COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | PHIL BAKER

Hindsight and foresight

Last year at this time I made a number of new product and technology predictions for 2004. Now it's time to recap and to predict what's in store for 2005.

Cameras and photography

The prediction that we'll see more than a half dozen new serious SLR (single lens reflex) cameras for advanced amateurs selling for under $1,000, from just one available a year ago proved accurate. New SLRs arrived from Canon, Nikon, Olympus, Fuji, Pentax and Panasonic, starting at $500. The Nikon D70 and the newer Canon 20D are the best of the lot and are hot sellers.

For 2005, expect to see 7-megapixel pocket cameras and large LCD screens, which serve not only for composing, but also as an electronic photo album. We'll see some cameras that allocate part of the memory for storing your favorite images for the album. Expect 3-megapixel cameras with both optical zoom and flash in cell phones. Also expect to see consumer cameras with built-in Bluetooth to wirelessly transfer images to computers and printers.

Music players

"Apple's iPod will continue to dominate with a new model introduced at under $250" came true with the mini iPod at $249, and with Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL) more than 90 percent market share of disc-based music players. Expect Apple to introduce a $149 ROM-based (no hard drive) music player in early 2005.

Apple will also challenge the cellular providers' efforts to sell music over their networks by taking another route. Could be either an Apple-branded phone or a collaboration with Motorola (NYSE: MOT) to add some iPod functionality to their phones with the music delivered by iTunes.

Wireless connectivity

"We'll see free Wi-Fi in schools, college campuses, on trains and even in planes, with an airline offering." Singapore Airlines (PNK: SPAFF) and others are introducing Wi-Fi on some planes, albeit at a small fee, but free Wi-Fi is spreading to many businesses including many Marriott (NYSE: MAR) properties, Panera Bread (Nasdaq: PNRA) stores, and soon to the entire city of Philadelphia. In 2005, Wi-Fi will continue to grow with higher speed variations of it. Also expect to see Verizon's EVDO expand to most large cities and to compete with other high-speed connections for your computer.

VOIP

Accurately predicted that voice over Internet protocol (VOIP), the technology that lets you make calls using your broadband connection, will hit mainstream in 2004 with at least four conventional phone companies. For 2005 we'll see Skype adding video and conference calling for more than 100 people at once.

Mobile phones

I accurately forecasted that cellular service providers will introduce new phones with features such as built-in MP3 players, higher resolution cameras, and even TV and video. In 2005 we'll see phones with built-in hard drives, GPS mapping and video cameras. We'll also see more thin phones like the hot-selling Motorola Razr.

I also predicted that mobile phones will be introduced that can make calls using both conventional cellular networks and over the Internet using a Wi-Fi connection. We're just about there, but expect to see more in 2005. In fact, I expect that Skype, the free VOIP software phone for your computer, will become available on several smart phones, to the great dismay of the cellular companies. Imagine using the $15 all-you-can-use data plan from Sprint or T-Mobile to access the Internet to make 2 cents per minute calls to nearly anywhere in the world.

A technology to allow cell calls during airline flights has just been approved, but don't count on this to be fully adopted due to objections from passengers and flight attendants. Calls will either be severely restricted by the airlines or we'll have calling and no calling sections. But, why bother when you can use Skype or other VOIP technology to make calls from your computer using the plane's Wi-Fi?

GPS

I predicted new consumer products using GPS technology will be introduced to track your kids and pets. GPS on mobile phones will allow you to see local maps and get location-related information. That's happening, although I think there's more interest in tracking pets than kids.

Gen. Tommy Frank just signed on to pitch a product using GPS to monitor the driving speed of your driving-age kids.

Spam and adware

I said the new anti-spam law passed by Congress would have a negligible effect. That came true; the problem is worse today than a year ago. I predicted a breakthrough solution in stopping spam to come from Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT), whose users suffer the most from this problem.

But I gave Microsoft too much credit. Unfortunately, in 2005, spam, adware and spyware will get even worse.

Computers

Dell (Nasdaq: DELL), as predicted, continued its growth, but with growing complaints about its service and support. Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ) didn't do quite as badly as I thought and squeaked by with a small profit. But look for HP to spin off San Diego's profitable printer division.

Apple's Macintosh grew in popularity, but the company didn't introduce a tablet computer as predicted. Mac sales will increase markedly in 2005 as more PC users switch after buying iPods and become increasingly frustrated by PC viruses and spyware.

Bluetooth

I accurately said Bluetooth would still be a year away from major adoption, mostly because of the scarcity of Bluetooth phones in the United States.

In 2005, however, the adoption of Bluetooth in PCs will let you use your Bluetooth phone to go online.

Google

I predicted Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) would go public, but see new competition from Microsoft and Yahoo (Nasdaq: YHOO).

I also predicted the stock would languish after an initial spurt. That is, if I'd bought it. If I didn't, it would soar. That was an accurate prediction because I didn't buy it. Those that did should thank me.

I'd like to predict -- and I certainly wish -- that 2005 will be a safe, successful and satisfying year for you all. Happy holidays.


Baker has developed and marketed consumer and computer products for Polaroid, Apple, Seiko and others. He is the holder of 30 patents and was named San Diego's Ernst & Young Consumer Products Entrepreneur of the Year in 2000. He can be reached at editor@sddt.com.

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