Pushing the envelope

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 13 January, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 13 January, 2005, 12:00am

WHAT WILL BE the big technology trends for 2005? Like most predictions, they are easy to make and even easier to get wrong. This is how we see some developments shaping up this year:

Micro-drives everywhere Last year was the year of the iPod. Apple's digital music player - in particular the iPod Mini - won plaudits and fans for its sleek design and small form factor, which allows thousands of your favourite tunes to go where you go.

Apple's success could not have been possible without small hard disk drives, which can put up to 60 gigabytes of storage capacity in your pocket. Countless imitators also make digital music players equipped with micro-drives, and the storage devices are beginning to appear in portable digital video players as well.

What's next? Digital video cameras are an obvious choice. Micro-drives will allow easier transfer of home movies to PCs, and eliminate the need for tape.

JVC has put its Everio GZ-MC200 on the market. It comes with a 4GB one-inch drive manufactured by Hitachi Global Storage Technologies. But at a price tag of almost $9,000, the GZ-MC200 remains a product aimed at technophiles prepared to pay dearly for a cool gadget.

This will change as rivals put competing products on the market. So if you have been considering the Everio, chances are the price will drop considerably in a few months.

Also, look for micro-drives to appear in mobile phones. Today's handsets have just enough storage for phone numbers and a few photos and not much else. But as telecoms operators push video and music downloads, storage capacity in mobile phones will have to increase. There is no point in paying for a music video if you must delete it to make room for the next one.

3G becomes more compelling This year, all four of the city's licensed 3G operators will be up and running. With any luck, competition for subscribers will be stiff, and the huge tariffs now being demanded for data services will fall.

Video calls will become more common. Until now, the problem with owning a 3G phone has been the lack of other people with whom to chat via video. This year, Metcalf's Law could kick into high gear, with 3G phones becoming more useful as more consumers adopt them.

And, while operators will work hard to create compelling content, the most interesting applications will come from independent developers working in their spare time. Pierre Omidyar - whose goal was to challenge the established business institutions - created a website in one weekend that later became eBay.

Expect to see a proliferation of free websites designed to be viewed on the small screen, followed by sites delivering services that consumers will gladly pay for.

Internet telephony gains wider acceptance. Last year saw a few operators unveil voice over internet protocol (VoIP) services, but take-up has been slow. Hong Kong Broadband Network (HKBN) offers a VoIP product designed to replace domestic telephone services.

With an adapter box, users can have a phone with a Hong Kong telephone number that acts and operates as a traditional phone.

Although the services are cheap at just $38 per month, the savings are not much compared with PCCW's fixed-line service, which costs $110 monthly.

The real potential for savings is in the international direct dial (IDD) market. In 2003, Hong Kong placed 4.23 billion minutes in overseas calls, and incoming calls amounted to 1.67 billion minutes. What is needed is an IDD operator similar to Vonage, the United States company which offers American consumers cheap long-distance rates using broadband connections.

How does it work? Take that adapter box supplied by HKBN, the one with the Hong Kong telephone number. Ship it to your relatives in Britain, who hook it up to their broadband connection. Now they have a Hong Kong telephone and can call Hong Kong - for the price of a local call. You can call them as well, and it is also a local call.

The key is the assignment of Hong Kong telephone numbers to adapter boxes that can be used anywhere in the world. Expect Hong Kong businesses with mainland offices to be major users of these boxes.

Virus control Frustrated by viruses and other malicious coding that exploit the vulnerabilities of Microsoft's Internet Explorer, computer users will use alternative browsers such as Firefox and Opera in increasing numbers.

As the number of Firefox and Opera users increase, so does the incentive to create viruses for these browsers. Users will discover that Firefox and Opera might not be as safe as previously thought - and the boys in Redmond, Washington, will cluck and gloat. As long as Internet Explorer continues to dominate the market, it will be the No1 target for viruses, trojans and spyware.