2010’s top consumer tech trends

For the past decade Apple has been the major driving force for consumer technology trends and 2010 is no different. With the launch of the iPad Apple has become a player in two of the top emerging product areas: tablet PCs and e-book readers.

Tablet PCs

Leading the way in terms of design the iPad uses its touchscreen as a keyboard and reminds users of a blown up version of the iPod Touch or the iPhone.

On the day 3G version of the iPad was launched, 28 days after the Wi-Fi only iPad came on the market, Apple had sold more than 1 million units. In Cayman the iPad has been very much in demand says Vicky Wheaton, the sales and marketing manager of the first Apple Store on island. So far the store has sold 33 units, all of which were reserved in advance.

In spite of the initial commercial success of the iPad, Apple is not alone in the market and has spurred other manufacturers into action.

Currently the boundaries between different product categories are blurring. Tablets, wireless computers with a touchscreen, are often used to access the internet, watch movies or listen to music, just like media players that don’t run a computer operating system.

At the same time netbooks, small laptop PCs with a keyboard, often do the same things as a tablet, but they also run on Windows 7, making them more versatile and compatible with the workplace.

Simpler tablets with their touchscreen often have trouble running a full desktop operating system. This was confirmed when Hewlett Packard announced in May to delay and potentially discontinue the development of its Windows 7-run tablet HP Slate.

Most of the tablets that will be released this year will run Google’s Android, a simpler operating system that works well on smartphones and might be better geared towards iPad-like tablets.

Then again some tablets have taken the shape of a netbook with a touchscreen or in fact offer two products in one, such as Lenovo’s Ideapad U1 touchscreen laptop.

The Ideapad U1 is a 3.8-pound laptop that runs Windows 7 on a Core 2 Duo processor and a 128GB hard drive. As an exciting feature the 11.6-inch touchscreen display can be removed and works as a stand-alone Linux tablet PC with 16GB of flash memory.

The Ideapad U1 hybrid PC is expected to be released in June for less than US$1000.

E-book readers

Apple, which revolutionised media distribution with iTunes, has now also entered the market for e-book readers with the iPad and its iBook application.

For some time e-readers such as Amazon’s Kindle or Barnes & Noble’s Nook used E-ink displays in order to generate a look that emulates actual paper, rather than using a bright, backlit notebook-like screen that is more fatiguing to the eye.

Most of 2010’s e-readers however make use of exactly those LCD screens. As a result the only difference between this type of e-reader and tablet PCs is the size of the screen.

E-readers like Kindle 2 have the massive advantage of free 3G access to the Kindle store in more than 100 countries to purchase from over 400,000 titles.

Massive storage, a long battery life and a sharp display even in bright sunlight are difficult to beat.

However, when it comes to playing other media, internet access or additional applications other e-readers or the Apple iPad have the edge.

In the end it all comes down to user needs. Consumers will have to decide between tablets which provide a better web-experience and are able to handle multimedia better than e-book readers, which in contrast have a longer battery life but are much easier to read in daylight conditions.

3D TV

High definition TV in 3D arrives in 2010 in the wake of the Avatar 3D cinema hype.

While consumers may still wonder whether 3D TV is just another technology gimmick, manufacturers are betting on a new trend.

All of the major TV manufacturers presented 3D models at the Las Vegas Consumer Electronics Show in January this year.

The technology itself is a far cry from the poor image quality and the cut-out red and green paper lense glasses from 1980s. Today viewers still have to wear glasses, which albeit more stylish, may still seem a bit silly to many people at first.

However, the level of realism and depth of the image quality could well transform the way we expect to experience television in the future.

3D movies and TV shows on a larger scale may still be several years away, but early adopters can start to enjoy the new technology this year.

With an increasing number of movies being released in this format, cinema may be paving the way for TV again, as it has in the past in terms of colour TV.

But movies will not be the only area, where 3D could matter in the future. Sports in particular will feature prominently among 3D productions. Premier League football was the first sports event ever shown in 3D by the British Sky HD channel.

After two years of testing, ESPN will launch a 3D service at the start of the football World Cup in June. The sports network plans to showcase a minimum of 85 live sports events in its first year.

In addition to 25 World Cup matches ESPN will broadcast college basketball and football as well as the Summer X Games in 3D.

The first 3D TV models are already on the market and come at a price of between US$3,000 to US$7,000.

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