2009: A Bright Year for Smartphones and Storage?

Pull up a comfortable chair to the fireplace and grab a huge cup of eggnog. We’re looking ahead into 2009 and predicting what’s to come, given the rapid stream of smartphones that shows no signs of slowing, as well as new approaches in storing increasing data piles, the reality of 4G advancements and whether some longtime tech market players will weather ongoing turbulent economics.

And, of course, we have to predict what Apple will do with its ever-popular iPhone next year.

What the next iPhone could offer

No doubt Apple’s iPhone 3G was “the” smartphone story of 2008. The iPhone caught fire since its arrival in June 2007 and its popularity is surging with the second generation 3G pushed out this past summer.

Why? It’s simple. It’s an iPod, a Web device, an entertainment box and a decent mobile phone all rolled into one shiny package.

And it’s cool — still way cool after 19 months in market.

So the big question is what’s going to come with its third generation? It’s Apple after all. Steve Jobs and his company don’t do anything that isn’t slick, creative or pricey.

Will Apple surprise us by making a HUGE form factor change — giving us an iPhone that’s easy to hold and house in a pocket? Will it push in a QWERTY keyboard for those of us stalwarts who do like keyboards?

Will it solve the battery issue that’s plagued the iPhone since day one? Will Apple head down the applications path and emerge with Star Trek-like presence technologies (though Nokia’s clearly ahead of them on that road.)? Heck, Apple could do a clamshell, flip-top design as that’s a popular handset factor these days.

At this point only Apple knows what may be coming, and it’s not telling anyone, even the Wall Street Journal. But it sure is fun to list out the many possibilities.

Will WiMAX users flock or flee?

Sprint, and some fellow tech titans, are all gung-ho that WiMAX, a 4G technology, is what the mobile masses that cruise the Internet want. But it might very well be a hard sell as turbulent economics will only tighten consumer purse strings in 2009.

Right now there are no handsets on the horizon to take advantage of the enhanced network connectivity, just the promise of a swatch of Internet devices on drawing boards and connectivity pieces, like Sprint’s new 3G-4G modem that arrived this week.

Will consumers fork over $50 or $100 bucks for an Internet device, and possible additional rate plan fees, in addition to the smartphone bills they’re already paying for better Internet connectivity?

That’s a huge issue facing WiMAX adoption in the next year. Sprint has been noticeably quiet, actually completely mum, on how its Baltimore network, which launched in early fall 2008, is being embraced — or not embraced. One, after all, would expect lots of news releases hitting if the news was good.

For all the steps forward WiMAX took in 2008, it’s more than likely 2009 will be a bit more stagnant year.

Next page: Smarter storage and slicker phones

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Data storage will return to its origins

Throughout 2008 enterprises scrambled to bring in bigger boxes, software tools and reached upward to the cloud environment to find cheap housing for the growing data piles.

While vendors responded to the data storage demand with zest — even promising ways to gain greater efficiencies around storage environments — this year will be a year where IT folks need to sit down and take time to stem the data tide.

Storage strategies will shift from being reactive to proactive, with much more attention on making sure what’s being housed and protected is needed and necessary data. Cheap storage is great but it’s led to massive sprawling storage environments that are costing more to management and run. So it may turn out the ‘savings’ from cheaper storage isn’t so big after all.

Businesses will begin realizing that throwing cheaper commodity boxes and software at data isn’t the best approach and go back to the beginning of the entire process to begin parsing out what needs to be saved, how it needs to be saved and even involve users in the process.

A pivotal year for Moto and Palm

The word heard, and written, throughout 2008 when it came to Motorola and Palm — both titans in the handset world and top leaders at some points — was turnaround. Like in when will there be a turnaround? Is the turnaround now?

The resounding answer in 2008 was ‘no’ and Santa didn’t deliver one as the year ended. In fact Motorola capped off one of its worst mobile division years with more layoffs, cut backs in CEO pay and a freeze on bonuses and pension contributions.

Palm, struggling mightily, kept talking all last year about its upcoming new platform and heralded a “newness” campaign to be launched in early January. It pushed out some decent handsets, but market share continued to erode as did its stock price.

Buyout rumors that cropped up last year could very well become reality this year. Motorola, despite naming a new chief to run its mobile division as a spin-off, could be forced to sell it off. Analysts have publicly pondered who would be interested in Palm’s portfolio. It’s not a dead product line, but it clearly needs more than just a new OS to push it back into the smartphone ring as a contender.

The big question though is just who else out there will have the cash flow to buy either one in an economy where there is no lending or borrowing to be had.

How smart will smartphones get?

Anyone who can remember using a Trac phone, or gasping in awe at the ‘mobile’ phones that “General Hospital” actors used in the soap opera the late 1980s and early 1990s can appreciate how far mobile phones have come in such a short time.

Smartphones are pretty darn smart. And with mobile application research taking place everywhere, from IBM’s labs to Nokia’s development conferences, we’re just at the very start of what’s to come with device capabilities.

It’s a bit boring and safe to predict but there will likely be lots more location-based mobile services, beyond mapping and finding things and places online, cropping up in 2009. The increasing popularity of GPS capabilities is evidence of the user demand. People want to save time any way possible these days.

Expect more personal productivity applications that will turn smartphones into virtual personal assistants that provide useful reminder alerts, time management tools and ways to help us track down the people we need to reach even quicker than today.

Innovation is wide open at this point. Maybe someone will figure out how to make phones that are off turn themselves on when an incoming call from our ‘preferred’ contact list hits it’s a network identifier.

Vendors, eager to satisfy the needs of Web hungry consumers, might figure out bigger display options without increasing device heft. Some studies have shown users aren’t thrilled with tiny smartphones and are willing to give up form factor coolness for better viewing capabilities.

It’s a very open road when it comes to smartphone development and given all the players, from handset makers to carriers to third party application providers, there’s no limit in sight on advanced technologies to come.

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