10 Technologies to Keep an Eye On, Part II

Ok, so it’s been several months since my first installment of this blog post. I guess I was hoping that if I waited long enough that the next five most compelling technologies would reveal themselves. No such luck. I was left to my own devices to sniff them out. So, without further ado, here are the other five technologies to keep an eye on:

This is part two of a two-part post.

Touch Wapps

What is it?

In a prior blog post, I introduced a new term – Wapp, short for Web App (Web Log gave us Blog, so why can’t Web App likewise give us Wapp)?

So what is a Touch Wapp? Well, I’ll answer that question by first telling you what it is not. A Touch Wapp is not a Web page, nor is it a Web site. It is not a desktop app, nor is it an RIA.

No, instead it is a combination of the following:

  • A touch enabled application that still works with a mouse
  • A chromeless app that looks and feels like a native app
  • An app that works offline, online, or both
  • An app that requires no special plugins to work

Why should you care?

The iPad is already a game changer in the consumer world. For proof of this, one need look no further than at all the Apple competitors scrambling to put out their own tablets. But we’re only in the earliest stages of what I believe is a very significant paradigm shift. Now that the iPad is being sold in stores such as Walmart and Target, adaptation will grow by leaps and bounds. If you think the market for consumer Touch Wapps is large today, just imagine it six to twelve months from now. And if you think the AppStore is overcrowded now, just image that six to twelve months from now!

This shift to tablets is not limited to households either. The same could very well happen in the Enterprise. A tablet’s convenient form factor, substantial battery life, and instant-on capabilities make it worth considering for businesses. Throw in all the other benefits it brings and it becomes a very compelling corporate notebook replacement in many situations.

So those looking to keep ahead of the curve must plan their products and services around these devices as much as mobile and desktop devices. That’s where Touch Wapps come in. Such applications could work on any device, form factor, channel, platform, or what have you [insert your own buzz word here].

There are many strategies to do so. Some would say a write once, run anywhere solution is what you need. I’m not one of those people – I think that tends to be pie in the sky stuff. Others tout the benefits of native apps. While this has its merits, there are high costs involved in maintaining multiple code bases for multiple languages.

The best approach to me seems to be to latch on to open standard technologies, such as HTML5 (including JavaScript and CSS3). Then you could tap into this burgeoning opportunity using a standard set of tools and technologies. How cool is that? So cool, that it brings us to the next technology to keep an eye on…

JavaScript

What is it?

Seriously? You need to ask? Ok, well if you don’t already know what JavaScript is, then you probably won’t understand the following wikipedia definition either:

JavaScript is an implementation of the ECMAScript language standard and is typically used to enable programmatic access to computational objects within a host environment. It can be characterized as a prototype-based object-oriented scripting language that is dynamic, weakly typed and has first-class functions. It is also considered a functional programming language like Scheme and OCaml because it has closures and supports higher-order functions.

Ok, got that? Me neither. But the more important question is…

Why should you care?

If you’re looking to create the next killer app, there are many compelling reasons for using Web technologies, such as the HTML5 stack. And although HTML5 is the zeitgeist of the technology world right now, the central underpinnings of that term have less to do with HTML5 proper, and much more to do with JavaScript.

In addition to the traditional usage of JavaScript in the client side world, there seems to be some momentum gaining for JavaScript in the server side world. This is where node.js fits in. If WebOS uses it, it must be great, right? (tongue firmly in cheek)

But seriously, who would have thought 10 or even 5 years ago, that the much maligned JavaScript language would be poised to overtake Java as the language of the Internet age? And yet, that’s exactly what is about to happen.

Context Aware Computing

What is it?

If you own a GPS or have tweeted with location support, you have already experienced one type of “Context Aware Computing”. But the technology can be much more than that, and products such as Google Goggles are showing the way.

Why should you care?

Geolocation apps, such as GPS and Google Maps are almost ubiquitous now. We are almost to the point where we can’t remember being without them.

The next wave of contextual awareness has already arrived with ‘augmented reality’ apps that make use of a device’s camera, geolocation, and accelerometer functions to provide the user with real-time image overlays.

But for a glipse of what is really possible, take a look at the newly released Google Goggles. This app has been in development for quite some time, and there are still some kinks to work out, but the concept is almost sci-fi like.

Point your device at practically anything and Goggles will recognize what it is and search behind the scenes for relevant information, displaying it to the user directly, or feeding it to another app on the user’s device. The possibilities are endless for such technology – purchase what you’re looking at from an online store, translate text from one language to another (think road signs or restaurant menus), determine who you’re taking a picture of and tag that photo with relevant metadata, etc.

Now imagine an app that combines all the above. Based on where you are, your personal preferences, and what you are looking at, this predicts what you are wondering and provides you with an answer before you even had the question. Now that’s context aware!

WebGL

What is it?

WebGL is a 3D graphics API based on the OpenGL standard. In short, it enables browsers to render 3D images and animations using the HTML5 Canvas tag and some DOM manipulation.

Why should you care?

One word, three times – games, games, and more games! This technology is likely more than two years away from being ready for prime time. But once it is, look out. Highly responsive, action games with hardware acceleration will no longer be the sole domain of native apps. Browsers will look to rule the day once again by providing easy access to compelling netherworlds without the use of Flash.

Now the question is, will there be enough of a demand for these browser-based games over games obtained through either traditional channels, or through new channels, such as…

Desktop App Stores

What is it?

No more buying software in unnecessary packaging at big box retail stores. No more waiting for your favorite title to ship through the mail. The age of the Desktop App Store is upon us! On its Web site, Apple proclaims, “The App Store brings a world of possibilities to iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. It’s about to do the same for your Mac.”

Why should you care?

Now I don’t know about a world of possibilities, but I do know that this will forever change the distribution model of all software. Apple is once again leading the way, but once again, others are sure to follow. This approach is a perfect match for Apple’s control freak attitude. However, it will be interesting to see if all of the copycat App Stores, desktop and mobile alike, will continue to be fragmented, or if someone will emerge with a central repository or at least a central conduit for all things non-Apple.

I have to say though, there was something impressive about looking at the shelves of shiny new software at a CompUSA or Circuit City. Those days are about to go away; it’s so sad, isn’t it? Ok, I agree, no it’s not.

Stay Tuned

In “this ever changing world in which we live in”*, the rate of change is so rapid that you could blink and miss the next big thing. So, it’s quite likely that by the time you’re done reading these words, this list will be out of date already. No fears, I shall do my best to keep you informed of emerging technologies through this Web Log, er, I mean Blog.

* Paul McCartney has written some great songs, but what was he thinking with that lyric?

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8 Responses to 10 Technologies to Keep an Eye On, Part II

  1. Ray Zhang says:

    Just like to make a comment about Node.js. Server-side javascript isn’t yet a mainstream approach and has only recently gained massive popularity. I believe the set of technologies around “HTML5″ reduces the appeals of alternative client-side platforms, enforcing the need to exploit JavaScript to create rich user interfaces.

    Given that in most web development projects, JavaScript knowledge is a prerequisite for advanced UI interaction. The option of using one language for everything becomes quite tempting.

    Note No-SQL type databases like CouchDB uses JavaScript to define data view and filter criteria.

    • Gene says:

      I think you’re right Ray, JavaScript is continuing to make its mark on the client-side. Although it’s not widely adopted on the server-side, I think you might see that happen in time, even if it’s just for niche use cases.

      Thanks for your feedback!

  2. John Carlyle-Clarke says:

    Sorry, I know it’s horribly pedantic.. I really can’t help myself! “without further adieu” should be “without further ado”.

    “Adieu” is a French word meaning literally “to God” and is used to mean goodbye, farewell, vaya con dios.

    “Ado” means fuss or commotion, similar to “What a to-do!”. Think of the Shakespeare play, “Much ado about nothing”.

    Enjoying the blog very much by the way!

    • Gene says:

      You are correct, of course – thanks for pointing that out. I try to edit my own posts, but sometimes things just slip through. I have made the change.

      Thanks for the kind words!

  3. Jose Correia says:

    I still think Java will rule the backend for many years to come, Javascript will be used just like GWT has done it, to maximize Front end speed and control over the UI.

    • Gene says:

      You’re almost certainly correct, Jose. As I mentioned to Ray, above, it may catch on in time, for specific use cases. Anyway, it’s a technology to keep an eye on. ;-)

      Thanks for your comment.

  4. Cristiano says:

    Excellent post, but I have to disagree in one point: You said that Apple is leading the way on Desktop App Stores, but have you ever looked at Ubuntu Software Centre?
    It’s an App Store already implemented. And it was already there one year (or so) ago…
    Rgds,
    Cristiano

    • Gene says:

      Thanks Cristiano, I wasn’t aware of Ubuntu Software Centre. But my point was that Apple is really leading the way from a mass adoption standpoint. Ubuntu, as good as it may be, has nowhere near the influence or reach that Apple, Google, or others have.

      Also, Apple’s App Stores are adding things such as support for promo codes, trials, subscriptions, and more, further solidifying this distribution model as a game changer.

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