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As I've done now for several years, here are a few guesses as to what shall come to pass in the tech industry during 2012. One caveat: my predictions are generally based on observations of the US/North American market, and may not make much sense if considered from the perspective of somewhere else.

1. Patent disputes in the mobile industry will escalate, threatening to tear it apart, and leading to some a significant change in tone, if not actual multi-player agreements, to reduce the risk for all (major) parties. While they could continue this miserable dance of who's-pissing-on-who-in-what-country, I think more rational heads will start to realize that it's really not doing anyone any good...except the corporate lawyers, of course.

2. RIM, maker of the Blackberry and perennial loser of market share, will be approached for acquisition, if not acquired outright. A reasonable scenario, I think, has Apple scooping them up solely for their patent portfolio, if not also their back-end server technology, which would help Apple move further into the corporate back-office (a market they've done little to woo so far).

3. Continuing on the smartphone theme, I think Google's Android will surpass 50% US smartphone market share during 2012 and end the year at around 55%. Apple's iOS will pass 30% of the smartphone market and end 2012 with about 33%. That leaves ~12% for RIM and Microsoft to split, with my prediction putting them each at 5-7%.

4. Google will announce that it's abandoning Chrome OS and consolidating all its OS efforts with Android. Those 527 Chromebooks that were sold instantly become collector's items.

5. Apple will release a crapload of new products in 2012. The iPad 3 will have a Retina display  with 2048 x 1536 resolution (although, technically, that would be only 253 pixels per inch, far less than the iPhone 4's Retina display), a better front-facing camera, and 4G. Apple will also release, or at least announce, an iTV, which will include a camera on the front bezel and everyone will suddenly wonder why TVs haven't had cameras for the past 60 years.

6. I think the new laptop category called "ultrabooks" will expand significantly (from the 3 or 4 models currently available) and sell pretty well. IMO, there's a fairly compelling value proposition in a 12-14" laptop weighing 3 lbs or less with a fast processor, great battery life, and 120+ GB of solid-state storage for under a grand. Intel and the computer OEMs all have vested interest in getting consumers to spend more than the $400 they've become accustomed to, and a lot of people seem to be tired of buying 15.6" behemoths with miserable specs and battery life that's measured in minutes.

7. The number of tech IPOs will jump dramatically in 2012. There's been a big backlog, with only a few brave souls venturing forth recently (e.g., Zillow, Groupon, and Zynga). In 2012, I expect we'll see Facebook, Yelp go public, and maybe even Evernote and Twitter. The improving economy will make it hard to resist some instant wealth for these privately held firms.

8. Sprint will abandon its unlimited cellular data policy and go with a tiered pricing structure like every other major US carrier. The public's reaction will be swift and ugly, but ultimately ineffective at making Sprint regret the change. Moreover, Sprint will continue to turn on its nascent LTE network, making it increasingly hard to sell WiMax 4G phones to its customers. 2012 will not be a good year for the yellow swoosh.

9. Microsoft will release Windows 8 to a shocked and confused public, who will mill around the OS aimlessly looking for a Start button. Ballmer will try to convince everyone that it's better while simultaneously telling us how to make Windows 8 look like Windows 7. With Windows Phone not taking off, increasing competition for Office from web apps, the brightest spots for Microsoft will be Exchange, Xbox, and licensing revenue from Android device OEMs. Windows 8's launch will be far less successful than Windows 7's was, despite being available for a wider variety of hardware platforms.

10. In 2012, the major manufacturers of family cars will continue to struggle with the public's perception of electric cars. While additional cars will come out, none will sell terribly well. The only exception will be the Tesla Model S, which will start arriving in customers' driveways and help quite a bit in convincing America that an electric car isn't really as bizarre and scary as it thought. Tesla will be approached as an acquisition target by a large international automobile manufacturer. 

Check back in about 365 days to see whether or not any of these predictions came true, mostly true, or not even close. Until then, have a great 2012!
Since 5 years in a row makes a tradition in my book, it's now once again time to revisit my predictions for 2011, and see how they panned out...or not.

1. The Apple iPad 2 (or whatever it's called) will be available with a front-facing camera and 4G (LTE), but will have the same screen resolution as the iPad.  We should know about April.

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Mostly right: Yes on the FF camera (albeit an incredibly low-resolution one) and yes on the same resolution as the original iPad, but no 4G LTE. Heck, not even the iPhone 4S has LTE. C'mon, Apple...what's the problem? Afraid of battery life complaints?

2. Nintendo will launch a new Wii console with HD output, DVD playback, and a Kinect-like video camera accessory.  I think the first two are a lock, but the third part of that is more wish than expectation.

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Again, mostly right. Nintendo launched a new console, the Wii U, and it does have HD output (although the multi-function controller, which includes a screen, is the main differentiator). But, like it's predecessor, it still won't play DVDs or Blu-Ray. Why, Nintendo, why??? The Wii U will be available early in 2012.

3. At least one of the smartphone platforms (iOS, Android, Symbian, Blackberry, WP7, MeeGo, webOS, Bada) will go away for good.  My money is on Bada.

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This was perhaps my most cynical prediction and I wasn't really that confident in it. But, amazingly, we saw not one, not two, but three smartphone platforms become abandonware in 2011. MeeGo was killed off when the Linux Foundation decided to move whole-hog towards Tizen, an HTML5-based OS. Nokia abandoned Symbian when it was clear there was no hope of it gaining traction in the smartphone space. We'll see if their cozying up to Microsoft and Windows Phone will prove to be a smart move. Finally, HP did, then didn't, then finally did open the cage and let webOS into the wilds of open sourcedom, likely to never see another smartphone installation again. So sad. Ironically, Bada is still going strong at Samsung, amazingly selling over 10 million Bada handsets in 2011. To whom, exactly, I'm not quite sure.

4. 3D will continue to grow, but not substantially and will mostly be relegated to gaming and in-theater movie experiences.

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Perhaps I was a bit too US-centric in this prediction. According to NPD DisplaySearch, while 3D TV sales were so low that 3D actually lost ground in the US, it has grown in popularity in Europe and China. Given Sony's recent entry into 3D gaming TVs and systems for the home, it seems pretty clear that, at least in North America, gaming and theater experiences are the only things keeping 3D in people's minds. Whether or not the rest of the world knows something we don't, or soon follows suit, is yet to be determined.

5. More Android tablets/slates will be sold in 2011 than iOS tablets/slates.  That assumes, of course, that the tsunami of Android slates we should see at CES results in products you can actually buy.

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Ha ha ha...not even close. All the estimates I've seen have iPads outselling all Android tablets by multiples in 2011. It's not clear to me why that is, especially now that Android phones are outselling iPhones by almost a 2:1 margin. That said, given the new Kindle Fire, Nook Color, and some other rather serious tablets running Android (e.g., the Asus Transformer Prime), and rumors that Google itself might release a Nexus tablet in 2012, this coming year might see that gap close somewhat.

6. At least one of the DSLR manufacturers (Nikon, Canon, Sony, Olympus, Pentax/Samsung, Leica, Panasonic, Sigma) will cease producing DSLRs and/or be acquired by another company.  My guess is Sigma, as I really have no idea how they can afford to put out mediocre (read "poorly selling") DSLR after mediocre DSLR.

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Yes, but it wasn't Sigma (I still have no idea how they generate revenue). Pentax was purchased by Ricoh, who wants to get into the digital camera biz in a big way. Sony, Canon, and Nikon continue to dominate the DSLR market, with Olympus (who might not be around in a year), Panasonic, and others trying to carve out share in the Micro-Four-Thirds market.

7. By the end of 2011, Windows Phone will have the third largest app catalog (behind iOS & Android).  That shouldn't be too much of a stretch, as its growth curve means it'll surpass Blackberry's 15,000 apps or so in a few months.

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Yep. Apple still has the largest, with Android catching up quickly, and Windows Phone a very distant third. Although, if Nokia can execute on hardware and marketing as it has in the past, and Microsoft can continue to spend those Android licensing revenues on writing solid updates for Windows Phone, Redmond might just crack the top 3 smartphone platforms sooner than you think. RIM certainly isn't doing anything to stop them.

8. Google will struggle to establish content licensing agreements for Google TV, ending 2011 with a still-lackluster platform.  Unless Google is willing to toss a bunch of cash at the networks, that is...it isn't going to win this on charm alone.

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I'm not sure I could've nailed this more accurately. By any definition, Google TV was a huge disappointment for Google (not to mention Logitech) in 2011. Licensing problems kept certain content from being available, and platform software issues kept the user experience from wowing anybody. Better luck with the reboot, Goog.

9. Facebook will become the 2nd largest (most trafficked) website in the world (overtaking Microsoft.com).  Heck...maybe the largest.  A reminder that being successful doesn't mean doing anything to significantly improve the human condition.

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If you look at these numbers, Facebook is indeed at #2, well behind Google and just in front of Yahoo! and MSN. However, if you add Google and YouTube together, as well as Microsoft.com and its MSN/Live properties together, Microsoft is still #2. But, the single-site statistics suggest that Facebook is a quickly growing superpower regardless.

10. Twitter will be acquired by another company. Fingers crossed they aren't evil.

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Nope. Honestly, I had hoped that Google would buy Twitter, make it a stable platform, and integrate it into its other properties and services. Instead, Google did something I didn't think they were capable of:  making a robust, vibrant, and successful social media platform from scratch. Google+ grew faster than anyone imagined and is well on its way to being the quickest to 100 million members of any online service anywhere. I can just hear Larry and Sergey asking, "Who needs Twitter?"

So, 8-ish out of 10 were mostly correct...my least incompetent job so far. Anyway, I'll be posting my predictions for 2012 tomorrow, so stay tuned. Meanwhile, here are GearBits' previous years' predictions and results:
2004:Predictions, No Results
2006:Predictions, Results
2007:Predictions, Results
2008:Predictions, Results
2009:Predictions, Results
2010:Predictions, Results

After a relatively successful set of predictions for 2010, here are our prognostications for 2011.  Don't laugh...if history serves as a guide, several will come true...or mostly true.

1. The Apple iPad 2 (or whatever it's called) will be available with a front-facing camera and 4G (LTE), but will have the same screen resolution as the iPad.  We should know about April.

2. Nintendo will launch a new Wii console with HD output, DVD playback, and a Kinect-like video camera accessory.  I think the first two are a lock, but the third part of that is more wish than expectation.

3. At least one of the smartphone platforms (iOS, Android, Symbian, Blackberry, WP7, MeeGo, webOS, Bada) will go away for good.  My money is on Bada.

4. 3D will continue to grow, but not substantially and will mostly be relegated to gaming and in-theater movie experiences.

5. More Android tablets/slates will be sold in 2011 than iOS tablets/slates.  That assumes, of course, that the tsunami of Android slates we should see at CES results in products you can actually buy.

6. At least one of the DSLR manufacturers (Nikon, Canon, Sony, Olympus, Pentax/Samsung, Leica, Panasonic, Sigma) will cease producing DSLRs and/or be acquired by another company.  My guess is Sigma, as I really have no idea how they can afford to put out mediocre (read "poorly selling") DSLR after mediocre DSLR.

7. By the end of 2011, Windows Phone will have the third largest app catalog (behind iOS & Android).  That shouldn't be too much of a stretch, as its growth curve means it'll surpass Blackberry's 15,000 apps or so in a few months.
 
8. Google will struggle to establish content licensing agreements for Google TV, ending 2011 with a still-lackluster platform.  Unless Google is willing to toss a bunch of cash at the networks, that is...it isn't going to win this on charm alone.

9. Facebook will become the 2nd largest (most trafficked) website in the world (overtaking Microsoft.com).  Heck...maybe the largest.  A reminder that being successful doesn't mean doing anything to significantly improve the human condition.

10. Twitter will be acquired by another company. Fingers crossed they aren't evil.
As is now a tradition, it's time to revisit our GearBits' predictions for 2010 to see if we were anywhere close to accurate. 
 
1) Cyberterrorism Becomes a Significant Issue
We've all read reports and stories that say cyberterrorism (the act of attacking a country via its computer networks) is a growing threat and that the US should take it seriously. We've even seen some limited cases where it was used to minor effect. I expect 2010 will see the first major example of the damage cyberterrorism can achieve, and we'll all be much more aware of it as a result. Sub-prediction: McAfee and Symantec sales grow significantly as a result.

thumbs-down.gifI'm REALLY happy that I got this one wrong. That is, of course, if you ignore the Chinese hacking of Google and other companies, and you don't consider WikiLeaks' activity "cyberterrorism" (I don't) or the "hacktivism" it prompted. Frankly, I was expecting some major outage -- a stock exchange taken down, a city's electrical grid compromised, or something on that order -- and it's great that that didn't happen in 2010. 
 
2) Microsoft Launches Windows Mobile 7, Enough to Stay in the Game
The smartphone space is inhabited mostly by 6 key platform players: Symbian, Blackberry, iPhone, Android, webOS, and Windows Mobile. Microsoft's recent endeavors in the mobile space haven't netted much (except perhaps some slight momentum on the media player side). WinMo 6.5 was late and generally uncompetitive with more contemporary offerings already in the marketplace. Pink was an absolute disaster. Even hardcore WinMo fans are getting restless for something really new. Windows Mobile 7 will have a daunting challenge in successfully fighting back against 5 competitors with better products and/or well-established market shares. Windows Mobile 7, when it comes out in the latter half of 2010, will still seem a little stale in comparison, but much better than 6.5. I do, however, fully expect 7 will tap into the other mobile products & services Microsoft has been cultivating, such as Bing and Zune (what is it with their onomotopoeic product names?). It won't be a barnburner, but, with some help from HTC and a couple other big-name handset producers Microsoft can count on, they'll have a small stable of fairly impressive devices available by the end of the year.

thumbs-up.gifYep...mostly. Windows Phone 7 did not come out seeming "stale," but it was roundly criticized for lacking a long list of features found on other platforms (e.g., copy & paste, tethering, multitasking, etc.). While it certainly doesn't have the fleet of handsets that Android boasts, WP7 has launched on an impressive number of devices and carriers across the globe. Add to that the fact that WP7, just a few months after launch, already has more apps than webOS does after more than 18 months, Microsoft appears to have gotten more right than wrong and certainly enough to keep their seat at the smartphone table. 
 
3) 3-D Gets Even More Press but No Real Traction in the Home
3-D televisions and video players will be all over the place at CES, but their availability and technical trade-offs will keep them from seeing significant adoption in 2010. Long-term, however, I think 3-D will eventually take off, but I doubt it will happen as long as viewers have to wear special glasses in order to not be nauseated by the image.

thumbs-up.gifBy any measure, 3D TV has been talked about in the press more than it's been brought into consumers' homes. In 2010, the combination of scant high-quality content and expensive/uncomfortable/incompatible gear failed to make 3D a compelling experience, and slow sales was the result.

4) Fervor over Social Search Subsides but Doesn't Die Out
Social search (i.e., using real-time social media as sources of useful information for returning search results) is all the rage as we enter 2010. I think that the major search engines (e.g., Google, Bing, Yahoo!, et al.) will all figure out by the end of the year that, while social search has some promise for a small subset of queries, information produced by social media is largely junk and an unreliable source of value to their customers (search engine users). However, there is some gold in them thar hills, and we'll start seeing the fruits of their efforts as they isolate those situations where social search can indeed be really, really valuable (e.g., product reviews and event status).

thumbs-up.gifThere's been relatively little discussion in 2010 of how social media should change search. While we saw a lot of sites become more integrated into social media, such as via Facebook's nearly ubiquitous "Like" button, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo!'s attempts to add a social component to their search products never really gained traction. Clearly, it's harder than it seems to glean those rare nuggets of helpful, timely information from the vast noise of the social web.

5) Movies and TV Shows Go Mashup...and Not in a Good Way
A lot of media producers seem to be running out of ideas, so I think they'll start going for unique combinations of themes and concepts to fuel their movies and television shows. Think space vampires and hot robot/android women battling killer zombies driving souped-up, well-armed cars really fast around Las Vegas. Coming soon to theaters near you.

thumbs-down.gifLooking back at 2010, I don't see any noticeable increase in "trans-genre" movies and TV shows. And maybe that's for the best, really. But, if the forthcoming "Cowboys & Aliens" is any indication, I just might've been a year early on this prediction. 
 
6) Apple Announces a Tablet
Yes, I'm a sucker for this rumor-that-will-not-die. It's not like I'm even a fan of the tablet concept, so this isn't something I'm particularly hoping will happen. I just think it will. Imagine a 7"-to-10" iPhone Touch and you won't be too far off. Oh, and it will be more expensive than anyone who isn't an Apple shareholder thinks is reasonable, yet it will sell quite well (at least initially).

thumbs-up.gifPretty much, yeah. ;-) 
 
7) SuperSpeed USB Takes Off Quickly
I think we'll see SuperSpeed USB (a.k.a. USB 3.0) be adopted very rapidly in 2010. Signs from motherboard and accessory makers are that they're very eager to adopt this recently ratified standard, and I think everyone would agree that faster USB connections is only a good thing. As long as they don't screw up backward compatibility (one of the keys to USB 2.0 being as successful as it has been), it'll be another home run. On a related note, Wireless USB will not get the attention or traction we'd all like a stable, high-speed wireless connectivity standard to get, mostly because it just won't be as simple as plugging a wire into a hole.
thumbs-up.gifI'm going to give this one to me, but I'll admit that USB 3.0 adoption has been a bit softer than I thought it would be. I mean, we do now have motherboards, PCs, external external hard drives, and flash drives that all use USB 3.0, but it's clearly not ubiquitous yet. Wireless USB went nowhere in 2010, unfortunately, just as predicted. 
 
8) Steve Jobs Gives an Apple Keynote Presentation
Might Sir Jobs be the "one more thing" at WWDC?

thumbs-up.gifClearly a thumbs-up. You don't think Steve would've missed the grand unveiling of his "magical" iPad, now would you? 
 
9) Sprint is Acquired
The cellular carrier's weak valuation and lackluster performance in retaining customers and attracting new ones, combined with its continued WiMAX roll-out will make it a target for some kind of merger or acquisition, likely by a European carrier looking to get entry into the US market. The actual acquisition may not go through in 2010 due to extensive regulatory review, but the intent will be announced.

thumbs-down.gifBzzt! Wrong...thanks for playing. Sprint never got a buyout offer, but it did end 2010 on a much stronger note than it started the year. Not only has it met all its WiMax/4G rollout milestones, it is now being lauded for having among the best customer service in the US cellular market. Not that that's saying much ("tallest pygmy" and all that), but it's something. 
 
10) Twitter Grows at a Slower Rate than in 2009
Twitter will continue to gain new members faster than it loses them, but it will not see the huge surge it enjoyed in 2009. This will mostly be because the company's management has a tenuous, at best, grasp on what its users want (leading it to make bad design decisions) and a business model that does not support both rapid growth and scalable, reliable service (thereby turning off users). It's too bad, too, as Twitter could've become the next Facebook had they played their cards right. The only thing that can save it is an acquisition...Google, perhaps?

thumbs-up.gifTwitter grew a lot in 2010, but not as quickly as it did in 2009. Two stats support this assessment. In 2009, Twitter grew from an Alexa "reach" rating of essentially zero to about a 5; in 2010, it grew from a 5 to about an 8. While that's another big increase, it's a smaller increase than in 2009. Also, in 2009, Twitter grew from 100 million tweets per quarter to 2 billion, a 1900% growth rate. In 2010, it grew from 2 billion to a around 8 billion quarterly posts, a 400% increase. So, while Twitter is still growing hugely, 2010 just wasn't as blockbuster of a year as 2009 was.
   

For 2010, things look pretty good: we got 7 right and 3 wrong.

Here are GearBits' previous years' predictions and results:

2004:Predictions,No Results
2006:Predictions,Results
2007:Predictions,Results
2008:Predictions,Results
2009:Predictions,Results
I broke it to my wife that I had started the process of building a new PC. She quietly acknowledged that it was about time. My previous machine, which I built over 5 years ago, was still running fine, but had gotten slow enough that even my wife was commenting on it. And you know that if the wife notices, it's pretty bad.

My goal was a general-purpose PC: decent for gaming, powerful for media processing, and wicked fast at more mundane stuff (browsing, Office, etc.). So, after much research and nail-biting debates over components, I present you with the final build list and the prices that I ended up paying (after any rebates).

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Intel Core i7-950 Bloomfield
Probably the hardest part for me is picking a processor. There are so many good options spanning nearly every price point that there are few clear value winners. The Core i7-875K looked stellar (The Tech Report recommended it in their $1,400 "Sweeter Spot" system), but as I'm not big on overclocking and its baseline performance was pretty comparable to a stock i7-950 (3.06 GHz, quad-core). CPU performance charts at Tom's Hardware were a huge help. For upgradability purposes, I thought an LGA 1366 socket chip would be best. Then, when I saw the i7-950 on sale at MicroCenter for $199.99 - $50 cheaper than the 875K and almost $100 cheaper than many places had the 950 - my mind was made up. So far, it's been stellar...cool, fast, and there's OC potential if I ever get the urge.

     $199.99
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ASUS Sabertooth X58 Motherboard
Given the CPU choice, motherboard options came down to two: expensive, and really expensive. It's a challenge to find a great LGA 1366 motherboard for under $200. However, again, The Tech Report came through and recommended this motherboard as part of their luxurious, $3,300 "Double-Stuff Workstation" rig. It has many future-proofing features, including SATA III 6Gb/s, USB 3.0 support, and two PCI Express 2.0 slots running at full X16. Hardcore gamers will find the lack of a third slot a turn-off, but you'll see below why that didn't bother me much. Reviews at Newegg.com were encouraging, too, where it's now $20 cheaper than I paid for it just a week ago.

$199.99
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Corsair Graphite Series 600T ATX Case
You gotta have a case to put all this stuff in, and this one was universally heralded in every review I read, including The Tech Report's, as a phenomenal case. It's listed as "Mid-Tower," but it's whopping huge; it positively dwarfs my previous machine, which I thought was big. So, be warned...it's ginormous. But, all that volume means that you have plenty of space for big cards, fans, and drives. Two big things I love about this case are its cable management solution (grommeted holes on the motherboard tray) and its essentially silent 200mm fans front and top (and a 120mm in the rear). I can easily see reusing this machine in a few years when I build another system. The $20 Corsair rebate doesn't hurt, either, bringing MicroCenter's price down even further.

$139.99
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CORSAIR CMPSU-650TX 650W Power Supply
And of course you have to have a power supply. This SLI/CrossFire-ready unit is recommended in Tech Report's "Sweeter Spot", has more than enough capacity (for my needs), and is 80-Plus Certified (good efficiency). And a $20 Corsair rebate brings it into a decent price range.

$69.99
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6GB of CORSAIR XMS3 DDR3 1600
RAM is important, but makes less difference than many components thanks to all the competition. This 3 x 2GB set takes advantage of the Intel X58's triple-channel memory support. I also splurged and got CAS Latency of 8, which yields a little extra headroom for overclocking in the future. And yes, it's just 6GB, but I don't do a lot that would take advantage of 12GB (the next step up). Newegg now sells this for $5 cheaper than I paid. Ah, progress!

$134.99
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ASUS ENGTS450 GeForce GTS 450 1GB Video Card
And here's where I'll get scoffed at for skimping. Yes, there are many graphics cards way faster than a GTS 450 (Tom's Hardware has a regularly updated Graphics Card Hierarchy Chart, which is indispensible for keeping up with the constant model number shuffling), but this is about what I need. The game I play most of the time came out in 2002, so I get 400-600 fps with this at the game's max res of 1600x1200. Yes, I should find a newer game, but that's a debate for a different time. Anyway, this card won the GeForce GTS 450 O/C Roundup at Tom's Hardware last month, and is a stellar deal even without a $10 rebate. Plus, the money I saved on graphics went towards the next item (cue evil laugh).

$119.99
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Patriot Inferno 120GB SSD
This is the one thing I can truly say was a last-minute addition to my configuration. I had been tempted, but really couldn't justify the extra cost. Then, when I discovered that the whole system was going to come in under a grand, I figured I had some room and went for it. This SATA II (SATA III added too much cost for too little benefit) solid state drive is roomy enough that Windows 7 won't fill it, yet small enough not to force me to take out a home equity loan. Because of its SandForce SF-1200 controller, read & write performance are both very good, per Hot Hardware's review. Its job is solely to support the operating system and installed programs...all mass storage will go on the next item. Sure, there are some faster similarly sized SSDs by a few percentages, but they're all quite a bit more expensive, too. A $30 rebate from Patriot helps ease the pain, although Newegg's price has jumped up since I bought this.

$219.99
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SAMSUNG Spinpoint 1TB HDD
It's a 7200 RPM, SATA II hard drive...nothing to get too excited about. The Tech Report did recommend this particular drive in their "Sweeter Spot" build, so that's something. My one tinge of buyer's remorse is getting just a 1TB drive when a 1.5TB or even a 2TB would've been just a few bucks more. But, since it's just mass storage, it'd be trivial to upgrade it in the future. Purchased from MicroCenter.

$59.99
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ASUS DRW-24B1ST 24X DVD Burner
A generic (does Asus still count as "generic"?) optical drive. The one thing I forgot in all this is that, since this is an OEM drive, it doesn't come with a SATA cable. Thankfully, I had a few in a drawer. I didn't opt for a Blu-Ray drive because I never watch movies at my PC, and I'm sure not moving this massive case around the house to get it near a TV.

$19.99
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COOLER MASTER Hyper 212 CPU Heatsink & Fan
Recommended by virtually everyone, and now Newegg has a $15 rebate that wasn't available when I bought mine. The only thing is that this is a giant heatsink...it has zero chance of fitting in a petite case. Installation was a bit fidgety, but the final assembly seems rock solid and very effective.
$29.99
Tax & Shipping:$56.48
Total Cost:$1251.38
Note: You can find this entire list on one handy page at Newegg.

So, how did it all go together? Pretty painlessly, actually. The hardest parts were deciding how to route cables for best airflow (solution, run them through the grommets and stick them all behind the motherboard plate) and mounting the Cooler Master heatsink. All told, including installing Windows 7, took about 4 hours. But then I wasn't in a hurry, if you know what I mean. :-)

Performance so far has been far beyond my expectations. I'm sure Windows 7 is partly the reason, but I suspect the SSD plays a big part in the fact that this new rig will boot from stone cold to usable in under 45 seconds. Microsoft Word and Excel start in under a second. Ripping a 2-hour DVD using Handbrake to high-quality H.264 took 50 minutes, while my old machine (a 2.4GHz Athlon 64) took over 5 hours with the same film and settings. Everything starts and happens damn near instantaneously...it's pretty amazing. Gaming is better, too, but that's to be expected. The only thing I'm a little disappointed by is the noise...the combination of three case fans, a 650W PSU fan, and a GPU fan makes this whole rig comparatively noisy. OK, to be fair, it's audible.

In summary, this turned out to be slightly more expensive than I had originally planned, but I think the extra money went into the right spots for the performance I care most about. It's a very upgrade-friendly system with good overclocking potential and terrific usability as is. So, I'm pretty happy. Looking at the above list, I'm surprised to see so much come from Corsair and Asus. What I'm not surprised by is that the best price on everything came from Newegg and MicroCenter.  I've tried to find a comparable prebuilt system, and the closest I've seen was priced at $1800, making this a pretty good bargain if you don't mind some elbow grease.

I hope this is useful to someone...if you have questions, post a comment or email me at [craig dot froehle at gmail dot com].

Plustek churns out a pretty crazy number of scanners in any given year, with the MobileOffice AD450 portable scanner being a prime example. The AD450 is a compact, duplex, color scanner with several tricks up its sleeve. 

plustek_box.pngFirst, it offers ADF (automatic document feed) for up to 20 sheets.  That's rare in a portable scanner.

Second, it can be powered off either a standard wall wart or two USB cables (attached to powered USB ports on the host machine).  That's also rare, yet amazingly handy and practical.

Third, it offers a variety of scanning features, including the ability to scan business cards and credit cards via a pass-thru slot in the back -- no need to open the automatic document feeder!

Here's the contents of the box:  bag, scanner, software & manuals, 2 USB cables (one A>B and one A>power), and a power wart.

plustek_contents.pngplustek_case.pngThe bag is actually pretty nice. It's just a zippered nylon material, but it holds all the important bits in a no-nonsense fashion and adds some (minimal) padding. The handle is fairly substantial, too, which is good because the AD450 isn't exactly lightweight (Plustek's specs claims it's just under 3 lbs...but it honestly feels like more).

This video, produced by Plustek provides a lot of the visual overview and hawt scanning action, so I'll continue below with my experience using the AD450 and overall impressions.


The installation instructions are not particularly helpful.  While the "manual" that came with the AD450 is 124 pages long, each language only gets 11 pages, which barely covers setup and the minimal amount of button description.  Playing with the software that came with the AD450 is the only way to actually get familiar with how things work. 

However, as with any electronics sourced from abroad, you have the opportunity for some interesting translations into English.  For example, in the setup software for the AD450 is this warning: "Your system is lack of the scanner calibration data required for ADF scanning. You are strongly recommended to calibrate the scanner now."

Speaking of software, the AD450 comes with five components:  a button profile configurator (more on this below), an unbranded business card management utility, an unbranded scanning utility, and a couple of document & image management apps (from Newsoft).  All in all, the included apps aren't spectacular, but likely adequate for most needs. 

plustek2.pngThe button configuration utility was pretty full-featured and very similar to the app that came with the last Plustek scanner I reviewed.  However, unlike that D28, the AD450 only offers a choice of three scanning modes accessible from the unit itself:  PDF, BCR (business card reader), and Scan (general purpose).  For most uses, especially mobile ones, I can imagine three profiles being enough.  But, it would be nice to switch between some common settings, such as simplex/duplex and color/grayscale/mono, without having to dive into the software to change it...and then change it back later.

plustek3.pngThe configurator lets you set up several different profiles linked to combinations of physical buttons and content type, although I didn't see where I could let the scanner decide automatically what kind of content it was scanning.

plustek4.pngOne app that actually did impress me was the included business card manager (below).  It seemed highly accurate at recognizing and cataloging various bits of info off the cards I scanned; I only had to correct one thing on about a dozen cards. 

plustek_bcr.pngScanning performance was pretty good.  To scan a duplex 8-1/2" x 11" sheet to grayscale at 200 dpi took just 12 seconds.  Scanning a business card using the default settings (duplex color, 300 dpi) took 14 seconds.  Scanning a photo at max res (600 dpi) duplex color took a whopping 1 minute and 3 seconds, so I definitely would not recommend this to archive your boxes of old photos (get a fast, stationary scanner for that).

Scan quality was fine.  For the most part, this is going to be scanning business documents, so it doesn't need to have the best quality image production.  Here are some examples.

First, a scan of a 4x6 photo of my daughter at Halloween.  This was printed at home, so the visible artifacting in the full-sized image (25 MB) is in the original photo.

plustek_sam-t.pngHere's part of a business card that had a misfeed evident in part of the image.  This had to be rescanned for the business card software to read everything properly.  I only had one misfeed, so it wasn't a regular issue.

plustek_card.pngIn conclusion, the AD450 is a highly functional portable duplex scanner with several features uncommon for its class.  Street prices run from the low $200's and up, so it's not exactly the cheapest scanner, but it may be the least expensive portable duplex scanner with a whole lot of nifty built in.
In the spirit of iPad vs. a Rock (or another version), I give you iPad vs. Vaio X, a less funny, but slightly more interesting, comparison:


Apple iPad
Apple-iPad.jpg
Sony Vaio X
Vaio-X.jpg
Weight1.5 lbs.1.6 lbs.*
MultitasksNoYes
Plays FlashNoYes
MultitouchYesYes
TouchscreenYesNo
WebcamNoYes
Reads EbooksYesYes
3G WANYesYes
Replaceable BatteryNoYes
Flash Card ReaderNoYes
Physical KeyboardNoYes
Runs iPhone AppsYesNo
Runs Windows, OS X, and LinuxNoYes
Battery Life10 hrs**12 hrs***
Screen Resolution1024x7681366x768
     *Using the included 2-cell battery     **Mfr. claim.      ***Using the included 8-cell battery
ceslogo.gifCES 2010 was fun. The International Consumer Electronics Show (its full name) is the world's largest trade show for gadgets, televisions, computers...pretty much everything in that fuzzy category of consumer electronics.  Sure, there are shows more focused on subsets, such as E3 for gaming, but CES is the king-daddy for the overall industry.

twitpic.gifI was there Thursday afternoon through Saturday morning.  I phototweeted (new term?) from the show floor while I was there, and my pics and comments are posted at Twitpic.

Now that I've had some time to unpack, soak my feet, and reflect on the experience, here's what comes to mind, in no particular order:

Wow It's Big! -- I've been to trade shows before, but nothing on the scale of CES.  I'm not really sure how much total floorspace the show takes up, but it spreads out across very nearly the entire Las Vegas Convention Center (which, by itself, is larger than the town I grew up in) plus two other nearby hotels. Some numbers that came in right as I was typing this entry: an estimated 120,000+ attendees, 2,500 exhibitors, and 20,000 new products announced. No wonder I felt like I'd need a week to really see everything.

No Seminal Announcement -- Unlike last year's webOS launch from Palm, which really stole the show, 2010 didn't see any particular event or surprise that caught everyone's attention.  I asked lots of people what they thought was the big thing and got lots of different answers...a few people were excited by all the 3D TVs, projectors, and laptops; some thought Google's Nexus One was big (although technically not a CES event...they held it just one day before); Boxee Box wowed some folks; and more than one mentioned Palm's flurry of announcements, but no singular thing captured all the buzz.

Ebooks A-plenty -- There were just scads of ebooks all over CES.  They ranged from cheapo Kindle knock-offs to high-end, portfolio-style, dual-screen devices.  The success of Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble have clearly excited what had previously been a rather quiet market niche.

ebooks1.jpgAndroid in Everything -- Google's free (mostly as in beer) operating system was crammed into all sorts of things, from gorgeous smartphones to touchscreen remote controls to hideously bad stationary videophones.  Mostly, at least it seemed to me, it was small Chinese and Korean companies doing this, but it does suggest the possibility of an interesting trend.

android1.jpgandroid2.jpg

TV Still Has Tons of Room for Innovation -- Four trends in TVs stood out clearly.  First was the ubiquitous 3D that you just couldn't escape. I'm still a skeptic that 3D TV in the home will become popular any time soon, although gaming, sports, and porn could change that.  Second, picture quality continues to improve.  I saw some LCD sets that truly rivaled plasma in black levels (but not in size). Third, LCD will be replaced in the near future.  I saw some AMOLED displays of reasonable size (20" or so) that looked flat-out amazing.  Oh, and they were 3D, too.  Finally, TVs are getting thinner by the minute.  As an example, Samsung's booth had a jaw-dropping display of crazy-thin LCD TVs (the video below is kind of short because, as you can hear at the end, I was asked not to take any photos); these will be shipping later this year!



Flying Stuff is Cool -- One of the show's major prize winners was the Parrot G Drone, a bigger and all-around better version of that remote control helicopter you like to taunt your roommates and/or family members with, but which has a remote video feed and you can pilot it with your phone.  Another guy was selling an RC X-Wing Fighter (not licensed by Lucas, I would expect, since he calls it the "Star Stryker"), which cost $299 and has the biggest remote control unit I've ever seen. Here's the video:


It's a Great Time to be a Fan of Mobile Tech -- All these reports say that nobody buys MIDs (mobile Internet devices, like the Nokia N810 or Microsoft's UMPC format), but you wouldn't guess that by looking at the CES exhibits.  There were so many slates and tablets, most powered by Windows 7, that I stopped getting excited about them.  And some of them were really impressive; Viliv had a whole line-up of interesting portables.

viliv.jpgSome other incompletely articulated thoughts:  car tech is getting interesting; Nokia's booth was pretty empty the few times I went past; few were very excited about Windows Mobile, either; there's a lot of garbage at CES, but at least they stick it in the "International Market" areas; LEGO has an interesting new MUD game coming out soon; geeks are attracted to exotic cars almost as much as they are to scantily-clad women...and they're equally unlikely to get much hands-on time; it's a good idea to have an actual working version of whatever it is you're trying to sell; there wasn't a lot of innovation in cameras that I saw...mostly around GPS embedding, which is cool; food is expensive there.

So, there you have it.  I hope to get back next year...it's a fun, if exhausting, experience.


As I have for several years now, below are my predictions for 2010.  Near the end of the year, I'll come back and evaluate how accurate I was.

1) Cyberterrorism Becomes a Significant Issue
We've all read reports and stories that say cyberterrorism (the act of attacking a country via its computer networks) is a growing threat and that the US should take it seriously.  We've even seen some limited cases where it was used to minor effect.  I expect 2010 will see the first major example of the damage cyberterrorism can achieve, and we'll all be much more aware of it as a result.  Sub-prediction: McAfee and Symantec sales grow significantly as a result.

2) Microsoft Launches Windows Mobile 7, Enough to Stay in the Game
The smartphone space is inhabited mostly by 6 key platform players: Symbian, Blackberry, iPhone, Android, webOS, and Windows Mobile.  Microsoft's recent endeavors in the mobile space haven't netted much (except perhaps some slight momentum on the media player side). WinMo 6.5 was late and generally uncompetitive with more contemporary offerings already in the marketplace. Pink was an absolute disaster. Even hardcore WinMo fans are getting restless for something really new. Windows Mobile 7 will have a daunting challenge in successfully fighting back against 5 competitors with better products and/or well-established market shares.  Windows Mobile 7, when it comes out in the latter half of 2010, will still seem a little stale in comparison, but much better than 6.5.  I do, however, fully expect 7 will tap into the other mobile products & services Microsoft has been cultivating, such as Bing and Zune (what is it with their onomotopoeic product names?).  It won't be a barnburner, but, with some help from HTC and a couple other big-name handset producers Microsoft can count on, they'll have a small stable of fairly impressive devices available by the end of the year.

3dtv.jpg3) 3-D Gets Even More Press but No Real Traction in the Home
3-D televisions and video players will be all over the place at CES, but their availability and technical trade-offs will keep them from seeing significant adoption in 2010.  Long-term, however, I think 3-D will eventually take off, but I doubt it will happen as long as viewers have to wear special glasses in order to not be nauseated by the image.

4) Fervor over Social Search Subsides but Doesn't Die Out
Social search (i.e., using real-time social media as sources of useful information for returning search results) is all the rage as we enter 2010.  I think that the major search engines (e.g., Google, Bing, Yahoo!, et al.) will all figure out by the end of the year that, while social search has some promise for a small subset of queries, information produced by social media is largely junk and an unreliable source of value to their customers (search engine users).  However, there is some gold in them thar hills, and we'll start seeing the fruits of their efforts as they isolate those situations where social search can indeed be really, really valuable (e.g., product reviews and event status).

5) Movies and TV Shows Go Mashup...and Not in a Good Way
A lot of media producers seem to be running out of ideas, so I think they'll start going for unique combinations of themes and concepts to fuel their movies and television shows. Think space vampires and hot robot/android women battling killer zombies driving souped-up, well-armed cars really fast around Las Vegas.  Coming soon to theaters near you.

6) Apple Announces a Tablet
Yes, I'm a sucker for this rumor-that-will-not-die.  It's not like I'm even a fan of the tablet concept, so this isn't something I'm particularly hoping will happen.  I just think it will.  Imagine a 7"-to-10" iPhone Touch and you won't be too far off.  Oh, and it will be more expensive than anyone who isn't an Apple shareholder thinks is reasonable, yet it will sell quite well (at least initially).

superspeed-usb.jpg7) SuperSpeed USB Takes Off Quickly
I think we'll see SuperSpeed USB (a.k.a. USB 3.0) be adopted very rapidly in 2010.  Signs from motherboard and accessory makers are that they're very eager to adopt this recently ratified standard, and I think everyone would agree that faster USB connections is only a good thing.  As long as they don't screw up backward compatibility (one of the keys to USB 2.0 being as successful as it has been), it'll be another home run. On a related note, Wireless USB will not get the attention or traction we'd all like a stable, high-speed wireless connectivity standard to get, mostly because it just won't be as simple as plugging a wire into a hole.

8) Steve Jobs Gives an Apple Keynote Presentation
Might Sir Jobs be the "one more thing" at WWDC?

9) Sprint is Acquired
The cellular carrier's weak valuation and lackluster performance in retaining customers and attracting new ones, combined with its continued WiMAX roll-out will make it a target for some kind of merger or acquisition, likely by a European carrier looking to get entry into the US market.  The actual acquisition may not go through in 2010 due to extensive regulatory review, but the intent will be announced.

twitter-logo.jpg10) Twitter Grows at a Slower Rate than in 2009
Twitter will continue to gain new members faster than it loses them, but it will not see the huge surge it enjoyed in 2009.  This will mostly be because the company's management has a tenuous, at best, grasp on what its users want (leading it to make bad design decisions) and a business model that does not support both rapid growth and scalable, reliable service (thereby turning off users).  It's too bad, too, as Twitter could've become the next Facebook had they played their cards right.  The only thing that can save it is an acquisition...Google, perhaps?

So that's it for my 2010 predictions.  What do you think will happen in the upcoming year?

Now that we've reached the end of another calendar, in continuing a tradition I started in 2003, below is a review of my 10 predictions for 2009 and an assessment of how accurate I was on each one.

1) Microsoft Launches Windows 7 to Fanfare, Skepticism
Microsoft's two pillars of financial solvency -- Windows and Office -- have been standing on shaky ground recently. Office 2007 was a decent hit, despite it not offering much new and causing significant backward compatibility issues. But Windows Vista, on the other hand, has been an unmitigated disaster. Microsoft even had to resort to tricking users into liking Vista (Mojave, anyone?), it had developed such a bad reputation. Windows 7 will be launched late in 2009 to a general consensus of "it's better," but will not be the "wow" that Microsoft needs to regain the market share it has recently ceded to Apple. But maybe that's a good thing...having strong competitors is usually a good thing for consumer markets.

thumbs-up.gifWhen Windows 7 was officially launched October 22nd, by any measure, it came out to positive reviews and very good, if not great, sales. Of course, following a dog of a product like Vista will go a long way towards creating pent-up demand, so it wasn't unexpected. However, if you went by the press and hype, you'd think Microsoft was the underdog to Apple instead of still appearing on about 93% of all desktops. Windows 7 has slowed the slight shift towards OS X, but it's not clear yet that any ground is being made up.  Ironically, the best thing to happen to Windows in 2009 may have been the explosion of netbooks (more on that below).

2) Blockbuster Declares Bankruptcy
This may be a bit "out there," but I see exceedingly tough times at Blockbuster. And this isn't vindictiveness...I've been a reasonably happy Blockbuster.com customer for several years, now. I just think that, given the state of its business (poor), the weakness in the economy (near-critical), the nature of its service (luxury), and the rapidity with which that industry is transforming, I think Blockbuster will file for bankruptcy protection to get out of some of its debt, sell off some property (store locations that aren't faring well), and reinvest that into developing newer and more attractive services. So, they aren't going away...yet.

thumbs-down.gifAfter spending much of 2009 desperately raising capital and refinancing its debt, Blockbuster is trying a variety of tactics to stave off its own demise at the hands of an increasingly varied assortment of competitors.  Netflix and piracy, Blockbuster's perennial nemeses, are joined by Redbox in stressing the company's sweaty grip on life even further.  However, per part of my prediction, Blockbuster announced in early 2009 that it would be closing 128 physical stores.  That number was massively expanded late in 2009 to closer to 1,000 stores.  Additionally, Blockbuster is launching a large kiosk initiative.  It's amazing how consistently the company does exactly what its competitors do, but 2-3 years later.  However, Blockbuster did not enter into any form of bankruptcy during 2009, so I'm declaring this one a failed prediction.

3) Palm Launches New OS to Fanfare, Skepticism
We've all heard the rumors that Palm will be launching "Nova," its replacement for the ancient Palm OS, at CES 2009 in a few days. I'm pretty sure that's going to happen. I'm also pretty sure that Palm will have at least one new device, if not several, running the new OS available by the end of June. While launching phones can take a while, given the carriers' lengthy testing requirements, launching a PDA doesn't, so Palm could certainly come out with two (or more) non-phone PDAs running Nova pretty quickly. And it needs to...the TX is older than my grandmother (at least in technology years). Generally, I predict there will be more nice things said about Nova, and the new devices, than critical, and it will stack up fairly competitively with Android and WM 6.5. What I do not have a lot of faith in is Palm's ability to develop and deliver the ecology of services (e.g., app stores) that customers are now expecting their smartphones to be integrated into. Time will tell on that front.

thumbs-up.gif

As we all now know, Nova was introduced as Palm webOS in January, 2009 at CES.  The first device running webOS was the Palm Pre, a nifty portrait QWERTY slider with HVGA multitouch screen.  Also during 2009, a second webOS device, the Palm Pixi, was announced and launched.  However, surprisingly, there were no non-phone webOS devices released.  In hindsight, I guess that makes sense, as Palm just doesn't have the resources (technical or financial) to launch 3+ separate devices in a single year.  Looking back, it's pretty clear that webOS and the Pre were well-received.  In fact, the Pre was the only smartphone to make it onto Twitter's Top-10 Trending Topics list for 2009, something neither the iPhone 3G S nor the Motorola Droid accomplished.  The two frustrating bits for Palm in 2009 have been Sprint's performance as a sole-carrier partner (in the US) for its new devices and the slow growth of the App Catalog.  However, both of these should be resolved in 2010...for Palm's sake, I hope so.

4) Blu-Ray Players Hit $99
During 2009, I think we'll see a raft of Korean and Taiwanese off-brand manufacturers launch budget Blu-Ray players. Just like the 2008 holiday sales saw BD players hit $149 in some stores, 2009 holiday sales will see them hit $99...if not sooner.

thumbs-up.gif

As I type this, Wal-Mart is selling a Magnavox NB500MG1F Blu-Ray Player for $98.00.  While it's just a Magnavox, it does meet the minimum criteria for confirming this prediction.

5) Apple Launches a Tablet to Fanfare
This has been a persistent rumor for years, but I think 2009 will see it actually happen. Why? A few reasons. First, Apple is looking to multi-touch as a key differentiator in its product lines, and having a full-screen, large-display MT device would make total sense. Second, it fits perfectly with the needs of the "creative class," Apple's core customer base. And third, it fills out a hole in their mobile product line that netbooks and other devices not running OS X fill nicely, and that's not a good thing for Apple. So, the technology is ready, the market is willing...and now I think Apple will be able to meet the demand.

thumbs-down.gifHa ha ha ha...um, no.  While many, many individuals would love for that to happen (if only as additional blog fodder), Apple has not announced anything.  However, there is feverish excitement in OS X fanboy camps about the iSlate being launched at an Apple event in January, 2010.  Or not.

6) Consolidation in the Entertainment Industry
2009 will be a strange year on a lot of dimensions. Not only will the stock market be hard to predict, there will be a lot of odd relationships come out of the mess. One industry that is still poised to make things happen is the entertainment industry, where I expect we'll see larger firms (e.g., major movie studios) start to acquire smaller, but very successful, examples from the newer media (e.g., game producers). A good example of the type of transaction I'm imagining would be Vivendi acquiring Ubisoft. I think Time Warner would love to swallow up Electronic Arts, but that might be a bit too big a bite unless something untoward happens to EA's stock price over the next year.

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There were a number of major entertainment industry mergers and acquisitions in 2009.  One biggie was Disney scooping up Marvel Entertainment (comic books & movies) for $4 billion. While this deal hasn't been finalized, signs point to it going through. Another deal was the spin-off and merger involving Liberty Media Entertainment and DirecTV.  Is this a baby Time Warner in the making?  Hard to say, but I doubt it.  These two deals pale in comparison to what might turn out to be a merger of tectonic proportions:  Comcast buying 51% of NBC Universal.  If this goes through (in 2010), it will continue the trend of the same companies controlling the pipes and content, which could will cause consumers serious headaches in the years to come.  Or, they'll just continue to ignore the networks more and more and, instead, turn to the Internet for socially constructed content.  In that case, pray for net neutrality...it'll be our only hope.

7) Steve Jobs Announces Transition to New Role
I think concerns over Jobs' health have more merit than most of us want to admit. In 2009, I expect him to announce that he's transitioning into a different role than President and CEO of Apple (and CEO of Pixar). Something that keeps him out of the spotlight while he deals with his health issues will be valuable to keep Apple's stock price up and customer base intact. The move towards reducing his presence in near-term product launches is consistent with this strategy. But, he's far from gone...his influence will still be felt behind the scenes, but we'll see less of him in his traditional role as Apple poster boy.

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Despite many people calling me a pessimist, an Apple-hater, and worse, I stood by this prediction.  On January 5, 2009, Sir Jobs sent out this infamous note claiming that his health issues were minor and transient.  But then, just a few days later, he followed up with a bombshell that he was much sicker than that and he'd be leaving until mid-year.  Given his absence at keynotes and overall behavior reminiscent of the Wizard of Oz ("pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!"), his role has clearly changed.  And I take no joy in being right; Jobs is clearly a genius and consumer electronics is better off with him at the height of his abilities.  I look forward to him giving the keynote at WWDC in June, 2010.

8) Facebook Membership Growth Flattens; Twitter Surges
Signs are pointing towards Facebook's popularity beginning to peak. Just as with everything social, when moms and dads begin to frequent the coffee shop, the kids need a new place to hang out. Facebook currently has almost 40 million members in the US. While that number has been skyrocketing since it opened up membership to anyone in September 2006, I think 2009 will see a marked deceleration in its growth. The loss of perceived exclusivity and the hassle of the relatively unprotected app space will combine to make it less appealing to many long-time users and new prospects will find fewer people urging them to get on board. Twitter, however, will see continued growth as it continues to tweak and adapt its environment to meet its core users' needs.

thumbs-down.gifWhile I'm counting this as a miss, it's actually 50% true.  Facebook's growth did not slow significantly as I'd predicted, but Twitter certainly did have the surge I thought was inevitable.

Let's look at some graphs:

facebook2009.gif

You'll notice that Facebook's growth is pretty continuous up until late 2009, where some outages and privacy issues potentially took away from its momentum.  Now, Twitter...

twitter2009.gif

This is a dramatic acceleration in Twitter's reach.  2009 will clearly go down in history as the year of Twitter.  In fact, Google and Microsoft so believed in it that they both inked deals to include Twitter's stream in their search engines as real-time results.

9) App Stores Dominate Mobile Software Delivery
iPhone's app store, Android's market...these types of bazaars, managed by the sponsors/manufacturers of the mobile operating systems, are coming to be the dominant mode for software distribution to mobile users. It marks a significant break from the traditional model, where mobile developers could sell software from their own sites, through 3rd party aggregators, and through carriers. This new approach is more streamlined, making it easier for users, but also more controlled, which can make it harder to accommodate large and complex ecosystems. The fact that each of the existing app stores serves a relatively small market is why we haven't seen these problems emerge to a point where they start driving users away. 2009 will see continued movement towards these controlled markets and away from the free-form/multi-channel models that previous mobile generations (e.g., Palm OS, Windows Mobile) relied on.

thumbs-up.gif

Undoubtedly true. Apple paved the way with this new model and, by the end of 2009, the existence of a robust app store is a requirement for any smartphone platform to be considered a contender. Apple's App Store recently passed 100,000 apps while Android's App Market has around 15,000 titles.  Palm's App Catalog just left beta status and is closing in on 1,000 apps.  In 2009, Windows Mobile, Blackberry, and Symbian app catalogs were all launched as well.  Clearly, this is the dominant mobile app distribution model for the foreseeable future.

10) Line Blurs between "Netbooks" and Notebooks/Laptops
Netbooks are currently a fairly homogeneous, and well-defined, niche of laptop computers. Most of them have an Intel Atom processor, a screen from 8.9" to 10" in size, no optical drive, weigh between 2.2 and 3 lbs, and cost $300-$500. There's a big gap in pricing then between these netbooks and the subnotebooks/ultraportables that often have slightly larger screens, way more RAM and processing power, and cost $1,500 or more. To paraphrase the old adage, markets abhor a vacuum, so I expect we'll start seeing all manner of new small notebooks come into the market in this $500-$1000 range sporting screens in the 9"-12" range with anything from 512MB to 2GB of RAM, a variety of operating systems (XP and Linux will continue to be most popular), and a range of processing and display capabilities. Not everyone needs to play Crysis on their notebook, but not everyone can get by with a 1024x600 screen and do everything inside their browser.

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This was evident even early on in 2009, and now, at year's end, the trend is clearly supportive. While initial netbooks were all burdened with screens in the 8"-9" range, recently announced models have 11" and even 12" screens.  Surprisingly, the prices we're willing to pay for netbooks is increasing, too (clear up to $1,500 if you consider the impressively engineered Sony Vaio X).  Sure, it could just be that our definition of "netbook" is expanding.  But, it's hard to argue that the line between netbook and notebook is getting pretty diffused. 

So, looking back, my record for 2009 seems to be 7 right, 3 wrong...about in line with last year. Some of these were hard to determine, as I had packed in several related predictions into a single item, something I'll try not to do when I post my predictions for 2010 in the next day or two. Until then, let me know what you think in the comments below. 

Thanks, and have a great New Year!

I recently received the MobileOffice D28, a very portable duplex sheetfeed scanner, from Plustek.  Overall, it's a very capable, compact, and relatively affordable (compared to similar models from Fujitsu and others) scanner with decent performance and capable, if not very polished, host PC software to support it.
d28.jpgPlustek lists the following as some of the D28's core features:
  • Compact design & easy to carry
  • Fast Scanning Speed ( 2.2 sec per page)
  • Special design for Embossed / Plastic card scanning
  • Duplex / Simplex Full Color Scanning
  • Power & Time saving (no warming lead time needed)
  • Multi function with user friendly software
  • Support Asian Language Recognition (Traditional Chinese, Simplified Chinese, Japanese)
While I didn't take a stopwatch to it to test the 2.2-second scanning time claim, it is rather fast.  Since it doesn't have an automatic sheet-feeder, each page has to be manually fed into the scanner.  This makes the human operator likely the slowest part of the setup.  For that reason alone, you'll want the D28 for small scanning jobs only.

d28-2.jpgThe user interface on the scanner is dead simple.  It has a numeric LED that displays which of 9 user-settable scanning modes it's in, a button to change the mode, and then two buttons to select Simplex (single-sided) or Duplex (double-sided) scanning.  That's it.  Oh, and a power button on the side.  The top cover flips open to clear jams and the back part slides up and down to let the user select where outgoing media go (either straight out the back or diverted straight up for easier retrieval).  The only other user-accessible moving part are the sliding media guides on the front, which vary from 8-1/2" to business card width.

Setup includes plugging in the removable cord (with power adapter), plugging in the USB cord to your PC and the scanner, running the setup software, and feeding in the special calibration sheet included in the box.  All told, it took me less than 10 minutes, with most of that unpacking and letting the software install.

Plustek includes a raft of software titles with the scanner:  "ABBYY FineReader 6.0 Sprint for OCR and NewSoft MaxReader 4.1 for organizing Asia language, and NewSoft Presto! PageManager 7.10 for document management, NewSoft Presto! Image Folio 4.5 for photo management."  Pretty complete, but obviously, Plustek used all of its HR budget to hire engineers instead of English-language web editors. 

The one piece of software that the user will interact with most often is the DigiDoc scan control interface.  This is where all the settings for each of the 9 user-determined scanning modes.  Each mode can be individually configured along a variety of settings, including output type (e.g., image file, PDF, etc.), resolution, color depth, save-to directory, file autonaming scheme, and so on.  It is impressively flexible and fairly straightforward, if rather bland and uninviting. 

Here are a couple of sample screen shots.  The first one is set up to save modest-resolution, grayscale JPGs. The 9 tabs each correspond to a different profile, and the checkmarks indicate whether or not the scanner should make them available via its mode selection button.

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The second is for generating high-res Acrobat files.  Notice the handy setting to allow each page to create its own unique file or to automatically append pages to a single PDF file.  Also, notice that you can have different settings for the front versus the back in duplex mode. I've not seen a scanner with that level of flexibility, certainly not one in the price range of the D28 ($275-$325 street prices).

plustek2.gifI tested the D28 out on a few different jobs.  One was a stack of business cards I'd been collecting.  I was able to churn through all 150 in about 12 minutes, and that was mostly determined by how fast I could stick the next card into the scanner each time.  Output was just fine, although auto-deskew didn't straighten out some of my more misaligned feeds.  I configured DigiDoc to save each scan straight to a PNG file (a nice touch) and then mass-uploaded them to Evernote where they're now all searchable online.

I also scanned in a couple of my daughter's drawings on the D28's max resolution (600 dpi) and they looked very good.  This isn't the right machine for scanning in photo negatives or slides, but printed materials up to about the thickness of a CD work great.  I tried sending a piece of paper with an 1/8th-inch thick sticker on it and it got caught up every time, so it's not nearly as flexible as a flatbed scanner, but then those aren't usually very portable, either.

All told, I'd definitely consider the D28 a strong contender if I regularly had small scanning jobs, moved locations fairly often, and wasn't trying to scan books or other non-feedable materials.  The flexibility of DigiDoc plus the simplicity of the D28's interface make it really simple to set up and use right away.  While I have no idea about the D28's build quality (many scanners, even expensive units, suffer feed problems even after a few hundred pages), at this price, you won't feel too bad replacing it if it stops performing up to snuff.

A lot has been written about displays on mobile devices; smartphones and portable media players rely heavily on their screens to both display information and allow interaction. A lot of consumers might consider display SIZE when thinking about their next mobile device purchase, but I'd like them to also consider another, slightly more technical, attribute: PIXEL DENSITY.

It's obvious that display sizes vary a lot in the smartphone and PMP world. One comparison of a few relatively recent devices showed a variety of sizes and aspect ratios:

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When publishing the specs of devices, most often, we're given two pieces of information about the display:
• Its resolution, expressed in pixels along each side (e.g., 320x240)
• Its diagonal measurement, as in the diagram below

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However, we're rarely given the statistic that has a significant effect on a screen's readability and our enjoyment in looking at it, which is the pixel density. Screens with low pixel density can have that "blocky" effect, which can make text unpleasurable to read and photos look, well, yucky.

So, higher pixel density is always good, right? Unfortunately, no. The human eye is limited in its ability to perceive resolution...more than about 300 dots per inch (dpi) and our eyes can no longer distinguish them from each other. High-quality print output is generally in the 300 dpi range. Photos generally don't need to be this high to convey good detail (see my Photo Printing Worksheet for more info).

So where does that leave us with device displays? Well, there's a pretty broad range of what people find acceptable. I consider myself a screen snob and am generally unhappy with displays below about 170 pixels per inch (ppi). However, as noted above, more isn't always better...a display with 350 ppi isn't going to be much better than one with 300 ppi, and may even be worse. The higher the pixel density, usually, the smaller (physically) fonts appear, making it more difficult to read.

We can calculate pixel density (in terms of pixels per inch) by knowing the screen resolution and diagonal size, but it requires a bit of algebra. So, I created an Excel spreadsheet with those calculations and whipped up a table of some popular smartphones, PDAs & PMPs to show the range of pixel densities found in mobile devices today.

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This is simply a screen grab of that Excel sheet (here's the Excel file if you want to download it for your own use), but it illustrates how impressive some of these recent devices have gotten in terms of displays. Sony has a weird fetish for painfully high pixel densities, both on their phones and some of the subnotebooks, but RIM, which resisted higher-resolution displays for a long time, now has some Blackberries with really stunning screens.

Hopefully, this will help you think about the pixel density of the next smartphone or PMP you plan to buy, since the display is one of the biggest influences on how much many people enjoy their mobile devices.

It's been about 8 months since our first Hot/Not List, so I thought I'd post an updated one:

HOT

  • Logitech Squeezebox - After Logitech's acquisition of Slim Devices, a lot of fans of the smaller company's products were concerned that innovation would halt and corporate fossilization would set in, as happens in so many of these cases. Well, it couldn't be further from the truth. Slim's innovative products are benefiting from Logitech's branding and distribution muscle and the combined firm is churning out really impressive audio streaming devices. Our home audio ecosystem now consists of a Squeezebox Duet controller, two receivers, and a Boom; these three cover about 80% of the house and it's wonderful to have perfectly synced music streamed throughout without breaking the bank.
  • Palm - The Pre smartphone was the buzz of CES and is still making strong headlines at MWC. Sprint may have a winner on its hands with this new device.
  • Sprint - Coming off a really impressive turnaround regarding its customer service and anticipation of its 4G wireless network, Sprint could be poised for strong growth in the next few years.
  • Aptera - So far, this innovative hypermileage boutique car-maker in California has avoided some of the pitfalls that its performance-oriented sibling Tesla Motors has made, and the 2e vehicle it should be shipping very soon looks like it could be a key evolutionary link in transforming the way we think about cars.
  • Twitter - Easily the most addictive thing I've tried recently.
  • Windows 7 - Sure, it's still in beta, but I am SO looking forward to its release. As much as I've panned Vista over the years, I think 7 will be a winner.

NOT

  • Cloud-Based Contact Management - Even with Google's recent improvements to Gmail Contacts, there are no really excellent cloud-friendly contact management solutions available. The best I've found is ClearSync, and that isn't as widely compatible as most would like.
  • Battery Technology - Seriously...scientists and engineers have been working on this for decades and we're still not fundamentally better than we were 20 years ago.
  • Obese Netbooks - Almost by definition, a "netbook" should be incredibly lightweight. Why, then, are we seeing netbooks weighing over 3 lbs released to market??
  • Winter - by definition. I am quite ready for Spring, thanks very much.
  • Digital Transition Delay - We set the date for February 17th, and now Congress is pushing it back to June 12 for those stations that want extra time. Why? Delaying it doesn't solve anything and, in fact, actually increases the costs of the conversion and sows more consumer confusion. Clearly a lose-lose proposition.

my_chumby.jpgAs a longtime ClearSync subscriber (see my review of ClearSync 1.0 from 2006 here), I was excited when John Tanner, the company's CEO, announced that a ClearSync client for Chumby was forthcoming.

Remember Chumby, that quirky, plush nightstand/desk/kitchen counter companion that streams Internet content to its touchscreen? Chumby is an ideal device for places where you need access to online content but where a laptop just doesn't fit or is "too much" machine (not that I'm sure that's ever possible). To the right is Chumby on my bedside table.

Here's a screenshot of what ClearSync on Chumby looks like:

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You get access to some key ClearSync Calendars features, including:
• Viewing multiple calendars in a single, color-coded view
• The ability to enable/disable any combination of calendars
• Date selection (just tap the time/date header to bring up a calendar-style date picker)
• Automatic cloud-sync with your online/handheld calendar updates

Those of you who live and die by your daily calendar know how critical it is to always have it within arm's reach. Now, it can be right in front of you at all times, even when you're sleeping (which is important if you're like me and have literally woken up in the middle of the night in a mild panic because you can't remember what time an important meeting is the next day).

ClearSync for Chumby is available for free to all ClearSync subscribers who own Chumbys.

F200EXR.jpgIn July, 2002, Fujifilm and Olympus horrified digital photography fans by launching an all-new flash memory format, the xD-Picture Card. Why, nobody outside these two companies was sure, but it seems the grand experiment may be coming to an end.

Fujifilm has announced that an upcoming pocket point-and-shoot camera, the F200EXR, will accept both xD and SD/MMC memory formats. At least according to the folks at Crave.

I, for one, will be happy to pare down the ranks of incompatible flash memory formats. Sony, would you like to take your turn and off the noxious Memory Stick? Honestly, nobody will miss it...I promise.