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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!
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
Many mornings find me riding a stationary recumbent bike while watching TV (usually catching up on TiVo'd episodes of 'Daily Show') and I often wonder how something that marries the two would work.  Here's the concept:

When you buy the Adventurecise package, you get a piece of exercise equipment, such as a stationary bike or treadmill, and a box that hooks up between your TV and your input source (cable DVR, DVD player, whatever).  The equipment talks to the box over wireless (Bluetooth would work well...perhaps Wireless USB) and transmits your current status (speed, resistance/intensity setting, treadmill angle, etc.) every second or so. The box does a number of things.  The simplest of these is that it overlays a progress/pace meter on top of whatever you're watching.  Once you set a pace goal, the overlay will tell you how far behind/ahead you are, as well as your overall progress, in the corner or on one side of the TV screen.  Plus, you could have the option of the box disabling your input source if you drop below your desired pace (a not-so-subtle reminder that you're slacking off).

But that's just the beginning, and pretty tame to what this setup COULD do, and should do to earn the title Adventurecise.  If the box is networkable, or even just has a USB port you can stick a flash drive in, then you can have it run downloadable, user-driven adventure movies where physical activity (e.g., running or pedaling) is essential to making progress in the adventure.  For example, the movie starts out that you're being chased by zombies and need to outrun them to deliver the antidote serum to a lab (yes, we skip all the plot-building and character development in favor of quick exercise startup). 

All the camera footage would be first-person, a la Blair Witch, so you feel like you are the one running.  Then, every few minutes, you have to make a decision -- take a shortcut through a warehouse or go the long route through the park? -- indicating that using one or more buttons on the treadmill or bike.  The decisions you make determine the scenery you're running through, the things that happen around you, and the future decisions you have access to.  Typical choose-your-adventure stuff.  But, if you run/pedal too slowly -- after all, you're on an exercise machine that knows how fast you're pushing it -- you get caught by the zombies.

I think these interactive videos could be produced pretty cheaply so as to give people many different options (not everyone wants to have their exercise motivated by flesh-eating zombies).

Anyway, I'd like to hear your thoughts on this, especially if you've seen or heard of something similar already in existence.
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.

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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.

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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!

On Sunday, I saw this post over at Engadget:

engadget1.gifI thought, "Wow...plays the right formats, has a good resolution, and is cheap!" So I checked it out at the drop-shipper's website, Ownta.com:

Hottest Free Shipping MP5 recommendation: Teclast T51 PMP Audiophile Quality MP5 Player - 8GB

Gemei HD8800 Full HD PMP Player with HDMI TV-out and OTG Function - 8GB

The HD8800 is that it offers true 1080 HD (1920×1080 screen resolution) in a PMP format, has up to a 50mbps video stream and the 8GB version. It has HDMI output and can play audio (MP3 and iTunes) and video (AVI, DVDA, MKV, MP4, MPG, Realtime, MOV, Flash and WMA).

Gemei HD8800 MP5 Player Specification:

Model HD8800(8G)
Memory 8G
Storage Media Flash
Battery 2000 milliamperes lithium batteries
Life Plug headphones 5 hours movie playback, 10 hours music playback
Expansion Card Maximum support 32G TF card
Transmission Interface USB 2.0 interface
Display System
Screen Size 4.3 inch
Screen Features 800 × 480 resolution, high-definition screen LTPS
Supported Languages Traditional Chinese, Simplified Chinese, English
Synchronized lyrics display To support synchronous lyrics display function
Photo View Support JPG, BMP, PNG and other image formats to view and support the Rotary / Slide Show
Text-reading Support the text-reading capabilities in support of TTS voices in Chinese and English reading, support change font, font color, background color, the Bookmarks feature, support while listening to music, watching pictures look e-books and other functions
Video system
Support video formats Support for RMVB, RM, FLV (H.263, H.264), AVI, DAT, VOB, MKV (H.264), WMV, TS, TP, MP4, PMP and so on for more than 30 formats, network all the video files of the next -play
Video playback 480P to 1080P Full HD support for any video encoding format
Video Output HDMI 480P to 1080P Full HD output and normal AV Output
Other video parameters Decoder chip: Chinachip CC09
Audio system
Support audio formats mp3 , wma , ape , flac , wav
Audio Unique 3D virtual sound field, a variety of EQ sound modes
Recording MP3, WAV audio format
Functional FM Support FM function of the frequency range 76-108MHZ
Speaker Pairs of left and right channel speaker outposting
Additional features
Camera Non
Digital companion function Supports
Additional features Support for song search; support for dual-threaded operation; support firmware upgrade function; video break added broadcast are free to change the background themes to customize your desktop, change the font color, picture browsing / rotation, radio stations a list of unique features such as timing off set
Other parameters
Headset Description 3.5mm stereo headphone output
Specifications 111.7×75.2×14.3mm
Accessories USB cable, headphones, manual, warranty card

Gemei HD8800 MP5 Player Package Contains :

  • 1 x Gemei HD8800 MP5 Player
  • 1 x USB cable
  • 1 x TV-out cable
  • 1 x HDMI cable
  • 1 x remote control
  • 1 x charger
  • 1 x Earphones
  • 1 x case
  • 1 x Instruction manual

gemei.gifIt looked good, and cheap, so I bought one.  Or so I thought.

After Ownta confirmed my Paypal payment, they said the unit would ship within 2 business days.  At the end of the 2nd day, I'd not gotten any word about a tracking number, so I inquired about the status and got this reply:

Hello, Dear Craig, Gemei factory has been upgrade the HD8800 chipset and firmware, this caused the delay of the shipment, the estimated shipping date is 25th, Oct, we are so sorry for any inconvnience, you will receive the player as soon as possible. Kindly regards.

OK, I thought...that's fine.  I can wait a few more days. Then I rechecked Ownta's product description page and noticed that the price had been changed from $122.39 to "[Contact us for a price]".  Hmmm.

Then, today, I got this email from Ownta:

Dear Customer:
       Our manufacturer gemei has been received your orders, and all of them are in schedule to ship out in the soonest time. We are upgrading HD8800 firmware and fix some bugs to ensure the good quality of products, so, the latest shipment will expect to arrange on 30th, Oct. We will also try to ship them out as soon as possible.
       For all our Gemei HD8800 customers can receive a free strap gift together with the player, and also, you will get a free reseller membership on ownta.com once we shipped out it. So, you will get reseller prices for all your future orders.
       We are so sorry about the unexpected delay, and rely on your understanding. Ownta.com will always dedicate to provide the best products and best service, if you have any  problems, please feel free contact us at any time.
       Thank you so much & Kindly regards,
 
Arlene, L
Customer Service Department,
http://www.ownta.com

Now I'm starting to wonder if this is a scam.  Will they keep delaying to try and get me beyond Paypal's 45-day dispute window?  I can guarantee you that if it hasn't been shipped by day 44, the payment will be canceled.

We'll see, though...I'm kinda excited to see what crazy bit of kit the Chinese have cooked up now.

Update (10/5/09): No word, yet, on an estimated delivery date. Tick, tock...

Update (10/6/09): Got an email this morning that it had shipped.  Will post impressions in a separate entry once it arrives.

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.

tivo3.jpgI am in need of two new pieces of gear and would like YOUR suggestions and insights on what to get.

First, we need to replace our dead (kaput!) Series 1 TiVo. It lasted an amazing 7 years and change, but it has made the final ascent to the great Now Showing in the sky. So, what should we get to replace it? An HD TiVo? The HD XL TiVo? We have nothing but HD TVs in our house, so the Series 2 isn't terribly desirable. Or should we nix TiVo and go with a different brand altogether? We're on Time Warner Cable (despite their awfulness), in case that affects your recommendation.

cam.jpgSecond, I need a smallish digital camera with a reasonable resolution (5MP+), but with as much optical zoom as possible (320mm and greater would be ideal). This is for use with the GigaPan Imager I acquired for work purposes. The GigaPan mount won't support something like a dSLR, so nothing that massive can be considered. What suggestions do you have for this purchase?

Thanks in advance for your comments, here on GearBits (using the form below), to me via Twitter (CRA1G), or via my Facebook account (Craig Froehle).

The WD TV I recently reviewed got a new firmware update with several major improvements. Here's a rundown of those enhancements along with my final impressions of the device after more extensive use.

wdtv.jpg
WD TV HD Media Player Firmware Release Notes - Version1.01.01

These release notes provide information on the latest posting of firmware for the WD TV HD Media Player. This particular firmware updates the user interface as well as improves your Media Player's functionality and capabilities. This firmware update will further enhance the performance, reliability and stability of the product.

New Features:
• Added .MKV chapter selection for video playback for MKV with chapter support
• Added .MTS file extension support
• Added .TP file extension support
• Added .TS file extension support
• Added 1080p 24hz support
• Added disk volume name to folder navigation in list mode
• Added EXIF orientation flag functionality for auto picture rotate
• Added file size in filename
• Added jump feature to the remote: While fast forwarding or reversing, if the "Next" or "Prev" buttons are pressed, video will jump 10 minutes in the respective direction
• Added progress indicator for the duration of the FF or REV function
• Added a blinking status LED behavior while drive is mounting; previously the light just stayed on
• Added sequential .M2TS file playback function
• Added additional subtitle support (SMI, SUB, ASS, SSA)
• Added user selectable font size for subtitle support
• Added song title scroll in music playback to prevent truncation
• Added embedded subtitle display in .MKV files
• Added additional subtitle encoding support for the following: Western Europe (ISO), Traditional Chinese (Big5), Simplified Chinese (GB18030), Japanese (Shift-JIS), Korean (EUC-KR), Cyrillic (Windows-1251), Cyrillic (KOI8-R), Greek (ISO); previously only UTF-8 was supported
• Added display sizing menu for photo playback: Fit to Screen, Full Screen, Keep as Original
• Added accelerating scroll speed based on how long the arrow is held down on the remote when navigating folders with a large number of files; previously only one, constant speed was available

A variety of bug fixes was also implemented.

Updating the firmware was pretty painless. I downloaded the new firmware on a laptop, tossed the two files onto a flash drive, and inserted the drive in the WD TV. It detected the new firmware and took me straight to the menu item to update the firmware. A reboot triggered the flashing; a second reboot then initiated a rescan of the attached drives. After that, the unit was fully functional again.

However, additional use of the WD TV, even after the firmware update, has left me less enthusiastic than before. My main criticisms have to do with the user interface, which is pretty far from ideal. Here are my observations:

All Media Formats:
• Can't see integrated collection across both attached drives (only one at a time)
• Navigation mode (list vs. thumbnail) is set for all media types; can't browse music by lists and photos by thumbnails without going into Settings and changing back and forth each time.
• Thumbnails representing >1 items are useless and make it impossible to navigate effectively; the grid never seems to move even though you're scrolling through your collection.
• Only 10 thumbnails shown on screen at a time. Could fit 28 at current size. No way to select thumbnail size.

Music:
• Can't see song info without playing it
• When browsing by artist, you can't see a list of albums an artist, just an alphabetized list of songs from all albums
• Responsiveness is not good (music library size may be an issue); takes 4-5 seconds to play a song once it's been selected. Source is a 7200 RPM 750 GB USB 2.0 drive with a 32MB cache.
• Thumbnails don't reflect album art until you get to the song level.
• When browsing by genre, song lists don't show artist, just song title alphabetically. Same for search results. And the list only takes up about 40% of available screen real estate. In order to see the artist, you have to select the song, which plays it.
• Music by Date doesn't seem to serve much of a purpose, as it's the date on the file, not the date the album was released. Again, why??!?
• When scrolling through a long list, holding down the button on the remote will scroll through 2-3 screenfuls and then stops. You then have to release the button and hold it down again to get it to go through 2-3 more screenfuls.

Photos:
• Navigation via the remote is poor; there are three "right arrow" buttons on the remote, yet only one advances to the next picture. The other two just generate a little "invalid input" icon on the screen. Why??!?
• To get info about a photo requires three button pushes (Option, Left, Select), yet half the buttons on the remote do nothing when you are viewing a photo.
• Lethargic navigation (again, large library could be the reason).
• Browsing "Recent" photos is hard to tell what's going on. It appears to be showing me photos I've viewed recently, not added recently (or have recent datestamps), making it one of the more useless navigation modes.

Video:
• Hung playing a video recorded on our Canon digital camera (a standard MPEG-4 .avi file). Video went black while audio continued to play, then the whole video just stopped. A button push took us back to the menu, but it wasn't elegant. After that, the unit behaved oddly when trying to play certain AVI files.

Beyond all that, the sneakernet approach gets tiresome. Our collection changes pretty frequently, and having to manually load new and updated files onto a USB drive to then remount onto the WD TV got old pretty quickly.

Given that the video performance is by far the most impressive aspect of the WD TV, what I expect would be the ideal use for this is if someone has a boatload of ISO files on a portable hard drive and wants to play them on big screens/projectors/TVs while traveling. The WD TV is so small as to be easily packed in a bag, and its HD capabilities means that it would be a good source for any display one might find on the road. But, for home use, I'm skeptical.

It saddens me that this sweet piece of hardware would be rendered almost useless by such an abominable user interface. Seriously, Western Digital, assemble yourselves a user panel, give them a month to live with the WD TV, and then take their private feedback to heart. All of these UI limitations should have been addressed before the WD TV was ever released for sale.

Once again, here are GearBits' prognostications for the coming year. If you're interested, check out how our predictions for 2008 panned out, or previous years' predictions.

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.

blockbuster_store.jpg2) 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.

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.

blu-ray.jpg4) 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.

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.

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.

jobs.jpg7) 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.

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.

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.

netbook.jpg10) 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.

So, there you have it...GearBits' predictions for 2009. Some are probably pretty safe bets, and some are bound to be wrong. What do you think will happen?

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.

thumbs-up.gifAs 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.

thumbs-up.gifDepending 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 :-/ ).

thumbs-down.gifOuch...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.

thumbs-up.gifJPEG 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.).

thumbs-up.gifBingo. 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.

thumbs-up.gifI'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.

thumbs-down.gifNope...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.

thumbs-down.gifUh, 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...

thumbs-up.gifUnfortunately, 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.

thumbs-up.gifWhile 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?

When you cover up a third of the screen for the first 30 seconds after every commercial break, it makes me want to chuck the remote straight into the screen and go be entertained by the Internet.

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wdtv.jpgQuick Review

Western Digital recently brought to the market a new flavor of home media player. Rather than follow well-trod footsteps by coming out with a networked media streamer, which plays back media stored on a PC somewhere on the network, Western Digital played on its strength in storage by introducing a device that plays back media solely from USB external storage devices. That device is the WD TV HD Media Player, available online in the $105-$130 range.

In a nutshell, the WD TV is a tiny box, smaller than a typical 3.5" USB drive, that decodes media content located on attached storage (or a digital camera, camcorder, or PMP) and displays it on a TV. Indeed, compared to my hand, the unit is impressively small.

wdtv_unit.jpg

The unit offers a surprising variety of connections for something so tiny. From left to right in the photo below: power jack, USB, HDMI, digital optical audio out, composite video/audio (RCA), and a second USB port on the side.

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Requisite unboxing photos available after the jump...read on for the rest of our initial hands-on review.