The last several weeks have seen a large number of conferences, trade shows and seminars dedicated to emerging technologies and new products, with the two biggest and most prominent being DEMOfall and TechCrunch50.
Often after a wave of new products and companies debut, the initial reaction is to try to predict which of these new entrants will end up being successful. However, this usually is a very difficult task, as these shows tend to produce a lot more misses than hits.
That said, it is possible to glean hints about the future of technology from all of these new products and companies. That’s because they are often riding the crest of the wave of new technology trends, not only in what their products do and the problems they try to solve, but also in the technologies that they themselves use to power their own products.
Given that, for this eWEEK special report, I’ll look at many of the new product and company announcements of recent months and use this information to predict some of the key emerging technology trends that we should expect to see for 2009.
Some of these trends are already gaining traction, whereas others are just starting to emerge. However, I expect all of them to be key to driving the technology sector in the coming years.
In addition, with the current troubled financial times, some of these emerging technologies could be an important spark for energizing the economy through new and innovative companies and revitalized existing businesses.
Next-Generation Web Platforms
Next-Generation Web Platforms
This year saw the release of important new versions of all of the major Web browsers, from Mozilla’s Firefox and Microsoft’s Internet Explorer to Opera and Apple’s Safari. A big new player also entered the browser arena in the form of Google Chrome.
However, these products represented a lot more than just new versions of classic old Web browsers. Many of these upgraded browsers introduced radical new capabilities that greatly change the impact of the Web browser and go a long way toward the move to the Web as operating system.
These included offline capabilities through Firefox 3.0 and Google Gears, as well as in the latest version of Adobe Systems’ AIR platform. We also saw new scripting engines introduced in the betas of IE 8 and Google Chrome.
So far, we haven’t seen many developers take advantage of these new Web browser capabilities, but this will change rapidly as 2009 starts. In much the same way that the introduction of AJAX launched a wave of dynamic and interactive Web 2.0 sites and applications, I expect to see many sites and applications that will start to push the boundaries of what a Web application really is.
These new applications will in many ways operate much like desktop applications, letting users work offline, use interfaces free of standard browser buttons and interface conventions, and integrate with standard desktop applications.
However, along with these new capabilities will come challenges. Security for browsers and Web applications will become much more important as a growing amount of critical data and functionality passes through the browser. Also, many businesses will struggle with the problems of exposing sensitive data to sites that include mashups and integration with Web sites and applications across the Internet.
However, these challenges should do little to derail the growth of these new kinds of Web applications. Time and again Web developers have shown that if you give them the tools, they will build new and exciting types of sites and applications.
Also, unlike classic enterprise application development systems, these new Web technologies-much like AJAX and Ruby on Rails, which have powered the Web 2.0 boom-are cost-effective and often simple to use for developing applications. That means that the next-generation Web startups will be able to get up and running without the help from banks and venture capital firms that might be hard to get in the current economy.
I expect this next generation of Web applications to be as different from the Web 2.0 apps as Web 2.0 was from the classic Web of the 1990s.
Open Mobile Platforms
Open Mobile Platforms
What has been one of the biggest problems facing the growth of mobile smart phones within the enterprise and for business use in general? That’s easy-it’s the dearth of good applications available to run on these devices and the fact that many of the good applications that do exist have been tied to one platform or carrier.
For years, developers have bemoaned the fact that to have any chance of having a popular mobile application, they must spend the considerable time and resources to develop for multiple platforms and devices. In addition, even after doing this, they face the cost and the whims of the major carriers, which decide which applications they will offer for devices.
Outside of the carriers, nearly everyone understands that this system is broken, with the only benefit being the example it provides for proponents of net neutrality (as in, imagine what it would be like if you couldn’t use eBay if your ISP was Verizon, or if only AT&T subscribers could access Google).
A ray of light in the darkness of mobile applications first appeared with the launch of the iPhone and other devices that provided good Web experiences. This made it possible for some developers to bypass the carriers entirely by developing their applications for the mobile Web. However, this wasn’t a solution for all mobile developers, and it comes with its own limitations, such as lack of offline support.
It was the launch of the Apple App Store this year that truly showed what can happen when users are given some choice around finding applications for their mobile phones. By nearly any measure, this App Store has been a success, providing a number of application options for iPhone users, enough to make users of other phones extremely jealous.
However, the Apple App Store isn’t perfect-it is still tied to one device and one carrier and still has control over the developers and applications that it allows. It will be the rise of the Google Android devices that could spur real openness in mobile applications.
The Android Market will, like the Apple App Store, make it simple for users to find applications for their devices. However, this will potentially be across any device that runs Android on any carrier. Also, it will include free and open-source applications as well as commercial applications and limited hurdles for developers.
As these application stores gain traction, I expect that it will force other mobile OS vendors as well as the carriers to offer similarly open application markets for their devices.
With these developments, we should finally start to see in 2009 some of the explosion in mobile applications that we’ve been expecting for years, and we will take another step toward a mobile Web that offers some of the same freedoms of choice that the current Web does.
Some people might be surprised to hear me say that cloud computing will emerge in 2009; after all, few technologies are receiving as much attention and hype right now than cloud computing.
While some of the hype is misdirected and undeserved, for the most part cloud computing is earning the attention that it’s getting. One need only look at the recent DEMOfall and TechCrunch50 conferences to see how important cloud computing is.
At both of these shows, cloud computing touched a very large number of the products and companies that were launched, and not just in the focus of the products themselves.
Many of the new products that debuted at these shows-and those that rolled out elsewhere in recent weeks-rely on cloud computing for their entire infrastructure and computing resources. These startups aren’t spending a lot of their limited capital on server farms and other IT infrastructure.
Instead, they are using platforms such as Amazon’s EC2 (Elastic Compute Cloud) and Salesforce.com’s Force.com to run and deliver their application to customers. As these platforms have grown in popularity, the vendors have simply added more capabilities.
The startups are on the cutting edge in many ways, and more established companies have yet to follow. However, I expect this trend to continue in the next year.
With the economy not expected to rebound any time soon, the ability to build a Web presence and deliver resources to customers using a cloud computing platform will become attractive to not just startups but also more established companies. In addition, as the cloud computing platforms become more agnostic about the types of virtual machines they allow, it will be easier for companies to use the cloud for any type of application that they want to deploy.
The Semantic Web has long been on the radar of many people, as it offers a new and more accurate way to parse and understand data and content on the Web and a much more powerful way to build applications that leverage information on the Internet.
From the beginning, it seemed as if search engines would be one of the main beneficiaries of the Semantic Web, but for many years search engines have shown little interest in semantic technologies. Until now, that is.
In recent months there has been quite a bit of activity in the area of semantic search. A large number of both new (such as Hakia) and old (such as Ask.com) players in search have moved to introduce semantic technologies and capabilities into their offerings.
This makes perfect sense. Semantic technologies are essentially designed to greatly improve certain types of searches, especially those that are very detailed and research oriented. Through improved tagging, sorting, categorizing and query parsing, these semantic search players are making it possible to provide advanced search capabilities. Combined with Google’s somewhat limited advances in search technology in recent years, semantic search options could give these players a leg up in competing with the search titan, or at least providing a viable option for search users.
Of course, these semantic search technologies are still very new. Some make no use of the actual Semantic Web standards defined by the World Wide Web Consortium, and some are barely semantic at all, essentially just using it as a marketing term.
However, those that are truly attempting to use semantic technologies to improve search are already demonstrating improved querying, categorization and filtering that make it possible to carry out detailed and successful search queries. As these technologies advance, 2009 could see more advancement in search technology then we’ve seen in the last five years combined.
Of course, other technology trends will rise in 2009, and some technologies that seem important now will start to fade. However, it’s clear that in the coming year, these technologies will influence the direction of business, consumers and the Internet.
Chief Technology Analyst Jim Rapoza can be reached at [email protected].