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Our special report previews this year's trends in technology, from the advent of the iPhone to widgets for kids
The tone for any year in technology is set in the digital equivalent of stone by early January. That's when Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs takes the stage at the annual Macworld Conference & Expo in San Francisco, touting his company's latest wares just as the world's largest tech-gear trade show, Consumer Electronics Show International, is in full swing in the next state over.
This year was no exception, what with the Jan. 9 introduction of the Apple (AAPL) iPhone, a combined cell phone and music player that's sending ripples across the tech landscape half a year before it hits shelves. One of its standout qualities is a screen that lets users dial numbers and call up features by touch, rather than with buttons or a dial pad. The device puts iPhone at the forefront of a new family of touch-sensitive, gesture-based devices that may revolutionize consumer electronics in 2007—a movement highlighted in one of several stories included in our BusinessWeek.com special report on the top tech trends for the year ahead.
Lots of Action on the Web
Jobs and his nifty cell phone didn't steal all the thunder building in Las Vegas, where eyes fixed on Microsoft (MSFT) Chairman Bill Gates and other executives who promulgated visions of delivering entertainment over the Internet through a technology known as Internet protocol TV, or IPTV. The technology's boosters haven't made much headway in the past in part because they've failed to make IPTV easy to use. That's poised to change this year, writes BusinessWeek correspondent Cliff Edwards, so long as software, hardware, and consumer electronics bear in mind a simple lesson concerning IPTV: Keep it simple.
A lot of what's noteworthy in tech for '07 will be happening on the Web. This could be a breakout year for online small-business advertising now that companies including Google (GOOG) and eBay (EBAY) have unveiled a host of services designed to get small-business owners involved in Web advertising.
The battle over who picks up the tab for the information zipping over high-speed connections—pitting Net pioneers like Yahoo! (YHOO) against such telecom titans as AT&T (T)—will also rage in the months ahead. And young people will keep flocking to social networks such as News Corp.'s (NWS) MySpace, customizing pages and layouts with avatars, slide shows, and all manner of so-called widgets. Columnist Anastasia Goodstein takes the pulse of the burgeoning MySpace ecosystem and explains what distinguishes a good widget from an also-ran.
Familiar Faces and New Players
This also may be the year Western companies such as Qualcomm (QCOM), Motorola (MOT), Intel (INTC), and Siemens (SI) step up efforts to woo the millions of new prospective customers in developing countries. They'll go far beyond fancy phones and personal computers, tailoring devices to meet more mundane needs. Think light bulbs that consume less energy and systems that help congested cities manage traffic flows.
Of course, tech wouldn't be the roller-coaster market it often is without the unpredictable element that both refreshes and topples the existing order: new venture-funded companies. Among the upstarts likely to leave their mark on tech in 2007: Joost, from the creators of Skype and Kazaa; Last.FM, a music distribution company based in Britain; and Clearwire, the WiMAX provider founded by wireless pioneer Craig McCaw that may soon sell shares to the public. That's just a handful of the companies BusinessWeek editors consider worth watching in 2007. You'll find more companies highlighted in a slide show.
It's going to be an eventful year in tech. Here's hoping this special report gets you ready for it.