The top five gadget trends of 2007

If iPhone is even half as good as its television ads, it will be an obvious choice for product of the year. But other trends and products have emerged in the gadget world in 2007 that could have a bigger impact on your life.

Some of the new trends and products will lead to newer, better services, and some provide new ways of interacting with information. And one trend that has long been with us in the technology world – better products for less money – has reached gale force for some types of electronic toys.

Here, then, are some of the trends and products of 2007 that could change your life.

Better phones

Even if iPhone weren’t looming, the first half of 2007 would be a stellar time for new, innovative devices.

“There are some really cool phones coming out, but they’re struggling for attention in the shadow of iPhone,” said Ross Rubin, director of industry analysis at NPD Group.Arguably, of course, this glut of excellent devices is in reaction to the iPhone, but that doesn’t make them any less attractive. These new phones have either strong built-in music capabilities or a host of other features that consumers will find useful. One such phone is the Nokia N95, which has been available in some parts of the world since late last year but is just now rolling out in the U.S.

“I just got an N95, and from a gadget freak’s point of view, it’s really something,” said Neil Strother, an analyst at JupiterResearch. “It has a 5-megapixel camera, which is more than the camera my family uses. If this isn’t a glimpse into the future, it’s a glimpse into some pretty cool technologies.”

Two other phones that have received a lot of attention are the Helio Ocean and the LG Prada.

“The Prada looks like iPhone’s younger brother,” Rubin said. The Ocean is even more impressive, according to Derek Kerton, principal of The Kerton Group, a telecommunications consulting company.

“It’s a great phone with double sliding keyboards,” Kerton said. “But one of the coolest things is the easy search. Here’s every step in a search: First, open the keyboard. Then type a search word, hit enter, and it immediately launches a search on the [3G] network and responds with a browser with tabs that include Wikipedia, Google and Amazon. Basically, in about eight seconds, you have the answer you want.”

Media anywhere

SanDisk tried mightily to match the iPhone hype with its Wi-Fi-enabled Sansa Connect media player but didn’t succeed. Still, the Connect is a fascinating device that foretells the day in which mobile media players will be seamlessly integrated with the Internet, making media available virtually any time, anywhere while you’re on the move.”Sansa Connect has been the most interesting product introduced in 2007 so far,” said NPD’s Rubin. “It’s probably the best implementation of Web services I’ve ever seen on a consumer electronics device.”

Specifically, the Connect is tightly integrated with the Yahoo Music Unlimited subscription music service. Nonmembers can still connect to that service using the device’s built-in Wi-Fi and listen to Internet radio. Members can not only listen to Internet radio but, if they like what they hear, download the song, the entire album or a playlist of similar songs. Members can also send songs and playlists to friends directly from the device using Yahoo Messenger.

While SanDisk was first with a wireless media device (excluding Microsoft’s Zune, which didn’t make its wireless capabilities particularly useful), other vendors, such as iRiver, are expected to release similar devices later this year.

A new interface emerges
One of the most intriguing aspects of the iPhone is its multitouch interface, in which fingers are used to open, close and launch applications and media. In addition, Microsoft recently introduced its Surface user interface, which does the same thing on a larger scale; Microsoft said it expects to release computers for public places such as hotel lobbies using that interface later this year.

That means that this new type of interface, which iPhone will surely make more popular, portends a shift from the standard text-and-icon fare of Windows and the Mac operating system to a new way of computing.

“This is a step toward natural and direct manipulation of information,” Rubin said. “It presages new ways of working with information.”

Never get lost: GPS everywhere

Competition is driving down GPS prices, and the technology is being built into mobile phones. The bottom line is that GPS is becoming more available and less expensive.

Rubin, who tracks such information, said the average price for GPS systems last October was more than $400. That dropped to under $200 for the holiday season, he said. Since then, prices have increased only slightly.

Another trend, exemplified by the recently introduced BlackBerry 8800, is GPS built into mobile phones. That has enabled cellular carriers to start offering mapping and location services. Carriers like Sprint and AT&T offer either $10 monthly plans, or you can buy mapping service by the day for just a few bucks. That means that you can mount your mobile phone on your dashboard rather than buy a dedicated device.

Also on the horizon is the Dash Express from Dash Navigation, which could further change the GPS market.

“It’ll have a cellular modem built in so you can use Yahoo Local and type in ‘burrito’ and get back a list of Mexican restaurants in the area and how to get to them,” Rubin said. “Plus, you’ll be able to type in an address on your PC and send it to the device so you don’t have to enter it right into the device, which can be a hassle.”

The device also will enable users to upload traffic-condition reports that will be available to other users in the area. It is expected sometime this year.

Cheaper digital cameras and televisions

Nowhere is the trend toward better, cheaper devices more evident than with digital cameras and large-screen TVs. Nikon accelerated that trend late last year when it introduced its D40, a 6.1-megapixel single-lense reflex camera with a street price approaching $500.

“That established a new price point for entry-level digital SLRs,” Rubin said.That trend is moving into point-and-shoot cameras as well, where the megapixel derby and price competition are in full swing. Consumer cameras with 12 megapixels are starting to appear, such as the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX100. It’s not clear that most people will ever need such resolution, and in fact, some experts say that so many megapixels are counterproductive.

On the television side, LCDs were once considered the wrong technology for larger displays but are now commonly available in sizes in the 50-in. range. And while LCDs are getting larger, prices are getting significantly smaller. For example, 42-in. 1080p LCDs can now be found for less than $2,000.

“Large-screen LCDs are starting to eat away at plasma’s market share,” Rubin said. “We’ve seen prices come way down.”

Flops or slow movers
Of course, not all hot trends or products make it. Here are four highly touted products or trends in which doubt is starting to creep in.

Palm Foleo

Described by Palm as a smart phone companion, this recently announced Linux device is the size of a small laptop and interacts directly with a smart phone.

“It’s a solution in search of a problem,” said Jupiter Research’s Strother. “It’s kind of like disconvergence – it’s one more gadget to put in your bag and bring a power cord for.” The device is expected this summer.

Apple TV

Even Steve Jobs is backpedaling on how successful Apple TV will be, recently calling it a “hobby” for the company, not a serious product like its computers or iPods. The idea behind it – collecting media from computers in the home and the Internet and playing them on TV – is solid, but it may not yet be time for it.

“There’s a lot of moving parts in [the Apple TV] ecosystem,” Rubin said. “You need the broadband connection, the network and a lot of other pieces.” Plus, downloading video from the Internet hasn’t yet caught on the way downloading music has.


Joost has been a high-profile Web site that says it will offer TV combined with the Internet.

“There isn’t enough content yet, not enough reason to go there,” said James McQuivey, principal analyst at market research firm Forrester. “Until there’s a Joost box connected to my TV that brings me a large selection of video, I don’t see what the fuss is all about.”

Mobile TV

Cellular carriers are eager to squeeze more revenue out of their networks with television delivered to cell phones. Kerton noted that some of the new mobile TV technologies, most notably Qualcomm’s MediaFLO, which Verizon and, soon, AT&T will use, are quite excellent.

“The pictures are clear and beautiful,” Kerton said. “But there’s a lot more to successful mobile TV than good image quality, and it remains to be seen how successful this will be.”

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