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2010: 10 key tech moments that are shaping our future

As 2010 draws to a close, it’s time to reflect on some of the key technologies that have influenced, inspired and dominated the mobile, web and software product markets this year:

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1. The Rise of the Tablets

Announced in early January, Apple’s iPad was one of the most significant product launches this year: The world’s first fully functional tablet PC. Described as being revolutionary and magical, many early critics initially dismissed the device as nothing more than a larger version of the iPod Touch. Yet, it was anything but that.

The iPad set the standard for tablet devices with its sleek and glossy design, packing a powerful processor with access to Apple’s famed iTunes marketplace that had business owners scrambling to get their web product onto an iPad-friendly application format.

It is one mean piece of hardware and with Samsung’s Galaxy Tab sparking the Android vs Apple battle plus Rim’s Blackberry Playbook now entering the fray, it’s a clear indication that tablet PCs are here to stay.

2. Augmented Reality takes a bold leap

Augmented reality applications have really hit home this year by extending beyond the mobile sphere and into the console gaming environment with both Playstation and Microsoft taking the lead. Microsoft’s Kinect system for the XBox has redefined the gaming genre with its full body, controller-less motion, making augmented reality gaming a, well, reality within your living room. And the EyePet for the Playstation 3 and PSP provides a showcase of what console cameras and motion sensing are capable of. Of course, augmented reality is not limited only to gaming. Layar, Augmented ID and TwittARound are but a few of the current applications which make good use of this technology. Augmented reality has now began filtering into the business sectors where companies are taking note of its showcase appeal with regards to sales and marketing.

3. Android

Google’s mobile OS, Android, also includes middleware, key applications and an SDK which provides the tools and APIs necessary to begin developing applications on the Android platform using Java. With over two dozen Android powered phones, Google’s answer to the iPhone has an authoritative stamp of approval within the smartphone market. Sleek, customisable and with a modified Linux kernel for an engine, it’s no wonder Android has become the de facto smartphone choice, ranking first amongst all the OS handsets sold this year in the U.S. alone.

4. Mobile Video

The advent of readily available 3G networks worldwide has lead to an increased demand for mobile video services. Application marketplaces such as iTunes and Netflix, which predominantly maintain a purchase-to-download approach, have now also integrated video and TV-on-demand and streaming media onto their platforms. Alongside this, portable, accessible and, as of recently, full HD video cameras which are now a standard component of most smartphones, (such as Nokia’s N8 powerhouse which packs a 12 megapixel camera), allow for easy uploading and streaming of video content. Video blogging or vlogging has since become an accepted medium for feed and content aggregators across the globe.

5. Realtime Search

Search engine giant Google has taken realtime search to an authoritative level in 2010 by providing licensed realtime data streams from mainstream social networks such as Twitter and Facebook into its search results. The initial concerns with realtime search included relevance and also spam control –- filtering the informative live streams from the useless junk, particularly considering that end users would expect the same quality that traditional web searches provided. And this is where Google dominated.

By engaging the legitimacy of a valid tweet on Twitter or Facebook update status, Google’s tight-lipped algorithm delves into the popularity of these pocket-sized information nuggets and delivers.

6. Social Networks

In 2010 giants Facebook and Twitter have continued to dominate the social networking scene, with Twitter releasing its new iPad-like web layout and Facebook redesigning its user profile pages. Public awareness into social media has also increased this year with sites such as LinkedIn bridging the business/ social gap and merging company and user-based profiles together to the point that many company and recruitment entities are now actively engaging LinkedIn for resources.

Also, movies such as the box-office success The Social Network, which chronicles the rise of Facebook founder Marc Zuckerberg, have added to the heightened public appeal. Major events, including the 2010 FIFA Soccer World Cup, added to the euphoria, proving once and for all that social networks are above the misinterpretation of the web paradigm. Simply put, they’re big news. And they’re here to stay.

7. Cloud computing flies high

In the past year, cloud computing has really taken flight with the majority of internet sites’ architecture employing web services to consumers by converting their existing services to run on shared resources or “clouds”. Cloud-based services are low on costs and implementation and can be exploited in a variety of ways to develop an application or a solution that taps into the unlimited processing and storage power of vast data centres run by companies like Google or Amazon.

Isolated, system-specific and device and location-dependent applications are now a thing of the past as cloud computing provides the agility, security and readily available APIs across a scalable spectrum with reduced cost and maintenance leverages. For examples, read Technobuffalo’s great post on cloud computing.

8. HTML 5 sets the standard

Browsers such as Firefox and Chrome are already supporting HTML5, the evolution in web development. The addition of many new syntax features such as <video>, <audio> and <canvas> has eliminated the need for Flash/Silverlight plugins, often a bane for any application dependent on rendering audio, video or animation.

9. Geolocation

Simply defined, geolocation is a mechanism whereby any real world object can be geographically identified by its current existing location, normally via a user’s mobile GPS co-ordinates or IP address.

With readily available Geo APIs, social networks such as Twitter and SimpleGeo have made full use of this exciting functionality by adding layers of geo-related data to their interfaces. The arrival of these APIs has now also allowed for increasingly innovative apps into the geo-mobile market where previously, broadcasting sites Foursquare and Gowalla dominated.

10. Social CRM

Traditional CRMs involve one-way customer conversations with a rather disproportionate focus on technology. With the advent of social CRM, businesses have had to rethink their engagement models by building an environment of socialisation where the company no longer controls the relationship – the client does. Many companies have begun to endorse this approach by actively engaging users with their Twitter and Facebook accounts. The switch from traditional paradigms has taken off this year with companies striving towards transparency and customer service.

To wrap up, 2010 has been a year in which emergent technologies, top-end gadgets and collaborative media have really taken off. If one considers the vastness of the new, different and somewhat sentient-like connections that constitute the global technological networks, then it seems that 2010 may well be marked in future as the end of individual thought and the emergence of an all encompassing collective thought – or a global brain.

Still, I sincerely doubt that the AI is anywhere near capable of starting the inevitable human-machine war… yet.

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