Device drivers: hot
hardware for 2005

6 Jan 2005

If you’re eyeing possible purchases in the January sales, Forrester’s consumer technology outlook is a useful pointer for what’s hot and what’s not this year. The industry watcher has identified five trends underpinning who the big performers will be: sage advice that should prevent the wary from parting with their money on a dud device.

The company’s pronouncements aren’t just ivory tower tea-leaf reading; its forecasts are based on surveys of tens of thousands of consumers in Europe and North America. As a result, the company feels confident of predicting which devices will fly off the shelves and which ones “will wind up on eBay at a deep discount”.

Those five are, in a nutshell: broadband growth, ease of connectivity, cool design, online content services and mobile data. According to Forrester, consumers with broadband do more online and use hardware that connects, such as MP3 players, digital cameras and digital video recorders. “Broadband households in the US spend almost four hours more per week online than their dial-up brethren and they are three times more likely to download music,” the Forrester report states.

In tandem with this development, the equipment that connects devices to broadband pipes is becoming easier to use. Standards bodies are also working behind the scenes to ensure compatibility between hardware from a range of different manufacturers all complies with widely agreed standards.

The third factor identified by Forrester is aesthetic or, as the company puts it, “devices that are finally being designed for regular people instead of engineers”. As ugly products recede from the shelves, consumers are noticing and buying.

Online digital content services are at last allowing consumers to buy and share digital content such as music and photos and they don’t have to feel like outlaws to do it. Legal services offering paid-for content are springing up, following the lead of Apple’s iTunes store (still sadly unavailable in Ireland).

Lastly, modern consumers are becoming switched on to the wider uses of mobile phones. The rise in data services involving music, photos and games will continue into 2005.

So what does all this mean for the iPod-toting man in the street? Forrester sums up the state of play simply: “Devices tied to content or services will surge; devices without will falter,” the report declares. “One thing’s for sure: consumers won’t stop buying gadgets that make their lives richer and more satisfying. But that means only devices that deliver a complete consumer experience will thrive. Content- or service-barren devices will struggle.”

Looking closer, this means 2005 will be a good year for MP3 players and mobile phones. Portable music players will sell this year, but Forrester is anticipating a backlash when the full effect of proprietary music formats dawns on the public as they find their music collections “trapped on a device like an iPod or Sony’s NW-HD2 Network Walkman”. Regular mobile phones meanwhile will have more and more features added, although purpose-built smart phones for the business user are likely to lose out, according to Forrester.

More controversially, the report predicts that camera phones will outsell digital cameras. “Mobile phones’ convenience, combined with heavy carrier subsidies, decent storage and an OK camera lens, will make happy snappers of us all.”

Many Apple rivals have high hopes for portable video players as potential iPod killers, but current devices fall short on many fronts, said Forrester. Similarly pessimistic predictions are the fate of the Media Center PC — both of these hardware types are unlikely to find favour beyond the usual constituency of must-have technology and home-entertainment enthusiasts. In both cases, the lack of content will prove a hindrance to mass take-up.

Forrester concludes that we can expect more hype in the run-up to major new games console launches — but as many of these devices won’t be available until well into 2005, it’s a safe bet that we’ll more likely be writing about them this time next year.

By Gordon Smith

Pictured: The iPod Mini will still be as popular in 2005 as it was in 2004