New Year's Revolutions
There won't be blood in the streets - but a number of surprising innovations are about to change the landscape of their industries. A guide to the coolest products and hottest trends set to emerge in the coming months.
(Business 2.0 Magazine) -- Many years have become synonymous with revolution: 1776. 1848. 1917. 1989. Is 2007 about to join the list? No, we're not talking about the violent upheavals of the past, but instead surprising innovations that look set to change the landscape of their industries.
On the following pages, you'll find several of the most transformative events and launches planned for the new year. Like a lot of revolutions, they may seem like small things at first, slight tweaks to the world we know, surprising only in context. PCs are not revolutionary, for example, but having PCs in the hands of 10 million Third World children definitely is. Finally, on the back page, futurist Peter Schwartz imagines the best of all possible worlds, the kind of 2007 we'd most like to see and yet can still reasonably expect. A resurgent economy and a soft landing for real estate may not be as exciting as 1776, but after the century we've had, such a year would be no less revolutionary.
India and China Race to the Moon
Thought NASA was the only government body planning to tread those dusty lunar craters? Wrong. The world's most populous nations are eyeing them hungrily. "The moon has tremendous commercial potential," says Indian president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, the former head of his nation's 44-year-old space program. Indeed, the moon is full of minerals and helium-3, a possible future energy source. That's why India's Chandrayaan-1, a robotic spaceship, is scheduled to pay it a flying visit in September. The United States is so impressed with the mission, it's hitching a ride with a radar device that will scan for lunar ice. Not to be outdone, China's $2.6 billion space agency will launch the Chang'E-1 lunar orbiter next year too, part of its plan to put a taikonaut on the moon by 2017 - a year ahead of NASA.
A $100 PC Hits the Third World
If all goes according to Nicholas Negroponte's plan, there will be 10 million PCs in the hands of the planet's poorest children by the end of 2007. The $100 laptop, which technologist Negroponte and his MIT team have been working on for the better part of a decade, goes on sale in the spring. (Initially, the price will be $150.) Out of necessity, its various versions boast the most sophisticated low-energy computer tech ever seen - like a hand-crank power source and a chipset that consumes 13 percent of the normal wattage - and mesh networking so kids can share files without a server. Argentina, Brazil, Nigeria, and Thailand are lining up to buy them.
USB Cuts the Cable
There are more than 2 billion USB peripherals in the world - including, most likely, your printer, mouse, keyboard, and just about anything else attached to your computer. But what if they didn't have to be attached? That's the promise of Wireless USB, or WUSB, a new global standard that PC manufacturers will begin incorporating into their machines next year. Faster, easier to connect, and less power-consuming than Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, WUSB's ultra-wideband radio technology can deliver data at a hyperfast 480 megabits per second - the same as USB 2.0 - at a range of up to 10 meters. And WUSB-enabled machines can support as many as 127 connected devices simultaneously. That makes for a lot fewer cables on your desktop.
Ad-Free News Covers the Globe
What if there were a cable channel that married the best of PBS and CNN - that is, 24-hour world news with a global network of correspondents, but paid for by viewers rather than advertisers? That's the idea behind Independent World Television and its flagship show The Real News, the brainchild of Canadian TV producer Paul Jay. Seeing a widespread distaste for dumbed-down, ad-filled news, Jay believes that just $250,000 in viewer subscriptions will let his channel break even. He already has the support of big names like Gore Vidal, who's been doing Hollywood fundraisers for IWT, as well as Phil Donahue and Naomi Klein. If all goes well, IWT expects to be the TV version of "citizen journalism," with contributions from the best of the blogosphere. The service will launch in November in 58 million households worldwide.
Solar Panels Slim Down
With help from massive VC funding and subsidies from the state of California, the solar power industry is taking off. But as it scales up, solar is running into a problem: a shortage of silicon, also used for that other California commodity, computer chips. Enter thin-film solar panels, a technology that uses 1 percent of the silicon of regular panels - and is flexible enough to be printed on sheets that can be layered on top of, or sandwiched between, glass without being visible. Thin film has been around for a while, but production is expected to ramp up by 70 percent next year. Honda, Sharp, and Energy Conversion Devices (pictured) have all built production facilities to churn out the film. It's going to be a very sunny year.
The Alarm Clock Goes Open-Source
It started out as a simple Internet-connected alarm clock, one you interact with by touching the screen or grabbing its "squeeze sensor." But the Chumby has already become much, much more than that. Among hackers and open-source advocates, it's probably the most anticipated gadget of 2007. That's because Chumby Industries was founded by a group of programmers, including game-console hacker Andrew Huang, who made the gadget eminently easy to develop for. (Call it the first Web 2.0 device.) So when the $150 coconut-size Chumby launches in the spring, with free service, it'll have an array of downloadable, hacker-created widgets. You can wake up with Google News and the latest photos from your friends' Flickr accounts or use Chumby as a remote control for your TV and MP3s. All this in an interface so squeezably simple that a 2-year-old can use it.
TV Gets a Better Choice
For an activity that Americans spent $30 billion on this year, buying a new television offers lousy choices. Cathode-ray tubes look sharp but are too big and boxy. LCDs are kind of fuzzy and hard to see from an angle, and run the risk of dead pixels. Plasma screens are too pricey and heavy. That's why the market is wide-open for the arrival of SED TV in July. SED, or surface-conduction electron-emitter display - a technology developed jointly by Toshiba and Canon - combines the sharpness of a CRT (by firing electrons at a screen) with the slim form of an LCD or plasma. The Japanese companies have been working on SED TVs for a while, garnering plenty of buzz with prototypes at trade shows and waiting until the price came down enough for mass production. Early SEDs are expected to cost $10,000.
Condoms Invade Viagra's Turf
When Viagra first cleared the FDA hurdle in 1998, it was the butt of a thousand talk-show jokes. But that didn't stop it from becoming a $1.6 billion bonanza for parent company Pfizer. It meets a need, and that same need is moving Durex to launch a revolutionary condom, the CSD500, in late 2007. Its secret sauce: an "erectogenic compound" called Zanifil, patented by tiny U.K. company Futura Medical. Pending FDA approval, Zanifil will be the first Viagra-like chemical to be sold over the counter. But it has to be applied directly to the skin - hence the Durex partnership. If it accomplishes anything near Viagra's sales, Futura will be standing proud.
MORE THINGS TO EXPECT IN 2007
THE DARPA GRAND CHALLENGE
(November) After its teams successfully completed a robotic car race through the desert last year, the agency that gave us the Internet is moving the contest to a yet-to-be-announced urban environment.
WINDOWS VISTA (January)
The next generation of the computer world's still-dominant operating system should launch for consumers early in the new year, bug fixes willing. (See "How Microsoft Is Finally Taking the Living Room," page 23.)
A drink that burns more calories than it contains? Sounds like the holy grail of America's diet-conscious culture - and that's exactly what Coca-Cola and Nestlé are hoping their caffeinated green tea beverage will be when it hits store shelves.
(first quarter) Need more ways to lose money in Vegas? Is that slot machine too far? The Venetian will be the first casino to provide cell phones that guests can gamble on, thanks to new Nevada regulations.
APPLE'S ITV (first quarter)
Steve Jobs rarely announces products ahead of time, but with iTV - a $299 box that will stream video from your Mac, PC, or iPod to your TV - he couldn't contain himself. Analysts can't wait to see if this will be as revolutionary as the iPod.
BIG-CITY WI-FI (all year)
If all goes well, EarthLink will have blanketed two major U.S. cities with wireless Internet by the end of 2007: San Francisco (with Google's help) and Philadelphia. (See "The ISP Is Dead. Long Live the ISP," page 134.)
Yes, it's a toy. But this $250 hyper-realistic dinosaur, from the creator of Furby, is stuffed with 38 sensors that pick up motion, light, touch, and sound. If it catches on, Pleo could transform the toy industry.click here.