It's amazing to think about how much the world has changed over the course of 2009. The United States inaugurated a new president. Much of the world struggled under an economic recession that affected enormous corporations and average citizens alike. Alien robots failed to invade the planet and turn us into their personal servants. And technology continued to evolve.
Picking the top 5 tech trends of the entire year was a difficult process. In some cases, trends we thought would take off early in the year failed to gain traction. For example, if you attended the 2009 Consumer Electronics Show, you probably left Las Vegas, Nev., thinking that 3-D televisions would make an enormous impact on the marketplace. But by the end of 2009, it was clear that we're still not quite ready for 3-D TV in every home.
Some trends were predictable but not very interesting. It doesn't take a clairvoyant to guess that technology reporters, bloggers and enthusiasts will jump on the latest rumor about Apple. That might be why 2009 was the year of the Apple tablet device rumor. We waited in anticipation at every Apple event to hear an official announcement of this mythical gadget. All of that waiting was in vain.
We also saw several companies wage public battles against one another in 2009. Throughout the year, corporations like AT&T and Verizon, Apple and Psystar, and AMD and Intel waged legal battles against each other. In some cases, the companies found common ground and settled their differences. It's clear that 2009 was a good year to be a corporate lawyer. But we didn't feel that was a fun tech trend to highlight on the official list.
Instead, we've looked at the 12 months of 2009 and pinpointed 5 trends, listed in no particular order, that not only made a big impact at the time but promise to shape future events as well. Many of these trends began years ago, but 2009 marks a significant leap forward both in the public consciousness and in influence. We'll start with the smartphone.
Rise of the Smartphone
Executives and technology enthusiasts have been carrying these gadgets around for several years. Devices like the iPhone, launched in 2007, have helped push the smartphone into the hands of the average consumer. But 2009 marked the year when smartphones really took off.
Several events helped the smartphone gain traction in the consumer market. Apple launched the iPhone 3GS, the fastest iPhone to date. Google's Android operating system showed up in several phones across multiple cell phone carriers, including the much-hyped Motorola Droid on Verizon. And the Palm Pre, a hit at the Consumer Electronics Show in January 2009, entered the market just a few months later. Suddenly, customers on every major carrier in the United States have access to at least one cool new smartphone.
There's no going back now. The promise of a portable computer that can run applications as well as make phone calls has caught on with the general public.
The smartphone shares a lot in common with the next item on our list: the netbook.
The Evolution of the Netbook
It's not always easy to define a netbook. In general, netbooks are smaller and less powerful than notebook or laptop computers. But there's no official definition, and even the term itself is the subject of debate. Should we call them netbooks, "notbooks," smartbooks, ultra-mobile PCs or something else? Whatever we end up calling them, they were very popular in 2009.
In the second quarter of 2008, netbook sales accounted for 5.6 percent of the overall portable computer market. By the same time in 2009, netbooks had grown to 22.2 percent of the market (source: Myslewski). The low price and wide variety of choices helped boost sales throughout the year.
Another trend that nearly made our list also impacted netbook sales: cloud computing. Cloud computing ports processing, storage and applications to the Web. That means you don't need a powerful computer to run the types of applications you're used to -- the cloud will do it for you. Cloud computing services grew in number over 2009, but not without some obstacles. A few notable companies like Google and Microsoft had to deal with the customer fallout from service outages, one of the drawbacks to cloud computing.
Despite the recession, 2009 was a good year for gamers. The triumph of the PlayStation 3 is our next trend.
The PS3 Gets a Grip
At the beginning of 2009, Sony's PlayStation 3 faced an uphill battle. In the United States, PS3 sales lagged behind Microsoft's Xbox 360. Nintendo's Wii console left the other two behind in the dust. Game journalists and enthusiasts had a host of reasons for Sony's lackluster market performance. Developing games for the console was hard, which meant fewer good games were available. The console was the most expensive on the market with no sign of a price break. Sony's online component paled in comparison to Microsoft's Xbox Live service.
But in August 2009, Sony made a big move and turned things around for the PS3. The company introduced the PlayStation 3 Slim and slashed prices drastically. Suddenly, the PS3's price was competitive with that of the Xbox 360. Add in the PS3's capabilities as a Blu-ray DVD player and you had an enticing package. As a result, Sony PlayStation 3 sales took the lead in September, beating out the Nintendo Wii in sales for the first time ever in the United States (source: Satariano).
The price cut seems to prove that thousands of gamers wanted to adopt the game system but held back due to its price tag. And Sony has some big games lined up to keep up the momentum. Now that the PS3's appeal extends beyond the hardcore group of Sony fans, expect Sony to shake up the video game market in 2010.
Search Engine Wars Heat Up
In the kingdom of search engines, Google wears the crown. According to market analysis firm comScore, Google handles more than 60 percent of all search traffic on the Web. Yahoo and Microsoft account for nearly 30 percent of the rest of the search market [source: Zafra]. Smaller search engines pick up the rest.
But in 2009, Yahoo and Microsoft formed a partnership that could change the search engine market. The plan calls for Microsoft to provide the search engine capability on Yahoo's new landing page. Yahoo will concentrate on creating and linking to content, acting as a portal to other sites.
But that's not the end of the story. The two companies designed the deal as a 10-year partnership. Although Microsoft's technology will power Yahoo searches, Yahoo hasn't thrown in the towel on search-engine development. The company plans to continue researching and developing new search engine techniques and tools. Meanwhile, Microsoft has abandoned its Live Search tools in favor of a new product called Bing.
Upon its debut, Bing sapped some of Google's market share. But as of October 2009, Google regained that share at the expense of Yahoo. The three companies will continue their struggle in 2010.
Twitter Rules the Roost
You could say that online social networking is one of the most important foundations for the Web as it exists today. For many, social networking sites like Facebook have become their main portal to the Web. Friends share links to news stories, funny videos, personal photos and more. Niche social networks like LinkedIn, a site for professionals, also experienced growth throughout 2009.
Then there's Twitter, the Web service that allows you to send 140-character updates to a network of followers. Twitter isn't the easiest concept to explain to the uninitiated. But celebrities like Oprah Winfrey, Shaquille O'Neal and Ashton Kutcher brought more attention to the service.
Twitter also made headlines by sharing headlines. Some of the biggest news stories of 2009 spread through Twitter like wildfire, beating news agencies to the punch by hours. Michael Jackson's death, Tiger Woods' SUV incident and balloon boy were three stories that had people buzzing on Twitter well before they showed up on any major news outlets.
Twitter and Facebook became important during the fallout following the Iranian elections. Protestors used the sites to organize meetings and share information as well as to inform the rest of the world about what was going on within Iran. It's clear that these sites have grown well beyond their original elevator pitch.
Will these trends of 2009 carry over and become even more important in 2010? We're not in the business of looking into the future at HowStuffWorks.com, but the office Magic 8-Ball suggests that it's a safe bet.
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Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- Benedetti, Winda. "Sony introduces slimmer PS3 and big price cut." MSNBC. Aug. 18, 2009. (Dec. 2, 2009) http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/32464005
- Deggans, Eric. "Twitter, Facebook prove invaluable as Michael Jackson story exploded in media." TampaBay.com. June 26, 2009. (Dec. 2, 2009) http://blogs.tampabay.com/media/2009/06/twitter-facebook-prove- invaluable-as-michael-jackson-story-exploded-in-media.html
- Ganapati, Priya. "Palm Unveils Its Long-Awaited Smartphone, the Pre." Wired. Jan. 8, 2009. (Dec. 2, 2009) http://www.wired.com/gadgetlab/2009/01/palms-new-phone/
- Graham, Jefferson. "Apple unveils zippier iPhone 3G S." USA Today. June 9, 2009. (Dec. 2, 2009) http://www.usatoday.com/tech/products/2009-06-08-apple-iphone_N.htm
- Ionescu, Daniel. "Verizon Unveils Motorola's Droid." PCWorld. Oct. 28, 2009. (Dec. 2, 2009) http://www.pcworld.com/article/174569/verizon_unveils_motorolas_droid.html
- Morozov, Evgeny. "Iran Elections: A Twitter Revolution?" The Washington Post. June 17, 2009. (Dec. 2, 2009) http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/discussion/2009/06/17/DI2009061702232.html
- Myslewski, Rik. "Netbook says set to soar -- or not." The Register. Sept. 15, 2009. (Dec. 2, 2009) http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/09/15/netbook_sales_forecasts/
- Satariano, Adam. "Sony PlayStation 3 Outsells Nintendo Wii for First Time in U.S." Bloomberg. Oct. 20, 2009. (Dec. 2, 2009) http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601080&sid=aHiC1WgkiiqA
- West, Darrell. "The Two Faces of Twitter: Revolution in a Digital Age." Huffington Post. June 22, 2009. (Dec. 2, 2009) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/darrell-west/the-two-faces-of-twitter_b_218734.html
- Zafra, Arnold. "Bing, Google Increase Market Share While Yahoo Declines." Search Engine Journal. Nov. 17, 2009. (Dec. 2, 2009) http://www.searchenginejournal.com/bing-google-increase-market-share-while-yahoo-declines/14752/