TECHNOLOGY REVIEW 2004 Steady As She Goes

It’s been about 15 years since I sat in front of my first PC. It was an early Apple with tiny monochrome screen and puny processor (by today’s standards that is). What difference one and half decades can make. Today we take all kinds of enabling technologies for granted – systems and devices that let us communicate and conduct business almost anywhere, anytime.
Reviewing the standout technology trends and developments of the past 12 months is no easy task – there are things going on everywhere you look.
For direction I turned to mobile office guru Luigi Cappel who has helped champion sales automation in this country for many years. Nowadays business development manager with GeoSmart, company that produces ‘Smart-maps’ for portable devices, Cappel believes that 2004 has witnessed the maturing of technologies such as sales automation, wireless connectivity, and handheld devices.
“These technologies are becoming more mainstream and more affordable. We’ve crossed the chasm of understanding and people are now familiar with the IT solutions providers are talking about,” he says.
This year has seen the release of many exciting new devices. Cappel attended the launch of the Tungsten T5 – the latest Palm PDA – and was impressed by its powerful 416MHz processor, enormous 256Mb memory, and its ability to play native file music and video.
“It plugs straight into PC, no ‘hot-sync’ required, and can be used as removable hard-drive,” he says. The T5 also supports programs like Word and Excel, lets users drag and drop files, and it’s backwards compatible.
Another standout device for 2004 is Vodafone’s Blackberry wireless handheld, which combines phone, corporate data access including email, calendar and internet browser, all in pocket-sized package.
Cappel says the Blackberry is proving very popular, largely due to its ability to ‘push’ the delivery of emails.
“Users don’t need to initiate email delivery – as soon as an email is sent to Xchange Server, it’s routed straight to the device which then beeps to announce its arrival.”
He believes there has been great deal of maturing in the broadband and wireless communications markets too, as the quest for bandwidth and speed hots up. However 2005 – with the promised 3G network roll-outs by Telecom and Vodafone, and further fragmentation of the broadband provider marketplace – is tipped to be busy year for the telco industry.
Cappel’s other hot technology pick for 2004 has been the PXT phenomenon, fuelled largely by more affordable price-points on camera-equipped mobile phones.
These devices are selling like proverbial hot cakes. Just check out any outdoor music concert involving teenagers and witness the sea of PXT-phones being held aloft to catch the action.
You may remember Nokia’s 7610 handset appeared around July with its one mega-pixel camera, 3x zoom and video-recording function – the next level on from these types of devices could well be the long-awaited portable videophone.

More highlights of 2004
It’s only when you look back over the list of product announcements that you realise just how much has happened on the technology front (for both business and consumers) this year.
For example, the latest Sony product release features “intelligent” new generation DVD recorders (one with 160GB hard disk capacity), new LCD TVs and 42-inch plasma display, DVD Home Theatre systems, Micro Vault portable storage devices, an in-car monitor and DVD player, three-mega-pixel camcorder, an 18mm thin 5.1 mega-pixel camera, and to meet broadband demands – 1GB “Hi-MD” recording media. And that’s just one manufacturer’s output.
Here are some more observations from the past 12 months:
* Notebooks (laptops) are becoming ever more feature-rich, now with wireless connectivity, DVD burners, ultra-sharp XGA-resolution screens, and an enhanced multimedia experience. It’s no wonder an increasing number of business executives prefer them as primary productivity tool over deskbound PCs.
• Digital cameras – count the pixels, there’re lot more of them – as many as seven or eight million. There are also bigger screens; longer battery life; faster processors; 180-degree swivel lenses for shooting up high or down low; ‘anti-shake’ technology; ‘photo-stitch’ feature; and the facility to record voice memos against specific pictures.
• Projectors continue to get lighter, brighter, more stylish, and many of them are popping up in home theatres. For less than the price of widescreen TV, users can enjoy the big screen cinema experience. The advent of wireless technology has also meant less cable clutter and greater flexibility for presenters.
• Printer and copier manufacturers continue to push the technology boundaries (although unfortunately consumable prices remain ridiculously high). Canon had good year with the launch of nine PIXMA cube-shaped bubble-jets, which feature impressive new print-head technology. Affordable multifunctional colour printers continue to grow in popularity as well.
• Videoconferencing is no longer over-hyped and under-delivered – the technology has enjoyed steady growth in 2004. VC sessions still work best when digital (ISDN) line is employed or the conference is held over fast IP (Internet Protocol) data network.
• Business phone systems are increasingly based around IP telephony – technology that turns voice signals into data packets – allowing businesses to make phone calls and run their PABX and telephony applications over the data network. It’s all about convergence.
• Screens – bigger was better for 2004. LCD and plasma flat-panel displays are on more people’s shopping lists, and flat-screen monitors are gradually making inroads into traditional CRT monitor sales. This year also saw Epson roll out its world-first self-luminescent OLED (Organic Light-Emitting Diode) display prototype.
• For presenters who want the highest level of interactivity, the latest SMART Boards with fingertip on-screen scrolling and mouse clicking are sure to make big impression.
• Security technology has also made big advances over the past 12 to 18 months, particularly in the biometric field. good example is the APC Biometric Password Manager that allows people to use fingerprint sensor technology to biometrically secure their PC and eliminate the need for passwords.

Microsoft New Zealand managing director Ross Peat believes the three major technology trends of 2004 when reviewing the overall business marketplace have been:
• the consolidation of the IT sector;
• the greater integration of systems and business processes; and,
• fast, secure connectivity.
Consolidation on global scale has, to large extent, focused on the merger of Oracle with PeopleSoft – while from New Zealand context the sale of Tech Pacific to Ingram Micro, and of Gen-i and Computerland to Telecom have been key industry developments.
Telecom’s takeovers signal the intention of the company to accelerate the convergence of technologies and work towards one-stop IT solutions shop.
The intention of the acquisitions, as Chris Quin, group general manager for Gen-i describes it, “is to provide delivery of everything up to the phone handset and computer keyboard – the hardware, software, applications, and the networks.
“It’s bringing together of the way networks carry applications and deploy them around the site.”
Quin says it’s also all about treating ICT requirements like commodity, rather than “a strategic headache”; while Microsoft’s Peat refers to it as “a maturing and converging of information and communication capability to better address customer needs”.

The integration of systems is all about the sharing of data and processes between people and between teams, and Ross Peat believes one key driver has been the XML platform – technology that allows different systems to better talk to each other and helps organisations to improve efficiency.
“XML has been touted as the ‘holy grail’ for many years, b

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