It was the year of the iPad. Apple's latest sleek creation caused a storm when it was launched this year, capturing the imagination of consumers all over the world. But the big question the technology world is now asking is: what will be the must-have item next year?
Identifying the next blockbuster gadget is never easy. In consumer electronics, it often feels like developments are happening so fast that your head spins with the number of latest models rolling off the assembly lines.
Even for people who work with the latest gadgets every day, it is hard to keep up, but here are our predictions for what the main developments in consumer technology will be next year.
1. More mobile
There's no denying that consumers are becoming more mobile in their information management, leaving computers behind and carrying smartphones and tablets instead. The researcher IDC expects that shipments of non-PC mobile devices will be larger than shipments of traditional PCs within the next 18 months.
Tablets, symbolised by Apple's iPad, have captured the imagination of technology companies and customers alike, and next year we will see an onslaught of tablets. A second generation of Apple's iPad is expected in the first quarter of the year. It will be an evolution rather than a revolution - with a camera, faster processor, and higher-resolution display among the expected changes. Android tablets are coming in full force from Acer, Creative and others, in various sizes and feature configurations. RIM, the maker of BlackBerry, is also set to introduce a tablet called the PlayBook. So far absent from the tablet space, Microsoft and Intel will get into the game in a serious way. Intel has said it will unveil 35 Atom-powered tablets at the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January.
2. Up in the clouds
Already this year, "cloud computing" has been everywhere. Even a special section of the GITEX exhibition in Dubai was dedicated to the cloud. Next year, I think, we will do more and more cloud computing, although we will speak less about the cloud. What will happen is that the cloud is becoming a natural part of what we expect rather than something for which we need a particular name.
We will run applications from the cloud, save our files to the cloud and do much more. Obviously, security and privacy are prominent issues, and cloud service providers will have to work hard at convincing us that their particular solution can keep us and our data safe. As storage space and broadband speeds continue to increase, you will find yourself also storing your music and video files in the cloud. Apple is rumoured to be building cloud support into a future version of iTunes, and Acer has already announced a cloud-based music and video store.
3. Apps aplenty
No matter how amazing the hardware or the operating system may be on a smartphone or tablet, it is essentially dumb without useful apps. In fact, the availability of cool apps is part of consumers' purchasing decisions today so, clearly, apps help sell hardware. In October, Apple announced there were 300,000 apps available at its App Store, with 7 billion downloads recorded. The competition is far behind, at least in quantity, and apart from Nokia's Ovi Store, no one else offers a local availability of apps to rival Apple's. Android Market is not installed on official Android handsets sold in the UAE, while RIM's BlackBerry App World has yet to launch in this region.
With increasing access to apps and efforts by AppsArabia, an investment fund for app development and part of twofour54 in Abu Dhabi, and others, there is sure to be an increased focus on the apps rather than the hardware on which they run. Also, it is worth keeping in mind that apps are no longer just for mobile platforms. On January 6, Apple is due to open up its App Store for apps for its Mac OS X platform.
4. Time to play?
All work and no play makes us all dull boys and girls so expect gaming gadgets to continue their advance on your wallet next year. Respectable gaming sources believe that next year will herald the arrival of Sony's PSP2. The original PSP was launched in early 2005 so it's way past time for a successor. There is still no official word from Sony on a PSP2 release next year but bloggers expect it to arrive, featuring high-definition graphics similar to those seen on early PS3 games, touchscreen control and download-only game and content delivery.
Nintendo unveiled the glasses-free "auto-stereoscopic" 3D handheld gaming console earlier this year and that should arrive in the shops next year as the march towards multi-dimensional technology continues fervently. Nintendo is set to release 3D versions of the classics Mario, Zelda and Metroid along with some unsettling 3D Resident Evil titles from Capcom and a 3D Metal Gear Solid game from Konami.
5. Google TV
One of the most eagerly awaited launches will be Samsung's Google Television model, which will be unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in early January.
Google had asked major television manufacturers to delay rolling out TV sets based on the internet giant's software, according to media reports. It is keen to update the software, which will allow viewers to surf the web directly from their television sets.
Meanwhile, Toshiba plans to start selling one of the world's first glasses-free 3D TV models next month.
Masaaki Osumi, the head of Toshiba's televisions business, aims to reveal more details in Las Vegas. "In the area of 3D TVs, Toshiba is clearly concentrating its development efforts on the glasses-free technology," Mr Osumi says. "Glasses-free is where the 3D technology is headed. Nobody thinks that we will be wearing glasses forever to watch 3D TV.
"It will have to become stress-free, without the hassle of putting on glasses every time," he says. "That's the way it should be."
6. Charge the cards
No doubt, next year will be one when technological developments continue with unstoppable force. Basically, our gadgets will know more about us, where we are, what we do, and what we like. For some of you this may be scary - that your gadgets will know more about you, and in some respects, probably more than you know about yourself. I may not be able to predict what technologies will be introduced next year but I'm certain that you will be given even more opportunities to charge your credit card for all kinds of exciting tech-products and services. When we meet up again here at the end of next year to review the previous 12 months, I am also certain that what you will read may not be what I have predicted in this article, but that's just the name of the game, isn't it?
Magnus Nystedt is the group editor for consumer technology at CPI in Dubai with responsibility for Macworld, GameWorld and PCWorld Middle East. Additional reporting by National staff.