Apple will come out with a new lower-powered, lower-cost version of the iPod. The idea here is that they want to extend their lead in the digital music space and use the iTunes music store as a leverage for selling more iPods. From there, I suspect they will introduce a new low-end iPod which will follow the existing iPod line and offer less hard drive space at a lower price. In conjunction with this announcement, they will introduce a new line of iPods that offer support for both audio and video. From there, we might see a tentative move into the digital video space, with the possibility of their extending the offering on the iTunes music store to include downloadable music videos. Later on in the year, rumors will go uncofirmed as to whether Apple plans to introduce a downloadable movies service.
Apple will also announce the release of a new class of laptops powered by the G5 chip but offering lower speeds than their desktop counterparts, due to issues relating with chip cooling.
Convergence: Music Stores
As more music store follow Apple’s lead, we will see at least one other site (probably Wal-Mart’s) offering downloadable AAC files and follow Apple’s lead. On the other side, Apple will announce that it is solidifying its relationship with AOL and offering the iTunes music store as a component of AOL.
The recognition that the online music business is a low margin one will force many players to reassess their strategy, with consolidation ensuing in that market and solidifying across two standards: Windows Media Player files and AAC files.
Convergence: Voice over IP
2004 will be a big year for Voice over IP with many companies offering Internet telephony products in both the small and medium business arena and the consumer one. As major telephone companies unroll their offering in that arena, thoughts will go to redefining what a telecommunication company is about and new consolidation and splits will see phone companies reorganizing around two business models, either as utility providers, providing the infrastructure (the hardwired lines that go into a house or office), or as service corporations, providing services that run over those lines (the voice telephone will begin to be thought of as a service instead of a utility).
By year end, there will be a lot of discussion as to what those companies are about and calls to reshape the regulatory dialogue on what a telecommunication infrastructure is about. The other discussion on regulation will go towards figuring out how to deal with pricing models on communication services as the new services will destroy the concept of local and long distance.
Wireless: WiFi phones and integration everywhere
A big surprise will be the rise of mobile phones that use Wireless Internet connectivity (Wi-Fi) and voice over IP to allow users to place calls using the Internet infrastructure.
Data services will become more prominent in mobile phones, led by camera-phones, which will increasingly be used for multimedia messaging, and the introduction of some videophone services. As mobile phone companies see more pressure on their voice services, due to the introduction of WiFi phones and continued pressure relating to number portability, they will look to data services as a new source of income.
Business: Revenge of the Internet companies
Internet business will be in the headlines again as Internet companies show they have built successful business models based on profit instead of promise. As a result, investor confidence in Internet stock will return with an increase on stocks of companies that show they can use technology to lower costs and increase productivity.
In parallel, venture capitalists will start investing in new technology companies. Much of the money that has stayed dormant for the last few years will be invested in new companies that focus on services in the infrastructure, security, and interconnectivity arenas.
Of course, the big initial public offering of the year will be Google, which will generate enough excitement in the investment community to have a coattail effect on other Internet stocks.
On the downside of the investment picture, the stocks of Amazon, Ebay, and Yahoo will loose value as investors realize that their price/earning ratio are out of proportion compared to the rest of the market. Amazon will try stemming the losses in their share price by announcing that they are moving to a new strategy: offering a complete set of hosted services for retailers who want to lower their cost, instead of just being an online retailer on its own.
Business: Sun in trouble
Sun microsystems will see itself in a difficult situation as it finds itself squeezed on the lower end by Linux, which will continue to eat Solaris’ marketshares, and on the higher end by Linux, which will increasingly be seen as the way to go when it comes to large scale applications. Companies like IBM and HP will offer utility computing as a “better approach” for large scale applications, running them on mainframes instead of large numbers of blades.
On the educational end, Sun will lose marketshares to Apple, which will be pushing its G5 and OSX platform as a better alternative.
In a dramatic announcement to save the company, Scott McNealy will announce that Sun will abandon Solaris and move completely to Linux by the end of 2005. The company will also look to sell its SPARC processor business, with either HP or IBM picking it up, and announce that it is moving to a new hardware architecture, based on chips produced by another company.
Development: Standards at the forefront
Many large scale businesses will realize the value of building Internet applications on open standards like XML, XHTML, and CSS. As a result, the redesign of many major corporate sites will support those standards and an increasing amount of time will be devoted to making websites more accessible.
RSS will also experience a major growth curve as more and more people become aware of the power offered by such a subscription model. Much discussion will be paid to defining business models for delivery of RSS with media organizations trying to figure out how to distribute advertising in their RSS feeds. Initially, the Internet community will denounce the introduction of ads in RSS feeds but will come to admit it as a necessary evil later on in the year.
Society: Social Networks at the core
While services like Friendster, Tribe, Ryze, and pluggedin received a lot of coverage in the tech sector last year, many investments in the sector will fail as companies just look at social networking as yet another feature to add to their site. The existing players will either merge or be sold to companies like AOL, Yahoo, or Microsoft, which will add social networking as another component in their online product offerings.
Apple will be the surprise player in this new arena, using OSX as the basis for a new social networking platform that will merge their address book application with mail, calendaring and chat services to provide an end to end solution on user’s desktops and offer added services through their .mac platform.
Politics: Internet comes of age
Much of the US presidential campaign will be using the Internet as a political tool to organize supporters and raise funds. The early lead taken by Vermont Senator and democractic presidential candidate Howard Dean will help him win his party’s nomination. Using the same tools during the general election, Dean will try to ignite the general democratic base in a fight against George Bush. The Republican party will enter the election season with a similar set of tools and much of the campaign will be fought online with some potential scandal arising out of one of the candidate’s site being hacked. As a result of the Internet battle, record numbers of voters will show up at the polls in November.
Of course, TNL.net will continue reporting on all this and show how wrong all those predictions were at the end of year.