I had the opportunity to attend Keith Brophy's 10th Annual "Tech Trends" Wednesday last night. It is great to have regular events like this to bring people together and stimulate conversation and ideas – which is exactly what it did. Talks like this are inspirational and thought-provoking, but are really meant to start the conversation, not be the entire conversation. So this is my brief addition to what Kieth started last night.
Before, I thought of creating a Lingo Bingo card for the talk as has been a fun trend (http://bingo.keynote.se/ ). So I scanned headlines for a large group of tech Blogs for common themes. You need 24 items for a complete Bingo card (middle is Free) so this is what I came up with:
Nanobots, Netbook/OLPC, WiFi/3G/WiMAX, Wii, RFID, ePaper, Twitter/Facebook, Mobile/iPhone/Android, Robots, Cloud/Grid/Mesh Computing, Vision/Camera, Electric Cars / Car Tech, "Hybrid", Home Servers, Google/Chrome, Hulu, Surface / Multi-touch, XBox Live, SSD, Netflix, 3D Entertainment, Electronic Marketplace, Green, Security/Privacy, GPS, SaS/SOA, Voice
If you were at the event you know what was discussed, if not check out http://www.mlive.com/business/west-michigan/index.ssf/2009/02/cyborgs_robotic_pets_on_the_ho.html for the high-level overview and the predictions.
Keith's predictions that seem to have missed the mainstream ideas were the "New Energy Source" and the "Role of the Elderly". The items from the "lingo list" that I was surprised missed the top 10 were anything Car/Automotive related, Home Servers, Green Tech, and 3D Entertainment.
Two main themes or ideas have stuck with me that I think are actionable and could lead to new products or even businesses. They do not come out of any one of the trends but are rather a result of three or more all spun together.
The first is the market that will be created when a majority of peoples' personal computers are netbooks. Software running on netbooks is of a different character than many traditional mainline applications. First, it is not necessarily locally installed. netbooks have very limited local storage, less memory and potentially a bit smaller screen than a desktop or full laptop computer. Also, there is not typically a CD/DVD drive to load software onto the device – software is loaded and run from the network/Internet. That is, the software comes out of the Cloud, runs on the computer, and can then "go away". Even data for the application can be stored in the Cloud. In theory, I could use one netbook one day and run all of my applications off of it. The next day I could run off of a completely different netbook (or computer or laptop) and the software and files would come out of the Cloud for me to use and run seamlessly.
So first, what will not run in this environment? First, any big "bloatware" like Office 2007 where you need a big disk and a lot of memory just to write a Word document. Plus a retail version is 100s of dollars and out of the reach of most people. Cutting edge 3D games will not have the local power and speed to run in this environment. Video-authoring and editing software will have issues with local storage and resources. Anything that runs off of a CD/DVD, like most current Educational software.
What will be useful and popular on netbooks? First, web applications. Google has a huge lead on this area and will benefit greatly from that. From e-mail, to documents, to calendars, to news readers, Google has applications that will work today on netbooks. Beyond this they have a way to make money from the applications through advertising and eCommerce solutions.
Beyond web applications is a layer of Rich Internet Applications (RIAs) which have traditionally run on Adobe Flash and are also now arriving via Adobe AIR for out-of-browser applications and via Silverlight for rich media and line-of-business applications. A market for small and targeted applications is already here. Stores like Apples iTunes App store or the new Dell Downloads service can enable authors of software to have a marketplace for their new portable applications. These applications come right from the store, run on the device, and can "go away" just as quickly when their usefulness is done. The ability for a company to quickly develop, test, and distribute small targeted applications will become a very valuable skill set.
Combining the netbook technologies with the reviving Educational Technology craze could open an even bigger market with built-in funding through economic stimulus funds and local taxation. Imagine a "ruggedized" version of a netbook with built-in GPS tracking (don't want to have these get lost or "walk away"). A $300 ruggedized netbook could see the one-child per computer (OLPC) vision of many educationalists become a reality. Some textbook providers will (and are) provide a digital equivalent of their current offerings. But a market for niche software that extends and broadens the possible offerings for different students will be huge. Imagine a modern physics lesson and simulator or Spanish language tutor or even a MindMapping solution. Even if all an author got was $.99 per student, this could amount to millions of dollars very quickly (and would still be cheaper than textbooks cost now).
Once we have an education-optimized netbook it doesn't take long to consider a business-optimized or health-care optimized netbook/tablet. These devices will have the same benefits and restrictions. This is all to say that people who start thinking now about developing solutions for the netbook platform will be in very good shape to respond to the exploding need.
Another theme that came out of the Tech Trends talk is the skills that will be needed in the near future and the impact robots/recorders will have on these skills. But that is another post entirely.