NEW YORK The next wave of technology spending is expected to flow toward gadgets and software that help people access the Internet from any location, and interact online in more innovative ways.
While the global economic downturn has forced companies to cut back on spending and favor technology like "cloud computing" that helps save costs, executives at the Reuters Global Technology Summit forecast growth in new wireless and online arenas.
Ralph de la Vega, head of mobility and consumer business at AT&T Inc (T.N), said he expects a wider range of devices, from digital cameras to automobiles, to offer direct Internet access and smarter social networking capabilities.
"Just about everything you touch will have the capability to be connected and to talk to other machines and other devices, in the next generation of wireless growth that is in front of us," he said.
Well-known venture capitalist Tim Draper said he was enthusiastic about companies like ShareThis, which have developed widgets to helps Internet users share online tidbits with friends through sites like Facebook and MySpace.
Many executives cited Apple Inc's (AAPL.O) iPhone as a game changer for the industry, and SanDisk Corp SNDK.O Chief Executive Eli Harari said he expects the best features of the popular touchscreen phone to be replicated and improved upon by handset makers and software developers.
"It's a sophisticated computer with a sophisticated operating system, with third-party developer applications that are dramatically changing the mobile handset," said Harari, whose company makes chips used in cameras and cellphones.
"And you are seeing, under the surface, a tremendous amount of activity to match or exceed its capabilities."
But with few confident to forecast a sure economic rebound this year, executives said cost-saving technologies would likely remain the focus among corporate customers.
Companies need to invest in "cloud computing," a technology that allow people to access computers and software online and spend less on hardware, space and energy, they said.
"I think that the productivity, the innovation that the tech sector will bring to the table will have a big part of helping pull us out of this global economic problem that we're in," said International Business Machines Corp (IBM.N) Chief Financial Officer Mark Loughridge.
IBM plans to launch several cloud computing services this year, joining companies like Amazon.com Inc (AMZN.O), Google Inc (GOOG.O) and Salesforce.com Inc (CRM.N) which were among the first to offer storage and computing over the Web.
Along with cloud computing, Loughridge forecast strong growth in IBM's analytics software and consulting business that helps customers run their businesses more efficiently.
Shoei Yamana, senior executive officer at Konica Minolta Holdings Inc (4902.T), said that lean economic times have made it even more crucial to show customers how products can improve their lives or businesses.
"We have to map out and show scenarios, such as how customers can enrich people's lives, improve productivity, or become more creative, by integrating services and software with products," he said in Tokyo. "Even when the economy shows some recovery, technologies alone won't be enough to boost your competitiveness.
(Additional reporting by Sachi Izumi in Tokyo and Reuters U.S. technology correspondents, editing by Gerald E. McCormick)