Wednesday, March 12, 2008
Top Technology Trends Shaping the Digital Revolution
Time's Person of the Year for 1983 was, for the first time, not a person. It was the personal computer (PC). Even after three decades, computing and software continue to evolve and be an indispensable part of our lives.
The proliferation of technology has changed the way we live - the way we watch movies; the way we play games; the way we snap pictures; the way we listen to songs; the way we print; the way we shop; and much more. Simply put, everything around us has undergone or is still undergoing a profound change.
On the flip side, technology does not change how we do things; it only changes whom we pay for the service. For instance, we still watch movies on TV much the same way, even though the Internet Protocol Television (IPTV) took off with a bang in 1994. Home theaters improved the cinematic experience but at a great cost to the consumer. No more commercials while watching a movie at home; simply rent or purchase a CD/ DVD/ Blu-ray Disc of the movie with a corresponding player, a large screen, and a room in which to install/ store everything. The consumer pays for control over what he watches. Instead of paying the theater owner for a seat in his "house", you pay a much larger fee to those who'll supply a personal system.
The horde of media options available these days only makes it difficult to decide on something valuable or amenable when time is short. Still, people are willing to pay a price gladly for being able to fire up their palm-sized music player, pop in a set of high-quality ear buds, and listen to a new digital soundtrack recorded on a PC.
I think the best way to describe the impact of recent technological advances in the use of digital media is "social, cultural, and economic empowerment."
With the advent and spread of digital audio players (DAPs), high-definition televisions (HDTVs), smartphones, personal navigation devices (PNDs), ultra-mobile PCs (UMPCs), portable multimedia players (PMPs), portable game players, mobile TVs, home automation software, and other new and emerging media, people are exposed to an entire new world of information and content that they would have never discovered before. What's more, all these media are now portable and accessible from anywhere with an Internet connection.
Yet according to Bill Gates, "The Digital Revolution has just begun."
In this article, we look at some of the recent technological developments happening around us. We also analyze the increasing effect of multidisciplinary technology across all dimensions of our lives.
Evolution of Hardware and Software in the New Technology Age
Analysts everywhere are of the opinion that hardware and software are going to advance further in the years to come. Multicore processors, thread-level parallelism, expansion in data storage, and unlimited broadband access will fuel the next generation of computing. Interacting trends in agile manufacturing, materials technology, and nanotechnology will bring about a paradigm shift in the way we make devices.
The results could be astounding, to say the least - significant improvements in the quality of life, increased dependency on machines, high rate of industrial turnover, continuous globalization, and so on. The actual realization of these possibilities will depend on a variety of factors such as acceptance of technological change, the amount of technology and infrastructure investments, the influence of market drivers and limitations, and the level of technology breakthroughs and advancements.
Gates believes, "Soon you’ll be able to call up any documents or media files that you've created or saved, using any device that is at hand - whether it's a PC, a mobile phone, a TV, a portable game player, or a music device. Your preferences, contacts, calendars, and applications will be seamlessly available, and the way information and features appear will be adjusted automatically to deliver the best experience for the device you are using."
I couldn't agree more! With the worldwide PC sales touching 250 million units and over a billion people owning a PC by the end of this year, technology is fast becoming affordable and easier-to-use for everyone.
Technology and the Digital Revolution in Entertainment
According to BBC media correspondent Nick Higham, "Television is undergoing its biggest change since its invention thanks to the impact of the digital age." But it's not just the television; the digital revolution has altered the nature of just about everything related to entertainment beyond measure.
Joe Schoendorf, Partner, Accel Partners, predicts that the next 50 years belongs to video. He seems rather convinced that so far the Google and eBay of that space has not been created. "YouTube may be one of the early ones," Schoendorf said, "but there will be four or five giants that emerge."
Here are some of the emerging technology trends that are going to leave an indelible mark at entertainment.
Joost - Free Online TV
Considered as one of the most well-known digital entrepreneurs in Europe, Niklas Zennstrom has provided us with free music through the Kazaa file-sharing service and free phone calls through Skype. The man is now touting free TV through his Joost service, a platform that'll enable TV firms to put their content in front of a global audience. If Joost becomes popular, TV shows and other forms of video would be distributed over the web using peer-to-peer TV technology.
Could this mean the end of the road for television? Major TV networks like ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox are already witnessing a steep fall in the number of people watching their shows since spring last year. Several reports have also indicated that a whopping 2.5 million people apparently went missing since the launch of TiVo, HDTV, and the Internet.
TiVo – Best Digital Video Recorder
TiVo is your all-in-one, high-definition (HD) Digital Video Recorder (DVR). It records all your favorite TV shows in HD, allowing you to pause and rewind with distinct HD clarity. Additionally, it connects to any home network for rendering unlimited access to songs and movie titles straight from the Internet to your living room. Record and watch TV shows based on convenience - it can't get any simpler than that.
High-definition Television – Much More Than A "Better TV Picture"
As for HDTV, I don't think many would kvetch about the shift from analog TVs to digital TVs and digital source components. A digital TV broadcasting system that offers greater resolution and better picture quality is so much better than traditional TV systems like NTSC, SECAM, or PAL.
Internet Protocol Television - A Worthy Successor to Local Broadcast Stations, Cable TV, and Direct to Home (DTH) Entertainment Service
The Internet, too, has proven to be a happy hunting ground for entertainment aficionados. Thanks to the originators of IPTV, you can watch all your favorite television programs on a PC or an IPTV set-top box having a broadband connection. The IPTV scores over existing TV cable and satellite technologies, since it's typically bundled with other services like Video on Demand (VoD), Voice over IP (VoIP), and Web Access.
John C. Dvorak, a contributing editor of PC Magazine, stated, "The one emerging use of computer technology that I think will dominate the next 5, 10, and 25 years will be the delivery of what is now TV and radio. The revolution is called IPTV—using the Internet and the home server to dole out video and audio content on demand, whenever and wherever you want it. This includes TV programming from any network around the world.
Would you like to keep up with a French version of a Paris-based TV series that began three years ago? With IPTV, you can pipe every episode of the show whenever you want to your big-screen TV. In fact, every movie in every catalog can be delivered to your screen in the same way."
Dvorak feels, "This is where the entertainment is headed—and the desktop computer is going to be the conduit. The IPTV revolution will begin within the next 5 years. It will be mature but not universal in 10 years, and in 25 years people will be baffled by stories about how this sort of media was delivered in the past."
Digital Audio Players - The Emergence of Portable Media Players
In the last forty years or so, people discovered greater ways to enjoy recorded music. No one uses a phonograph anymore; and with increasing popularity of digital music downloads, it seems quite likely that the use of radios, records, tapes, and CDs will be condemned. Also, worth noticing is that the recording industry has finally come of age to offer their content online—another indicator of the emergence of digital music downloads.
Today's technophilic generation take a lot of pride in owning DAPs from Apple, Bose, Sony, and Creative Labs. Even stereophones and audio accessories from Koss and Shure are a quantum leap forward in terms of quality.
The traditional DAPs went for a song on October 23, 2001—the day when Apple launched its brand of portable media players by the name of iPod. Not only does iPod allow you to store, organize, and play thousands of songs from your music library, but you can also watch images and videos on the go. If figures were to be believed, the iPod sold more than 119 million units worldwide as of October last year, making it the best-selling DAP series of all times. No matter where you are or what you wish to play, there’s definitely an iPod for you.
Broadly speaking, you can categorize the existing DAPs in terms of storage media: flash-based players, hard drive-based players (or digital jukeboxes), and MP3 CD Players. The earlier digital music players were either "big and klutzy" or "small and ineffective", and don't even get me started on the user interfaces that were just "dreadful!"
Talking about breakthroughs in audio (music in particular), technology is endowing new and upcoming artists, so they can record and burn albums in the comfort of their home studios. Modern-day synthesizers and other home digital audio equipment enable artists to produce timbres and orchestrations without having to tread on expensive studios.
Technology can only go that far—the musician still has to learn to play an instrument, learn about rhythm and harmony; technology doesn't really change that. And all of this technology fails to induce talent and inclination for these arts.
Smarter Homes – Leveraging the capabilities of Home Automation
Think of all the mundane and tedious tasks you perform at home every day. Turn the lights on and off, set the thermostat up and down, arm and disarm the security system, among others. Repetitive household chores like the ones I mentioned above can be controlled easily using home automation software.
According to Javier Zamora, general manager, Eneo Labs, "Smart houses were able to predict the user’s routine and adapt accordingly."
In an exclusive interview with the CNN, Zamora expressed the need for home automation. "For centuries we have been building homes using only concrete and bricks, and more and more we need to provide 'intelligence' for our homes because we want those spaces to adapt to the user's requirements,” he added.
Home automation is yet another example that explicates how technology is continuing to affect us.
What the Technology has In Store for Us
Ten years from now, we'll still have all these amazing gadgetries like the iPhone, MacBook Air, Blackberry, Photosmart, Xbox—but with improved connectivity, portability, and accessibility. PCs will become multicore, laptops will contain solid-state drives, and they'll connect seamlessly to the Internet using wireless technology like WiMAX and 3GPP LTE (Long Term Evolution). That's certainly one part of the equation.
As much as there is optimism about the rapid change that technology will bring about, there are enthusiasts of "balance" who'll argue that every technology we introduce accelerates the bad impacts as much as the good ones. The Internet is a marvel for long-distance collaboration and communication, yet it has also accelerated the distribution of porn, cybercrimes, scams, and phishing. Many medical technologies help us battle disease and pain, yet they also bring about antibiotic-resistant strands of Clostridium difficile and other super bugs. Nuclear technology did provide a quicker end to World War 2, yet it has also given politicians the means to destroy most life on the planet. Even considerable breakthroughs in the fields of genetics, nanotechnology, and robotics weren't enough to prevent the epidemic of plague, intelligent germ warfare, uncontrollable self-replicating robots, and many others.
This isn't pessimism, but a reminder of what balance implies.
The coming years will see the convergence of several technologies like wireless, robotics, genetics, radio-frequency identification (RFID), global positioning system (GPS), enterprise resource planning (ERP), customer relationship management (CRM), biometrics, biotechnology and bioengineering, distributed diagnosis and home healthcare, earth observations, electronic health records, electronic recycling, hydrogen economy and alternative fuels, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs), portable information devices, remote sensing, brain-machine interface, terabit networks, wind power, earth observations, and power and alternative energy.
Very soon you'll be able to talk with technology just as fluently as you do with the people around you.