The 10 most disruptive technology combinations

Mobile phones, at number 1, have changed the way we communicate

4. Cloud Computing + Always-On Devices

A cloud is brewing on the Net horizon, bringing a storm of new applications. The profusion of cheap storage, software that can run a single massive application across thousands of low-cost servers, and near-ubiquitous Net access have created a virtual supercomputer accessible from your pocket. That's why companies such as Amazon, Google and IBM, and Microsoft are jostling to offer cloud computing--applications that run on vast server farms instead of on local networks or desktop PCs, delivered across an Internet connection to corporations and consumers. If you've ever used Google Docs, Salesforce.com, Yahoo Mail, or Zoho Writer, you've experienced cloud computing.

The revolution in Net-based computing will, in turn, change the way devices are designed, as well as what users do with them, says Jonathan Yarmis, vice president of advanced, emerging, and disruptive technologies for AMR Research. When machines across the Net do most of the heavy lifting, we can use devices that are smaller, cheaper, and more portable than laptops or desktops, without sacrificing computing power. Early examples of such devices include Apple's iPhone and Amazon's Kindle.

"What I find interesting about Amazon's Kindle is that by bundling in Sprint's high-speed Internet access, it's not so much a book reader as it is the front end to a store," says Yarmis. "Access to content is a fundamental part of its design."

Disruption: For enterprises, cloud computing provides the benefits of a data center without the cost and hassle of maintaining one. For consumers, it offers the promise of cheaper, simpler devices that let them access their data and their applications from anywhere.

3. Broadband + Wireless Networks

Remember 1998? It was the middle of the dot-com boom, yet most folks were still waiting...waiting...waiting for Web pages to load. Fewer than 1 per cent of US households enjoyed a broadband connection then, according to AT&T. The sluggishness of users' connections was matched only by the leisurely pace at which telecom and cable companies went about creating broadband infrastructure.

Fast-forward ten years. Some 55 per cent of households in the United States now boast a broadband connection, according to Parks Associates, allowing for rich media, video, and audio to dominate the Internet.

But a US$40 to US$60 broadband connection really became economically feasible when users could spread the cost of one connection across multiple home computers through Wi-Fi. Later this year a raft of products using the superfast final 802.11n spec will make Wi-Fi viable for sharing video and audio around the home as well. ABI Research predicts that nearly 250 million Wi-Fi-enabled devices will be shipped annually by 2011.

Disruption: Broadband has created an explosion of video and music Web sites and VoIP services, while Wi-Fi is bringing the Net to everyday household appliances such as stereos, TVs, and home control systems. Together, they're making the connected home a reality.

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Dan Tynan

PC World

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