The 2007 predictions game has been underway for more than a month now, as bloggers turn prognosticators and read the coffee grounds at the bottom of their mugs. At Web Worker Daily, we’ve been imagining what might make 2007 really great for our work lives on and offline. Here are a few of our hopes for the new year, along with reality checks separating wishful thinking from pragmatic possibility.
Why wishes instead of straight predictions? Because by saying out loud what we want to happen, we make it more likely to occur. That isn’t some sort of fluffy new-age garbage. On the Web when you say something out loud it can spread and change and grow more powerful. If enough people start to believe in something and work towards it, we’re that much closer to making it happen. It’s like affirmations on a community and network scale.
You probably have your own ideas of how your web worker lifestyle could be improved… so after reading these wishes if you have some of your own, share them in the comments or on your own blog.
Wish 1: Gmail becomes a viable option for one-stop email management. People who love the Gmail interface really love the Gmail interface. Tagging instead of foldering, keyboard instead of mouse, over 2.5GB of storage space, and a (usually) lightning-fast response time… it redefines the email experience. What’s the single most important Gmail change we need to use it for all our nonmobile email needs? That Google stops including our Gmail addresses in the “Sender:” field when we’re using it as an interface for sending mail from other accounts. People receiving our mail sent this way see the message as coming from “email@example.com on behalf of firstname.lastname@example.org” when using email clients like MS Outlook. That looks unprofessional and worse, it can confuse people and leave them wondering what our real email address is.
Reality Check: Gmail will most likely continue to populate the “Sender:” field. Those of us who find the “on behalf of” garbage unacceptable will continue to use our other email clients as necessary instead of switching over entirely to Gmail. It’s too bad, because there’s really no email substitute for Gmail in the minds of Gmail lovers.
Wish 2: Buddy list based VoIP spreads to all kinds of phones. Skype works on all phones, allowing us to make cheap phone calls to the contacts on our Skype contact list. Making a phone call to someone new to our contact list is as easy as finding out their Skype ID. People we work with can easily contact us whether we’re on the road, at our computer, our puttering about the house, because it all comes through Skype, not via separate mobile and landline phone numbers.
Reality Check: Options for using Skype or other buddy-list-centric VoIP services will continue to increase in 2007; many already exist but they are mostly for early adopters. Skype is already available on some people’s cell phones–for example, last February EQO Mobile announced a service that lets you use Skype from any mobile phone equipped with Sun’s J2ME (Java 2 Micro Edition) platform. IPdrum supports Skype on any mobile phone by using a gateway that attaches to your home PC and transfers calls back and forth between Skype and your mobile phone. By the end of the year, almost anyone who wants to make Skype calls from their cell phone can do so.
For other phones (like the cordless ones you use at home), you can use a gateway or an adapter to make and receive Skype calls. If it’s mainly about cheaper phone calls, you might want to hold off, because it’s not clear that VoIP will get you the cheapest calls. Sometimes traditional telcos or prepaid phone calls offer better deals and some industry experts expect Skype and others to raise rates going forward.
Wish 3: Offline web apps? Who needs ‘em, we have pervasive Internet connectivity. We store all our data in the cloud–securely, of course–and access it from whatever device is handy: home computer, smart phone, free terminal at the library, a friend’s PC. With an Internet single-sign on, all we need to do is enter one username and password, then we get access to every piece of software we need to use, from word processing to image editing to email.
Reality Check: Internet access will not become ubiquitous and pervasive in 2007, but it will continue to increase in availability. One of the biggest access vacuums we suffer is on planes and that doesn’t look likely to be filled up until at least 2008. That’s when Louisville, Colorado-based AirCell, which has an exclusive license in the U.S. to offer broadband service on domestic flights, plans to debut their service. Finding a 3G or WiFi signal on the ground remains challenging in many places. If you’re lucky, you live in Mountain View, California which launched free city wifi in August. In 2007, San Francisco residents might enjoy the same thing.
Meanwhile, more online office suites will offer disconnected versions (like Zimbra and ThinkFree have already announced) so that while we wait for always-on Internet, we can get our work done with web-based apps following the “occasionally connected computing” (OCC) model.
Wish 4: Cables and cords become a thing of the past as all our devices talk to each other wirelessly. I’m not just talking about Bluetooth keyboards and a wireless home network. No, I want to lose the electrical cord, video cable, and those white wires coming out of my ears down to my iPod.
Reality Check: While wireless power transmission is not out of the question, it doesn’t sound like it’s coming in 2007. Wireless DVI adapters are available but aren’t great replacements for cables, as they don’t transmit fast enough to handle high-res streaming video. As for the iPod, though Apple itself doesn’t sell a Bluetooth-enabled music player, you can get cordless headphones and music streaming devices for iPods from other manufacturers.
Wish 5: We get an eBook reader with a price point and feature mix comparable to the iPod. I almost hate to say it: I want an iReader like what Apple might design and produce. The Sony Reader was introduced to great fanfare this year but costs $350 and suffers from serious design problems, like a lack of full text search or a jump-to-page feature. It doesn’t handle PDFs well, and to most web workers, this is a serious downfall. E Ink technology makes the display look almost like paper and uses power modestly to maintain good battery life, so it’s not without its charms.
I’d love to stop printing out multi-page docs on my laser printer and instead just download them onto a reader along with any RSS articles I’ve marked “toread” on del.icio.us. Doesn’t sound like the Sony Reader is the right tool for that… will we see an eBook/eDoc reader in 2007 that makes the mass market ready to buy?
Reality Check: In 2007, maybe we’ll see some minor improvements to the Sony Reader, but I’m not expecting next-generation eBook readers that solve its most egregious problems and give me what I want at a reasonable price in the next year. If you’re rolling in money, you might want to check out iRex Technologies iLiad electronic reader, aimed at the business market. Though it costs more than $800, it serves as a full-featured PDA and electronic tablet. Of course, some are already predicting an eBook reader version of the iPod, so maybe we’ll see that along with the long-awaited iPhone in 2007.
Wish 6: Mobile platform consolidation, convergence, and ease of use. The current fragmentation of mobile platforms–both operating system (e.g., Symbian vs. Windows Mobile) and development/runtime environment (e.g., Flash versus Java ME and now Microsoft WPF/e)–makes it difficult for consumers and software developers to get what they want or, in the case of consumers, to even know what they want, so confusing are the choices. As a consumer and worker, I want the broadest array of possible features and apps on my smart phone or PDA, but the proliferation of mobile platform possibilities makes it impossible for developers to target every platform. I don’t want to have to worry that I’ve chosen the wrong phone because of its software, but that’s exactly what I am worried about. Plus, it’s frustrating to have to trade off ease of use against other features, as Pierre Khawand did in choosing the T-Mobile Dash despite its running Windows Mobile.
Reality Check: Recent mobile platform statistics show Java in the lead–not surprisingly, since even non-smartphones often come with rudimentary Java runtimes. A joint venture of multiple carriers and device manufacturing companies wants to develop a standardized Linux mobile platform in order to consolidate operating platforms and lower development costs. What does any of that mean to the web worker? Just this: you can be fairly sure any phone you get will run Java (though you might have to install it yourself), good for running something like the Opera Mini web browser or mobile Gmail. As for which underlying operating system might be the right one… it doesn’t sound like we can expect much if any convergence or consolidation in 2007. If you do choose a phone or PDA that runs Windows Mobile, be reassured that you can make it much more functional with a few key apps.
Wish 7: Starbucks introduces a chain of coworking cafes. Instead of jazzy music, customers would hear white-noise style nature sounds like waterfalls or babbling brooks. Wifi would be free, once you joined the coworking club for a reasonable yearly membership fee. Each coworking cafe would include rentable conference and napping rooms–even the most motivated web workers need a rest now and then. Customers could rent the use of large flat-panel displays for an hourly or daily fee. Personal coaches, massage therapists, and tech support specialists could offer appointments to soothe any career, body, or computer problems that arise while coworking. Bonus: a soundproof childcare room would keep the kids busy while Mom and Dad get their work done.
Reality Check: Coworking venues have been popping up in most progressive tech-oriented cities and that will continue in 2007 at both the grass roots and luxury ends of the spectrum, but a national chain with consistent quality and offerings along the lines of what Starbucks brought to coffee houses probably won’t appear for a few years, after sustainable business models for coworking cafes are developed and refined on a local basis.
What do you wish for to make your web work more productive and fun in 2007? With thanks to Om Malik, Liz Gannes, Jackson West, and Chris Gilmer for their suggestions.