Some of the most innovative, interesting, and, well, strange tech has nothing to do with computing monoliths like Google or Microsoft. And it's just around the corner.
Here's our list of the tech trends, products, and innovations that are available today — or coming online shortly — and how they'll affect your life next year.
1. You'll attend an online funeral
Sites such as Otrib.com and Tributes.com let you leave a memorial to loved ones who have passed on. But some people are holding the funeral itself online, using webcasting services at sites such as Funeralrecording.com and Funeralone.com. This lets anyone attend, from anywhere.
Why the trend is important: Webcasting a funeral might sound morbid, but it means more people can share in the life of someone without the expense of travel.
2. You'll start life-casting
Given the confluence of ubiquitous cell phone use, high-speed 3G service, and a growing desire to connect with people in more tangible ways, life-casting has finally arrived. Services such as Qik.com let you stream a live video from your cell to the world without the usual video hiccups and complex setup.
Why the trend is important: YouTube videos are static. They capture a fleeting moment, but not as it happens in real-time. Life-casting is the true expression of our own self-worth (ahem).
3. Your body will control video games
Microsoft is championing a new Xbox controller: you. The technology, called Project Natal, lets you perform dance movies or kick a ball, while a camera tracks your movements using infrared and shows the results on screen. A microphone can also capture voice commands. Meanwhile, Sony has announced the PlayStation Motion Controller, a wand that helps accomplish the same you-as-the-controller goal.
Why the trend is important: It's about time someone invented a better way to shoot bad guys than the same joysticks and gamepads we've used for the last few decades.
4. You'll leave your tape measure at home
A new service called GeoEstimator uses satellites and aerial photographs to make roof measurements that are just as accurate as making the measurements in person. The service can help contractors, insurance companies, and estimators avoid crawling up on roofs.
Why the trend is important: Virtual measurements save time, sure, but they also pave the way for the further integration of satellite data in our lives, such as determining exact property boundaries.
5. You'll (finally) use a content aggregator
You probably already know about Digg.com and other services that help you find interesting stories and pictures. And plenty of sites — such as YouTube.com — let you share goofy videos. Toobla.com is different: It's an aggregator for videos, photos, documents and Web sites, so you can not only store videos and photos but share them online. It's also more visual than a storage service such as Box.net.
Why the trend is important: We're all inundated with too many digital files, and Toobla does a good job of making the storage more interesting and accessible for your friends and family members.
6. You'll burn your business cards
Salespeople hand them out at trade shows and they might help you win a free lunch. That's right: business cards just won't die. Several iPhone apps – such as Beezcard and SnapDat – allow you to share contact details, but not everyone has an iPhone. A Swiss company has made the PokenZoo, a cute, inexpensive device you touch to another Poken to swap contacts.
Why the trend is important: Saves paper, but also finally alleviates business workers from having to carry these annoying cards around whether they go.
7. You'll chat with faceless minions
One new trend regurgitates an age-old concept: On sites such as Omegle.com, you can chat with complete strangers. AOL has provided this capability for eons (isn't that what chat boards are all about?), but Omegle.com puts a random spin on it, pairing you safely and anonymously with an arbitrary total stranger. You can chat with some dude in Norway or Japan in less than 5 seconds.
Why the trend is important: Other than the fun factor, Omegle indicates the final piece in the globalization puzzle.
8. Your gadgets will have gadgets
Cell-phone boosters have become popular in the past few years, purporting to improve coverage and signal quality. Most have added, oh, one bar at most. The zBoost ONE (www.wi-ex.com) can boost your connection up three bars. The device is so innovative, it won a Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) award recently.
Why the trend is important: People in rural areas and deep within office complexes often can't participate in the mobile revolution. A booster makes high-speed access viable for everyone.