Catch the Next Wave

Popular Mechanics is now running a story on 10 tech concepts you need to know for 2007. It's an excellent article, and I encourage you to read it, because even if you're not a tech geek, it contains the type of information that individual investors need to be aware of when assessing the long-term strength of their portfolio.

Let me just give you a couple of concrete examples from the article. If you'll pardon the pun, the first one is actually a bendable concrete example. The official term for the technology is Engineered Cementitious Composites, but it is really bendable concrete.

This revolutionary new concrete is coated with microscopic polymer fibers that provide it with enough flexibility to bend, instead of snap, when under stress. While the article states that it will be a few years before this technology gains widespread acceptance in the commercial marketplace, it is the kind of product that could easily give companies like Cemex (NYSE: CX  ) , Lafarge (NYSE: LR  ) , or Headwaters (NYSE: HW  ) a distinct advantage. For example, just imagine the new business that could be generated if a company could supply a concrete that could be used to build bridges with stretchable expansion joints, or buildings that withstand strong earthquakes.

A second technology mentioned was "phase change random access memory." I wrote about a variation of this earlier this week when I discussed IBM's newest phase change material. Flash memory is a huge business, and this technology, which Samsung also announced an intention to bring to the market in 2008, could impact the bottom line of other memory companies such as Spansion (Nasdaq: SPSN  ) and SanDisk (Nasdaq: SNDK  ) .

Printed solar cells were another technology highlighted. Last week, I discussed Nanosolar's new thin-film solar technology and explained how it could challenge a number of solar companies, including SunPower (Nasdaq: SPWR  ) and Evergreen Solar (Nasdaq: ESLR  ) , by allowing solar cells to be inexpensively printed out on a polymer material.

And last, the piece outlined the vast potential of data cloud technology. A data cloud, quite simply, allows people to store all of their electronic information on the Internet and then access it (as well as upload new information to it) from anywhere. (Nasdaq: AMZN  ) is already offering an early version of this service, and it is widely expected that Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) will soon begin offering a competing product.

In each case, these new technologies not only have the potential to break the business models of existing profitable industries, they can also create exciting new businesses.

The line between catching the next great wave and being crushed by it has always been thin. Often, the difference depends on timing. Early movers catch the wave, while those not so fast on the draw end up eating sand. The first trick, though, is to spot the approaching waves.

If you're interested in catching some other exciting waves, consider taking a free 30-day trial of The Motley Fool's Rule Breakers newsletter. You can sign up here.

Fool contributorJack Uldrichthinks the next big wave will be small ... as in nanotechnology. He is the author of two books on the topic. Headwaters is a Rule Breakers recommendation.Cemex and Amazon are Stock Advisor picks. The Fool has a strict disclosure policy.

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