Two big consumer drivers in 2003 are likely to be Wi-Fi (enabling the creation of wireless LANs and community wireless networks) and Online Gaming.
Stephen Wildstrom writes in Business Week:
In 2002, wireless data became a reality. Widely available networks offered speeds equivalent to dial-up. High-speed Wi-Fi wireless networks became available not only in offices and homes but also in “hot spots” at airports, hotels, coffeehouses–even convenience stores. In 2003, these networks should become easier to use, cheaper, and more pervasive, fulfilling the promise of anytime, anywhere connections.
Both the networks and the devices that use them are getting a lot smarter as we move toward the day when your laptop or handheld will automatically use the best available connection–and you’ll get a single monthly bill that covers all the networks you use. The software, roaming, and billing systems needed to make seamless network switching a reality remain a formidable challenge. It probably won’t come together in 2003, but we are well on the way.
Automatic switching among wireless networks will happen first on laptops since each network requires its own radio, and it’s hard to cram all that gear into a package that can fit in a pocket. Wireless laptops will get a big boost when Intel releases the first processor (Banias) it has designed from the ground up for mobile use rather than scaling one down from a desktop chip.
Complementing the rollout of WiFi will be the continued creation of global hotspots, which will create the beginning of the pervasive high-speed connectivity envelope that weve been hearing for the past few years. While 3G players are also actively working towards the same vision, it is likely that the Internet-like bottom-up WiFi networks may be the winner.
The online gaming business is one which is going to get even more attention in 2003. Sony and Microsoft have both rolled-out online services. Multi-player gaming is also doing very well in countries like China and South Korea. Says Michael Noer (in Forbes):
The trend toward online games will eventually permanently alter the balance of power between hardware makers and software developers. If you are playing online it hardly matters whether you are connecting through an Xbox, a PS2 or a PC. It’s the game that counts. Expect large software publishing houses like Electronic Arts and Activison to garner ever more power and influence. To be sure, a platform agnostic gaming world is a long way from the current state of affairs. But, in almost any imaginable long-term scenario, the hardware becomes a commodity.
PC gaming is not dead. Despite the mass-market appeal of consoles, the industry needs to pay heed to the PC crowd, which is older, more technologically savvy and has a higher disposable income than console gamers. This makes them a great test bed for new technologies, and, for developers, a reliable niche market for complex strategy, role-playing and simulation games. Both Sony (with EverQuest) and Microsoft (with Asheron’s Call) developed profitable online gaming communities for the PC long before launching their online console services.
It will be very interesting to watch how online version of The Sims (launched in December 2002) does. It is perhaps the first experiment at creating a parallel universe which is driven not be fantasy characters but by real-world avatars.
Tomorrow: Linux, IM and Blogs