As technology moves at an ever-increasing speed, every aspect of computing looks set to change. But just what can we expect at home, at work or on the road?
The pace of life may be hectic, but the pace of innovation is downright frenetic. Technologies barely imagined a few years ago are now poised to change the face of computing as digital devices continue to burrow into every aspect of daily life.
The world of science fiction is rapidly becoming fact, from tabletops that charge your laptop wirelessly to wall-mounted PCs that recognise your face and gestures. Thanks to breakthroughs in miniaturisation, you'll be able to tuck products into your pocket that wouldn't have fit into your briefcase a few years ago. The next generation of internet technology will change everything from television to drinks machines.
And standard computer building blocks are growing ever more powerful, as chip makers squeeze more cores on to each processor and hard-drive makers pack more bits into each platter - guaranteeing that in the future, even ordinary PCs will be anything but.
We've highlighted a dozen major innovations - some right around the corner, others not expected until at least 2012. On multiple fronts, the future you've been waiting for has almost arrived. Here's what you need to know to prepare for it.
No more power cords
You hardly think twice about connecting your wireless laptop to the internet, but you still have to fumble for a power cord when your battery runs out. How quaint. Soon all those cumbersome power bricks will be a footnote in your grandchildren's history books, as wireless charging comes to market.
Two ways to accomplish wireless charging currently exist. Inductive charging works by matching the resonance of the charging pad's electromagnetic field to that of the battery, allowing the battery to charge over a small physical gap. In contrast, conductive charging passes electricity directly between two surfaces in contact.
t's not yet clear which method will triumph, but in either case you'll be able to simply place your laptop, phone or music player on to a universal wireless charging pad that will immediately begin juicing them up.
Next year both inductive and conductive charging technologies will emerge on to the market, but most devices will require a $30 (about £15) adaptor to work with them. WildCharge (to go to wildcharge.com click here) expects to launch its first conductive-charging notebook product (paired with a compatible notebook) in time for 2008's back-to-school season, while eCoupled (to view ecoupled.com click here) is pushing to get its inductive technology into cars, countertops and desk surfaces by 2009.
Expect wireless charging to become commonplace in 2010, after major phone and laptop vendors sign on to support it.
NEXT PAGE: print from anywhere > >
No need for a cord with the eCoupled intelligent wireless power prototype, which charges consumer electronic devices wirelessly
The future of computing is constantly changing but as what can we look forward to at home, at work or on the road? PC Advisor investigates.
Print from anywhere
Forget about running home to print out your photos or ordering prints online. The next generation of mobile devices will come with their own built-in printers.
Zink 'zero ink¡' Imaging (click here for zink.com) is a spin-off from Polaroid that has been working on a new way of making photo paper. Zink paper has a crystal substrate sandwiched between its layers that colourises as it passes through a slim-profile printer. The printers themselves are so small that you can slip one in your pocket. They can easily be built into cameras, laptops or other devices.
In 2008, Zink plans to partner with a major camera vendor to release the first pocket-sized digital camera with a built-in printer. This early model will produce 2x3in photos. At the same time, the company will begin selling a handheld printer (costing in the region of £50) for cameraphones; it'll print adhesive-backed photos that may well grace many schoolchildren's folders and pencil cases. Two or three years after that, the technology may be integrated into laptops and other mobile devices.
Zero Ink prints your snaps on paper directly from a mobile phone or digital camera
Great graphics inside
'Integrated graphics' has long been synonymous with 'sluggish graphics¡'. Soon the phrase will have a whole new meaning, thanks to new computers with powerful graphics hardware built in.
AMD's (click here for AMD.com) acquisition of ATI brought the company's rivalry with Intel (Intel.com) - which already made its own basic graphics chips - to a new level. Since then, the two competitors have each worked to bridge the gap between central processing units (CPUs) and graphics processing units (GPUs).
Building graphics-processing functionality directly into a CPU eliminates the delay you'd otherwise experience as data passes between the CPU and GPU across the system bus. Such combined CPU/GPUs will feature DirectX 10.0 support and acceleration for Blu-ray Disc and HD DVD, while consuming substantially less power, requiring less space on the motherboard and performing significantly better than most of today's discrete graphics cards.
Intel plans to put its graphics-integrated Nehalem processors into production in 2008, beginning with a line of server chips. AMD intends to release its integrated Puma laptop platform around the same time. In 2009, Intel will bring its graphics-integrated chips to desktops and notebooks, while AMD's Puma should reach desktops in 2010.
flexible screens can be bent into any shape and used anywhere
The smaller and more powerful devices become, the harder they are to use. Tiny screens just don't cut it when you want to do real work. But if your phone or PDA came with a large rollout display, you could work in comfort without sacrificing portability. That's where flexible polymers come in.
Display manufacturers make traditional LCD screens by sandwiching liquid crystals between layers of glass and then zapping them with electricity. Replacing that glass with plastic makes things more malleable.
Initially developed by E Ink (eink.com, click here) and Philips (philips.com), electronic paper compresses organic light-emitting diode (or Oled) crystals between very thin layers of polymer, allowing for tremendous flexibility.
Unlike conventional LCD screens, such ultra-thin displays are completely shatterproof, and can even be rolled up into tight spools. The result is a widescreen monitor that you can carry in your pocket and use anywhere. Better still, such screens will be cheaper and easier to manufacture than today's flat panels - they'll simply be printed directly on to sheets of plastic.
The first flexible displays are already here - they're just not that flexible yet. E Ink's electronic paper can be found in such non-flexible products as the Sony Reader (Sony.co.uk) and the Motorola Motofone F3 (motorola.co.uk).
The first rollable displays, created in the labs at Philips spin-off Polymer Vision (polymervision.com), will reach the market in 2008 - a mobile phone from Telecom Italia will carry the world's first Polymer Vision roll-up display. Currently under wraps, the phone is expected to offer a 5in, 320x40 pixel, monochrome rollable display. By 2010, Polymer Vision expects to market larger colour displays with much higher resolution.
NEXT PAGE: pocket presentations > >
With improvement in technology happening every second, the future of computing holds huge developments including processor chips with four cores and projector-equipped mobile phones. PC Advisor investigates.
Watching video on a mobile phone is a pain. Even if you find the content you want, the tiny screen makes enjoying the programme difficult. Before long, however, you'll be seeing programmes at the correct size, thanks to projector-equipped mobile phones.
Microvision Pico Projectors (microvision.com) employ light-scanning technology to generate a complete, full-colour image from a beam of light. A single red, green or blue laser bounces off a tiny scanning mirror inside the device that oscillates vertically and horizontally to render the image pixel by pixel, producing a larger picture that projects on to a wall or other surface. This surface can be as large as 120in and 12ft away in a darkened room.
Controlling the scanner, light source and optics is the PicoP engine, which co-ordinates the various components to control the intensity of each beam of light to create thousands of colours. By using a single beam of light rather than three, Microvision is able to make the projectors small enough to fit into a mobile phone without appreciably increasing the size of the handset. The company also expects the integrated projectors to play a feature-length film on just one charge.
Microvision has partnered with Motorola to build Pico Projectors into mobile phones and the first model is expected to debut in 2009. Meanwhile, the company is designing a projector accessory for PCs and games consoles that should be available by the end of 2008. Built-in projectors can be expected to add as much as £75 to the price of a phone, while accessory projectors will probably cost around £100, says Avi Greengart, principal analyst for mobile devices at Current Analysis and editor of the Home Theater View blog (Home Theater View blog).
laser technology means high-end mobile phone will soon be able to project presentations and movie on to a surface thats as large as 120in and up to 12 feet away
Enter the Octagon CPU
There's not much point in increasing processor speeds or doubling the bit paths in a central processing unit (CPU) if the system bus can't carry the traffic. Since problems with transistors leaking current worsen as clock speeds increase and CPUs shrink, both AMD and Intel have decided to focus on increasing the number of cores on a chip rather than increasing processor speeds.
The centrepiece of any CPU is the processor core, which is responsible for the actual calculations that make all your software run. Placing multiple cores on a single chip dramatically increases the number of calculations that can be performed - without having to raise the clock speed of the chip itself. By keeping clock speeds relatively low while increasing the number of calculations performed simultaneously, chip makers overcome the overheating problems associated with faster clock speeds. And the more cores crammed on to a single chip, the faster the CPU can go.
The performance boost isn't one-to-one, however: Intel's four-core 2.66GHz Core 2 Quad Q6700 performs just 26 percent faster than its same-speed, two-core Core 2 Duo E6700 on certain applications (click here for PC reviews). So while you'll see improvement with eight-core CPUs, it won't be as dramatic as it might sound.
Before AMD can start selling eight-core chips for the desktop, it needs to get its quad-core Phenom chips to market in 2008. Intel has been selling quad-core desktop processors for about a year now and has announced eight-core chips for servers in 2008. Expect OctoCore to come to desktop computers in 2010.
NEXT PAGE: 5TB drives, and putting your TV anywhere > >
The ability to watch your HDTV anywhere without worrying about where the cable jack is and 5TB drives are just some of the developments the computing world can expect in the future. PC Advisor investigates.
Put your TV anywhere
Despite the wireless revolution happening all around the home, your high-definition television remains shamefully hard-wired in place. Wouldn't it be great if you could put your TV anywhere you wanted, without worrying about where the cable jack was, and still get top-notch video quality? Soon you'll be able to do just that.
Wireless high-definition interface (WHDI) is a cable-free replacement for high-definition multimedia interface (HDMI). It uses a 5GHz radio transmitter to send an uncompressed 1080p, 30 frames per second (fps) high-definition video signal from a WHDI-equipped games console or set-top box, for example, to a WHDI-equipped TV across a distance of up to 100ft. Because the signal is compatible with HDMI, you'll be able to buy HDMI wireless modems for your existing hardware, which means you can finally rearrange the furniture the way you'd like it, without running cables through your walls.
Amimon, which makes the WHDI chipset, released the technology to electronics manufacturers at the end of August 2007. Now the race is on to bring WHDI to market. TV makers have already begun demonstrating new wireless-equipped HDTV models at trade shows, and bleeding-edge buyers should be able to get their hands on hardware in the next few months.
WHDI is expected to add at least £100 to the overall cost of a new TV, so expect to pay a premium for the technology in 2008. WHDI modems for your existing hardware will probably cost around £150 to £200 for a pair of adaptors (you need at least two to get started). In a few years, according to Amimon vice-president of marketing Noam Geri, costs should drop to about £5 for inclusion in a TV and £30 or so for the adaptors.
Five terabytes per drive
1TB drives are already being produced by Hitachi but you could soon be looking at drives that offer 5TB of storage
You may not realise it, but you probably cram a massive amount of data on to your hard drive - digital photos, movies, music and overflowing email folders can pile on the gigabytes. But don't worry. Much bigger hard drives are on the horizon.
Heat-assisted magnetic recording (HAMR) and a nearly identical technology called thermally assisted magnetic recording use lasers to heat the surface of a drive's platters. This makes it possible to pack a terabyte (TB) of data on to a square inch of surface, offering twice the current capacity.
As the drive's read/write head goes about its business, it briefly fires its laser at the surface, destabilising the iron platinum particles for reading and writing. With the platter heated, the read/write head can manipulate the surface on a very fine scale (just tens of nanometres) letting it cram enormous amounts of information into a small space. A few nanoseconds after the work is done, the surface cools for stability.
The way data is organised on a disc will change as well. Rather than having arbitrarily arranged disk sectors, HAMR drives will work with the natural grain of the disk surface, organising data into self-arranging magnetic arrays that allow the creation of a single bit of data on every grain of the platter's surface.
HAMR is still very much a research project, but it's coming to market in the next few years. Seagate expects to introduce 5TB HAMR hard drives by 2011, with capacities of up to 37.5TB arriving a few years after that.
NEXT PAGE: the better internet and a PC in every surface > >
As technology evolves, every aspect of computing will change. And users will benefit from a number of developments including a better internet and PCs in every surface.
A better internet
TCP/IP, the technology on which the entire internet is based, is no spring chicken. The current version of the protocol, Internet Protocol version 4.0 (IPv4), has been around for more than 25 years. The old technology suffers from some serious limitations, including a shortage of addresses for all the computers that use it.
IPv6 will change all that. Unlike IPv4, which uses 32bit addresses (such as 22.214.171.124), IPv6 uses 128bit addresses such as 2001:0ba0:_01e0:d001:0000:0000:d0f0:0010. This change makes it possible for every person and every computer in the world to have a unique IP address. IPv6 also features network-layer encryption and authentication, enabling secure communications between parties.
IPv6 is already available but hardly anyone is using it yet - the hardware needed for it remains more expensive than that for IPv4 and few network administrators are trained to manage it. However, the US government will move all its networks to IPv6 by summer 2008 so, even at government speeds, the technology should arrive in time to pick up the slack when the pool of available addresses runs out around March 2011. The lack of addresses should encourage your ISP to update its network before long.
A PC in every surface
Although it seems like second nature to us now, the idea of manipulating images on a screen by moving a mouse around on the desk was revolutionary when Douglas Engelbart introduced it in 1964. As well as it works, the mouse is still a surrogate for a far more natural human interface: the fingertip. Over the next few years, a new category of PC will finally put your fingers in control.
Tabletop computing (also known as surface computing) gets back to basics by letting you gather around a table with some friends for some good old-fashioned interactivity. Accepting a variety of input types simultaneously, tabletop PCs allow multiple users to work with data projected on to the surface of the table by touching onscreen objects with their fingertips.
Lots of companies are working on tabletop computing technologies, but two of the leading efforts are Microsoft's (microsoft.com) camera-driven Surface PC and Mitsubishi Electronics (mitsubishielectric.co.uk) Research Labs' DiamondTouch.
Surface PCs use rear projection to present an image on the surface of the table from inside, while five infrared cameras in the table track finger movements on the screen. DiamondTouch projects the image from above the table and uses capacitive coupling (like that employed in laptop touchpads) to follow your fingertips - with this design, however, you create shadows when you touch the screen.
DiamondTouch is still predominantly a research project, but Microsoft's Surface PC is coming in 2008 to a hotel, casino or phone shop near you.
This first generation of Surface PCs will be strictly for showcasing in public locations, but Microsoft expects to offer a conference-room version for businesses by 2010. Home users will get them three to five years from now. Eventually, Microsoft says, you can expect to have Surface PCs built into countertops, mirrors or just about any other flat spot in your home.
In the future, surface PCs will built into any flat surface in your home from countertops to mirrors
NEXT PAGE: faster data and proper internet phones > >
Data travelling at faster speeds is just one of the benefits the computing world will experience in the future thanks to improving technology.
Put data in the fast lane
As computers grow more powerful and graphics cards achieve ever higher levels of realism and detail, a significant bottleneck remains in your PC's data flow: the system bus. When data travels through your PC, it's the system bus - rather than the processor - that limits overall performance. What you need is a faster bus.
PCI Express (PCIe) is the leading system bus architecture for high-end hardware such as graphics cards. The current specification, version 2.3, offers a data transfer rate of 5.2 gigabits per second (Gbps). The next generation, PCI 3.0, will offer a data rate of 8Gbps. In addition to supporting much higher GPU performance, a key benefit of PCIe 3.0 may be the ability to power graphics cards directly from the system bus, rather than requiring a line into the power supply.
But there's a catch. To support the higher data rates, the architecture will no longer work with the older 5V hardware used on PCIe versions 1.1 and 2.0. Whereas PCIe 2.3 supports both 5V and 3.3V cards, PCIe 3.0 will be 3.3V only. This means that most current 5V hardware will be obsolete when PCIe 3.0 makes its debut.
PCI-SIG, the group that oversees PCI architecture specifications, expects to release the final PCIe 3.0 spec in 2009. PCIe 3.0 graphics cards should launch in 2010.
Proper internet phones
LG has already launched the KC1 - a 4G/WiMax phone in Korea
Simple wireless calling satisfied users during the first generation of mobile phones, but the second generation made things more interesting with the introduction of SMS messaging and WAP internet browsing. 2.5G added pictures and video, but at speeds that feel more like dialup than broadband. (That's the main problem with the iPhone's data service.) With 3G, higher-bandwidth connections have made 2.5G's multimedia capabilities palatable; 4G will be a lot cooler.
The fundamental difference between 4G and 3G is the way in which the networks will be switched. Until now, most phone networks (except for voice over IP) have been circuit-switched, meaning a dedicated circuit is activated between the callers. This outdated method puts voice calls in a category all on their own, distinct from data connections. It prevents mobile phones transmitting voice calls and data simultaneously.
As with internet traffic, 4G networks will be IP-switched. This means that you'll be able to talk and text at the same time, and your 4G device will be able to do far more on the network than it can today.
IP-switched mobile networks will work more as internet service providers do, allowing for greater flexibility in running data applications. Just about any device will be able to connect to the network and you'll be able to do just about anything with it. Another result of this flexibility is that wireless carriers will probably be forced to loosen their iron grip on the services customers can use over their networks, giving everyone more freedom to communicate from the road.
This year saw 3G capability added to business and high-end consumer phones - something that made sense once O2, T-Mobile, Vodafone et al introduced flat-rate mobile internet access charges. We've yet to see figures on the uptake of such services.
The underlying technology for 4G networks, WiMax, exists now and is slowly growing in large enterprise networks and telecoms companies. WiMax itself is not a mobile technology, however. Before a fourth-generation mobile network can evolve, the industry will need to find a new telecommunications protocol to base it on.
As business users increase their demand for high-end wireless data services, mobile carriers will begin to deploy networks and devices that deliver 4G service. We expect the first handsets and data cards to hit the market in 2011.
NEXT PAGE: timeline - technology beyond 2010 > >
Improvements in technology will ensure that every aspect of computing, whether at homes, at work or on the road, will change.
Technology beyond 2010 - when can we expect to see developments?
Dogged by the speed of your home broadband service? With a gigabit internet connection over a fibre-optic line, youll be able to download the latest movies in less than a minute at speeds of up to 1 gigabit per second.
Mobile fuel cells
Now in development, hydrogen fuel cells will power your laptop for a week at a time using fuel cartridges.
Smart homes We've heard for years about the 'smart home' - a house chock full of computer-driven appliances that cater to your every need. As homes with built-in ethernet wiring become more common, central home PCs will control everything from the thermostat and lighting to the security system.
Smart homes can be expected by 2014 and will feature computer driven appliances
Codenamed Millipede, the probe storage system being developed by IBM (IBM.co.uk) will use atomic force microscopy to store more than 1TB of data per square inch on a polymer surface. An array of thousands of little probes read and write large amounts of data far more quickly than today's drives can.
Nano lightning systems
It has 'lightning' as part of the name, so you know it's cool, but it's really about cooling off your hardware. Microscopic nanotubes will use an electrical charge to generate tiny wind currents on the surface of your chips to cool them down without the aid of fans.
NEXT PAGE: technology battles to watch > >
The future of computing will change dramatically as new developments in technology arise. PC Advisor discovers the impact these changes will have on computing at home, work and on the move.
Battles to watch
Which companies are going head-to-head?
AMD vs Intel: Although Intel currently has the performance edge with its Core 2 Duo and Quad processors, AMD will soon release its own quad-core Phenom chips. Expect things to heat up in a big way with the release of consumer graphics-integrated CPUs in 2009.
DRM vs unrestricted access: Will widespread user outrage prompt entertainment firms to come up with a sensible copy-protection scheme, or will corporations trample fair-use rights with pay-per-play media services? We're putting our money on a compromise between the two, as some labels have already begun offering digital rights management-free music in response to demand for flexible formats.
Windows vs Mac vs Linux: IDC estimates Apple's market share at roughly 5 percent, while Linux is gaining popularity around the world, particularly with governments and educational institutions. Most estimates still peg Linux desktop users at around 1 percent of the market, but the numbers appear to be climbing.
Microsoft vs Google: Microsoft's dominance in the office-software arena is facing new threats from the likes of Google, which offers its own productivity suite - Google Docs - online. While Docs has yet to make significant inroads against Office, Microsoft's efforts to beat Google at its own game with Live.com Live.com have yet to bear fruit. CEO Steve Ballmer's announcement that it will shift to a "web-enabled desktop" suggests Microsoft takes Google's threat seriously.
NEXT PAGE: hot products for 2008 > >
The future of computing is constantly changing and with new technologies on the horizon, what effect will this have on home, work and portable computers?
Can't wait for the future? Here's our pick of the hot products for 2008...
Microsoft Windows Vista SP1
Early in 2008, Microsoft is expected to release its first service pack for Windows Vista. The update will probably include fixes for everything from User Account Control to DirectX 10.0 performance, as well as a few interface tweaks.
Apple Mac OS X Leopard
It's been a long time coming, but Apple's latest revision of OS X, version 10.5 (£85 inc VAT) brings some significant advances to the Mac platform.
The updated operating system offers an enhanced interface with a transparent menu bar, stackable menus, dynamic workspaces and the Time Machine file-restoration tool. We were also impressed with its dead-simple networking and its ability to search across and open files on any networked device. To see our Leopard review click here.
HP MediaSmart Server Based on Windows Home Server platform, MediaSmart Server is now available in the UK. It delivers pictures, music and film content to devices around the home. HP MediaSmart Server: review.
Super Talent 32GB SSD 2.5in Sata drive The 32GB Super Talent drive is one of the first flash-based drives. The $500 (£250) price tag is likely to drop when 128GB drives from mainstream makers hit the market.
The sequel to Far Cry is one of the most visually stunning computer games ever. Developer Crytek has taken full advantage of DirectX 10.0 technology, offering realism and detail unlike anything we've seen before. Crysis first-person shooter PC game review.
NEXT PAGE: which trends will last, and what won't > >
New technologies are changing every aspect of home, work and on the move computing. Which trends will last the course and which are a passing phase?
Microblogging: What are you doing right now? If the answer is "Washing my poodle in the kitchen sink", we'd rather not know. With short attention spans becoming the norm, services such as Twitter aren't going away any time soon, but they're not very useful, either.
Ultramobile PCs: In 2005, Microsoft announced a bold new standard for mobile devices known as the ultramobile PC. Armed with touchscreens, GPS and Wi-Fi, these not-quite-tablet PCs were supposed to revolutionise how and where people work. But by delivering a platform that's too small for true productivity and too large for genuine mobility, Microsoft ensured that the ultramobile PC was pretty much dead on arrival.
Kitchen PCs: For a while now, certain trade shows have been annual love-ins for companies hyping a future full of household appliances with built-in computers. In all these years, however, the best thing we've seen is LG's Internet Fridge, a £2,000 appliance with a 15in LCD screen in the door. It's mildly interesting to be able to watch a football match or get birthday reminders and weather reports while you're standing in front of the fridge, but these overpriced, barely functional computers amount to little more than amusing proof-of-concept novelties.
NEXT PAGE: overdue technology > >
As technology improves, every aspect of computing will change but according to Robert Strohmeyer, some improvements are already long overdue.
WiMax: Back in 2003, WiMax was heralded as the ultimate solution to the world's connectivity problems, capable of covering an entire city with ubiquitous broadband. WiMax today, however, is little more than an IT backbone for long-distance line-of-sight wide-area networks, largely because it's not very effective for the kinds of mobile devices that most people use for wireless internet services. The basic technology of WiMax may yet evolve as part of future 4G mobile networks, but that's still a long way off.
IPTV: Oh, how we hungered for the video nirvana of IPTV, TV over the web. But broadcasters have yet to produce the amazing lineup of high-def channels, on-demand shows, integrated gaming and digital voice calling that broadband providers promised - and it's anything but ubiquitous. Meanwhile, digital cable has taken the wind out of IPTV's sails.
RFID: If early predictions were to be believed, by now we ought to be walking through supermarkets filling our trollies as tiny radio frequency identification (RFID) tags announce the contents and an RFID-enabled credit card pays the bill. The biggest hold-up has come from industry in-fighting over standardisation.
Virtual reality: Second Life boasts a 3D space in which users can buy and sell property, create objects and socialise, but its graphics still feel more virtual than real. Virtual reality as we imagined it in the 1990s isn't likely to emerge until someone invents a wearable display that people will actually wear.