Personal Tech 2008: Top 10 Trends

This year everything gets intelligent, social, cheap, mobile and wireless.

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One robot that could come out by late 2008 or 2009 is Hanson Robotics' Zeno. When finished, Zeno will be able to walk, talk, express "emotions," make eye contact with you, learn your name and what you look like, and greet you by name when you walk into the room.

Sony is rumored to be planning the resurrection of its AIBO robot dog, but with one very major difference: Instead of carrying around a robot brain internally, AIBO will connect via Wi-Fi to a nearby Sony PlayStation. The robotic pooch will also have a Webcam on its forehead. According to the rumor, the new AIBO PS will respond to voice commands, and also guard your home, e-mailing you photos of any unauthorized intruders.

Whether these two products actually ship -- and whether they ship in 2008 -- remains to be seen. But the idea of using a home PC as the brains of a robot via Wi-Fi is obviously superior to trying to sell $2,000 home robots. Look for Wi-Fi-based robots emerging from small companies this year, too.

4. The year of hyperconnectivity

People want all their devices connected to the Internet -- not just PCs and cell phones, but also MP3 players, e-book readers, digital cameras, wristwatches, cars and more. And in 2008, they're going to get it. The trend toward "hyperconnectivity" started in 2007, when new products like the iPod Touch and Amazon Kindle dominated the competition in large part because of their built-in Internet connectivity.

One of the most talked-about consumer products available right now is the Eye-Fi card, which fits into a digital camera's SD slot and gives it Wi-Fi access for auto-uploading pictures to the Internet. Look for dozens of new Internet-connected digital cameras to come out in 2008, and a wide range of other devices with easy access to the Web.

5. The year of multi-touch

The Apple iPhone made the world safe for a once-obscure user interface idea called "multi-touch" -- the ability to accept simultaneous input from more than one point on a screen. Multi-touch, combined with on-screen "physics" (on-screen objects that move as if they have weight, mass and momentum) and "gestures" (shapes drawn on screen that send commands to the system) will in a few years' time radically transform the experience of using a computer.

But in 2008, we'll be able to buy at least two new multi-touch products. The next-generation iPhone, which we think will ship in summer, will probably have even better multi-touch features than the current version. And special software developed and already demonstrated by Dell will transform its brand-new Latitude XT tablet computer into an innovative multi-touch PC -- we just don't know exactly when.

Apple is also rumored to be working on a multi-touch tablet -- basically a giant iPhone.

Microsoft is also planning multi-touch support for the eventual successor to Vista, called Windows 7. In the meantime, the company may be tempted to boost lagging Vista and Windows Mobile sales by offering downloadable multi-touch support in 2008.

6. The year of location, location, location

Don't look now, but GPS has gotten small and cheap. Meanwhile, alternatives to GPS, including cell tower triangulation (already available on Google Maps Mobile) and other "indoor GPS" solutions, will increasingly inform phones and other devices of your location on the face of the Earth.

In 2008, carriers, Web 2.0 startups. and gadget makers will start getting creative about what to do with this location awareness. Social networking will spill out into the real world, with your phone alerting you to friends nearby, while messages from friends, relatives and even strangers will be associated with physical locations like invisible graffiti.

And everyone will be tracking not just themselves and other people, but also pets and cars. The drop in GPS pricing means a new category of stick-on, strap-on, clip-on GPS gadgets will let you track just about anything.

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