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Tech Trends of 2005

By the time you read this, I'll be in Las Vegas, Nevada, for the 2005 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES), the biggest technology trade show in North America. Continuing the trend of the past several years, CES is evolving into a show that covers both computing technologies and consumer electronics such as TV and car stereos, largely because the wider consumer-electronics world is being subsumed into the computer industry. That makes a certain amount of sense: Most of today's consumer-electronics devices resemble computers internally, and the PC world has already solved problems such as interoperability and networking. And looking forward to the technologies we're likely to see throughout 2005, I can tell you that the convergence of computing and consumer electronics is only going to continue. Let's take a look at the five tech trends that CES organizers say will be ones to watch in 2005.

Media Servers
Many people are already saving their photo and video memories to PC hard disks, and now they want to use home-networking technologies to enjoy that content—as well as other similar content, such as digital music—throughout the home. Although a home PC is a great way to acquire and manipulate digital content, a PC's typically small screen doesn't make for a great presentation. Instead, people would like to use their big-screen TV or other screens located in more comfortable rooms around the home.

The key to this scenario is a home media server, which can be a PC or other device with a large hard disk. This device stores your digital content and is connected to your other PCs and devices through the home network. Numerous manufacturers are releasing dedicated media servers, and we'll be looking at some of those solutions throughout the year in Connected Home Express. But if you're interested in using an aging or secondhand PC to create your own media server, drop me a note and I'll consider the topic for a future issue.

Portable Entertainment
Apple Computer's iPod was all the rage in 2004, but the future of portable entertainment is the smart phone, which will converge cell phone functionality with that of digital cameras, PDAs, MP3 and movie playback, video games, and other forms of entertainment. We'll even see car stereos converging with MP3 players in far more pervasive ways, including units with removable hard disks that you can synch with your home PC or media server, or units that have Wi-Fi hardware that lets you sync from the driveway.

For video, Microsoft's Portable Media Center computers only hint at the ways in which digital video on-the-go will one day become mainstream. Throughout 2005, portable DVD players will continue to outstrip portable digital video player sales by a wide margin, but these two devices will gradually merge into the same product.

Smart Kitchen Accessories
As the Internet age dawned, we all joked about the Web-connected toaster, but now it's here, and the laughter has stopped. Smart kitchen accessories are kitchen devices that combine traditional functionality with new technologies. For example, at Best Buy today, you can find refrigerators with embedded TVs, but did you know that you can also use those screens to access the Internet and order groceries? Don't scoff: Just 20 years ago, the idea of making a phone call from anywhere in your home—let alone almost anywhere on Earth—was farfetched, but today cell phones are required devices for many people.

Silly as it might seem, the smart kitchen is just an indication of a wider movement to more pervasive technology. In other words, your PC has historically been an island of functionality, but why can't you access the Web from a Tablet PC in bed, or from your TV, or while cooking dinner? As we move forward, other more traditional devices will pick up computational and connection smarts and become more useful. Why not be able to Google a recipe when you're standing in front of the fridge?

Video Gaming and Interactive Entertainment
People of my generation who grew up in the late 1970s or early 1980s understand that video games aren't just a passing fad. And to many who are younger than I am, games are simply a way of life. But gaming isn't just about moving pixels around on a screen. Today's video games offer sophisticated and interactive entertainment, boasting graphics and sound effects that rival the best Hollywood movies. And speaking of Hollywood, Tinseltown had better step aside: Video game sales have outstripped box-office receipts for several years now. Put more succinctly, video games are big business.

How popular are video games today? In the United States, more than 35 percent of all homes have one or more video game consoles, or a computer that's used to play games. Game maker Electronic Arts recently scored an exclusive multimillion-dollar deal with the NFL to use that organization's team names and logos, players, and stats, in its Madden line of video games. And game fans skipped work last year to play titles such as DOOM 3, Halo 2, and Half-Life 2 the day they were released. When was the last time anyone skipped work for a movie?

It's unclear whether Microsoft and Sony will ship their next-generation video game consoles by late 2005, but this year will still be huge for gamers, thanks to the continued success of today's consoles and new forms of portable gaming, such as the Nintendo Dual Screen (DS) and the Sony Portable PlayStation (PSP).

Like cell phones, kitchen accessories, and other devices we've been using for years, automobiles and other vehicles will be profoundly changed by the integration of new forms of communications technology in 2005. This technology, called telematics, describes any electronics embedded in a vehicle that let that vehicle communicate with remote services. One such application of this technology is Global Positioning System (GPS), which lets vehicle operators discover where they are, how to get to a new location, and how to find nearby services. GPS devices typically interoperate with satellite systems far above the earth.

But telematics can also be more pedestrian. Other examples of telematics include satellite radio systems, such as Sirius and XM; integrated, hands-free wireless phones; and emergency monitoring systems. And in 2005, we're going to see new wireless services that will beam games, videos, and other content to our cars, no matter where we are at the time.

Stay Tuned
However 2005 shakes out—and we'll know more after CES concludes next weekend—one thing is clear. This is going to be an amazing year for people who get excited by technology. I, for one, can't wait.

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