Opinion: Get ready for these 6 game-changing technologies

These six breakthroughs will deliver on their promise

Promises, promises. When a new mobile phone appears on the market, or a new wireless standard emerges, the pundits and prognosticators chime in about all the game-changing possibilities.

WiMax will change the world! Apple's iPhone is the second coming of portable gadgets!

Yet, in the daily grind of computing, we just need to get our jobs done. We'll believe the promise of a new technology if it really does solve a nagging problem.

Consider this the companion piece to my earlier article, "10 broken technology ideas -- and how to fix them": six promising technologies and how they can actually deliver on the promise.

1. Light-as-air laptops

I mentioned in the broken-technology writeup how ultramobile PCs and mobile internet devices aren't nearly as useful as a good smart phone.

Stepping up a bit in size to notebook PCs, we've come a long way from models such as the massive Toshiba Protege from a few years ago -- the one with a 17-in. display. (It was touted as a "desktop replacement," which even sounds heavy.)

And even the popular Dell Latitude models from not so long ago were heavy enough -- at about five or six pounds -- that they weren't exceptionally mobile.

But smaller, more recent offerings such as the ultraportable Asus EEE aren't getting it right either. Sure, it's light, but it's not packed with many of the features we've come to expect on our portable computers.

Lightweight notebooks such as this MacBook Air mean much more get-up-and-go mobility.

But the new MacBook Air and the ThinkPad X300 really are game-changing, even though many reviews of the MacBook Air haven't been all that positive.

A 3-lb. laptop with a big screen is really the ultimate goal, and both Apple and Lenovo Group achieved it. (I also like the Sony Vaio SZ, even though it weighs 4 lb. and the "profile" measures 1 in.) So, what's so promising? As laptops get lighter, you'll be more likely to grab one and go -- at home, at work and anywhere.

Soon, more light-as-a-feather laptops packed with features will finally get it completely right, which means they won't stay on the desktop for very long -- and the desktop PC might not exist for long, either.

2. Mobile broadband in laptops

I had an interesting conversation with a Verizon spokesperson about three years ago. The marketing rep told me that I had it wrong: Mobile broadband was not intended as a Wi-Fi competitor. Oh no, it's merely another option for the mobile user.

Mobile broadband -- also known as wireless WAN -- comes standard with laptops such as this Lenovo X300 and works smoothly, runs fast and is available just about anywhere.

Yet, as wireless wide-area network (WWAN) capability is more widely available as a standard on notebooks, the connection speed approaches or exceeds 2Mbit/sec., and the data signal becomes ubiquitous even in rural areas, WWAN will encroach into and possibly take over the 802.11 market. That's a good thing, especially if you have tried to connect to a hot spot in a crowded airport, from a parking lot in a shopping mall or in a small town where they think a hot spot is a popular hangout.

WWAN is also gaining because WiMax is just not happening as fast as everyone thought it would. Case in point: The Lenovo X300 I mentioned earlier comes with Wi-Fi (of course) and WWAN (thankfully) but also has the chip set for WiMax, even though there is no actual service available. One is a lessening reality, one is a promise and one is a letdown.

3. Wireless USB

Place your bets on wireless USB -- a technology that will finally flourish this year.

In-Stat estimates that 21 million wireless USB (also known as ultrawideband) devices will ship this year. Now that's promising! The reason: We're all getting strangled by too many USB wires -- such as for digital cameras, printers, fax machines, scanners and external drives. I'm looking at eight cables at my desk right now.

There are just too many USB devices out there. There are USB toy rocket launchers, coffee-cup warmers and even one for doing pottery. WUSB completely eliminates this entanglement. The only catch is that most recent products from Belkin and IO Gear require that you install a driver, so it's more complicated than just plugging in a wire.

Fortunately, as the wireless protocol becomes more common -- Guess what? It's built into that Lenovo X300 I've mentioned for the third time now -- you won't have to install drivers.

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