Business Tech You’ll Use in 2012

UltrabookThe buzzword that’s conquering the business technology market right now is ‘ultrabooks’. The term refers to a trademark owned by chipmaker Intel and refers to a new product class of notebooks that are light, slim and ultra low cost while still packing the specs you need for business or productivity use.

Partly a response to the success of Apple’s MacBook Air 2, the ultrabook has had an auspicious debut, with no less than 50 appearing already in 2012. Manufacturers from across the PC market like Samsung, Acer, LG and Lenovo are hoping it will claw some of the market share away from tablets back to the PC by making the price compelling enough to appeal to businesses and consumers alike.

2011 was the year of the cloud, and this year you’re going to hear a lot more about the technology of storing and accessing files from an server rather than on your own internal computers or servers. The browser is being transformed into the desktop for a raft of business applications like document storage and access (Google Docs) and with services like Microsoft SkyDrive and Adobe you can now create, work on, share and publish all manner of business documents completely online.

The new frontier will be in creating dedicated secure clouds for company (or industry) alone. Closed off to the Internet as a whole you’ll be protected from spammers, phishers and malware publishers.

But why would you even bother casting your precious business data to the four winds of the internet where heaven only knows what could happen? Simply put – externalities. You can set up a website, contact staff and do your business banking from your mobile today, why would you buy or lease expensive data storage somewhere to hold your customers’ details, sales reports or crucial intellectual property? Today your iPhone can be your keyboard and monitor and the Cloud can be your computer.

The corporate sector will also benefit this year form the advances in gaming technology when it comes to interacting with computer systems. Microsoft blazed a new trail with the Kinect controller last year when for the first time you simply had to use hand and body gestures to control games – the controller, wand and joystick became virtually obsolete overnight.

The release of Kinect for Windows is the first widespread advance in the world of using voice, gestures and motion control to interface with PCs. Because Windows 8’s design wields ’tiles’ you can touch, swipe or move like apps on an iPhone, moving your hands through the air to control the system is the next logical step. Voice control technology is already sufficiently advanced to enter the mix so for the first time in 2012, speaking to computers and pointing at screens to control them, Minority Report style, will be a reality.

The other big change coming to the corporate user is increased mobility. The smartphone that does everything a PC can do is now entrenched in Australia among consumer and business users, but other countries have left us in the dust when it comes to the networks that carry data.

Long Term Evolution (LTE, also called 4G) networks are going to change that. The new standard allows for the more efficient delivery of data traffic faster and in greater volumes. Our carriers are starting to roll out 4G transmitter points and handset manufacturers are launching the smartphones that can tune them in, so 2012 will be the year mobile communications offers a real alternative to ground based fibre.

Acer Aspire S5

So far the Aspire S5 is the thinnest ultrabook on the market. The 13.3 inch screen is packed into a device only 15mm thick. At only 1.36kg it fulfils the promise of the ultrabook – more mobility without scrimping on power. The company says the battery is set to last three times longer than that of a normal laptop and earlier in the year it demonstrated the ‘always on’ capability that will add to the mobility – coming back to life from sleep mode in just 1.5 seconds. The Aspire S5 will be released in the second quarter of 2012.

Nokia Lumia 900

The latest addition to Nokia’s Lumia range marks a turning point for several technologies. It’s the first 4G Nokia phone to come with the new version of Windows Mobile, so it’ll be a test case for how well the new generation mobile OS behaves with improved data connectivity. Nokia is slowly abandoning its old signature OS (Symbian) in favour of Windows Mobile, so it will be a lynchpin for the future success of both companies. What they hope that means to you as a business user is a more seamless mobile experience that revolves more around the people in your contacts rather than apps or programs.

Samsung Galaxy Note
Approx $600 (no Australian availability)

Tablets and phones are already in plentiful supply, and as the company with the only viable challenge to Apple’s iPad (the Galaxy Tab), Samsung has hit the sweet spot between the two with the Galaxy Note. The 5.3-inch screen is big enough to be comfortable as a data device and small enough to fit in your pocket like any phone. It runs Android and has all the specs in memory, processor, display and camera technology you’d expect from a device that suits office productivity while you’re on the road.

FXI Cotton Candy
$TBA, likely $100-200

An increasing theme this year as we shift to an ever more mobile workforce will be ‘screen hopping’ – taking your computer with you to connect to any interface that’s handy. This device has everything you need to run a computer in a very small package, leaving you only to provide the screen and input device. A simple USB key, the Cotton Candy doesn’t just boot a personal computing environment into a host system, it literally is the computer, with everything from the data and applications to the processor, memory and software drivers on board.

Logitech Cube

It doesn’t look much like a mouse, but if you move between working on a desktop and presenting on a whiteboard or projector it might be the best tool you buy this year. Don’t be fooled because it doesn’t look very ergonomic, you simply hold it like any other mouse and scroll or tap your finger as always to control the movement on screen. When you need a more direct method, just pick it up, point and click at your screen to move, swipe, enlarge, scroll and more. The unifying receiver means you can connect it to up to six devices at once.

Kinect for Windows

At the moment most of Kinect for Windows’ market for is the developer community, busily dreaming up and inventing apps and tools to make interfacing with a computer easier. But during 2012 their combined R&D efforts will produce a raft of solutions to make controlling a PC and the applications easier than ever. Imagine the sci-fi world of opening your palm upwards and raising it to open a file, flicking your finger in the air to scroll through it, and waving it to one side to minimise it. By the end of 2012 it will be second nature if Microsoft has its way.

Lenovo Ideapad Yoga

Amid the flood of ultrabooks clamouring for your workplace equipment budget, here’s one that goes one step further. Instead of trying to convince you not to buy a tablet, the Lenovo Yoga gives you one in the package. It looks like most other ultrabooks on offer, but when you open the unit the screen folds upwards as normal and keep going, folding all the way around to form a tablet in every sense of the word. The recessed keyboard inside also means it’s safe to put down without interfering with the input.

Themes for 2012

Several new product classes are emerging as the leading trends in 2012 for both home and business. You’re going to see the continuing ascent of The Cloud. After forays into online services by almost every large technology vendor over the last few years, Apple might (as always) be the one to top usage into the mainstream with its iCloud backing and sharing service.

It’s not new, but mobile is going to move forward by a quantum leap in 2012 with the mass rollout of 4G, a network standard specifically built for wireless data that’s going to unshackle most of the world from restrictive bandwidth for good.

The Internet will also start to come of age as machines and devices talk to each other as much as they talk to us (and enable us to talk to each other). When cars report traffic conditions, smart meters talk to electricity providers or our phones tell us which lights we left on at home, cost savings, increased safety and efficiency will result.

A history of business innovation

1837 – The first electrical recording telegraph

1876 – Alexander Graham Bell awarded the patent for the first telephone

1873 – The first commercially successful typewriter

1890 – Large scale data processing using punch card technology (the precursor to the computer)

1946 – ENIAC, world’s first general purpose electronic data processing computer, built

1958 – Western Union builds the first national Telex network in the US

1973 – World’s first handheld mobile phone call

1981- World’s first flip-open form factor laptop computer introduced in Australia (not marketed worldwide until 1984)

1990 – First message sent by hypertext, the basis for the World Wide Web

2008 – First open source platform for cloud computing launched.