2008 in Review, 2009 Hazy

I have mixed feelings about writing “year in review” posts, largely because they tend to be both partial (i.e., you tend to recall only the bits that matter to you) and incomplete (i.e., you can’t possibly cover everything of consequence). Still, there are things worth noting regarding 2008 tech as far as I’m concerned, and a few more on the personal side.

Plus, of course, I have a few ideas about what is going to happen next year besides the obvious deluge of Apple rumors (which is getting so bad I have put nearly half my RSS feeds into a category I call “background noise”). Well, more than a few. You’re getting the edited version. :)

Tech and Mobility

This year’s Google Zeitgeist has a bunch of interesting stuff for folk to peruse if they want the broad highlights of what happened (even though there are no specific listings for tech or, by the way, for Portugal), but here are the five things I considered most relevant:

  1. The iPhone, despite not being the phone of the year as far as I’m concerned, has become the ultimate PDA, at least inasmuch as the notion of a PDA fits this day and age. The interesting bit for me is that it feels as if it became everything the Palm ever wanted to be, i.e., the convergence of personal computing and personal communication in a mobile context. Of course, the Palm synced your notes and had to-do lists, making it actually usable as a PIM, but people’s expectations of what a personal device must do have changed a lot since those days, and managing task lists doesn’t have the same general appeal than listening to music, searching the web, and gaming.
  2. Thanks to it, the mobile industry will never be the same. I can’t write much about things like the BlackBerry Storm or the N97, but it is obvious to anyone with half a brain that it was hardly a coincidence that 2008 was crammed with news of touchscreen devices, mobile application stores and whatnot. Regardless of the fables and an overall tendency for (pseudo)reporters and PR flacks for revisionist history, I don’t think anyone can deny that Apple used the equivalent of a cattle prod on the handset and services industry, and boy, did they ever jump.
  3. Netbooks, despite dominating the hype engines that power today’s Internet “news” sites and delivering reasonable sales figures1, have yet to prove themselves in real life. Yes, it’s cool to have a small, lightweight machine – it seems like a logical next step for “evolving” the laptop, but I think it won’t pan out that way. Human beings create expectations based on looks, and making these machines look like mini-laptops makes people think they can accomplish the same tasks as on a regular PC. Then they come up against the basic ergonomic and performance limitations of current devices and quickly become frustrated. The positive side (for me at least) is that netbooks are the perfect mobile thin client – but for most people they will eventually become a milestone for when convenience attained equal footing with performance.
  4. JavaScript finally became mature enough for me to consider it worthwhile for client-side apps and rich UIs. I know that this is a very partial view (especially considering that jQuery and Ext JS have been around for a bit), but we’re finally getting some decent run-time engines and application frameworks, and (the most important bit for me) it is now perfectly feasible to do mobile applications that rely on it – if only because WebKit now runs on all mobile platforms that “matter”2.
  5. Mobile Me came about, and it is still not much of an improvement over some of my experiences with .Mac. I have already decided that I will renew my subscription come January (it was extended as compensation), and I am consciously chalking it up to my wanting to keep having the complete Apple experience, warts and all. But in my view, Apple should either re-write the whole thing from the ground up (expensive, fiddly) or let go of their (mostly) in-house philosophy and buy stuff to remedy its most glaring flaws – for instance, I’d start with buying Dropbox (which works so well that it deserves to be an Apple product) and dumping the completely inadequate (and still insecure) iDisk.

And why is Mobile Me relevant? Because everyone in the mobile industry is trying to ape it in one fashion or another, just like with the App Store. The two main points here are that a) it’s harder to sell as a concept, making for covert or partial dupes folded into other offerings, and b) that Nokia, for instance, has a better shot at making this kind of thing ubiquitous through Ovi.


Of course, on a personal level, there were more important things. Most of them are six months old and/or public knowledge by now, but my life revolved around three main themes that I can list in roughly chronological order:

  1. Back in February, I realized I was having fun at work again – for nearly a year running, which was a welcome change. The bottom line is that despite the technical stuff I did in Engineering a few years before being as bleeding-edge as it could get (I did DSL, DPI, IMS, integration and whatnot before it became fashionable), the business-oriented crumbs I got weren’t enough to motivate me. Changing back to Marketing nearly two years ago was unquestionably one of the best things I did3.
  2. Soon after, we became parents (which makes everything else seem insignificant), tore down a few walls and spent a few months separated from around 90% of the stuff we owned. All of which helped considerably in re-thinking my overall approach to material possessions and life in general4.
  3. On early July, the (best ever) team I worked with (for the DSL launch and follow-up) was disbanded, and I moved to Vodafone Internet Services, which had been kicked off a bit earlier. A few months after that I took up the Location Based Services portfolio, and despite a few bumps I’ve bounced back5 and have been helping pull some deals together.

July was, in general, a sucky month, since I had a very demanding assignment which happened to target the same date as the iPhone launch – that’s how sucky it was for me. But things are broadly positive overall.

I am still looking for opportunities to do different stuff (more managerial than hands-on), but a bit before the holiday season I was finally assigned to some of the stuff I think I really ought to be doing. As usual, I’ll be keeping a lid on it until I deliver some actual results, but rest assured that it’s enough fun to keep me by.

The Tao

As a direct consequence of my devoting most of my time to more important things, this site has seen a rather marked decrease in popularity.

Which isn’t that surprising, since there are now an order of magnitude more Mac and iPhone sites than when I started out over five years ago, and the bulk of my readership tends to be in the US and rely more and more on RSS feeds.

The Twitterization of the Internet (or that minute portion of which that happens to visit here) has also taken its toll, with people having shorter attention spans and/or time to spare. I have also become (despite my initial impressions) rather involved in it, although my enthusiasm comes and goes in waves (it is now at its lowest ebb, since the signal-to-noise ratio has worsened markedly in the past few weeks and I simply cannot bother).

Still, I’m pretty happy with the site as-is in what concerns both design and underpinnings. Before switching to Yaki last year it was becoming somewhat of a chore to maintain (a major put-down for any kind of writing), and over the course of this year Yaki has proved to be stable, efficient and (above all) as non-intrusive as a content platform can get regardless of whether you’re keeping a blog or, like me, an entire Wiki’s worth of stuff. Like any good technology, it stays out of the way most of the time.

I still haven’t updated the Google Code project (sometimes it seems as if it will never happen) or finished the real clever bits that have been in the back of my mind for many, many months, but I have hope.

Of course, the editorial line has been wavering drunkenly this way and that and it’s somewhat amusing to see this site listed as being “mostly about IT issues”, “OS X tips”, “security insights” or even (gasp) “Open Source rants” when most of what I publish these days is about applications, Apple or the mobile industry…

But hey, who am I to counter the Internet?

2009 Forecasts

This is the bit where one invariably risks getting egg on ones’ face come next year. Last year I merely left a few hints (which mostly panned out, including where I mentioned that hyping mobile platforms would be the next big thing), but this year I’m going to toss out some firmer notions:

  • On the broad scale of things, the market share charts I posted last year won’t show any relevant changes. Nokia will still outsell pretty much anyone in the business volume-wise, including Apple, but the clueless analysts who don’t get that Apple is simply not interested in playing in the same ballpark will keep trying to compare apples with oranges.
  • Palm might be late to the party again, but I think repeating the Foleo’s mistakes won’t happen. Even if Android is probably a better platform than what they will put up for show, Palm is bound to have something to justify all these years fooling around under the covers – which won’t stop them from remaining irrelevant in a worldwide context.
  • Android will start popping out all over the place, but only by the end of next year. Until then, we’ll probably see it fragment more than once, and start suffering the same UI pains as Windows Mobile and, of course, Linux – they lack strong centralized control over the HIG, and everyone who implements it will try to “improve” it, thereby rendering portions of it unusable by mere mortals.
  • The sad people who keep trying to build or use Linux phones will keep repeating the same mistakes that we’ve been seeing for over a decade on the desktop, and spend the whole of 2009 ranting against “the man” in their private little echo chambers, tapping out deranged e-mail messages on their phone’s terminal emulators.
  • In a rather similar fashion, Nokia will deliver the N97 on time, but there will be heated arguments as to whether it delivers something that the man on the street actually wants (or can afford).
  • Social networks will implode financially, not just because people will become fed up with joining (and tending to) every single niche network that their friends invite them to, but simply because the grand advertising and platform creation schemes will start showing some cracks. Still, that won’t prevent the market from hyper-inflating the value of something else.
  • Save for legacy corporate applications, Java will be declared dead on the browser. Finished. Kaput. With JavaScript and HTML 5 coming of age, even Flash will suffer. Of course, there are plenty of clueless people designing Flash site intros and a growing minority of people using Silverlight simply because it’s a Microsoft technology, but I’ve been around for long enough to realize that the Universe doesn’t prevent you from shooting yourself in the foot.

And that’s about it, really. As usual, I refuse to join the jackass crowds who keep braying about Apple needing to cater to their own myopic worldview in 2009.

But it’s dead certain that the iPhone platform will evolve. Remember, kids, Apple is the only company that can afford to cannibalize its own sales because they always toss out something better.

Even if you (or I) don’t agree with their definition of better.

1 Roughly speaking, they amount to around one-tenth of laptop sales or less (depending on where you get your numbers), and much, much less if you take into account standard desktops.

2 The quotes are there because I happen to think that mid-to-low tier handsets like S40 matter a lot more in terms of real market share, but you get the idea.

3 It ain’t all roses, though. For instance, I’m now a bit frustrated by the fact that I probably know more about the tech I’m integrating into products and more focusing on delivering a polished solution than some of the people developing them.

4 Even though I have always valued my free time, It is now a premium asset. If I ever have to choose between a career and family time, my money is squarely on the latter. Also, I am learning to do more with less stuff (less gadgets, less time, less hassle) and cutting my gadget budget in half.

5 As I was preparing to upload this, Om Malik echoes my current lifestyle tenets. There are things you can’t put a price tag on.

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