Emerging technology developments and trends can create a tumbling mash-up of hard-to-understand products and services, from web-connected printers to robots that represent you in meetings.
Smart Browser: All browsers from Internet Explorer to Mozilla Firefox to Safari now host ambitious third party software tools that latch on quickly onto existing browser software. Now once unimaginable services run natively on web tools. Check out design tools like Aviary (aviary.com), complex collaboration systems like Usekit (usekit.com) and communication tools such as Follow-up Robot (curecrm.com).
All this new browser software will make it tougher for businesses to develop code that works across all browsers and the fast moving extension market. The debugging of web based products and services will get very complex.
Apps for Appliances: Apps, like the ones on mobile phones, are spreading to TVs, washers and fridges. Check out TV apps Vizio offers on its sets that enable Netflix, Flickr and Twitter.
Touch revolution (touchrev.com) has a Google Android OS based modules that turn a microwave oven into an app ready web ready device.
Talking to a Computer: Microsoft and other companies now support some sort of voice-activated software. Test drive Naturally Speaking (nuance.com)
PC-Less Desktop Imaging: With printers now a commodity, desktop imaging eventually will free itself from being tethered to a PC. The big mover here is, yet again, Google. The giant is rolling out cloud-based printing that will not need a connected computer. You can expect everything from smartphones to positional devices to be able to easily communicate with web-connected printers.
3D Peripheral: Products like Space Controller (3d-mouse-for-cad.com) and SpacePilot Pro from 3Dconnexion (3d
connexion.com) are offering computer controllers that put depth access in the hands of CAD artists and engineers.
Why it matters: These systems will lower the barrier to entry for creating and developing 3-D content.
Ultraportable Office: There’s nothing like a cutting-edge technology that combines another cutting-edge technology to give you that buy-one-get-one-free sort of feel. Portable hot spots that let small groups collaborate quickly are now available in units like the MiFi 2200 from Verizon Wireless (verizon wireless.com). In addition to giving you a nice productivity boost on the road, portable Wi-Fi is creating an ad hoc network of mobile Wi-Fi coverage.
Next time you need to log in, look around in your Wi-Fi software—a local portable hot spot might be nearby.
Videoconferencing for Everyone: If Skype has a bonus, it’s that it has banished the videoconferencing taboo. Now many vendors are making low-cost video appliances that even tiny firms can use, with development in this area only to increase. Although these units won’t rival those cute Cisco commercials for quality, videoconferencing can be helpful in your firm. And you can’t beat the price. The Vialta Beamer FX video phone (vialta.com).
Everything goes Automatic: As crazy as it sounds, web-delivered, automatic decision-making will quietly creep into the basic fabric of your business. Expect smarter versions of everything from spell checkers to complex decision engines to show up in web office tools and business software. Try out Google’s recently acquired Aardvark answers product (vark
.com), which uses Google Chat to automatically match a person who has a question with a person who has an answer.
Projectable PC Interface: Projectable computer interfaces have long been stubbornly “just around the corner.” Projectable keyboards and other controllers aren’t yet up to full business-class capabilities, but when a unit like the one from Light Blue Optics (lightblueoptics.com) finds its way into smartphones, it will offer a new, simple way for road warriors to communicate on the go.
Smarter Delivery Van: Technologies like Ford’s Sync Traffic Direction and Information (fordvehicles.com/sync) and Rand McNally’s IntelliRoute (trucking .randmcnally.com) make the idea of sending a man and a van to wander around town unsupervised about as smart as using carrier pigeons. And commercial vehicles are set to get smarter still: FedEx is preparing to deploy electric delivery vans. And startups like Boulder Electric Vehicles (boulderev.com) will make such technology available to most any small business.
Making Inventory Talk: If it’s good enough for Wal-Mart, it’s good enough for you. Low-cost RFID (radio frequency identifier) devices from companies like RF*IDI (activerfidtracking.com/rfidi/) will offer tagging and tracking solutions even your small business can afford. Wondering where your stuff went is like worrying about Y2K.
Virtual Self: Be at that meeting without actually having to attend. Anybot the robot avatar (anybot.com) will use telepresence technology to let you attend meetings virtually by rolling into conferences and transmitting information so that you don’t have to be there to get the job done.
Flexible Display: It will be years before flexible screens make it into your office, but not so for getting them into your point-of-sale displays. Flexible, high-quality displays from companies like Atlanta’s NanoLumens (nanolumens.com) are making big, bright screens that can be mounted on rounded surfaces. That means any old column can work as a pricing display or marketing surface.