In the fast-changing world of technology, one electronic component has been the star of what is being called the digital decade: memory.
Back in 2000 it was expensive. This meant powerful computers and electronics were costly, just toys for the rich or tech-crazy. But as the cost of memory has come down, a new world of consumer electronics has become possible.
The ipod – first launched in 2001 – made use of a tiny hard drive. It put hundreds of songs into the palm of one’s hand. Its popularity made it a hit and the device fast became a design icon.
“If we look at the 1990s where technology and software was all about empowering business, with the likes of Oracle and Microsoft, I think that the last decade that we have had has all been about empowering the individual – particularly in the last couple of years. The emergence of mobile technology”, Mark Casey, a London-based technology expert, says.
Simple telephone handsets have fast incorporated music-players, video gaming, cameras and satellite positioning technology. In the developing world the advantage of a wire-free mobile network and the falling cost the mobile phone have seen sales rocket.
About 350 million Africans now have mobile phones and their uses continue to expand, even allowing Ugandan farmers to check the prices at market before they harvest their crops
“People are hungry for market information. People are hungry to network and stay in touch with relatives in far-off places. People are hungry for selling or buying things as simple as it can be and there is no simpler way than just sending a code to your telecom operator for anything that you want” John Kibuuka, the owner of an Internet Café in Kampala, the Ugandan capital, says.
Along with more powerful devices – a leap in connection speeds, the internet has fast become a place where we work, play, communicate and interact.
It started with weblogs or blogs – but soon video-sharing sites like Youtube gained popularity. Whether used to share family moments – or circumvent government censorship – the internet has fast become a potent force.
So what will the decade ahead likely bring?
Pundits are predicting the continuing convergence of multimedia – songs, films, photo, maps and more – and the opportunity to buy or sell – all on one handset.
Breakthroughs in microscopic technology – or nanotechnology – make concepts like morphing handsets a possibility, allowing phones to change shape, colour and look to suit the owner.
Those handsets, connected to wireless networks, will allow the owners to remotely control everything from their banking to the heating in their so-called “smart” homes.
Advanced high-speed networks will allow “cloud” systems – where all files and programmes are stored and accessed from a remote server on the network, rather than one’s own computer – making computers lighter and cheaper.
And it is this question of affordability that will open up all these technological developments to the developing world. A quarter of the world’s mobile users are already in China – and many millions more expected to sign on in the coming years.
For any new technology to make it on a global level it will have to cross cultural and cost barriers. That is the challenge for the decade ahead.