Anyone seeking clues on the products that will most deeply affect the tech landscape next year needs to start with Microsoft and Apple. Both companies are releasing new versions of their main computing operating systems. Microsoft (MSFT) will release Windows Vista for consumers in January. Apple Computer (AAPL) is expected to introduce Leopard soon thereafter. The moves are likely to kick off a round of computer upgrades and change the way a PC looks and feels.
Each new system promises a raft of new features. Vista, for instance, will boast Windows SideShow, a minidisplay that will let users check e-mail and instant messages even when the PC is off. Leopard's Time Machine will help users search for deleted or lost files, and a feature called Spaces will help organize on-screen windows into categories such as work and play.
Microsoft and Apple won't be the only tech titans hoping to make a splash in 2007. Sony (SNE) and other electronics makers aim for big sales of ultra-mobile PCs. Already on the market and expected to gain in popularity in coming months, these devices are a cross between a notebook computer and a smartphone. They typically boast a keyboard and can run most PC applications.
Wine and Chips
The rising popularity of new types of machines, as well as the need for more memory for Vista, are likely to increase the average selling price, or ASP, for computers, says Charles Wolf, an analyst with Needham & Co. "ASPs will rise for the first time in a decade," by as much as 20% to 25%, he says. Overall computer sales should rise as well, particularly as Leopard makes it easier for users to run Windows programs, possibly encouraging more consumers to switch from PCs to Macs, says Wolf.
Chipmaker Intel (INTC) will make its own contribution to the product lineup with new wireless technology for computers (see BusinessWeek.com, 10/11/06, "Apple's Mysterious Chip Moves").
Code-named Santa Rosa after the city in Northern California's wine country, the latest version of Intel's Centrino chip will allow greater power savings and faster access to memory. A feature called Robson, designed to take advantage of Vista, will help systems load applications up to two times faster. Santa Rosa will also feature the latest in wireless fidelity, or Wi-Fi, for fast video streaming.
That same new Wi-Fi technology is expected to form the basis of another long-awaited Apple device bearing the preliminary name of iTV, a small box designed to send video from a computer or iPod to a user's TV. It's due to be announced in January (see BusinessWeek.com, 12/22/06, "Tech Hot Growth 50").
But the new wireless standard, dubbed 802.11n, won't be the only new kid on the wireless block. Consumers will soon be able to use special cards for laptops and handsets to watch mobile TV broadcasts. Qualcomm's (QCOM) MediaFlo mobile TV network is expected to free up dozens of video and audio channels. It's due in the first quarter.
And by yearend, broadband wireless technology WiMAX is likely to become more mainstream. Intel is already planning to integrate WiMAX, along with Wi-Fi, into mass-market notebook computers beginning in the first quarter of 2008.
For more on products expected to shake up tech in 2007, see our slide show.