drives makes me skeptical of many living past their 4th birthday). I've been looking at possible replacements (e.g., Toshiba R500, Panasonic W7, maybe the Lenovo IdeaPad U110 or the rumored Apple subnote) and so far every single one has some significant trade-offs. So, I expect I'll get one and it will turn out to be not significantly better than my aging Toughbook. You'd think in nearly four years that two grand would buy something markedly superior. We'll see...
Unfortunately, I was right on this. The Fujitsu LifeBook P8010 I ended up purchasing in February is a good laptop...don't get me wrong. It's just not a heads-and-shoulders better laptop than my ToughBook was, and that's what I was expecting given the nearly 4 years newer technology and the $2500 it cost. And, given that I've already had to send it in for a repair (the power button broke off), I'm guessing the durability won't even come close to that of the Panasonic (which I still use regularly around the house).
10) Major Changes in Automotive Industry Announced
While the car business makes actual change only very slowly, we'll see some huge announcements in 2008 that will fundamentally change the future of that industry. Things like record oil prices, an increasing attention to sustainable/green technology, and significant ownership changes will substantially change the competitive landscape. Make no mistake; Toyota will continue its ascent and eclipse GM as #1 car-maker in the world. But, we will see several major announcements that will start affecting actual consumers in 2009 and beyond.
While I didn't get the stock predictions exactly right (OK, not even close), I think it's safe to say that the US automotive industry has been shaken up with major changes during 2008. We saw record oil prices (check!), more attention to green tech (check!), and the bottom dropping out of US consumption didn't leave them anywhere to go except to the Congress for help. And Toyota did indeed become the biggest carmaker in the world in 2008, just as predicted. Let's hope the Volt truly is something special...for all our sakes.
So, there you have it: our final score is 7 winners and 3 losers. I'll take it. :-)
In a couple of days, I'll be posting GearBits' predictions for 2009, so make sure you come back and check those out, m'kay?
McCain and the Republican talking heads have been, shall we say, critical of Obama's suggestion that keeping tires optimally inflated and getting our cars properly tuned up would save more oil than offshore drilling would produce. But guess what...they're wrong!
The Tire-Gauge Solution: No Joke
How out of touch is Barack Obama? He's so out of touch that he suggested that if all Americans inflated their tires properly and took their cars for regular tune-ups, they could save as much oil as new offshore drilling would produce. Gleeful Republicans have made this their daily talking point, Rush Limbaugh is having a field day, and the Republican National Committee is sending tire gauges labeled "Barack Obama's Energy Plan" to Washington reporters.
But who's really out of touch? The Bush administration estimates that expanded offshore drilling could increase oil production by 200,000 barrels per day by 2030. We use about 20 million barrels per day, so that would meet about 1% of our demand two decades from now. Meanwhile, efficiency experts say that keeping tires inflated can improve gas mileage by 3%, and regular maintenance can add another 4%. Many drivers already follow their advice, but if everyone else did, we could reduce demand several percentage points immediately. In other words: Obama is right.
Read the whole story (Time.com)
And yet, being wrong doesn't seem to keep them from saying it over and over again.
It's unfortunate, but not unexpected, that politicians seem much more interested in managing perceptions than dealing with truths.
That's a bizarre suggestion for this country, which is infamous for its willingness to just let market forces work things out.
No, instead, we should just tax the heck out of gasoline and let people decide how fast they can afford to go...if they can afford to go at all.
Or better yet, let's take those tax revenues and actually invest in public transportation infrastructure. If we also reward good local development decisions, people might not require a car for 99.99% of their trips. And that would be the best situation by far.
BTW, here's a nifty Department of Energy report from April, 2008 on gasoline usage trends chock-a-block full of graphs, charts, and other statistical goodness. Enjoy!
Time.com has positively deviated from the typical "gas prices are awful, aren't they?" approach most journalists take when writing about the fuel situation. Instead of adding to the incessant yammering about how life is going down the crapper because of $4 gas, they decide to highlight 10 positives that might come about because of it:
- Globalized jobs return home
- Sprawl stalls
- 4-day work weeks
- Less pollution
- More frugal use of transportation
- Fewer traffic deaths
- Cheaper car insurance
- Less traffic
- More cops out of their cars
- Less obesity
Now, I'm not confident all these will happen just because of high gas prices, but you have to give them a nod for at least trying to remind us that some good will likely come out of this.
Want to go electric? Want to look reasonably cool while doing so? Then check out the new ZAP Alias.
The Alias will be available in 2009 and will have some pretty hot specs to go along with that sweet body:
0-60 mph: 7.7 seconds (not Tesla quick, but quick enough for most)
Top speed: 100 mph
Range: 100 miles on a charge
$32,500 is a bit steep for a two-seater, but you can pretty much guarantee you'll be the only one on your block with one.
- iPod Touch - I tried the Archos 605 Wi-Fi first and its mediocrity makes the Touch that much more delightful. I really love well done user interfaces and this one is first rate. My only complaint is its picky eating habits when it comes to video formats.
- iMac - I waited longer than any other tech purchase to finally go with Apple's all-in-one desktop PC. I opted for the top of the line 3.06 GHz 24" model and have been completely blown away by it. So far I have found no flaws. It is stunning.
- High Gas Prices - Innovation rocks and if it takes $5/gallon gasoline to get us out of this oil addiction then I'm more than willing to pay my dues. Fewer SUVs and pickups, electric cars, solar energy, alternative fuels, more big butts on bicycles, less traffic congestion; I'm all for it. Let's drop our consumption by half and let OPEC drink their devalued crude.
- Synology - A NAS will soon be as ubiquitous on a home network as the router is today. The clever, feature-filled offerings from Synology are the best of the breed. I'll have a DS508 please!
- Subaru - Totally agree with Craig here. I've been
in Imprezas now going on six years and I still feel like I'm cheating when I share the road with normal cars. Scoobys are fabulous.
- Ken Follett's Historical Novels - "The Pillars of the Earth" and "World Without End" are two of my favorite books of all time and I just took them in this Spring. I listened to both on my iPod (over 40 hours each) after downloading them from Audible and they made a month of 1000 mile weekly commutes totally enjoyable. Masterful stuff.
- CrossFit - I was in good shape 20 years ago and at 44 I can wipe the floor with my 24 year old self (if that was possible). I've been CrossFitting for almost a year now and some of the things I can do now would have seemed outlandish back then.
- General Motors - If you Google dinosaur, out of touch, lethargic, and unimaginative you should pull up GM's home page. I used to be a fan, but they have been disappointing me for 25 years now and don't seem to be planning any big changes. The sooner they finish themselves off, the better off we'll be.
- Labor Unions - Working in the industrial world I cross paths with unions
of all sorts way more than I would like. I completely understand why our manufacturing sector is fleeing to other countries. I have never seen such a lazy, selfish, destructive, regressive bunch of people in my life. They can't all be like that, but the ones I've met surely are.
- Sheeple-Filled Corporate IT Departments - My 26,000 strong corporation is going to switch to Vista because they don't want to be left with no anti-virus support for their XP platform. Goodbye nice warm frying pan and hello fire.
- Cable/Satellite TV - I'm SO tired of paying $80 a month for a bunch of
garbage that I would never watch even if I had the time. It won't be long until I cut that cord and start rolling my own TV. If I could just decide which way I want to do it!
- Global Markets - I realize that even the lowliest trader in/on most investment banks/trading floors/commodities exchanges is smarter than I am, but I would really love to see them use those brains rather than run with every emotion that riffles through the world markets. Do investors even pay attention to P/E ratios or supply and demand or is it all about what the hot analyst is saying or the sheeple are doing?
I've been remiss on posting, so I thought I'd assemble a whole mess of opinions in one place. Over the past several weeks or so, I've come to appreciate some things/companies and have come to be disappointed in others. So, here's a quick run-down:
- Shutterfly - always gets me great-looking prints/books in a timely manner at low prices.
- Google - just keeps rolling out the innovative, useful, and well-designed web apps
- Subaru - they just make terrific cars...durable, high-performing, and affordable
- Amazon.com - with reasonably good, if not great, prices, excellent customer service, and a stellar website, what's not to like?
- Subnotes - The sudden rash of low-power, low-weight, cheap laptops coming out (which I predicted would happen back at the beginning of the year) is a joy to behold...portable computing for everyone!
- NPR - Always informative, enjoyable, and worth supporting.
- Logitech Cordless Presenter - Have had it for two years now, am still on the first set of AAA batteries, it has taken tons of abuse, and it still works perfectly. Amazing!
- Private Electric Car Companies - It's as if we're on the cusp of another time like the 1920's, when every town seemed to have a local car manufacturer, except now they're all electric, hybrid, or alterna-fuel vehicles (a very good thing).
- Archos - if my 605 Wi-Fi completely hangs on me one more time, I swear I'm going to chuck it off an overpass (I'll post more about this later)
- Palm - if my Treo 700p resets on me one more time, I swear I'm going to chuck...aw, who am I kidding? It'll probably reset before I finish this post. C'mon Android...fill this void in my gadget-hoarding soul, will you?
- Megalomaniacal Corporate IT Departments - I hope the day comes soon when we can definitively show that the TCO actually improves when you let corporate tech users select their own personal devices.
- Flash memory format proliferation - I mean, seriously, do we really need SD, MiniSD, and MicroSD? It's getting as bad as the dang Memory Stick (and that's saying something).
- Download-only music stores - I may be in the minority, but I just don't like the DRM associated with most online music stores. And even without the DRM, the cost seems too much if I'm not getting permanent physical media, liner notes/art, etc. Call me old school if you like...go ahead, it only hurts a little.
- Intel's Marketing department - Seriously, guys, could you make keeping track of your product lines any more difficult and confusing?
- Getting older - I am no longer the kid I still think of myself as being.
So what are your Hot and Not?
It's hard being a visionary; nobody knows you're right until well after you did, and by then it may be too late.
Take Dean Kamen, for example. Inventor of over 27.3 million different gizmos, his much-maligned Segway was supposed to redefine how we think of cities.
It didn't. Not even close.
Now, more than seven years after its debut, they're still quite rare.
Well, they're going to be a little less rare, at least in one Ohio town. Hamilton has bought several Segways for its police force to patrol the streets in...er, on...whichever.
My question is this: if Hamilton wanted to buy something for its officers to use that reduced energy costs, why not just buy them bicycles? Five grand will get you a really nice mountain bike. Or three.
The industriousness and efficiency of humanity is really, really impressive if you stop to think about it. While lesser species sit around and wait for Nature to "happen," we devise new ways of accelerating our ass-over-teakettle tumble through new realities.
One particularly delicious example of this is global warming. "Oh, yes, we know all about that," you say, but wait...there's a cool twist.
For years, scientists have been telling us that the Earth's climate is changing, largely due to the burning of fossil fuels and other of man's activities that result in a hotter planet. And for years, scientists have been predicting the most dire of outcomes: dramatic loss of coastal land (and the cities that sit on them), increasingly violent and unpredictable weather, a huge decrease in biodiversity as scores of plant and animal species fail to adapt to what is essentially overnight change to their ecosystems, and so on.
One prediction that scared the US Defense Department so much that it put global warming on its list of top national security threats was the likelihood of widespread food shortages. Changing weather patterns, including increased drought and flooding, were going to wreck havoc on food production around the globe. This shortage would then lead to instability in parts of the world that weren't terribly stable to begin with and further fuel the anti-Western backlash that began sometime before this decade. This would generate new threats like terrorism, disruptions to our own food and energy supply chains, and increase the uncertainty in global markets. All told, not a very rosy scenario.
And that was all supposed to happen by the middle of this century.
But, humanity's unfailing inability to leave bad enough alone has created a worldwide food shortage well before global warming could directly. No, global warming (which, remember, is our fault) is motivating us to seek out alternative fuel sources, such as corn-based petroleum substitutes. These biofuels are diminishing the availability of food and driving up costs. This, in turn, is starting to generate unease in the world's poorest communities. And that is precisely the type of situation that the Defense Department warned us about...just about 40 years earlier than predicted.
It is indeed ironic that our efforts to stem global warming are resulting in many of the very same problems that global warming was itself going to cause, just sooner. When your best effort to avoid calamity only hastens its arrival, you have to wonder whether there's any hope of steering clear at all.
If Florida gets the Christian license plates that some lawmakers there have proposed, this should be an equally justifiable plate option for Sunshine State residents:
Pundits figured it would take gas at $4/gallon to curb driving. Looks like they were about right, but with the overall economy in recession, it only took $3.50/gallon or so to get things started. BusinessWeek has a good article on it.
I just came across this ridiculous story on BoingBoing about Ford preventing a Mustang owner's group from publishing a calendar featuring photos the owners took of their own cars on the grounds that all images of Ford cars are inherently trademarked and, therefore, property of Ford.
Can American companies become any more stupid than this? I'm not quite sure it's possible.
For the record, I'm fairly confident Subaru has no such policy. And just to try it out, here's a shot of my own car (a 2005 Impreza WRX STI).
Edmunds.com has a fascinating comparo: the 2008 Ford Mustang Shelby GT against the 2008 Subaru Impreza WRX STI.
At first, you think "who would compare these two?" After all, the 'Stang is a tried-and-true RWD muscle car and the STI is an AWD rally racer in street car garb. The Ford has two doors and a whopping-big engine (that even says "Shelby" on it), whereas the Subaru has 5 doors (it's a hatchback) and a little 2.5-liter turbocharged flat-4.
So, who won? Watch the video and find out...it's a lot of fun!
I have an idea. It's pretty crazy and 99% likely never to bear fruit, but I feel compelled to describe it here...just in case. And don't think this is entirely thought out...I'm imagining it literally as I type.
Imagine this: a road race around the 86-mile loop of highway circling Cincinnati, Ohio known as I-275 (map below). I-275 in Cincinnati is a divided highway ranging from 2 to 4 lanes in both directions. It wanders through three different states -- Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky -- and crosses the Ohio river twice.
Who could race in this event? Anyone. It would be a true road race where any road-worthy automobile may enter. Think road rally for the everyman.
But who would race in this event? That's an entirely different question. Since closing I-275 would be impossible for any period of time more than, say, a few hours (if even then), the field of cars would have to be limited to about 180. Here's how I figure that. If one lap is 86 miles and even the pokiest racer should be able to average 100 mph, that's .86 hours, or about 50 minutes around the whole loop. If you want to finish the last car in by noon (to re-open the highway), and you wanted to start each car a minute behind the previous one (so as to limit bunching up), then you could launch cars for three hours straight (e.g., starting at 8am, the last one leaving at 11am and returning just before noon).
But, who would those 180 racers be? Well, we'd need to make sure that they know how to drive, so they would have to show that their cars are road-legal and pass a full race safety inspection (a la SCCA rules). But that would still leave thousands aching for a chance to blast through closed highways at ridiculous speeds.
So, to further pare the field, a $500 entry fee would be required. Maybe make it $1,000...or maybe auction off the spots. Alternately, and this could be done to help offset the costs of hosting the race (more on that later), the organizers could require a $X00 fee to enter a RAFFLE from which participants would be drawn. Then, each participant would have to pay the entry fee to actually race. The motivation would be the thrill, potential prize money, and some local fame.
I also imagine that you'd need a few classes of cars, primarily for sequencing the starts (you should have the fastest cars at the beginning and the slowest at the end in order to minimize overtaking and passing) and based primarily on top speeds (e.g., 180+, 160-180, 140-160, and less than 140). This would be the perfect opportunity for those rich guys with their Porsche Carreras and Mercedes SLRs to really open them up on public roads. It would also make for a really fine exotic car show.
Staging the cars could be done at an on-ramp area near I-75 and adjacent to a large commercial base of restaurants, etc. for helping support the hordes of tourists.
And that brings me to the money part. This could, if managed correctly, be a HUGE money-maker for the region. While you could you sell TV rights to the event, the tourism dollars alone would be enormous. If the race is on a Sunday morning (lightest traffic means the best time to close the highway for a few hours), then the day before, a Saturday, could be a huge parade of all the cars through downtown Cincinnati. It could be like a public Indy 500 for the everyday guy.
My biggest concern would be the ability to negotiate a way to close down a major highway loop that crosses three different states for a period of 4 daylight hours. If that could be done, the rest would be perfectly feasible, I think. And, if it could be pulled off once, the second year would be bigger, better, and easier just because a lot of the complexities would have already been worked out.
So, if anyone from Cincinnati town council or Hamilton County is reading this, please consider this idea; I think it would be at least an interesting thing to attempt. Heck, Cincinnati once proposed to be the site of the summer Olympics. This race wouldn't be one-tenth that much cost or effort, yet might still accomplish many of the same goals for the city and the region.