The next big things: 13 trends you can't afford to ignore

The All-Star Break is a time when baseball fans--a group I will never understand--reflect on what their team has accomplished so far in the season and what that portends for the future. Everyone else seems to do this with champagne on New Year's Eve, but baseball fans do it six months later while drinking beer under the hot summer sun.

The All-Star Break is a time when baseball fans--a group I will never understand--reflect on what their team has accomplished so far in the season and what that portends for the future. Everyone else seems to do this with champagne on New Year's Eve, but baseball fans do it six months later while drinking beer under the hot summer sun. I prefer Times Square.

What does that have to do with Internet and computer trends? Not terribly much, except that most people's mid-year is just the start of my new year. Back-to-school PC sales are just around the corner, as are Windows XP, the Xbox game platform, Comdex, and Christmas sales. What happens between now and Comdex in November will largely decide whether the pall that's settled over the computer industry is going to get better or worse.

Here are the top trends I see coming into my new year:

  1. Hardware slowdown. PC sales aren't going to improve. People already have PCs and don't see much of a reason to buy a new one. The pall gets worse. The PDA vendors won't see much improvement, either. And Palm and Handspring will have a hard time holding onto their average selling price as it becomes harder to build a high-end, Palm-based PDA people will buy.

  2. Cellular game. Who really wants games on their cell phone? The cellular carriers and their teenaged customers, that's who. What a waste of bandwidth.

  3. Limitations of technology. We will continue to run into problems of "too far, too fast." We still don't know how to keep things like MSN Messenger and eBay running, yet we need them to be the underpinnings of the Internet as Microsoft envisions it (.Net). These technical limitations, plus privacy concerns, could dramatically slow Microsoft's plans.

  4. Upgrade apathy. Windows XP is a big improvement over our current operating systems, but people will be slow to upgrade. That explains why Microsoft wants to push the issue by moving people to software by subscription.

  5. Wireless changes everything, eventually. Wireless is still not really ready for the masses. When there is an affordable, always-on 100kbps to 200kbps connection from your cellular telephone or other device, you'll know wireless has arrived. Think middle of next year, although early adopters will see it sooner and the real mass market is still years away. Leading vendors: Sprint PCS and Verizon. If you are changing carriers, they're the ones to change to.

  6. Goodbye Ricochet? OK, everyone doesn't need to worry about this, but I do. Metricom, provider of my beloved Ricochet wireless service (which is fast enough, but not really affordable at $80 per month), has filed for bankruptcy. The problem is once "real" wireless arrives, Ricochet is toast, so who wants to keep this network alive? At least until the next-generation cellular services arrive.

  7. Consumerism arrives. By this I mean increased concern about marketing and privacy issues will loom ever larger, as does the threat of government regulation, something I support. We're still in the stage of defining what the problems are, but I can already tell you one of the solutions: Limit who the credit card companies can carry as merchants, making it impossible for the offenders to effectively do business online.

  8. Working from home. Telecommuting isn't dead, it's only resting. Give home-based workers more bandwidth and improved services and soon it will be easier to have "face time" even if you're not in the office. The continuing decrease in hardware prices is also helping.

  9. Bandwidth woes. I have a bad feeling about consumer bandwidth--that people really don't see a need for cable modem and DSL connections. I hope I am wrong, but lacking a more compelling Internet experience than what exists now, I am ready for a slowdown here as well.

  10. Server competition. Linux will become more important as a server operating system.

  11. The lost dream continues. Apple is still what PCs should be, but will never become. Don't people understand that Apple having to open its own storefronts is the equivalent of a last gasp? Please, Steve, prove me wrong (again).

  12. Two new eras. We have left the Windows era for the Internet era and the PC era for the consumer electronics era. The implications of this are enormous--too much to fully explain here--but it's Internet-based software and services and consumer electronics-style devices that are driving the industry.

  13. The Next Big Thing. Now is the time to start asking ourselves, "After the PC, what?" There must be something that which will eventually bring the unfulfilled promise of personal computing to the masses. Who will do to Microsoft what Microsoft did to IBM?

Those are some of the things I am thinking about as I embark upon the new year in computing and consumer electronics. While we are going through a challenging phase right now, I have recently become quite optimistic about the future. Really useful wireless and Internet-based applications, among other things, have a great future.

The cool industry we knew isn't over. It's just resting.

What other trends do you think will surface in the next six months? TalkBack to me.

AnchorDesk on radio and television: David is now getting up bright and early to visit with Brian Cooley every morning at 7:45 a.m. PT on CNET Radio (910AM in the San Francisco Bay Area and at www.cnetradio.com online). He is also co-host of an hour-long program every Friday at noon PT on CNET Radio. You can also catch David on CNET's News.com TV program, which airs twice every weekend on CNBC (see airtimes) or by going to the special CNET TV page featuring his most recent appearances and a link to the Friday radio program.

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