Here are the five most interesting technologies we predict will hit the big time in 2011.
1. App Explosion
There’s a fine line between a program, a web site and an app, but, basically, an app is a dedicated piece of software that does one thing well, whether that’s feeding you video from a particular source, playing a game or pulling in restaurant recommendations from a single information provider.
One of the most exciting elements in the app explosion is the fact that these relatively small and inexpensively created programs unleash the creativity of individual and small-team developers, providing pleasant surprises and special-purpose applications at little or no expense to you. And given the strong positive reaction to the concept on smartphones, 2011 will see increasing app-tivity on other devices as well, including cars and appliances.
2. Cheap Tablets
Apple has done well selling its high-priced tablets, but this year we’ll see tablet prices far below the current iPad or Samsung Galaxy Tab numbers – we expect around $200 before the end of the year. At that point, a tablet purchase is easily justified, if only as an instant-on extra web-browsing screen in the home.
We’ve also seen first-hand how naturally and enthusiastically kids take to the tablet form factor. A Fisher-Price tablet in 2011? Wouldn’t be surprising in the least.
3. Your Cell Phone as Digital Wallet
It’s been talked about for years, with experimental programs as long ago as 2005, but it looks like 2011 will be the year when you’ll be able to pull out your cell phone instead of your debit card to pay for many retail purchases.
The most likely technology to make this happen is based on something called Near Field Communication, a short-range wireless connection. You only have to hold your NFC-equipped phone near a sensor to make the transaction.
What’s needed are the behind-the-scenes payment processing and fraud prevention systems–and the necessary government regulations. If the politics of it all (both corporate and legislative) don’t become too unwieldy, you should be able to buy a soda by waving your phone at the vending machine by year’s end.
4. Video Calling
It’s been a while since the 1964 World’s Fair demonstrated the concept, but video calling is likely to take off in major ways in 2011, fueled by faster 4G networks and availability on a multitude of devices. Skype is leading the way here with services integrated into TVs and TV-connected devices for face-to-face long distance chats in your living room, and more recently with the Skype app for the latest iPod touch and iPhone 4 (over 3G as well as Wi-Fi).
5. The Biggest Screen in the House Gets Smarter
Big-screen high-def TVs will inevitably expand their information and entertainment role in 2011, driven largely by the app explosion. Expect to see more programming options in 2011 available as “channels” on your Internet-connected TV or add-on devices, as well as games and other activities.
While Google TV wasn't a slam dunk this year, it will come into its own in 2011 as its app store finally opens. Think playing Angry Birds on a 50-inch screen, browsing recipes to figure out what to make for dinner (or menus to order in with the push of a button), getting together to watch TV shows “with” far-flung family and friends via simultaneous video chat.