The past year in technology was among the more surprising ones we’ve had.
Even the most astute, insightful tech observers would have had trouble predicting some of the things that happened this year. The iPad and Kinect have become the fastest selling electronic devices in history. Android exploded at a rate few could have seen coming. Facebook and Twitter kept up their blistering expansion rates, while Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7… is actually good.
But what about this coming year? What events and happenings will not only define 2011, but also cause tech-heads to look back in a year from now and say “huh – I didn’t see that one coming”?
Here are eleven ‘risky’ predictions for 2011:
Google Goes Social and Gets It Right
Google have fore years now been unable to get social right, and the fizzled landing of Buzz did nothing to change that.
Here’s why it will change in 2011: Google will understand that they cannot produce a social network as a destination like Facebook. Instead, they will implement their Google +1 toolbar as a layer on top of your browsing experience. That way, Google don’t try to compete with Facebook by producing a site – they produce a ‘layer network’ that sits atop the web. And by making it easy to share, communicate etc., it will offer an actual alternative to the walled garden than is Facebook – because there won’t be a garden.
Apple TV Becomes More than a Hobby
We know Apple TV isn’t a huge success. We also know it runs on a form of iOS and similar hardware to the iPhone.
So, in 2011, Apple will do the smart thing and open up Apple TV to apps. What’s more, they will ship it with a Magic Trackpad. And with that, Apple TV will become something serious, in large part because of casual gaming. Apple already have a huge demographic who are familiar with iPhone/iPad gaming and other apps. Tell them they can get similar sorts of apps designed for use at home with a TV, and suddenly Apple TV goes from a cheap Netflix box to another business for Apple.
iPhone 5 : iPhone 4 :: iPhone 3Gs : iPhone 3G
This year, it’s unlikely that the iPhone will get a huge upgrade. It’ll be thinner, it’ll be faster (maybe with a dual-core processor), it might have NFC… and that will be it.
With Apple focusing on the massive new iPad business, look for any major changes to come to iOS rather than the iPhone 5 itself. Like the 3GS, it will be just enough of an upgrade to get people excited, but little will actually change in terms of hardware.
Sony Gets a New CEO, and One More Chance
If you want two symbols of how Sony CEO Howard Stringer has failed miserably, here are two: that monstrous Google TV remote that looked like it was invented by someone who had never seen an iPhone or Android phone; and Music Unlimited, Sony’s pathetic, inexplicable answer to iTunes, Spotify, Pandora etc.
Stringer will have to go, as Sony’s turnaround has never come. But because of the increasing success of the PS3, Sony will have one last chance to make it work. If, however, Sony can’t pull off something really spectacular in terms of announcements in 2012, look for the company to undergo massive restructuring.
'Non-phone' Portable Gaming (Sorta) Fizzles
This year, we will see at least one new dedicated handheld gaming device for sure. We know the Nintendo 3DS is coming, and we’re pretty sure the PSP2 is too.
But both will have good but unspectacular launches. Why? While hardcore gamers will still flock to these specialized devices, how do you convince the casual commuter that $300 is worth it to play deep, intense games? You can’t. And you can’t sell them on casual games, either, as iOS and Android can approximate those experiences well enough.
Prediction: the 3DS and PSP2 will have okay launches, but will never reach the heights of the DS Lite.
Windows Phone 7 Gains a Foothold
First prediction. Now that it’s served its purpose, Microsoft will scrap the “It’s time for a phone to save us from our phones” marketing campaign, and instead focus on the growth of apps, slick hardware and unique features. Since Windows Phone 7 is good – and will continue to get better with upgrades in 2011 – it will start to form a base of loyal users who like the aesthetics and usability of the platform.
Second prediction: because of that, Windows Phone 7 will become a legitimate fourth or fifth player in the smartphone market, and sales will start to take market share from both RIM and Android.
Android Tablets Arrive… and They're Good
Motorola will be first out of the gate with their Honeycomb Android 3.0 powered tablet. And it will be impressive.
No, it won’t topple the iPad. But in the same way that Android phones have gone from being okay to seriously impressive, 2011’s batch of Android tablets will give customers looking for a tablet experience outside of Apple’s iOS garden what they want.
Yes, the iPad will remain on top for the foreseeable future. But companies like Motorola, Samsung and maybe even Sony will make Honeycomb tablets that will be seriously drool-worthy and successful in their own right.
Update: Yes, we know – the Samsung Galaxy Tab and many others Android tablets already exist. What we meant here was Android tablets with a tablet-specific version of the OS.
RIM Surprises Everyone and Keeps on Growing
It’s become customary to talk about how RIM are on their way down these days, but they keep on selling more and more smartphones.
That will continue in 2011. The Playbook will succeed in not only appealing to enterprise customers, its performance and features (which we’ve seen firsthand) will be enough to compel media-savvy consumers too.
What the real kicker would be is if they can get that QNX OS ported over to their smartphones in 2011. It’s unlikely, but it would be a huge boost.
Talk of 'Internet 2′ Begins in Earnest
Wikileaks was among the biggest news stories of the year, period. And one of the biggest lessons from the whole saga has been this: the internet is not a free place; it is a network controlled by the corporations who own the technology that underpins it.
For that reason – and a slew of others, including net neutrality – watch for people to start seriously talking about an ‘Internet 2′. It might even be publicly funded, and no, that’s not as bad as you think. It means that the government – who have to uphold free speech laws – will be the only ones who could censor what happens online. Given the way private corporations moved to shutdown the spread of Wikileaks info, that may be what’s needed.
Transparency Becomes The Big Fight
Also related to Wikileaks, but: transparency, accountability and the degree to which those are practised will become huge.
Another lesson from Wikileaks is that transparency can do two things: it can hold organizations accountable for their actions; but too much of it can grind the complex workings of statecraft to a halt. You can’t exactly play poker when everyone can see all the cards. (And yes, playing poker is necessary. States have interests, and am some point, they will always come into conflict.)
So 2011 will continue a conversation that has started: what are the limits to transparency that this new technology has allowed?
Cloud Computing Gains a Small, But Significant Foothold
Cloud computing will not ‘kill’ regular computing. It’s time to put that tech blog cliche to bed.
But it will become an increasingly viable option, especially with the arrival of ChromeOS. As bandwidth costs come down and speeds go up and the software infrastructure for cloud computing grows, it will become a real alternative for people who travel a lot, don’t do CPU-intensive work and simply want computers to ‘work’.
In 2011, you will see in computing an equivalent of a cord-cutter in cable TV: it won’t be huge, but it will be enough that people will start to wonder how it’s all going to change soon enough.