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Technology often seems to improve merely for its own sake. We've all too often witnessed "feature creep" in our favorite software apps, services, and devices, with new developments not just adding new enhancements, but cost and complexity as well.
Isn't it high time that the innovators in technology focus on our needs in earnest? Fortunately, 2008 is likely to bring us improvements in how technology can impact our lives for the best. I've identified nine here (well, almost nine — we'd like your thoughts, too.)
Some are sweeping, some are trivial, but all of these stand to improve how we live in the coming year and beyond.
» 1. Must Go Faster
Will the Internet get faster for users in 2008? Doubtful. In fact, there have been a number of doom and gloom predictions of an exaflood in the next few years that threatens to stagger the Internet under the weight of all the digital media clogging its pipes.
But there will be plenty of specific areas where we'll see speed improvements.
For mobile users, Wi-Fi is getting more prevalent and reliable and a faster specification, 802.11n, is starting to catch on. WiMAX, (define) which has a broader range than Wi-Fi and is much faster than current cellular service, is poised for growth in 2008.
» 2. Better Tech for Hospitals and Patients
Last month was not so great for yours truly, as I had my first overnight hospital stay with a mysterious, still-to-be-diagnosed stomach ailment. Fortunately, I had great care at a fine facility, Stanford Hospital, but it was boring as heck.
Still, it gave me an opportunity to consider the state of hospital technology.
Tech giants including Intel have been trumpeting efforts to update patient care with the latest technology. It all sounded good to me, but now that I've experienced first hand being a patient in a hospital, the message really resonates.
Intel helped develop a tablet system for the nursing and medical staff that makes it easier to update medical records. Hallelujah. This would be a dramatic improvement over current technology: At Stanford Hospital, the nurse told me the computer she used was the latest addition — a flat-panel desktop system that has to be wheeled around on a big, clunky cart.
Google also has an effort underway to digitize X-Rays and bring portability to medical records that could be carried on simple USB thumb drives.
Another option would be to offer personal access online from a secure account, regardless of changes in an individual's medical provider.
I'm hoping this effort picks up some serious steam in 2008; a breakthrough like this is long overdue.
On a related note, I'm not sure what the policy is at other hospitals, but where I was, they didn't grant patients access to the hospital's Wi-Fi network — so no Web surfing in bed. There was a single PC with Web access in a community room for the whole floor I was on.
The upside was that I was able to catch up on my reading. But c'mon folks, let's make 2008 the year the Web is more accessible to patients.
» 3. More Time to Do What Matters?
I don't see technology coming to the rescue here in 2008, it's more of a hope. In fact, technology is actually more of the problem than the solution. We spend far too much time waiting for our PCs to start up and shut down, and in dealing with spam, bugs, and security issues. We could be putting these ever-sleeker systems and online services to better use.
The spam control issue is being attacked on a number of fronts, and I think/hope even better solutions are fast upon us. Solid-state drives, which will start to come down in price in 2008, speed up the interminable Windows boot time.
But security's another matter. Solving today's security issues won't address what the deviants out there are sure to unleash during the coming year, so brace for the worst.
Making the most of our time is an issue many in the tech world have pondered. As industry guru Esther Dyson once observed: "You can't create time. You can only steal it, reallocate it, use it, or waste it."
That inherent value of time for oneself seems be resonating in, of all places, Silicon Valley. Here, a book called The 4-Hour Workweek has become a surprise hit, replacing the bestseller I assumed everyone had been reading, Work Like a Dog For Stock Options That Won't Ever Pan Out.
» 4. Blessed Relief
There's a "Seinfeld" episode in which George Constanza brags that he knows all the best places to find a bathroom in New York. For those with not quite as much time on their hands as George, a company called Yojo Mobile announced MizPee in December.
The free service lets mobile users locate the nearest clean bathroom facilities in 16 major U.S. cities, based on — I'm not making this up — "peer reviews and ratings." Expect to see the network expand in 2008 because, hey, let's face it, the need is there.
Next page: Location, video, and personal storage
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» 5. Are We There Yet?
Look for the remarkable recent advances in GPS technology to continue in 2008. More localization and live traffic feed options have already arrived, so these handy devices not only tell you how to get where you're going, but how long it should take.
Some of these traffic feeds are subscription-based, but free ones are also coming to market. And if you're tired of the same old digital voice telling you to "Turn left" and "You have reached your destination" there's a rapidly growing "navtone" industry of alternative voices similar to ringtone downloads of popular and obscure music. The site Navtones.com features such celebrities as Mr. T., Gary Busey, and Burt Reynolds.
Surely we can do better in 2008.
» 6. Video, Video, Video
Video fanatics, or heck, let's just say anyone under 30 for starters, will have a lot to look forward to in 2008.
More video for Internet-in-your-pocket mobile devices is a no-brainer prediction. Of course, a lot of that will be "Hey, look at me pull this cat's tail!" YouTube fodder.
But it can't be denied that online video has only room to grow. Video search site Truveo recently reported that the 100 million online videos it has indexed would stack almost 75 miles high if each was a DVD. Truveo said it expects there to be a billion searchable videos by 2009.
More stats. Americans watched nearly 10 billion videos online in a single month, according to an October 2007 comScore report. Perhaps even falling HDTV prices won't be enough to stem the tide of video viewers migrating from the boob tube to the nearest PC.
» 7. Casual Videoconferencing
Speaking of video, videoconferencing figures to broaden its appeal in 2008.
Webcams are becoming standard equipment on consumer notebooks, moving video chat to more of an expectation than a novelty.
On the business side, I had an interesting visit to the new Accenture Technology Lab in San Jose, Calif., where they are putting many experimental technologies to practical use to see how well they fly.
One is a video wall in a frequently used corridor. Employees can check in with other Accenture offices, or customer sites, in an impromptu or scheduled video meeting, much as they might chat face-to-face informally around the water cooler.
Nifty. Let's just keep that video wall in the corridor; we don't need big brother in the office, thank you very much.
» 8. Take Your Life With You
Not quite, but I was impressed to see Corsair kicked off 2008 with the introduction of a 32GB line of those keychain USB drives. Two versions are available, either the all-rubber Flash Voyager or the aluminum-encased waterproof Flash Survivor ($229.99 and $249.99 respectively).
Not cheap, but USB drive pricing has been nothing if not fluid as competitors join the fray. Corsair said a 32GB drive can hold up to 16 full-length, high-definition movies or a healthy chunk of anything you might want to take with you from your PC like most of your digital life.
» 8 1/2. The User-Generated Suggestion
I'm leaving the last idea open to you, the reader. Have any predictions of worthwhile tech advances we'll see in the coming year? Click here, or on the byline, to send your response as article feedback.
We'd love to hear from you. I'm planning to publish the best of the lot just e-mail us by the end of this month.
David Needle is the San Francisco bureau chief of InternetNews.com.
This article was first published on WinPlanet.com.