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12 April 2024

Get ready to ride the wave of technology

By Martin Baker

Gadget mania is one of the early themes of 2010. 3-D television is generating huge interest – and we're already seeing several cinema movie screenings with 2- and 3-D versions.

Probably the biggest item is a new mobile phone. Google has just launched its first mobile phone, and my spies tell me that whether you have one or not, it's vital for anyone attending the Consumer Electronics Show, which opened on January 7 in Las Vegas, to have an opinion on the new piece of kit. Vital, that is, unless you're an old fogey like me who really couldn't care two hoots about gadgetry and technology, so long as it works.

It's certainly refreshing to discover that the old two-way fight between Microsoft and Apple is becoming a three-way fracas. Microsoft is still reeling from its catastrophic decision to turn its back on the internet application business. Yes, there's the Bing search engine – but who really uses it? And when are we going to have the word 'Bing' as a verb in mainstream English. To 'Google' something has a plain and simple meaning – one looks up a person or thing on the Google search engine. The idea of 'Bing-ing' anything is plain silly.

Microsoft has been regretting its decision not to act for some time. Way back in 2005, I interviewed the chief executive of Microsoft, Steve Balmer, who described himself, albeit with a hint of a self-mocking grin, as Bill Gates's boss. Which he technically was, I suppose. The week before our meeting, Balmer had allegedly thrown a chair across the room in reaction to the news that one of his senior engineers had accepted a position with Google.

Now it seems that Microsoft and Google and Apple are going head-to-head-to-head in most areas. I'm told that Apple is bringing out a tiny hand-held personal computer, or 'tablet PC' some time this month. I've been waiting for this piece of kit for a while. I'm not one of those fools who thinks that gadgets can change your life – but this may make a real difference. The iPhone has left me fairly cold. This piece of machinery may really make me happy.

But for what it's worth, the biggest change of all – the next event broadly equivalent to big fat bandwidth on the internet – is coming in a couple of years. By then, the first offering of voice-activated internet delivery systems will be available in stores.

What this means is that when you walk into your living room, all your personal data – work documents, family photos, personal music archive, favourite movies, television channels, will be accessible by talking to the picture frame over your mantlepiece. Suddenly the picture of Van Gogh's flowers or the family dog will disintegrate to be replaced by something else – depending on the command you have just given to the rectangle (which is a sound and video delivery system) on the wall.

Once upon a time, we all had video libraries, and before that cassette tapes and vinyl records. Soon all our data will be held on the internet. The access code will be the pattern of our voices.

Leading the charge in this latest piece of luxury goods one-upmanship is Sir Terry Matthews of Mitel. Sir Terry is a diminutive Welsh billionaire who loves his rugby and his golf (his Celtic Manor Hotel near Newport in Wales will host the next Ryder Cup), and made his first serious money out of digital telephones.

Matthews sees technology as coming in waves. The trick, he argues, is to spot the seventh one – the big one that lands far up the beach – and ride it as far as you can. Back in 2005, he was talking about voice-activated IP systems, and the first ones are becoming available now. This will be the first revolutionary application of big bandwidth in broadband, and it will change the way we live. Radio and television sets – even iPods in a home context – will soon be relegated to history.


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