The Year 2009 in Technology

Cartoon from MIEL Singapore Times (source: Slate Magazine)

Although 2009 will mostly be remembered by economic turmoil and banking crisis, recession and unemployment, it was still an interesting year in technology. I have compiled, in some unspecified order, some of the technological developments that I found interesting over the year.

This was the year when Google got some serious competition in search when Microsoft announced Bing. It was the year of operating system releases. Windows 7 and Apple Show Leopard got great reviews, but the lines didn’t make it around the corner.

More interestingly, 2009 was the year of consumer devices: netbooks and e-book readers. Both of these caused some disruptions. The netbook follows the same path as the PC did. In the early days, the PC was low-cost, low-end, not very powerful machine. Compared to the more powerful Minis, it was not very impressive and many people dismissed it as a serious competition. Now the netbooks are causing similar reactions. People dismiss them since they are limited and not very powerful. Yet they have found their market share and have opened up a convenient way to access all the cloud-based services on the Internet.

The year marks the beginning of digital books. With convenient e-book devices like Amazon’s Kindle, the Sony reader and the Nook, more people are discovering the convenience of accessing and reading books in digital format. The accessing part is key. With services like Amazon, the on-line access and convenience of getting the books provides value. This marks the beginning of the book disruption.

The cloud continued to evolve in the year 2009. As more services become available on-line, old business models suffer. Microsoft posted its worst outcome in April. Sale of business and office software dropped. The always-on connectivity of the Internet is changing the game. Indeed Microsoft has put much more emphasis on the cloud.

Related to the cloud is the availability of APIs. It seems that each and every web site is offering third party developers the opportunity to develop apps on top of their services.

Even hard-core video games turned to the cloud. OnLive introduced its service at the GDC in San Francisco in March 2009. Games on Demand. If you can play FPS games over the network, pretty much any digital content can be made available.

Google continued to surprise the world. Two products are noteworthy. Google announced Chrome OS, a new and simpler operating system. Interestingly, I have found that most of the news articles that talk about this, doubt the idea of simpler, just-for-the-web type of OS. I think they miss the point. For many consumers, the important thing is the web and the cloud services. For this you don’t need a complex OS. Chrome OS or similar systems won’t replace Windows or MacOS, they will be an addition to the market.

Google Wave also drew lots of attention but even more skeptics. Crossing e-mail with instant messaging and on-line editing sounds interesting but we still need to see the wave taking off. I find it hard to see Wave replace e-mail or IM, but it might move some collaboration communication and shared editing to a new format. But the idea of disrupting e-mail sounds interesting.

Social media was perhaps the thing that got the most general interest in 2009. We saw more applications of crowdsourcing, a term that become popular in 2009. Another aspect of the web that made headlines was the real-time nature of the web. When Michael Jackson died, people all over the world turned to the Internet. Google even suspected an attack. And again Twitter made the headlines.

2009 was also an interesting year in mobile. I still believe that mobile has yet to take off with some interesting applications. Part of this is the interesting phenomena, the Apple App store. Most other phone vendors rush to get their own app store out. While apps in the Apple App store crossed 100.000, every mobile vendor was introducing their own store. Needless to say, they were all different.

But if anything was different in the mobile world it was Android. Google introduced the open source phone OS and the first phones started to appear. So far, it still remains to be seen if Android takes off.

2009 also marked few birthdays. The Mac turned 25 in January. The Web turned twenty in March. And the Internet turned forty.