This year in tech – what 2009 will bring for travelers

I’ve already looked back at the best gadgets 2008 had to offer, and in this list I’ll take a look at some of the travel technologies I expect to take off in 2009. Come back next year to either laugh in my face, or remark how amazingly clever I am.

Computer/data bundles on sale

Back in November of last year, Radio Shack started selling a bundle including an Acer Netbook computer, an integrated 3G modem and a 2 year AT&T data subscription. This combo would normally retail for about $430, but the inclusion of the 2 year subscription lowers the price to just $99.

This practice is not new, and bundles of hardware and mobile subscriptions have long been the norm in many European countries. What is new, is that these deals have finally made their way to the USA.

I predict more of these promotions in 2009, and for the deals to become much more widespread. Offering one laptop at just one store is hardly going to change the way we subscribe to mobile data services, but it is a great start.


4G wireless broadband data

Many people are just making their first steps with 3G mobile data, but some of the major players in the market are already hard at work on 4G.

4G wireless data promises even faster speeds than what we currently get from the 3G services on Verizon, Sprint and AT&T.

Building these new networks takes an astounding amount of money, but the largest and most ambitious network already has the support (and money) from companies like Intel, Google, Comcast and Sprint.

By the end of 2009, we should see 4G networks available in about 20 major US cities. The speeds offered by a 4G service like Clear (previously called Xohm) run off a technology called Wi-Max and should reach about 4-8Mbit/s, which is the equivalent of most residential DSL or cable connections. Unlimited service will run between $30 and $50 a month, making it a very viable alternative to slower 3G services.


A new iPhone (nano)?

In December of each year, things in the Apple rumor department start to get kind of wacky. That is mainly because January is when the years largest Apple exposition starts (Macworld). The notoriously tight lipped company apparently “leaks” all kinds of amazing stuff, 95% of which is all bogus, fake or downright stupid. One rumor that keeps popping up this year though, is a smaller iPhone.

This “iPhone Nano” has been leaked by several phone case manufacturers, and has all the die-hard Apple fans foaming at the mouth.

Whether we actually see a tiny iPhone remains to be seen, but it sure does sound like a fun little phone.


More Netbook computers

Netbook computers were the big hit in 2008, and 2009 promises to be even bigger for the little machines. We’ll probably see even lighter machines with more power, and lower prices.

As more and more manufacturers hop on the Netbook bandwagon, companies will start putting a lot more effort into innovation, and sooner or later we’ll finally get the perfect computer.

The first fairly basic Netbook computers launched for about $350, but prices have slowly been dropping, and at the moment that same price will get you a very well equipped machine with a 160GB drive and a powerful 6 cell battery.


Better battery technology

Current notebook computers have about 4000 times the processing power of the first portable computer, but just 2 times the battery life. Each year promises to be the biggest year ever in battery developments, but 2009 actually seems like it might come through for us.

Big players like HP have signed up for a new battery design by Boston Power, which promises battery charge times as low as 30 minutes for an 80% charge as well as higher capacities with the same weight as current cells.

What this means to you and I is that sooner or later we really might get a computer that can last an entire long haul flight on a single battery charge and can be recharged during a short stopover.


Paperless boarding documents

I wrote about the future at the airport last week, one of the items in that futuristic lineup is already here, and will probably become more popular in 2009.

Paperless boarding involves having your airline email you a bar code that can then be used to get through security and onto your flight.

Our very own Grant Martin tested it, and says it sort of works, assuming the airport staff know what they are doing.