As Moore's Law, or something like it, continues to drive down the cost and size of electronics, increasingly sophisticated technology will find its way this year into consumer electronics products of all kinds. If you're a gadget freak, fasten your seat belt and hang on. It's going to be one hell of a year.
The year of gadget Wi-Fi
Home PC users have become extremely comfortable with Wi-Fi in the last five years. Connecting at home through a Wi-Fi connection is old hat. The new game in town is Wi-Fi for gadgets, especially media players, cameras and TVs. Consumers will increasingly demand Wi-Fi in gadgets for the convenience, power and flexibility of being able to zap media around without hassles and without adding to cable bloat.
If nothing else, Microsoft's new Zune media player will drive demand for Wi-Fi in handheld gadgets. People already share music, videos and pictures, so why not do it in math class or at Starbucks rather than waiting until you get home? It's only a matter of time before the first Wi-Fi-enabled iPod hits. When that happens, Wi-Fi will become a must-have feature of media players for many users. New media players this year will not only connect peer-to-peer, as the Zune does, but also link to the Internet directly, like a PC.
Right now, only an exotic minority of digital cameras sport Wi-Fi connectivity, including the Nikon S7c, Nikon Coolpix P1 and P2, Nikon D2H, Kodak EasyShare One, Canon PowerShot SD430, Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II and others. Look for these cameras to become more popular and new cameras to emerge with Wi-Fi capability. Wi-Fi lets you offload pictures to a nearby PC -- or upload them to the Internet -- without hunting for a USB cable or risking the loss of your tiny media card by removing it from the camera.
Wi-Fi in media players and cameras? Absolutely. But TVs?
Three years ago, a smattering of Japanese companies came out with what they called "wireless TVs" -- small LCD displays that received their content from a base station connected to cable. Those products never went anywhere. At press time, however, Samsung planned to release its new HP-TS064 Plasma TV, which features Wi-Fi, at the Consumer Electronics Show in January.
The Samsung uses Wi-Fi in a totally different way from the old "wireless TVs." It doesn't get its regular TV signal over wireless, but it can connect to your PC over Wi-Fi, so you can watch YouTube videos or other Internet- or PC-based content, such as photo slideshows, on the TV.
The year of the mobile trackball
This year, the trackball will become the hot input device for mobile gadgets, especially smart phones. For a decade now, mobile devices have employed rocker dials, scroll wheels, thumbwheels and other input technologies for navigating menus, moving cursors and controlling various features.
Suddenly, however, two of the hottest brand-new devices -- the T-Mobile Sidekick 3 and the RIM BlackBerry Pearl -- are taking older devices to school with their super-fast mini-trackballs. The smart phones use them for everything from camera zoom to ripping through icons and menus.
In 2007, the trackballs on these gadgets will influence the entire industry. Look for trackballs to show up on a lot more phones, as well as media players and other devices.