m8ball 8 mega tech stories to watch over the next 8 monthsWith one third of the year already gone by, and our annual The Next Web Conference 2010 in the books, we thought we’d put together a list of the top 8 tech news stories we’ll be watching over the final 8 months of the year, starting with…

1. iPhone OS 4.0 and can any phone top the iPhone 4G?

With the iPhone OS 4.0, Apple may have the answers to many of the loudest complaints about the iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad, especially the lack of multi-tasking. If the final version lives up to what Steve Jobs announced last month, Apple’s competitors will have a hard time assailing the steamrolling giant, especially when the already leaked iPhone 4G goes on sale, most likely in July in the United States. Microsoft’s Windows 7 Phone, the slew of HTC Android phones, a possible re-re-birth of Palm at HP and Google’s phone plans all may take a distant second fiddle to the iPhone 4G unless one of its competitors can really do something fundamentally revolutionary. Also, with the release of iPhone OS 4.0 for iPad in the fall, Apple may be able to solidify its advantage out of the gate unless its competitors quickly release…

2. More tablets

HP, Lenovo, Dell, Microsoft (Courier dead), Asus, Google – you name the device manufacturer and at some point or another there has been rumor or confirmation over the last four months that they will release a tablet computer sometime this year. So far, it’s been all talk while Apple has sold 1 million iPads in less than a month.

Of course, if any of these companies can release a lighter, thinner, faster, more port-friendly, camera-equipped, widescreen tablet running a full multitasking OS and can get 10+ hours of battery life (and somehow get some apps built for the thing) they could very well be attractive to a number of consumers (and businesses that see the iPad as just an entertainment toy). Of course, as Apple well knows, content is king, which is why we’re in the middle of a…

3. Premium content war

With Google’s announcement yesterday of its plans to start selling ebooks this summer, the premium content war is in full swing between the search giant, Apple and Amazon (and to a lesser degree Microsoft, Barnes & Noble, Netflix, etc).

With an entire new way (the iPad and tablets) to consume – and charge a premium price for – multiple types of media – ebooks, movies (both downloaded and streamed), music, comic books, magazines, and yes, boring old newspapers – whichever company can cut the most deals with publishers and content producers will have a major revenue stream and consumer attractiveness advantage, somewhat regardless of the capability of their hardware. On the video side of content, another major story to watch is…

4. Flash vs HTML5 / Adobe vs Apple

Facts are facts: currently on the Internet the vast majority of videos are run using Flash. Also, many website ads use Flash, and a browser that doesn’t support Flash means that publishers are losing money when anyone visits their site, so by trying to rid the Internet of Flash, Apple is going up against some pretty big obstacles.

This elevating fight that really took off when Steve Jobs dissed Flash during the iPhone OS 4.0 unveiling last month, seems to be splitting the tech world firmly into two camps – those that may not love Flash, but see it as either an obstacle they don’t want to go through and/or a way to attack Apple, and those that side with Apple and want to see Flash ended once and for all and HTML5 to become the one and only standard. One company that could help to tip the balance either way is also busy making a…

5. Headlong grab for the Internet by Facebook

How far Facebook is willing to continue to thread the line between opening its walled garden up in order to let the roots of Facebook Connect stretch into the rest of the Internet, against maintaining some semblance of privacy for its hundreds of millions of users, will certainly be one of the biggest tech stories to watch for the rest of 2010 and beyond. Facebook must hope that by the time enough of their users decide to jump ship that it would create a cascading effect, they will in fact have nearly nowhere to go on the Internet where being a Facebook user won’t be advantageous.

If they can successfully thread the needle, they are positioning themselves to be unquestionably the most powerful pure-online company on the planet (if in fact they aren’t already are). That said, they should be keeping a very close eye on a couple of startups and rethinking how they interact with the real world so that they can be one of the companies that brings…

6. Check-ins to the masses

Of course, those couple of startups are Foursquare and Gowalla, the darlings of this year’s SXSW in March. With Twitter and Facebook taking their sweet time pushing forward with putting location front and center to their users, one of the biggest question marks of the next 8 months is whether or not these startups with less than 1.5 million users combined, can bring check-ins to the masses quickly enough to solidify their positions vis-a-vis these and other giants like Google and Yelp. Speaking of Twitter and Google and Yelp and Facebook, another story we’re closely watching is…

7. Search vs. social recomendations

Google today is rolling out a major redesign of its search results page, and it’s clear that a main reason behind this is that it continues to fear that it is falling behind in the fight against social recommendations. Especially as more people join real-time services such as Twitter, and location apps meld real world info with reviews and recommendations, the idea of using a search engine to find a quick and concise answer from someone a user trusts is becoming, well, old fashioned.

Twitter obviously is ready to pounce on this shift if it happens in the mainstream (even while it works/takes money from major search engines by being included in their search results). However, traditional search is a pretty embedded habit of Internet life, so how fast services like Twitter can steal away traffic (and the tens of billions of dollars made on ad conversions) remains to be seen. Which brings us to our final story…

8. Who will win?

This is really at the core of 2010 in our minds: this year seems to be a turning point in the history of technology. It seems to be the point where, once and for all, technology makes the rules and all other industries – advertising, publishing, movies, etc – have to follow suit. With tablets, we are finally about ready to ditch technology that we’ve been using since the mid-70′s (keyboards, mice, wires) and with smartphones finally becoming what they should (and with enough variety to continually spur competition) mobile is turning into the thing everyone wants to be a part of.

Then there is the Internet. We as the little guys might not like it, but these companies are obviously (as Tim O’Reilly rightly predicted) waging a war to control the Web. They may merge, they may attack, they may even innovate, but right now, right here, the battle is heating up in tech to a level we haven’t seen in awhile. Should be fun to watch. Oh, and just one last thing that we want to know in 2010…

Just how big will The Next Web get?

Image: AbleNet