2009: Year In Review

I don’t usually go in for these “end of year review” articles, but 2009 definitely feels like it should be a special case. This year has heralded huge shifts in the technology industry, and demonstrates that there are some very exciting changes coming in the next decade.

Content “On Demand”

This year has seen an explosion of on-demand streaming services, making use of new high speed fibre broadband connections. If you have missed your favourite show, you can simply head to services like the BBC iPlayer, or Hulu if you live in the United States. If you need to listen to that brand new track that your friend is raving about, then you can fire up your client for Spotify or last.fm instead of buying an MP3. For the first time people can pick when they want to listen to or view their media, freeing all of us from the whims of highly-paid TV executives and radio producers.

High Definition and 3D Content

Well-known services like YouTube and major broadcasters such as Sky and the BBC have started offering content in high-definition both online and streamed live for the first time. 3D content has also started to make an entrance into modern cinema, with Avatar 3D attracting rave reviews. High Definition is already here, and as soon as next year we could all be buying 3DTV sets.

The Dawn of the Microblog

This year saw users flock to a relatively new website called Twitter, a service offering users the opportunity to post whatever they want within 140 characters and share it across the entire globe. Some users tell us all what they had for breakfast, and sadly others use it for spam. However, Twitter has also found a huge niche for spreading news fast, as demonstrated by the fact we all knew about the death of Michael Jackson long before any major news stations reacted.

The service has also led to plenty of client applications thanks to its comprehensive API, leading to more advanced options that enable users to share links, photos and other content with each other instantly. Its integration with more established social networking sites like Facebook, and the adoption of the service by major news corporations and celebrities, saw it finally reach a critical mass. Twitter looks set to continue long into the next decade, providing up-to-the-second information for everyone that uses it.

Mobile App Explosion

If this year will be remembered for just one thing, it will almost certainly be remembered for Apple’s decision to create an App Store for its flagship product, the iPhone. In under a year over a billion “apps” have been downloaded both for free and for cash. Those “apps” ranged from games, maps, guides and dictionaries through to musical instruments, youth deterrent devices (called “mosquitos”) and toolkits. If you can think of something there’s probably a mobile for it. Yes, there is even a mobile app for finding other mobile apps!

This could herald a huge beginning for the adoption of the kinds of smartphones that Blackberry and Palm have tried and failed to find a market for in recent years. HTC and Motorola already have Android phones set to gather market share, Nokia is now using the Maemo platform for the N900, and Microsoft is rewriting Windows Mobile in its latest bid to keep pace with Apple’s highly successful product. 2010 could be an exciting year for a highly diverse and competitive market, with some real potential for Linux-based platforms to make gains on the commercial rivals.

Netbooks Remain Popular

If 2008 was “the dawn of the netbook” that surprised everyone (even Asus, and they created the concept in the first place!) then 2009 was the year that they exploded in popularity and started to be seen regularly in cafes, trains, buses and schools. Phone companies also started giving them away free with cheap mobile broadband deals.

Microsoft stirred up a lot of controversy by claiming that 96% of netbooks were running Windows. My current assumption is that this might be the case in the United States, but here in Europe it seems to be much closer to a 60%-40% split. Linux has not lost the war for netbooks dominance yet, and with the emerging technologies based on Moblin and Ubuntu Netbook Remix, it may yet make a resurgence.

GPS on Phones Becomes Mainstream

This year saw most smartphones being sold with GPS as standard, and 2010 promises to introduce GPS chips for netbooks and laptops as well. We will have to see whether this actually comes with fruition, but being able to quickly check where I am on Google Maps using the iPhone’s GPS chip has helped me avoid getting lost in unfamiliar settings on more than one occasion! It is a subtle technology that could soon see social location services like Google Latitude gain a much larger user base.

Open source Is Now Big News

Over the past year, the world of open source and free software has seen more public exposure than ever before. With widespread doubts about Windows 7 before it was even launched, Ubuntu in particular benefited from new media attention. Whether it was some cool new technology like Ulteo (a browser-based operating system), or a forum bust-up between Gnome and GNU contributors, we increasingly saw Linux in the mainstream news outlets. Big companies such as Intel, Nokia and Motorola started to take Linux seriously and include it in some of their products by default.

2009 may not have been the fabled “Year of the Linux desktop”, but it could be a sign that there will be a lot of fun low-powered Linux-based devices on the market for us all to use in the coming decade.

In summary…

This year has truly brought information to peoples’ fingertips. Searching for information happens in real-time, and the information we have access to is instant and concise. Media is something you can enjoy anywhere and at any time, and there are rumours that the Tablet PC concept Bill Gates always used to go on about may soon come to fruition soon.

2009 was a huge year for technology, but we will soon see the arrova; of 3D content, Project Natal (Microsoft Kinect), cloud-based operating systems, the increased use of open source, and the continued explosion of smartphones and low-powered embedded technologies. On that basis, I can’t help feeling optimistic about what the next 10 years will bring.