High-tech predictions for the New Year


Q: Like most everyone else I finally moved from film to digital photography. I resisted for a long time because of the storage nightmare. What good is all the convenience if one blink of a bad computer sector or the weather can wipe it all out? — Pamela Jenkins

A: I understand what you mean about the chance of losing digital work. That’s why backing up data is so important. If you do that, you’re unlikely to lose your photos or other data. Also, when it comes to digital photography, think of the great advantages. You get photos that don’t fade, don’t change colors, that will print up just the same 100 years from now. I’m sure you’ve — like me — looked at old color photos and seen how they’ve faded or even developed discolored patches.

Q: Thanks to your column, I have had anti-virus protection by AVG, at no cost. Now they are not offering unless one pays. Do you have another recommendation? — Aaron S. (Mike) Levine

A: The free version of AVG is still excellent and is available here (I am using it on this computer as a matter of fact).


This is the time of the year when I make predictions of how the high-tech world and its products will shape up over the next few years.

It’s a great gig. If I’m right I can remind you of it later. If I’m wrong, few of you will remember how badly I missed with my predictions.

It is fun to think about what is coming next. And there are some trends and technologies that seem clear enough to make me think predictions about them have a higher than usual chance of panning out. That’s what I’ve tried to do today — to stick to areas where things are defined enough to make the prediction at least likely to come true.

A good example of that kind of safe bet is video streaming. After all, the technology isn’t new anymore or confined to the tech experimenters. Many households are using streaming to bring movies and programming to their big screen TV from the Internet. What a great deal — so much better than paying for a premium movie channel from satellite or cable. With streaming you aren’t limited to watching when the provider makes the program available — instead you watch on the day and at the time you wish. It’s also a better bargain. For instance, with Netflix, you pay a single fee that amounts to a bit less than paying for one premium channel, and yet you get an entire library of programs.

In the case of video streaming, I hope my prediction is dead wrong. Because I think, as this technology matures, that it’s going to become more like satellite or cable programming. The big companies will move in, package it, and charge the same kind of high fees you pay for satellite or cable. When a technology reaches critical mass, it’s a natural evolution for the big guys to step in to cash in. That almost always means higher prices and less innovation.

My next prediction is another easy one, but it tracks with what I believe will happen with video streaming. As more of us use bandwidth heavy technologies such as video streaming we’ll need higher Internet speeds. According to Akamai‘s latest State of the Internet report — tinyurl.com/bw76c7r — at the end of 2011 the average connection speed in the U.S. was just under 6 megabit per second. That speed is fast enough for decent video streaming and is plenty fast enough for Web browsing and email. But as video streaming grows and as more folks store and retrieve data from online sites even more speed will be needed. I’m not sure how it will be done but I’m thinking that within a year or two, we’ll think of 12 Mbps as the norm.

Since the market often follows trends instead of creating them you can expect to see many new challengers in the tablet computer market. Prices should moderate a bit as competition builds. I believe some manufacturers will bundle low cost or even free data access with their tablets. Wi-fi access is fine but having a tablet with the ability to connect from almost everywhere vastly extends the usefulness of the item.

Security problems — and the serious nature of them — continue to plague us. Crooks are routinely invading large commercial databases as well as creating malware that can automate the process of breaking into home computers.

Something has to be done here. One thing that will become increasingly popular is a device that replaces passwords. Instead of typing in a password the device will scan your eyes, or your fingerprints, so that — no matter what — only the legitimate account holder is able to log in. Luckily devices like this exist now so all that is needed is lower costs for the devices and online sites that begin to take advantage of them.

However keep in mind that this is a case of what’s called spy v. spy. Generally as one side makes improvements the other adopts new measure to get around them. But — considering the stakes involved here — I’m hoping that our side is able to at least ease things a bit.

My safest prediction is this one. Some of what I’ve just said will prove to be wrong. So, for those who enjoy such things, hang on to my predictions and next year let me know how I did.