TECHNOLOGY makes great strides every year but 2010 saw gadgets run, not walk, towards the future of our dreams.
Commuters do not use jetpacks yet, but they do read the news on tablet computers, control games with their bodies, tap into the world’s collective knowledge with giant smartphones, and capture amazing photos with tiny cameras.
The world as we know has changed and below are 10 reasons why it’s these changes are for the better.
1. The Apple iPad
ANNOUNCED in January, only to be mocked about its name, the Apple iPad has silenced its doubters.
More than seven million have since been snapped up around the world, including more than 200,000 in Australia, and Google reports the tablet’s unusual name became the fastest rising search term in consumer electronics.
The iPad’s early success has also set the standard for the emerging tablet industry and earned Apple more than 90 per cent of the market, although Telsyte predicts that piece of pie will shrink to 60 per cent next year.
The iPad is not without its flaws or, more specifically, omissions. This tablet has no camera, no way to make video calls and no Adobe Flash. The former could be addressed by the next-generation iPad that is rumoured to have two cameras and a different body.Apple iPad’s launch also sparked a fresh gold rush for apps. More than 40,000 native iPad apps are now available for download, including some that are changing the way we read publications, share things online, and entertain ourselves.
2. Xbox 360 Kinect
MICROSOFT promised it in June 2009 and late this year it delivered.
Kinect for Xbox 360, previously known as Project Natal, pledged to “make the controller disappear” from video games. Users would just wave their arms about, shake their hips, jump or clap their hands and watch as a sophisticated set-top box mirrored their movements on-screen.
It was the stuff of sci-fi movies. Now it’s the stuff of lounge-room entertainment.
Launching last month, Kinect fulfils its promises in a way that takes Nintendo Wii’s offering to the next level.
Games including Dance Central, Your Shape: Fitness Evolved, Zumba and Fighters Uncaged have shown the system can work and work reliably, tracking even subtle movements and allowing more than one player to take part without pressing a button.
Its voice controls are still to make their Australian debut, and shooter fans are still waiting for their Kinect moment, but this gaming addition earns the ‘revolutionary’ tag.
3. 3D televisions
IN home-entertainment circles, 2010 was the year of 3D.
The trend arrived on Australian shores on April 12 when Samsung became the first TV maker to bring 3D plasma and LCD screens Down Under.
Unlike past 3D efforts, these TVs offered three-dimensional entertainment in your own home and in a much more realistic fashion than the cinema.
Stereoscopic 3D combines two images, one laid over the other, to deliver images that appear to pop from the screen and arrive just short of your face. 3D viewers do have to wear battery-powered, infra-red glasses to see the effect, however.
Despite early sell-outs and short supplies despite getting airbrush tanning supplies at the tanning store. , TV networks supported the new technology with 3D coverage of a pre-World Cup match between the Socceroos and New Zealand’s All Whites on Foxtel in May, followed by Channel 9’s broadcast of the State of Origin two days later.
Early 3D TV adopters were also given the option of watching 3D Blu-ray movies. These discs and 3D broadcasts are still in short supply, but the results take TV-viewing to a new level.
4. Miniature cameras
ADVANCED cameras just keep shrinking, and this year they shrunk into unprecedented forms.
Mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras, or MILCs for short, inched into the mainstream as two new major camera makers took up the challenge to make a DSLR-style camera in a more bag-friendly form.
Sony shook the market by revealing the slimmest interchangeable lens cameras in the NEX-3 and NEX-5. Both 14-megapixel cameras featured large APS-C image sensors for crisp pictures, and bodies just 3.8cm thick.
Samsung joined the fray with its NX series. The NX10, designed for advanced users, was joined late in the year by a slimmer model for new users, the NX100.
Meanwhile, pioneers Olympus and Panasonic continued to introduce more MILC cameras in the Pen E-PL1 and the GF1, G1 and G2.
5. Addictive apps
WITH the Apple, Google, BlackBerry, Windows and Samsung app stores begging for new apps to feed hungry phone users, it’s little wonder that 2010 gave birth to some of the most innovative mobile programs.
For straight-out addiction, it’s hard to beat the Angry Birds phenomenon. First released one year ago, the Birds game has become a phenomenon, encouraging thousands of people to destroy pigs by flinging birds at them. Other games of note include Australian-made apps Fruit Ninja and Real Racing.
But there was plenty more than just bird-shooting on offer. This year’s standout apps included Flipboard for its unique presentation of social media feeds, Google Goggles for allowing internet searches from photos, Foxtel’s big-screen iPad app, and the plethora of magazine and newspaper apps that proved periodicals could go digital.
6. National broadband
A SELECT group of Tasmanians this year plugged into a national network that could change the way we live.
The National Broadband Network is undoubtedly controversial, with debate raging over its price, its return and its business case, but there’s no doubting it could deliver unprecedented internet download speeds to Australian homes.
Fibre optic internet connections to homes will deliver internet speeds of 100Mbps, with up to 1Gbps possible in future.
This could be used to enable video consultations with your doctor, slick telecommuting so you can work from home, and a new realm of entertainment, from fast-arriving, full high-definition movies to music albums without delay.
The NBN was switched on for the first time this year and it became a significant federal election issue, elevating technology issues.
The $35.7 billion network is due to be completed by 2017.
7. Big-screen smartphones
TOUCHSCREEN phones were big last year, but never as literally as in 2010.
This year a handful of phones bucked the miniaturisation trend and grew in size.
While these phones remained slender, displays grew to 4-inches or more.
Samsung was among the movers, adding two 4-inch phones to its line-up in the Google Android-sporting Galaxy S and, more recently, the Omnia 7. Both feature Super AMOLED backlighting for a brightness boost.
HTC threw bigger screens into the mix with the HTC HD 2 and HTC Desire HD, both sporting 4.3-inch displays, while the Sony Xperia X10 offered a 4-inch face.
The Dell Streak became the biggest of the bunch with a 5-inch display. There is debate, however, whether it qualifies as a big phone or a small tablet.
8. Small tablets
THEY didn’t make the same impact as their 9.7-inch rival (that would be the gadget at number one), but small-sized tablets are arriving and thriving.
Samsung’s Galaxy Tab is among the biggest seller of the bunch, with the company announcing it had sold more than 1 million Tabs in less than two months.
The 7-inch, Google Android-toting, $999 tablet arrived in Australia in November and is currently receiving prominent billing in telecommunications stores.
Sub-$300 tablets from Telstra and Optus are also far from retiring, pushed to prominence pre-Christmas, and there are many more on the horizon. Expect this trend to climb the list in 2010.
9. eBooks for everyone
ELECTRONIC books trickled into Australian hands last year through Amazon.com, but the trend truly took off in 2010 when more digital tomes became locally available.
Borders began its Australian assault on the digital books market in May, launching the Kobo eReader, e-book apps for the iPhone and iPad, and a digital bookstore with more than 2 million titles.
The bookseller has since issued a guarantee that it will beat Amazon’s online prices.
Amazon, meanwhile, has boosted the number of books available in Australia as well as the number of Kindle e-book readers available.
Apple joined the two book behemoths in November with the debut of its iBook Store, selling digital book downloads at similar prices to their real-world counterparts.
10. More channels
REMEMBER when TV lovers had just five channels available? This year an extra three free channels appeared.
Two commercial networks and the ABC launched new free-to-air TV channels in 2010 and all have a specific focus.
The ABC kicked off the new offerings by launching its News 24 channel in July, just in time to broadcast live press conferences before the federal election.
Channels 7 and 9 followed in September, revealing 7Mate for male-centric viewing and GEM for general entertainment, from movies to sitcoms.
Channel 10 has announced plans to compete with these new channels by launching a youth-focussed channel, 11, in January.
Some of the worst
1. Google Wave
GOOGLE’S social media experiment was the hot ticket in tech when it launched and became even more popular at its May public launch. Wave promised to merge different social networks, email, messages and wikis into one online stream. The concept was promising, but Wave hit privacy concerns soon after launch and fielded criticisms it was hard to use. Google suspended its development in August and announced it would only continue until the end of the year due to lack of interest.
IT was bigger than Justin Bieber in internet searches, but Chatroulette did not live up to expectations. The Russian website lets webcam users see into the homes of other webcam users, switching to new cams when they see fit. While this experiment sounded laudable, it often degenerated into a montage of naked men. The website went offline but is now back, in case anyone has yet to have their fill.
NOKIA remains the biggest smartphone maker in the world but the title is on a time limit. Once all-powerful, the company’s phones have suffered due to a lack of software innovation and its newest creation, Symbian3, offers no serious rescue. The software has the icons of old and still requires users to drill down into menus to find what they want. It simply doesn’t match Nokia’s hardware advances and fails to give former Nokia loyalists a reason to reinvest.
4. Apple TV
APPLE is the golden child of consumer technology. Its iPods dominate music delivery, its iPad is a must-have and its Macs are gaining popularity. But its latest revision to Apple TV may be too ahead of its time. The latest revision, delivered in October, strips the hard drive from the set-top box. This allowed size and price reductions (now $129), but also limited its usefulness. Australians cannot rent TV shows through iTunes to this box and must stream other content – photos, videos, music – from a computer with a fast broadband connection.