Tech Trail 2009

Written by fe Bureaus | Updated: Dec 31 2009, 03:07am hrs
This has been the year of disruptions in the technology world. Tech titans invaded each others space and promised more game-changers this year than ever before. Several tried and tested business models seemed to be on the verge of breaking up. As we wrap up the year, the stage seems set for a free-for-all as Google promises a PC operating system and Microsoft a search engine. While Dell and Google eye the smartphone space, Nokia is introducing netbooks and transforming into a Web services company. At the same time, Facebooks privacy storm and Twitters Iranian protesters hogged the limelight and threatened to cause paradigm changes in the way social media operates. We track the nine biggest game-changers of the year.

Android phones make a mark

All eyes were on Apple and iPhone at the beginning of the year. Even as iPhone 3GS added to the buzz in the second half, Googles mobile platform could stake a claim to being the most talked-about, buzz-worthy smartphone platform. And it is poised to grow the fastest in 2010.

Motorola, Samsung and HTC lined up several models through the year and almost all of them were labelled as iPhone killer when they entered the market. The biggest bombshell, of course, came at the end of the year countdown to Nexus One. Manufactured by HTC, this Android phone is reported to carry Googles brandname and will be sold by the search giant online.

Whether Nexus One makes it to the market or not, several phones based on the Web giants Android software are ready to challenge the iPhone, BlackBerry, and Nokia smartphones. A slew of Google phones has already descended on the market and dozens more expected to arrive late this year and early in 2010. Gartner predicts Android will get 18% marketshare of smartphones by 2011, thus pegging it second only to Nokia. Android phones seem set to ensure its place in the emerging world of mobile computing.

Bing starts a new search race

Bings arrival in June kick-started a search arms race between Google and Microsoft. After failing to acquire Yahoo in 2008, Microsoft managed to forge a deal with Yahoo in July this year, which essentially sees Bing run Yahoos search, giving Microsoft a jump-start in the search market. Under the ten-year agreement, Microsoft will pay Yahoo 88% of the revenue it gains from searches on Yahoos sites. Google wasted no time in picking up the gauntlet, especially as Bing began to continuously gain marketshare. Since then, Google has added features at an unprecedented pace. Earlier this month, Google boasted of introducing one innovation every two days over the last two months (67 days to be precise).

Clearly, the stakes are high. The search engine ad revenues are $25 billion and the US alone clocks 10 billion search queries every month. All three search engines Google, Bing and Yahoo got into real time search, providing updates from sites like Twitter and Facebook. Now, Google has announced Google Googles, which will add the ability to perform search by submitting a photograph. Still in labs, it will allow you to click any object, say a monument, book or a logo, and search for information about it. Location-based, community and real time seem to be the keywords to searchs future. Without doubt, the search market is bracing for an action-packed year!

Twitter scripts a business model

Twitter made it to headlines for adding millions of users, billion dollar valuations and a series of outages throughout the year. But the microblogging service surprised everyone when reports suggested it will make $25 million from search deals with Google and Microsoft. The San Francisco startup is estimated to be running at operating costs of $20-25 million, according to Bloomberg reports, thus making it profitable for this year. Profitability might not remain for long as it is growing at a fast pace and is likely to need investments to upgrade infrastructure.

Nevertheless, profits for what is widely considered the backbone of real-time Web will go a long way in defining how people perceive social Web. As it changes the way people interact online and disrupts the traditional news flow model, it is expected to add new revenue lines like injecting ads into its service.

Facebook updates privacy model

Online privacy and content ownership storm continued to whirl around Facebook throughout the year. The worlds largest online social network began 2009 with a debate on who owns and controls the information and pictures on the site. In February, Facebook changed the terms of service, which was seen to give Facebook perpetual worldwide licence to anything posted on the network. The move sparked a backlash among users and more than 85,000 joined a Facebook group calling itself People Against the new Terms of Service. Soon, the terms of service were reversed.

The latest update removes regional networks and creates a simpler model for privacy control, where one can set content to be available to only your friends, friends of your friends or everyone. The changes began after an investigation by Canadas privacy commission found that Facebook gave confusing or incomplete information about privacy to users and virtually unlimited access to Facebook users personal information to third-party developers. Data-sharing with third-party developers came under European Commissions scanner, too. As we enter the New Year, Facebook continues to grapple with the negative press over its privacy overhaul.

Windows gets a new avatar

In 2009, Windows, Mac as well as Linux users got new operating systems to play with. Windows and Mac got simultaneous updates. Microsoft seems to have worked hard on moving past the public relations disaster it made with Windows Vista. And it did succeed in getting positive reviews ,with Windows 7 being widely seen as fixing all that was wrong with Vista. Its less cluttered; more reliable and has much shorter boot times. Look and feel, especially the new customisable toolbar, have received appreciation. Within months, Google showcased its Chrome operating system and released source code for developers. Aimed at netbooks, Chrome OS promises a simple computer which switches on like a TV, and lets one browse Internet as easily as TV channels.

App stores pick up

Apple will probably be known more for creating app stores than iPhone. Almost all operators and handset manufacturers are racing to catch up with the iPhones software marketplace by selling mobile applications on handsets and attracting developers to make them. IDC predicts more than 3,00,000 apps by next year, up from 1,00,000 apps being offered today. IDC now expects Googles Android to gain traction and grow to as many as 75,000 by next year from more than 12,000 this year. The worlds largest phone maker, Nokia, is completely redeveloping its mobile applications store after admitting it has failed to challenge adequately Apples dominance in the segment. In all, mobile phone app store market is all set to explode in 2010.

Netbooks take on new flavours

Netbooks that started out two years ago were clearly in demand this year. As companies like Nokia and Sony log in, the stripped-down, compact and low-priced cousins of notebooks are transitioning into feature-packed bundles of connectivity. They have clearly come a long way from Asus EeePC which came with a 7-inch screen, a Celeron processor, 2GB solid state drive and 512 MB RAM.

Netbooks have also caught attention of Google, which has announced a new operating system tailored to run on netbooks. Its Chrome OS will require fewer resources, focusing the computer instead, on running through a Web browser. Intels new Atom processor is promising to make netbooks even more compact in 2010. Apples rumoured tablet and Microsofts Courier Concept are expected to push this niche further.

Ebook readers log in

Amazons best selling product, Kindle e-book reader, might not have picked sales in India, but has created a lot of buzz ever since it came to India in October. Kindle 2 can hold up to 1,500 non-illustrated books. On Kindle DX, you can also read newspapers. The technology seems ready for prime time as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Sony and other e-reader makers are engaged in a war of sorts. Kindle is reported to have outsold physical books this Christmas at Amazon. E-book readers might seem high-priced for the Indian market, but are surely creating a buzz. Already, content is getting created a majority of Indian newspapers have launched special editions for these. Right now, the biggest market for e-readers and e-books is in the US, but industry expects markets like India and China to make a mark in 2010.

iPod refresh

Apples fifth attempt to make the ipod Nano catchier this year attracted eyeballs for two featuresFM radio and video camera. And when Apple adds goodies to its personal music player, you know many more gadget makers will follow and the latest iPod Nano has ignited action in the video camera market. Many others like Cisco, which has a Flip recorder, and several mobile phone makers are already bullish on the prospects of video cameras on the go.