Into the future

We explore tomorrow's technologies today.
Into the future
By Cleona Godinho and Matthew Wade
Thu 01 Nov 2007 04:00 AM

We explore tomorrow's technologies today.

The future of... the PC

We've experienced dual and quad-core CPU power and how awesome that is, so what's next? Eight cores? New form factors? Will the humble PC finally make it into the living room? We spoke with Intel and AMD to get some answers.

Taking a short-term view first, we asked AMD and Intel what component technology we're likely to see hitting the desktop in the coming months. Both firms, it turns out, harbor some differing thoughts, with Intel talking up its tick-tock evolution model and AMD instead keen on talking up specialised cores.

Carl Lewin, the manager of Intel's GCC Innovation Centre explains: "Our current roadmap follows a ‘ticktock' model; we launch a new processor technology, such as Core 2 Duo, then follow that up with enhancements, and then move on to our next CPU technology." To elaborate, Intel's confirmed strategy is to introduce a new microarchitecture, linked with a new generation of silicon process technology, approximately every two years. The firm expects that little-by-little this strategy will result in a 300% performance-per-watt improvement over today's Core microarchitecture products, by 2010.

"We're now on multi-core products, produced at 65nm. You can expect to see products following that model over the next year, the aim being that greater workloads are handled using less power," Lewin continues. AMD's senior field application engineer, Raed Hijer, says desktop CPUs will now "move towards specialised cores; i.e. cores that do specific tasks - such as fusion. Multi-core CPUs will also become popular as apps and tools are multithreaded."

Mobility matters

As identified on page 24, mobile devices such as smartphones are increasingly taking the battle to desktops and laptops, with manufacturers of the former predicting that the overlap between the two (and therefore competition between them) will increase. Intel and AMD don't see these mobile gadgets usurping the PC anytime soon though.

"At some point, will one device take over the world? Well there'll always be a range of user demand, and user behaviour will influence their respective choices of device, so there'll be space for a variety of platforms. The common trend is that each is becoming stronger," Lewin says.

As for what form the PC of the future will take, Lewin reckons that there isn't a huge demand for standard tower and desktop forms changing. The living room is, he admits, a different kettle of fish.

"There are lots of benefits of having a standardised format, yes, but there are also moves towards providing something more attractive, to consumers in particular. You only need look at the popularity of Apple's industrial designs. There is, we think, likely to be a segment of the market that is more fashion conscious," he claims. Intel for example came up with the BTX form factor a couple of years back. Designed to handle heat dissipation better than standard desktops, the idea was that BTX machines would run quieter and so be more desirable to have in the living room. This form factor has, in reality however, been slowly adopted, and only by some OEMs. "We provide componentry that helps meet demands of PC building organisations," Lewin says. "We enable the industry to be able to think along the lines of new form factors." It's then up to other firms to create forms around these platforms, he adds. AMD meanwhile has come up with a new open-standard form factor of its own. "As manufacturing processes advance, and we integrating cores, memory controllers and the GPU on the same die; power consumption becomes more efficient, enabling ultra-small form factors on the desktop. We're taking the lead in this with a small form factor named DTX ," Hijer explains.

On the gaming front, in a matter of weeks power gamers should get a delightful system hit from Intel, when the firm unveils what it's currently calling the ‘SkullTrail' gaming platform. This promises to be a beast, with two sockets for quad-core CPUs and four PCI X slots. "The basic principle is to really let the enthusiast go to town," Lewin claims.
The future of...printing

So what do you have to look forward to in the world of printing? Well, apart from the web becoming much more printer-friendly, you'll likely be able to print as lightening speeds - and in some cases - without using ink or toner at all. Moreover, you'll be able to print from devices you never expected to print, such as MP3 players, digital cameras and much, much more. Excited? Good. Let's zoom in on the world of web print first then...

According to HP, in 2010 a whopping 53 trillion pages will be printed from the web. In May of this year the firm announced what it calls its ‘Print 2.0' strategy, which aims to make it easier to print online. The firm recently joined forces with Six Apart - a weblog firm and developer of Moveable type (a sophisticated blogging platform) to introduce a ‘Print' button on blogs. This allows a user to print the blog posts they like and you can see this functionality popping up on many sites presently.

Print 2.0

In June of this year HP released the Tabblo Print Toolkit - also part of its Print 2.0 strategy - which is essentially a suite of developer tools to make it easier for web designers to incorporate print functionality into their websites. So how will this technology affect you? Well, the technology will help you extract various bits of info from a website. It will then organise those bits into a professionally designed template and then automatically turn it info PDF format, which you can print and save.

Since this print technology is still fairly new it will take a few years, according to HP, before this functionality starts being used by many popular websites across the internet.

The most exciting transformation however will occur with printers themselves. Thanks to a new inkjet printing technology, dubbed Memjet, in the future your inkjet will be able to print five to ten times faster than today's models, at a lower cost per page, which is good news for us. The technology, developed by a small Australian research company called Silverbrook Research over the last ten years, is really something to be excited about and what it does is unbelievable.

Memjet technology prints a letter-sized sheet at 60ppm (pages per minute). That's one page per second using a 1600 x 1600dpi resolution printer, which the firm reveals will be available sometime next year for between US $200 to $300. This means by 2008 you might be able to by Memjet printers from the likes of HP, Canon or Brother. But that's not the only good news; the estimated cost per page is US $0.02 for a black and white page and less than $0.06 for a colour print.

However, in the future letter-sized pages won't be the only thing you can print in a jiffy; Silverbrook has also recently showcased a prototype Memjet photo printer, which is designed to print one 4 x 6-inch digital pic in just two seconds. According to the firm, this printer will cost $150 and then $0.10 - $0.20 for each print.

If you're a graphics designer or work in the interior design field you'll be happy to learn that the firm is also planning to release a wide-format printer for printing posters and artwork at a speed of 6 - 12 inches every second.

So is this technology being implemented anywhere around the globe? In France, Photo-Me International has already announced plans to introduce trials of Memjet-based photo kiosks.

To see this super-fast printer technology in action, point your browser to http://silverbrookresearch.com/technology.html.

Pint-sized printers

Apart from being able to print at lightening quick speeds in years to come, road warriors will be able to print almost anything thanks to next-gen mobile devices that feature built-in printers. Right now, we imagine you're wondering how anyone could install a toner or inkjet cartridge into a mobile device without risking damage to the components or increasing the size of the device. Well, these devices won't include any ink or toner cartridge at all thanks to another brand new photo printing technology, this time developed by Zink Imaging called Zero Ink.

So how does it work? When a specialised photo paper passes through the small printer, crystalline layers embedded in the paper release various colours depending on the heat generated and the pressure applied.

The best part is, because the unit doesn't require cartridges, the printer is so slim that it can fit in your shirt pocket!

So when might you see this technology on the market? Zink has revealed it is joining forces with a leading camera firm to release the first-ever digicam with a colour printer built-in next year. According to the firm, the camera will print full colour 2 x 3-inch photos. Zink is also planning to release a portable printer specifically for camera phones that will print similarly-sized snaps for approximately $99. These printers will be sold alongside adhesive photo paper, which means you can stick your pics on your planner, scrapbook or on greeting cards. Although its thinking relates to small printers, Zink's Scott Wicker reckons, "You'll see Zink-enabled printers in all shapes and sizes". So what might be next after camera phones and digicams? In a few years' time you might well see the technology integrated into PDAs, notebooks and portable media players.

Clean slate

Zink Imaging is not the only company working on re-inventing paper or printing. In the future, we might be able to print using fewer trees, thanks to a new erasable paper technology from printing giant Xerox. This paper is printed upon using a printer that features a UV light alone (no ink or toner) and the paper-like medium includes properties that help it maintain a readable image for about four hours. It then totally erases itself in approximately 24 hours when left room temperature. Each sheet of paper can be erased and used as many as fifty times.

In an exclusive interview with Windows Middle East, laboratory manager at the Xerox Research Centre of Canada, Paul Smith commented on how he expected people to use the paper and printer combo, "We know from our studies that about 43% of the documents that are printed in the office are for one time use only. That is to say, if someone printed out an e-mail to read and were interrupted by a meeting, we have found that generally people reprint the e-mail for second reading rather than search for the previously printed document. These types of short term applications are over served by paper."

He went on to say, "A second major application would be for mobile workers who currently organise their whole work process around not printing since, being on the road, they cannot afford to run out of toner or ink. These workers could print using erasable paper since an erasable paper printer would function as long as there is power."

So when can you expect to try this technology? Currently, erasable paper is still at the research project stage, but considering the huge potential benefits to the environment and the reduction in paper usage and print costs for businesses and consumers, we reckon the technology stands a good chance of eventually hitting the shelves; just not for several years.
The future of...of the web

In the future internet surfers can expect the continued roll-out of many so-called Web 2.0 websites as well as services.

Perhaps best described as sites and portals that have large committed communities and include tools that allow the sharing of views and content, Web 2.0 includes - of course - social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace.com.

Moving forwards on this front, net experts expect that the new networking sites of the future will be noticeably more niche than the current raft. Speaking at the AkwatsOn Stanford Summit, a yearly Silicon Valley talking shop, in August, a senior VP of MySpace and one of Facebook's cofounders agreed that ‘Social Networking 3.0' - generation 1.0 being talkboards and chatrooms, and 2.0 being Facebook and MySpace-style sites - would be led by the growth of what they termed ‘vertical social networks'.

Therefore you'll likely see single-interest sites being expanded, or set-up from scratch, to offer users comprehensive networking environments in which to meet up with and share content with like-minded individuals.

Niche networks

Say you're an avid cyclist. You might become a registered user of ‘WheelBook', through which you can talk to other riders, discuss routes, organise trips, and sell your biking kit. As with the number of niche magazine titles around the world at present (ranging from the ever fun B2B title Mould Technology in the UK to Sutra magazine in South Africa), the number of possible vertical network sites is almost endless. (Want to set-up your own? Try checking out the solutions at onsite.com or webpiston.com)

Your browsing meanwhile might also change in the future, inasmuch as the distinction between what's online and offline will start to blur. Mozilla's Mike Schroepfer confirmed as much earlier this year. As the VP of engineering at the company behind the popular Firefox browser, he's one of the people leading what could become a browser revolution, whereby you'll be able to use and enjoy web applications offline.

As he explained it to BBC News online, this means "the ability to take your web-based e-mail, calendar, RSS feeds and access all the old content even when you don't have net access". He added: "Accessing data at all times is one of the things you can do on the desktop, but you can't do on the web today." He claims Mozilla will remove this block when Firefox 3 ships (due at the end of 2007).

Web 2.0 made easier

A level deeper, in terms of programming-for-the-web, there is serious industry interest in Microsoft's Silverlight technology. Initially unveiled in an early form last year, this so-called ‘Flash killer' will certainly provide Adobe's animating tool with some stiff competition for one, however Gates & Co's plans for Silverlight span much further afield than just that.

Speaking in April this year, Microsoft's chief software architect, Ray Ozzie, explained: "The web apps of today, and tomorrow, are by necessity complicated, and fragmented across many technologies." With its newest Silverlight 1.1 version, unveiled at that time, the firm hopes to solve some of those issues, as with this release Microsoft has made it possible for almost every developer of Microsoft-based software to create code that can feed into the Silverlight app. That means, in plain English, that the hordes of Microsoft programmers out there have a relatively easy way in which to power feature-packed Web 2.0-style sites. They won't need to convert their code into a format Flash can understand for example, as Silverlight will be able to comprehend it all first time. At present, it doesn't come much closer to shared Web 2.0 standards than that.

As most users in the Middle East have learned in the last couple of years, government services and bill payment have, and will continue to, move online. This will be more than likely through residents using one simple government portal to access all relevant services and their respective mini-sites (as with Dubai's approach, at www.dubai.ae).

Google goes virtual

Online virtual worlds - also referred to as metaverses - look set to continue increasing in popularity.

The company behind Second Life, Linden Lab, is on a mission to make future versions of the software easier to use in a bid to attract a wider audience than the largely geek-based user base it has at present.

Interestingly however, the likes of Second Life, close competitor there.com and habbohotel.com (a Shockwave-based ‘hangout for teens') look like being taken on in this space by no other than Google, which has already rolled out the first version of a tool to help users turn Google Earth into a virtual version of the planet proper.

Its approach is similar to Second Life's, inasmuch as users/developers create the 3D content. This then sits atop Google Earth's image (the firm just hosts the servers), but the similarities end there. The key to Google's method is a free, a popular 3-D modeling program it bought - released this April - called SketchUp.

Google is encouraging developers to use this app to build 3-D layers on top of Google Earth, even providing these creative types with a website called 3-D Warehouse, which they can use to demonstrate and store the creations they've come up with using Sketch Up.

Think of it this way. Real estate companies have already begun demoing virtual versions of their buildings, which are for sale in the real world, on Google Earth. And they can do this because SketchUp lets them build full models of their apartments, right up to and including kitchen appliances! Google isn't even hiding its metaversal plans for domination; Google Earth's general manager John Hanke himself described Google Earth at one Silicon Valley conference as a "3-D virtual world." To complete its offer, many industry insiders expect Google to add avatars soon.

Imagine. You could log on, fly to the virtual Riyadh, go shopping at Riyadh Sahara Mall, then pop across to New York and either chat with your long lost cousin in Central Park or play a cab driving game with a stranger. And all without using up your air miles!

Having your say

As far as people having their say online is concerned - only without the capacity for conversation-like feedback, a new sub-trend that looks set to take hold is ‘micro-blogging'.

Not a tricky one to understand really, this refers to new-generation social tools with which users can share very short messages online. This type of approach should for instance float the respective boats of users who do have opinions to spout, but also have little time to devote full-length blog entries to publishing them. A good starting point is Finish site Jaiku at, simply, jaiku.com.

And last but not least, internet TV is ever so gradually becoming a reality. Obviously tied to the adoption of broadband-speed internet, news organisations and serious newspapers are for example now providing their own ‘news update' video channels online. And on a larger scale, industry giant BBC in the UK has recently started offering its already broadcast programmes as free downloads.

Net-specific broadcasters are also moving ahead, with Joost for one having now released its software for general use with the rollout of its second Beta version. Its close competitor Babelgum has been available meanwhile for anyone to try since the summer.
The future of...mobile devices

The three main recent trends in the mobile device field have been the coming together of different features (from digital camera functionality to media players and document editing capabilities), the arrival of the internet on handheld devices, and the actual physical shrinkage of smartphones and PDAs. So will these themes continue? And how will we use the handheld of the future? Let's find out...

In the medium term, one feature that Chinese handset giant HTC's regional boss, Kevin Chen, reckons will become the real killer app for mobile users is ‘mobile TV'. "Also, home security will be an important application," he claims, "as this will see users being able to monitor their homes and cars over the internet. This kind of function will be very important."

Of course these functions will be 100% internet-based, which means for them to take-off in the Middle East then users must be able to access (and afford to use) high-speed networks. 3.5G in the form of ‘HSDPA' is currently the highest speed offering in this region (although only in some countries), however Chen says we'll soon start seeing fourth and then fifth generation networks coming into play, offering broadband-like surfing speeds.

Speeding into the future

On this net speed front, Nokia's director of strategy messages, Amit Patel, also believes that sluggish upload and download speeds won't pose a problem for long. "With the regional 3G here, the bandwidth is somewhat limited, but we've already seen that HSDPA enables faster and faster speeds to be available. We're also seeing the move now towards a longer term evolution with 3.9 - or 4G, which will deliver peak data rates of up to 100Mbits/sec," Patel reveals. "We're going to see significant developments in that, which will obviously help in terms of getting the content that's available on your PC onto your mobile device as well."

Whilst web speeds are one issue for mobile surfers, another is the physical struggle of logging onto sites from their handheld. i-mate's technical director, Majeed Salman explains: "The unfortunate bit of the PDA is that you're limited by what the human eye can see; on a 2-3 inch screen, you can only have so much content displayed. Unfortunately also for the PDA market, web authors are designing sites largely for viewing from desktop and laptop computers. Whereas in different markets, such as Asia, you have a lot of use of the web from handsets and mobile devices. This issue will continue to lag as long as people continue to author for the desktop," Majeed asserts.

Nokia's current net innovation, now in beta testing, does away with the browser approach altogether to get around this problem. "The service we just beta launched called ‘widsets' allows you to create small, tailored applications that run on the device - not just our devices but a whole range of them - enabling you to access web content in a dynamic way, through a customised app rather than through a browser," says Nokia's Mark Durrant.

Notebook challenge

On the feature front, users can expect notebook functions and capabilities to increasingly overlap and be overtaken by PDA, data-based handhelds, believes i-mate's Salman. "PDAs are getting more powerful. Companies are looking at what consumers and business users do with their notebooks, and they're able to accommodate these," he states. "So for instance, doing presentations with your PDA, rather than carrying your notebook around. The PDA, the iPhone and more-these form factors are just now becoming realistic to use instead of a PC."

Nokia's Patel reckons one of the important improvements we'll also see in the short to medium term is a renewed focus on media. "There hasn't been that much memory available before on mobile devices, but now we're starting to see 4Gbytes and 8Gbytes coming onto them," he claims. "You'll end up with hundreds of gigabytes and the capability of storing hundreds of hours of music and video on your device."

In control

Perhaps the issue most relevant to smartphone buyers and a topic of heated debate in the industry is the input method used; namely, which will still be around in two years. For instance will touch become the de-facto input method of the future?

Patel thinks it will certainly play a part, but like all the vendors we spoke to, he doesn't believe any one input route will win out.

"When it comes to interaction, yes we're seeing touch coming in. But we have to be careful with touch being the only input mechanism, because if you've used a touch-only device you'll know that when you want to type in a web address, using touch is quite difficult, so many people prefer to have a keyboard to do that. I think we're going to see a combination of input methods used, with touch just one of these."

HTC launched its own Touch PDA

earlier this year, so one might expect Chen to be very much pro-touch. He is, but not at the expense of giving users less choices. "Touch will be the real input method," he says. "With HTC, you can see from our portfolio that we provide a variety of products. Many customers don't like using the tiny keyboard, or prefer the soft keyboard. The HTC Touch Dual, launched in the UK and due here this month, provides a small button keyboard and a multi-touch panel." (Check out the demo of HTC's TouchFLO technology by searching for ‘TouchFLO' on YouTube.)

I-mate's Majeed sides with the multi-method approach, saying, "I think if there was a clear winner today, it would already have been chosen."

Factoring in the form

On the form factor front, two new types of mobile device have been rolled out recently. One is the ‘internet tablet' form factor. Not an industry-agreed size and specification, this is more a proprietary and experimental development led by Nokia's N800 device (to be followed by a HTC offering here next year). The second is the Ultra-Mobile PC (UMPC), as unveiled by Microsoft and Intel last year (which is only here in this region in the form of Sony's great-looking but difficult Vaio UX device). Could either type of device impact the smartphone itself? Will there be overlap? None of the experts we spoke to are particularly convinced.

"At the end of the day, tailors only make pockets so large and people are only willing to accommodate so much at any given time," says i-mate's Majeed. "So you can only make useable PCs so small. For instance, Windows Vista doesn't work very well at resolutions of 800 x 600 pixels (even when vendors are scaling it); the human eye is only so capable. Even though Microsoft has put a lot of effort and marketing behind it, UMPCs aren't quite as useful as a PC. The market still hasn't given a warm reception to these devices."

"The UMPC's success in the medium term will depend very much upon whether travelling people want to carry around a laptop and a UMPC and a mobile phone," Patel adds. "It's difficult to see how the UMPC will become mainstream and high-volume."

Patel also adds an interesting additional point, predicting that, "Other technologies may also turn up which may disrupt that business model as well. For example, if you were able to use your mobile phone to project a Powerpoint presentation onto a wall or a screen, and you could edit that presentation on your phone (using various different input methods), would you really need to have a UMPC with you? Those are the kind of things we're considering at the moment in terms of how technology will develop."

This presentation projection idea isn't as far-fetched as it might sound, as there are currently at least three companies working on bringing such a technology into the mainstream. Light Blue Optics for example is developing so-called ‘pico projectors' that can be built directly into phones.

Based upon holographic laser technology, this feature will allow full colour, high-quality video images to be projected onto both flat and curved surfaces, so sharing every type of content, from Powerpoint presentations to birthday pics and your favourite music concerts should be possible. Light Blue's development competitors are Texas Instruments and MicroVision.

More exciting developments are set to include bendable screens, Patel says, which will lend themselves to technologies "where, for example, you can wear your mobile on your wrist; something like that."

"Other things we think are important," he continues, "are real-time speech translation, whereby you can get your text messages read out to you by the phone, and things like biodegradable materials, so a device's long-term impact on the environment. The idea being that when you've finished with your phone, it just disintegrates and disappears, rather than hanging around and polluting the environment. Meanwhile nano-technology will help us to create scratch-resistant surfaces and self-cleaning technologies, so that your fingerprints don't stay on the screen."

Here, there, everywhere

Patel and Durrant also both believe that GPS will play a huge role in how we soon use mobiles. "We came up with a good example recently, when we were discussing people taking a photograph with their mobile phone and having this image tagged with a GPS location, then uploading it to flickr.com. People would know that that photo was taken on this date by this person, at this location; so we're talking about mapping the photo to the user and place. says Patel. HP's Mscapes technology - see mscapes.com - also adopts a similar approach. Durrant concludes, "Everything the user does will have that geographical context to it. The services available to you on the device will be dependent on where you are, so the device will be aware of where it is, and it'll also be aware of what you like. You'll then get options applicable to your preferences, based upon where you are. You'll have your contact book and your phone will be aware of where you and your contacts are - helping you see if people are nearby."
The future of...displays

Stay tuned as we unveil what might be the screen of tomorrow as we take an in-depth look at what the display bigwigs, such as Sony, LG, Philips have in store for your eyes...

Be flexible

One trend to look out for in the near future displays is flexible screens. In May of this year, IT giant Sony unveiled a 2.5-inch OLED (organic light-emitting diode) screen which can be easily bent thanks to its glass substrate properties. OLED screens are said to be more energy efficient that LCD screens as they don't require a backlight to boost brightness. Since the display is super thin at 0.33mm, you just might see these in magazines as adverts or even on the back of a mobile phone or PDA for watching movies or home videos.

Sony claims the wafer-thin device will allows for the development of bigger, lighter and ‘softer' devices. The screen boats a resolution of 120 x 169 pixels and weighs a mere 1.5g. To see the technology in action, head over to www.youtube.com/watch?v=TDuP8PtDJbE.
..
"In the future, it could get wrapped around a lamp post or a person's wrist, even worn as clothing," said Sony spokesman Chisato Kitsukawa. "Perhaps it can be put up like wallpaper," he added.

However, Sony is not the only firm jumping into flexible displays. For instance, in July of this year LG Philips (a joint display venture between LG and Philips) announced the development of an oil and water-based flexible display, which could be rolled up like a newspaper.

The firm reckons this development will help make flexible displays easier to manufacturer and less expensive for consumers; a major challenge for manufacturers currently according to industry experts. According to the firm, this new process is a lot simpler and cheaper than current flexible OLED displays and could possibly bring these displays to mass market at a reasonable price point.

This past February in Italy, Telecom Italia joined forces with Philip's flexible display division - Polymer Vision - to release a mobile device featuring a 5-inch roll-up display. The display is grayscale and cannot be read in the dark; however it represents an important step forward in incorporating the devices into mobile devices such as PDAs and mobile phones in the future.

Thin is in

Another trend you'll likely see in the years to come is displays such as PC monitors and TVs especially will become thinner and thinner. Just last month LG Philips unveiled an LCD panel that is 19.8mm thick.

The screen is 42 inches and boasts full high-definition resolution, thus making it perfect for use in the TVs of tomorrow. According to the firm, the screen is 40% thinner and 10% lighter than current comparable screens. Meanwhile, in August electronics firm Sharp Corporation unveiled a 52-inch prototype display measuring 20mm and revealed that the display would be selling in 2009 or 2010.

At last month's, Ceatec exhibition, JVC displayed a 20-mm thick 42-inch LCD panel and Hitachi showcased several prototypes of a 32-inch LCD TV that is just 19 millimeters thick and could in stores as soon as 2009.

According to industry experts, part of the reason for this race for skinny screens is because LCD manufacturers have reached a limit in the size of the panels that can be made. And since the market for massive screens is very small, firms reckon thin will appeal to buyers.

In the battle for a super-thin TV, it seems that Sony is in the lead. Last month, the firm unveiled an 11-inch OLED TV, dubbed the Sony XEL-1, which is only 3mm thick. The TV is going to on sale for US $1740 in Japan at the end of the year and is expected to ship to Europe and other regions as well. Sony however does admit that LCD screens won't be taken over by OLED displays anytime soon.

"I don't think OLED TVs will replace LCD TVs overnight. But I do believe this is a type of technology with very high potential, something that will come after LCD TVs," stated Sony executive deputy president, Katsumi Ihara.
The future of...storage

Old -school hard disk technology currently has a massive chunk of the storage market (approximately 80%). The remaining 20% is made up of storage technologies such as flash, hybrid and Solid State Disks (SSD). So will these new-age technologies kill the consumer hard disk in the future? And, if so which of these technologies will steal the show? Read on to find out this and much, much more..

In the laptop segment, many industry experts reckon that hybrid disk technology will reign supreme in the in the future. One of the reasons for this is that storage heavyweights, including Hitachi, Seagate, Toshiba and Samsung joined forces earlier this year to form the Hybrid Storage Alliance (HSA).
The main aim of this group is to display how both flash and hybrid technology can extend a notebook's functionality and to speed up global market adoption of these technologies.

Research firm IDC, predicts that hybrid hard disks will account for 35% of all hard drives sold in notebooks by the year 2010. It's also worth mentioning that Windows Vista is designed to take advantage of hybrid technology, as the OS' Windows ReadyDrive feature is designed to work with such drives - helping it to boot up and resume from Hibernation mode faster and optimise battery life.

So how do hybrid drives differ from regular hard disks? Your PC's standard hard disk includes magnetic storage platters along with a tiny DRAM buffer. A hybrid drive adds NAND flash memory into the mix and this is used as a non volatile data cache. Date stored in this cache can be retrieved much quicker than normal and reduces the use of the disk, thereby reducing power consumption and increasing battery life. The hybrid approach essentially marries flash and traditional hard disk technology.

At the time of writing, Seagate announced that its first hybrid hard disk for laptops, the Seagate Momentus 5400 PSD, was being shipped in volume to manufactures worldwide. Samsung however was first to ship hybrid disks, releasing them back to OEMs around the globe in March of this year.

Over time, Seagate plans to introduce hybrid technology to desktops, servers and various consumer product segments.

Solid choice
Hybrid drives are not the only tech to look out for however as key regional player HP has chosen to go with solid-state drives instead of hybrids. According to the firm, it has chosen solid-state drives (SSD) due to its shock resistance and low power consumption, however these drives are more expensive to manufacture compared to hybrid drives or standard hard drives. Solid state drives using flash memory in place of magnetic platters to store information. Samsung is also active in the solid state market and in March of this year announced plans to release a 64Gbyte SSD before the end of the year - for use in mobile phones and devices such as UMPCs and media players.

Seagate meanwhile also plans to have what its spokespeople term a "small presence" in the solid-state market from next year, but has predicted that in 2011, SSDs will still be outsold by hybrid drives, which the firm estimates will comprise 75 million units worldwide.

"We will actively deploy flash technology, including hybrid and SSD, in spaces where it brings customer value," stated a representative for Seagate.

Crazy capacities

Capacity along with purchase price, size is probably the biggest factor when purchasing a hard drive. At present, hard disk drives max out at one terabyte (approximately 1000Gbytes) but if you're hungry for more, there is some very good news. At the time of writing, storage giant Hitachi announced what it claims is the world's smallest reading-head technology for hard disks called CPP-GMR (current perpendicular-to-the-plane giant magneto-resistive). Not as boring as it might sound!

Hitachi's technology builds upon GMR technology, which isn't new. GMR was first discovered in 1988 and its subsequent research work was awarded this past September with a Nobel Peace Prize for Physics. In the early 2000s, GMR heads provided the fastest growth in the storage industry with hard disk capacity doubling every year.

According to Hitachi, CPP-GMR heads will enable the density of disk storage surfaces to be increased to 500Gbits per square inch or more. (The greater the storage surface density, the more data the surface can hold.) At present, density stands at 200Gbits per square inch.

This breakthrough is expected to quadruple current storage capacity to a massive 4Tbytes for 3.5-inch desktop drives and 1Tbyte for 2.5-inch laptop drives by 2011.

John Best, chief technologist of Hitachi Global Storage Technologies stated, "These drives could be used in HDTV or similar applications where people don't want to erase data."

Best also believes these massive drives could however serve as high-performance drives as data is packed close together, thus making reading data faster.

Although a hot topic, Best reckons flash and SSD (which uses flash) won't kill old-school hard disks anytime soon, because they don't offer a competitive cost-per-byte ratio. Kevin Vine, EMEA sales and marketing for storage firm Buffalo agrees and states, "You could easily join several banks of flash memory together to form a single 10 Terabyte drive if you wanted to but it would just be very expensive and nobody would buy it. Cost is the limiting factor. Flash is just more expensive to make per gigabyte. So flash drives are available at a price rather than specification."

Titanic thumbs

Desktop and laptop drives won't be the only ones to boast bigger capacities in the future. Although at present 16Gbyte thumb drives are the largest you can buy on the market at least for a decent price, a firm called Kanguru has also just unveiled the Kanguru 64Gbyte Max Drive - which is said to be the world's largest USB 2.0 thumb drive, but at the time of writing it wasn't widely available for purchase - and we're not too surprised considering it boasts a jaw-dropping US $5739 price tag! However, we reckon this price will drop dramatically once further large drives are introduced into the market and the technology's ‘peak time' is over.

Spot on

Another exciting storage technology that you can expect to see in the near future is HP's Memory Spot. First unveiled in 2006, Memory Spot is a self-contained storage device with a processor and wireless capabilities that can be attached to business cards, documents, photos and more.

Prototypes of the Memory Spot chip developed by HP Labs contain 256Kbits to 4Mbits of memory and can transfer data wirelessly at speeds up to 10Mbits/sec. According to HP, this amount of storage allows the chips to hold a short video clip, digital pictures, or dozens of pages of text.

In its first demo of the technology, attended by the Windows team last year, HP officials showcased a photograph of a baby, which featured an embedded Memory Spot chip. The demonstrator took a reader - which was connected to a PC - and waved it over the photo. A second later an audio file of a baby laughing began playing on the PC.

The idea behind the technology is to enhance real-world items like menus, advertising cards or photos. According to HP, travel brochures contain static text and picture of landmarks and nature, but one of these tags could allow the authors to include videos of the places featured, as well as audio.

Additionally, HP officials announced a Memory-Spot reader could soon be incorporated into an PDA phone such as the HP iPAQ, adding that security was not an issue as the Memory-Spot reader would have to be about a millimeter away to work. HP reckons it will be at least two years before the technology is commercialized.

Howard Taub, HP's vice president and associate director stated, "We are actively exploring a range of exciting new applications for Memory Spot chips and believe the technology could have a significant impact on our consumer businesses, from printing to imaging, as well as providing solutions in a number of vertical markets."

Intel update: tick-tocking into the future…

Menlow

Intel's next-generation platform - codenamed Menlow - is due in the first half of 2008 and will include the new 45nm-produced Silverthorne CPU.

MIDs

Intel is developing a Mobile Internet Device (MID) platform - codenamed ‘Moorestown' - for 2009/2010. It claims this will offer a 20X reduction in average power, and 9X reduction in thermals and package size, compared to the 2006 platform.

Nehalem

Due 2008, Intel's ‘Nehalem' CPUs will be formed using the same 45nm silicon process technology as Penryn chips, but will feature a new architecture that can scale from two to more than 16 threads, and one to more than eight cores.

For all the latest tech news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.

Subscribe to our Newsletter

Subscribe to Arabian Business' newsletter to receive the latest breaking news and business stories in Dubai,the UAE and the GCC straight to your inbox.