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2009: A year in review

I don’t usually go in for these "end of year review" articles, but 2009 definitely feels like it should be a special case. It has heralded huge shifts in the technology industry and shows us there's some exciting changes coming in the next decade.

Content "on demand"

This year has seen an explosion of on-demand streaming services making use of new high speed fibre broadband connections. If you've missed your favorite show you can simply head to services like the BBC iPlayer, or Hulu if you live in the United States. If you need to listen to that brand new track your friend is raving about then you simply fire up your client for Spotify or For the first time people can pick when they want to listen to or view their media, freeing the consumer from the whims of TV Executives and Radio Producers.

HD and 3D content

Well-known services like YouTube and major broadcasters such as Sky and the BBC started offering content in high-definition both online and streamed live for the first time. 3D content has also started to make an entrance into modern cinema, with Avatar 3D attracting rave reviews. High Definition is already here and as soon as next year we could be buying 3DTV sets.

The dawn of the microblog

2009 saw users flock to a website called Twitter, a service offering users the opportunity to post whatever they want within 140 characters and share it across the entire globe. Some users tell us what they had for breakfast, others use it for spam. However, Twitter found a huge niche for spreading news fast, as demonstrated by the fact we all knew about the death of Michael Jackson long before any major news stations reacted.

The service has also led to plenty of client applications thanks to its comprehensive API, leading to more advanced options that enable users to share links, photos and other content with each other instantly. Its integration with more established social networking sites such as Facebook and the adoption of the service by major news corporations and celebrities saw it finally reach critical mass. It looks set to continue into the next decade providing up-to-the-second information for everyone who uses it.

App explosion

If this year will be remembered for just one thing, it will almost certainly be remembered for Apple's decision to create an App Store for its flagship product, the iPhone. In under a year over a billion "apps" have been downloaded both for free and for cash. These ranged from games, maps, guides and dictionaries through to musical instruments, youth deterrant devices (called "mosquitos") and toolkits! If you can think of something there's probably a mobile for it. Yes, even an mobile app for finding other mobile apps!

This could herald a huge beginning for the adoption of the kinds of smartphones that Blackberry and Palm have tried to find a market for in recent years. HTC and Motorola already have Android phones set to gather market share, Nokia is now using the Maemo platform for the N900 and Microsoft is rewriting Windows Mobile in its latest bid to keep pace with Apple's highly successful product. 2010 could be an exciting year for a highly diverse and competitive market, with some real potential for Linux-based platforms to make real gains on commercial equivalents.

Netbooks continue to climb

If 2008 was the dawn of the netbook that surprised everyone (even Asus, and they created the concept in the first place!) then 2009 was the year they exploded in popularity and started to seen regularly in cafes, trains, buses and schools. Phone companies started giving them away free with cheap mobile broadband deals.

Microsoft stirred up a lot of controversy by claiming that over 90% of netbooks were running Windows. The current assumption is that this might be the case in the United States, but here in Europe it's much closer to a 60%-40% split. Linux hasn’t lost the war for netbooks dominance yet, and with the emerging technologies based on Moblin and Ubuntu Netbook Remix it may yet make a resurgence.

GPS goes mainstream

This year saw smartphones being sold with GPS as standard, and 2010 promises to introduce GPS chips for netbooks and laptops. We will have to see whether this actually comes with fruition, but being able to quickly check where I am on Google Maps using the iPhone's GPS chip has helped me stop being lost in unfamiliar settings on more than one occasion! It’s a subtle technology that could soon see services like as Google Latitude gain a much larger user base.

Open source becomes big news

Over the past year the world of open source and free software has seen more public exposure than ever before. With doubts about Windows 7 before it was launched Ubuntu in particular benefited with new media attention. Whether it was some cool new technology such as Ulteo or a forum bust-up between Gnome and GNU we increasingly saw Linux in the news. Big companies such as Intel, Nokia and Motorola started to take Linux seriously and include it in their products by default.

2009 may not have been "the year of the Linux desktop", but it could be a sign that there will be a lot of fun low-powered Linux-based devices for us to use in the coming decade.

In summary...

This year has truly brought information to peoples' fingertips. Searching for information happens in real-time, and the information we have access to is instant and concise. Media is something you can enjoy anywhere and at any tim, and there are rumours that the Tablet PC concept Bill Gates always used to go on about might just come to fruition soon.

2009 was a big year for technology, but we'll soon see the coming of 3D content, Project Natal (Microsoft Kinect), cloud-based operating systems, the unending march of open source and the continued explosion of smartphones and low-powered embedded technologies. On this basis I can’t help feeling optimistic about what the next 10 years will bring.