2010 in Design

2010 is here and I still don't have my flying car or moon rocket, much less a spaceship en route to Jupiter for some serious monolith research. Sadly, I'll have to be satisfied with some baseless and random speculation on the year to come. Take these predictions with a boulder of salt and me out on them in December.

2009 was a big year for technology. A fairly bright spot in an otherwise dismal economy. From a design perspective we've seen the further growth in next-gen UI technologies like Flash, Silverlight, and HTML 5; and a greater focus on design in the app development process. We've also seen major growth of alternatives to the WIMP (window, icon, menu, pointdevice) user interface that has dominated computing for the past 30 years. Touch screens, ePaper, accelerometers, and embedded cameras are mainstream technologies and have started working their way into every gadget we buy.

The next year should be an exciting one, but with mostly evolutionary improvement of technologies we have today. I predict nothing out of the blue. (Of course, if something was truly out of the blue we, by definition, wouldn't be able to predict it). Anyway: on with the show!

I've broken my predictions up into three categories: software, hardware, and misc. Each prediction has a percent indicating the likely-hood it will come true. Next December we'll revisit these and see how I did.

Software in 2010

Software is moving to the cloud. The UI of any given app might be implemented in HTML & Javascript in a webbrowser, or through an RIA toolkit like Java, Flash, or Sliverlight. (and occasionally a native toolkit like iTunes). But the trend is clear, all software comes from the internet and a significant portion of their features are implemented on the server side. This is a long term trend and won't be reversed. Given this trend, here are the effects I think we'll see in 2010:

Social Networking sites become useful. 80%

We've had Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other social networking sites for a few years now. I think the industry is starting to coalesce into a set of useful offerings now that we've had enough time to figure out what all of this stuff is actually good for. This means both companies and individuals will start to see real value from these services.

The downside is that privacy sinks to an all time low and our public & private lives heavily bleed into each other. I've taken the step of fully separating my personal and professional identities. I now use Facebook only for personal friends that I know in real life, and push my professional life through Twitter, LinkedIn, and this blog. Fortunately the social networking tools have improved enough to make this a relatively painless process. However, given that each service has a different audience I'm often conflicted about what to post where.

OpenID finally takes off: 70%

OpenID is an open standard which lets you log into a website using your username from another website. It promises to free us having to remember a million different logins. Since Google, Yahoo, and others now expose their user databases through OpenID I predict a huge increase in websites using it. The era of a universal login might soon be upon us.

Downside: the era of a universal trackable login might soon be upon us.

Cloud enabled netbooks ship: 70%

You will be able to buy a small laptop who's entire software catalog is purchased through an online store in the device. It will probably run Chrome OS, Android, or an Ubuntu variant. All apps will be HTML in the browser or written in a crossplatform RIA toolkit like Java or Flash. If your netbook dies, you just buy a new one and click a button to reinstall everything from the cloud.

We'll have several shipping toolkits that let you target all of the major smartphone OSes: 80%

This means a write-once run everywhere cross-device toolset for smartphones that is actually shipping (not tech demos), and supports iPhone, WebOS (Palm), Android, and Blackberry.

We are pretty much there already. Adobe has promised a version of Flash in 2010 that will let you build apps on WebOS (Palm), BlackBerry, and the iPhone; and some Android phones ship with Flash support. PhoneGap lets you target every device with a WebKit derived browser, which is pretty much everything. Silverlight is being ported to other platforms and MonoTouch lets you write C# code that targets the iPhone. 2010 will see all of these toolkits mature, with several prominent app makers adopting them for all of their apps except games.

Windows Mobile and older JavaME based feature phones aren't on the list above because developers won't care about them. Sad but true. WinMo is dead unless Microsoft does something truly amazing with Windows Mobile 7 (and I sincerely hope they do). Older JavaME based phones have the numbers (2 billion +) but those phones (and their associated cellphone contracts) don't encourage users to buy apps, so they don't matter to developers. If you can't ship apps to them then they don't count.

Hardware in 2010

Hardware improvements shouldn't be surprising: everything will be smaller, faster, and cheaper. Moore's Law will not be repealed. The focus on power efficiency means the world is going mobile. The biggest shift we will see in 2010 is the general purpose 'personal computer' losing sales to more specialized devices. eBook readers, smartphones, tablets, and set-top boxes will continue to chip away at the market share of desktop and laptop computers.

Someone will create a TV attached device worth owning: 30%

Everyone has some sort of a TV attached device these days. It makes sense, the TV is the largest screen in most homes so why not do something more with it than just playing video. I want a device which will play media, play games, check mail, browse the web, and let me install my own apps; all displayed in gorgeous 1080p. The potential is huge!

Sadly the market is terribly fractured with no standards and a bunch of half finished solutions. The AppleTV has devolved into an iTunes Store front-end. The Wii, XBox, and Playstation all do games well, but their video and content services are weak. The cable companies have semi-decent DVRs, but don't have stores with downloadable apps or access to internet content. The most compelling options today are actually home-brew Linux boxes running MythTV.

I really hope someone can pull the pieces together into a single solution, but I don't have high hopes. It may take an iPhone-like dark horse entrant to change the power structure of this market.

Pico-projectors for Smart-phones become popular: 20%

The concept seems good on paper: a tiny projector that fits in your pocket, attaches to your cellphone, and projects a 4 foot image on a wall or T-shirt. Sounds like science fiction! It seems like a great idea, but in practice the images are too dim and shakey to be useful. It will remain a novelty that most people don't need or want

Tablet computers will be popular this year: 100%

I'm planning a much longer post on tablets for next week so I'll just summarize here. Both the hardware and software have converged to make a useful tablet computer possible. The key will be building a device that doesn't try to be a full featured desktop computer in a tablet form factor. Any successful tablet computer will be more like a large iPod Touch rather than a flat laptop. It will be the next step along the road of making computing ubiquitous and invisible. After all, what is a tablet but a computer where everything has been made invisible except the display.

Given the Apple rumors and pre-announcements from several vendors I expect several tablets to be on sale next year. If they can figure out one or two killer features (most likely relating to media consumption and social networking) then I think they will be very popular.

My specific prediction regarding the Apple tablet: it will be a large iPod Touch running the same OS and managed though iTunes. There will probably be a few extensions to the Cocoa Touch APIs and new UI guidelines for the larger form factor. The basic apps will be retooled for the larger screen but little change in functionality. iTunes will add a book and magazine store. But that's it. No revolutionary form factor or display technology. Just a large iPod Touch. And it will sell millions. The time is just right.

An ebook reader using something other than eInk ships: 50%

Ebook readers are all the rage right now, and with good reason. They represent the future of paper, but the display technology is still very limited. Virtually all of the ebook readers on the market use the same physical display technology: an electrosensitive fluid from eInk. Refresh rate and contrast is horrible, but it's a good enough start to create a market for better products. A slew of competing technologies are under development and success of the Kindle will ensure they get funding, so there's a good chance one of them will ship in 2010.

Smartphones won't improve significantly, but over half of all phones sold in the US will be smartphones: 80%

The iPhone, Android devices, the Palm Pre, and new BlackBerries have solidified what a 'smartphone' is: a general purpose touch-centric device with user installable applications. A year from now I don't expect this to look any different. We'll have some new devices with more memory and faster CPUs, but the landscape will be pretty much the same.

As a side effect of this market stability I expect smartphones to make huge inroads into the general cellphone market. Thanks to Apple's ads the average consumer now understands the benefits of a smartphone with installable apps, and carriers love to sell data plans. I expect over half of all new phones sold next December to be smartphones. AT&T's network will continue to strain under the usage.

Land line phone service falls by half: 80%

This has been a long time coming. I've personally had only a cellphone for the past decade. Thanks to competition from wireless carriers, Skype, and VoIP solutions I expect the retreat from landlines to reach 50% by the end of 2010.

On The Edge

Voice recognition becomes a significant user interface: 20%

Voice recognition will continue to be a technology that's just around the corner but still never arrives. Any growth will come from 411 style services that let you speak a question and receive a webpage answer. Google is pushing heavily in this area with their Google Voice service. I still don't think we'll have true voice command (KITT style) until we have much stronger AI. But that's just around the corner. :)

Self driving cars: 0.001%

The potential is huge, but the chances of me being able to buy a self driving car this year is almost certainly none.

However, we are likely to see some interesting advancements on the way to self driving cars. Some luxury cars can now parallel park themselves and the DARPA challenges have been successful. I suspect we'll see more closed course demonstrations of cars doing things that would simply be impossible for a human driver to accomplish. Things like drifting and spinning become trivial when you can control each wheel's drive and breaking separately. Since most drivers don't have eight feet, the computer will have a leg up on humans.

YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook combine into a single time wasting website: YouTwitFace

Likelyhood: 92.6%

Happy New Year!