The end of 2007 is nigh and we geeks are casting our eyes to the future to figure out what mobile goodness might be coming our way in 2008. You should take these with a grain of salt as we can never be certain about such things but here are my mobile tech predictions for 2008. Read on if you want to get my take on what next year might bring with phones, MP3 players, notebooks, UMPCs, and Tablet PCs.
UPDATE: I should have mentioned the Google Android under the smartphone predictions so I’ve added it now.
Smartphones. Apple reinvented the smartphone market in 2007and will continue to steal market share from the big guys, WindowsMobile and Symbian. We should see an iPhone with 3G added in 2008which will start grabbing the geeks who have held off so far. Therumors are that Apple will be announcing the sale of the 5 millionthiPhone early next year and while that may be a bit inflated there is nodoubt that Cupertino has brought smartphone technology to themainstream consumer who never cared for it before. Expect Apple tocontinue to ride the wave of the iPhone as international sales ramp upand US sales continue into 2008. HTC will continue to be the prolific producer of innovative Windows Mobile smartphones and PDAs and since they have already begun a mainstream marketing campaign in the US late this year we should start seeing their devices appear in the hands of the non-geek mainstream next year. This will have the biggest impact in the Windows Mobile space than any other factor in 2008. Next year will see the first handsets released by HTC and others running the Google Android OS. This will make a big splash in the news but not really have an impact on the mainstream. Geeks will snap them up but no one else will.
Music players. Apple will continue to dominate the portablemusic player stage with iPods continuing to be sold right and left.The iPod Touch will become a huge seller in 2008 as mainstreamconsumers get exposed to TV ads worldwide. Apple will start to getcompetition from deals for DRM-less music that will be rolled out bybig record labels. The only serious competition to the iPod is theelectronic music download that you own, i. e. without DRM. Because ofthis competition we may see Apple do something major in this area ifthey have enough clout to hit the big labels over the head in 2008.Zunes will continue to enjoy good sales as the subscription plan getsmore traction in the marketplace.
Notebook computers. Next year will be the year of Linux asDell, Lenovo and others begin shipping Linux as a preconfiguredoption. The Asus EEE PC and the OLPC have shown the OEMs how consumersare willing to give up some horsepower for a notebook that runs Linuxand that can be had for less than some smartphones. This will continueand we should see some other OEMs enter into this mainstream marketsegment. If we see some major advertising in this area it will explodein 2008. Apple should introduce a 13-inch MacBook Pro early next yearbut I don’t think that alone will create big sales for them. Thesub-notebook needs to have some extra technology to create buzz but Ithink it will just be the 15-inch MBP shrunk to 13 inches. Notebooksales will continue at a higher pace than desktops as consumers votewith their wallets that they want plug and play. Major OEMs like Delland HP will continue to introduce notebooks aimed at consumers andprices will continue to drop dramatically. Now that Lenovo is donewith their transition from IBM with the ThinkPad we will see somestrides from them in the consumer space. Notebooks will be the biggestsales sector in the PC market in 2008 easily.
UMPCs. This will continue to be a very unclear genre in2008. The term has been applied to everything from the Vista-runningOrigami class devices to Linux notebooks and PDAs and that confusionwill continue to keep the OEMs from focusing on a clear ultra-mobilePC. In the Origami camp I expect we will continue to see devices thatare considerable smaller than the 7-inch original reference design andthis will prevent mainstream adoption as these devices will virtuallyall have keyboards that are too small to be genuinely useful. We canexpect to see more devices emerge with sub-5-inch displays that strivefor ultra-portability but still are not pocketable, something thatmainstream consumers will likely expect. We’ll start to see Intel MIDsappear that will be cheaper and more battery-friendly than currentdevices which will be a welcome addition. Dell’s addition of acapacitive digitizer such as that found in the iPhone could have a bigimpact in the UMPC space if OEMs start producing UMPCs with multi-touchability. That could be a game changer in the UMPC space and will be greatto see if that happens in 2008. Otherwise UMPCs running Windows willcontinue to be the fodder for geeks and mainstream consumers will stayaway in the same numbers they stayed away in 2007. We may see a majorOEM introduce a device in 2008 with a new usage technology that shakesup this genre. No, it won’t be Apple with a Newton device. I hope Iam wrong about this but I do not believe Apple will introduce amini-Tablet as has been rumored recently. I believe that Apple isalready spread too thin with their current varied product line and anew device like a Tablet would stretch them to the breaking point. Ifthey did introduce something like this it would really knock the genrefor a loop. Solid state disks (SSDs) will continue to appear in mobile PCs and will have a tremendous impact on battery life and performance but will remain too expensive to appeal to mainstream consumers as the devices that contain them will be too expensive.
Tablet PCs. Dell’s introduction of the XT Tablet PC with thecapacitive digitizer is the first innovation we’ve seen in this arenain a long time and unless they come up with a totally new use for thattechnology it might not make a splash at all. Other OEMs will notfollow suit unless they have a compelling reason to do so and I can’tenvision what that usage might be so I don’t expect that to happen in2008. I expect next year to be more of the same in this space with theexception that some of the major Tablet makers will start trying tosell them to consumers for the first time. This could be a very goodthing as to date all Tablet PCs have been pretty much aimed at theenterprise but if consumers are targeted we could see sales ramp up.The convertible form factor with keyboards and swivel screens willcontinue to be the norm for Tablet PCs with fewer pure slates produced.
So there you have my predictions for mobile tech in 2008 in the major areas of interest. Unfortunately we will not see any new battery technology go into production so the hardware will continue to be performance throttled to get battery life where consumers need it to be. It will be an interesting year as no one can predict the impact that Linux will have in the portable computing space, something I believe will have a tremendous impact as consumers realize they can do almost everything they do on a computer now on a Linux-based ultra-portable that costs less than $500.