Technology trends are difficult to track, especially when new gadgets and websites descend on us every day. To help you sort through the year’s major tech crazes, here’s a handy list of what you should know about in case you’re in a conversation filled with words like “streaming video” and “fuel cell.”
1 THE APPLE iPHONE
The iPhone did to the cellphone market what the iPod did to the MP3 player segment: shake it to the core. Thanks to Apple’s fanboys and the mainly positive reviews, the iPhone arrived in the U.S. with the kind of hype reserved for Led Zeppelin reunion concerts. The buzz may be earned – innovative touch screen, seamless music player, add-on tools like a YouTube player – but Canadians will have to wait for a carrier to finally bring the iPhone to our home and native land. Maybe Rogers doesn’t want your $400 yet?
2 THE RISE OF FACEBOOK
Almost overnight, Facebook became Canada’s favourite online hot spot. Toronto-based Solutions Research Group found that nearly 8 million Canadians (one in four) have a profile page on Facebook, while MySpace has attracted only a quarter of that. And Toronto has gone poke-crazy, making up 900,000 of Facebook’s total 57 million subscribers, the second-largest network after London, England. The attraction is understandable: Facebook is clean, simple and offers hundreds of third-party applications to add to a profile.
3 BIG TV JOINS THE WEB
Now that couch potatoes also surf the Web for supplemental content for their prime-time shows, networks have finally embraced the dot-comosphere with free streaming videos. Yes, free. TheDailyShow.com is the best example of a major company (Viacom’s Comedy Central) bringing all its shows to one repository. Hulu.com followed shortly after, and the partnership between News Corp. and NBC Universal looked promising: free episodes of The Simpsons and My Name Is Earl, for example. But while Jon Stewart’s online home is available to Canadians, Hulu.com shuts out Canucks, as if TV fans north of the border are nothing more than dust mites to the powers that be.
Radiohead made news with online CD sales.
4 RADIOHEAD RELEASE THEIR IN RAINBOWS ALBUM ONLINE ONLY
The October move delighted fans and cheapskates and sent a clear message to record labels: if you don’t react to how the Web changed music, bands will. The name-your-price promo is over, but its lasting effects should ripple well into 2008.
Guitar Hero gave gamers the chance to be rock stars.
5 THE KARAOKE GUITAR GAME
Ever wanted to jam with Slash or solo to Sex Pistols licks? That’s the premise of hot video game franchise Guitar Hero, which has spurred a burgeoning craze of guitarists of all ages riffing to notes scrolling onscreen, thanks to a special guitar remote. Even Toronto has a weekly Guitar Hero karaoke night at Tiger Bar on Wednesdays.
6 YOUTUBE AS VILLAGE SQUARE
A funny thing happened to everyone’s favourite video site: it became a tool to bring Everyperson into political discourse, as evidenced by YouTube’s inclusion in the U.S. presidential candidates’ debates. Both Republican and Democrats hopefuls faced grilling on YouTube video posts, and it was a seminal moment for streaming video. It’s not just stupid human tricks and music videos any more.
7 LAPTOPS FOR KIDS
Imagine a $200 laptop developed specifically for children in Third World countries. It’s not a pipe dream but a reality. One Laptop Per Child has created a rugged, simplistic laptop for poor children in countries with little to no I.T. infrastructure. The first units began shipping to Uruguay in mid-December, and OLPC execs hope countries like Peru and India will follow suit.
8 OLED AND THE FUTURE OF HOME ENTERTAINMENT
Forget LCD and plasma. The next big technology will be organic light-emitting diodes (OLED), which make today’s flat-panel displays look like cardboard. OLED uses organic chemicals that make the screen luminescent, unlike LCDs, which need a backlight. Sony unveiled an 11-inch model earlier this year in Japan (costing an astronomical $1,800), but expect word of mouth to spread once Sony begins selling more of these next-gen displays in 2008. I saw an OLED display recently at a press event. Let’s just say TV and computer screen manufacturers have a lot to worry about.
9 OUR ROBOT OVERLORDS
Robots aren’t just moonlighting as vacuums and bomb-sniffers. Lately, machines are replacing soldiers (like with unmanned aerial vehicles), office workers (like Honda’s Asimo) and even musicians (like Toyota’s violin-loving robot). When robots begin to replace us, the main question won’t be our severance packages but whether these cyborgs will be given the same rights we enjoy.
10 WHEN CARS GO GREEN
An environmentally friendly car is not an oxymoron. It may be naive to call green car tech inevitable, especially given the world’s dependence on oil, but several developments in 2007 are promising: Honda completed its preparations in order to debut its first alternative-energy car, the hydrogen-powered FCX, in California in mid-2008; the 100 per cent electric Tesla Roadster, available next year, can travel 245 miles on a single charge; and the Nissan Sentra got an enviro makeover in Mexico, where the country’s most popular vehicle is completely electric. Detroit, are you listening?