As 2011 is well behind us, we are looking back at a year of massive successes as well as some catastrophic failures, we are noticing a gateway to opportunity for some interesting products and technologies.
There is no definitive answer whether any of them will succeed or fail, but they all have in common a tremendous pressure to evolve and quickly make many, many friends. Here are my top 10 for this year.
10. Apple’s Siri
Huh? How could Siri end up on this list? Hear me out and give me a moment to explain before you scroll down to the comments. No question, with Siri, Apple has a killer app on its hands that can change the way we interact with electronics. The initial demonstration of Siri during the iPhone 4S presentation was spectacular, even if I have to admit that the round logo surrounding a microphone reminds me a bit of HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey. I am glad that Apple resisted the temptation of adding red color to the image. Lately, I have noticed that there is a great deal of Siri fatigue that isn’t just happening in my family. Some tech geeks, including Pat Moorhead, formerly of AMD fame, state they aren’t using Siri nearly as much as they did in the past. Perhaps the reason is that we generally consider a cellphone to be a very personal device and we just don’t like talking into it in public – outside of a phone call. Whatever the reason, Apple’s Siri was unfinished when it was released. Therefore, Apple will need to follow up with a compelling integrated user model that spans across multiple platforms input methods – including gestures that are much more private than voice input. My take? Siri has a 50 percent chance of success.
You can accuse HP of being either incredibly malicious in how it wrecked WebOS or being somewhat incompetent by not taking advantage of a perfectly good mobile operating system. Any way you look at it, the downfall of WebOS (including somewhat ugly smartphones and a tablet that ignored virtually all tablet lessons taught by Apple) is a casualty that could have been prevented had HP been committed to WebOS in the way it promised when it acquired Palm for $1.2 billion. Giving away hundreds of thousands of Touchpads for ridiculously low prices was the only way to create a WebOS user base. The decision to open source WebOS is a concession that HP either cannot or does not want to develop the OS with the originally given commitment (and that it could not find a buyer). However, free access is the only way to attract developers who can provide their creations to a substantial user base. The future of WebOS is in the hands of developers now. My take? WebOS has a 20 percent chance of survival, but its outlook strongly depends on HP’s promise that hardware development for WebOS will continue, which is a statement that stands on shaky ground.
The value of “touch” will come under scrutiny in 2012. Touch has not really evolved since the presentation of multi-touch and what I would describe as Apple’s idea of how to make touch much more useful than it ever was in the January 2007 presentation of the iPhone. Five years later, we are accustomed to touch and Apple is playing with ideas about how to expand upon it (see above, Siri). The rest of the industry appears to be exploiting touch in every possible way, even outside of phones and tablets and in hardware where it does not make much sense. Microsoft will test the value of touch on notebooks and desktops with the Metro UI in Windows 8 and may learn that we really don’t want to reach across keyboards and touch a possibly bouncing screen. We are already seeing possible successors for touch, such as “external” touch displays; for example, 3D projectors that show a display on a wall. There is also Kinect that is clearly showing the way to gesture- and voice-based computing for desktop-sized devices. My take? There is a 100 percent chance that, by the end of 2012, there will be a data input technology that is superior to touch (and the keyboard/mouse) on notebooks and desktop PCs.
7. Chrome OS
Google’s decision to send out reportedly 65,000 free Cr-48 notebooks to establish a user and support base was ingenious. However, the following commercial Chrome OS notebooks were way too expensive and had little chance of success because Google did not provide offline applications in time. Let’s be honest; an affordable always-on data connection is still very much science fiction. You just don’t pay $400 for a portable computer that needs a data connection in order to function when you’re on the road. Also, it may not always be available at the speeds you require. Sometimes that connection may not be available at all, and if it is available, the cost of significant (and careless) data consumption could easily approach the amount you have allocated for your mortgage payment. Additionally, the development of Chrome OS is continuing at a fast pace, but it is clear that the OS was not ready for primetime when it was released. Next year is do or die time for Chrome OS. However, Google is spending more money on Chrome OS than Larry Page and Sergey Brin are spending on new Boeing jets. Chrome OS is critical for Google to bind users to utilizing Google Search, which secures its search revenues. My take? Chrome OS does not stand a chance in its current form, but its outlook will improve with greater adoption of the Chrome browser, cross-platform features when Chrome for Android is released, more applications, penetration of NaCl to run legacy entertainment software, and especially offline applications. In the end, Chrome OS must succeed in one way or the other, as a portion of Google’s future depends on it.
6. Intel Atom
Originally released in April 2008, Intel had a fantastic run with Atom in netbooks, but the future is not looking nearly as bright as the segment is declining. Most recently, Intel pulled Atom out of smart TVs. Rumor has it that Intel just did not believe in Google’s ability to deliver a compelling software package that could take the TV manufacturer base by storm. Since 2008, Intel has been working on a competitive Atom chip for a smartphone, which has not surfaced yet. The tablet trend ran over Intel like a freight train. While Intel is betting big time on the tablet market – mostly because it cannot afford to be left out, should the tablet really turn out to be more than just an Apple and Amazon opportunity – we have not seen a blockbuster Atom chip for tablets in 2011. It will be critical for Intel to deliver such a processor in 2012 to move downmarket and meet ARM vendors before they can move further upmarket via Microsoft’s Windows 8 pipeline. My take? Intel cranks out its best chips when under pressure. Although I haven’t seen the new Atoms yet, I believe there is an 80 percent chance that Intel will surprise the tablet industry with a very capable chip.
5. Wii U
There is not much that we know about the Wii U yet. We may hear more at the GDC in March, get more information at the E3, and will be exposed to a continuous flow of information until the console is eventually released later in the year. It appears that Nintendo is selling lots of Wiis during this Christmas season, but it is being outsold by Microsoft, which is providing a direct upgrade path from the Wii controller to Kinect. In fact, Microsoft’s current success may be based on an environment in which the company is raiding the Wii user base. Nintendo is apparently betting on a tablet as an evolutionary controller, which may not be so evolutionary, but rather disruptive (and expensive). Given the current market situation and Nintendo’s financial state, the company has a great deal of incentive to take risks to be able to deliver a new game experience, but it does not have any room for failure. My take? I don’t have nearly enough information to make a guess.
4. Mozilla Firefox
Oh, Firefox! What is left of your rebel image? How you have let me down this year! Firefox had a slow start with the release of what was essentially an old browser out of the gate – Firefox 4. Mozilla continued with some hints of big UI and feature upgrades and an accelerated release process that made us believe that more features would be released in shorter time spans. Instead, we received plenty of new versions with a handful of upgrades that could have justified a Firefox 4.5 update, but not five completely new versions. More importantly, Mozilla managed to alienate its business users by telling them they do not count (a statement that was later revised in an effort to do damage control), and was more successful at delaying than releasing new features. Presently, Mozilla has slipped below Chrome’s market share, according to StatCounter. In 2012, Mozilla will have to make a 180 degree turn, reconsider its strategy and remember its roots. However, since we are already aware of more delays, and since we have not heard much about Boot-2-Gecko, I cannot be too optimistic. Mozilla could return to growth in the third or fourth quarter of 2012 if all goes well. Firefox is likely to sink in market share until then. There is only a slim chance for success in the near future.
3. 3D TV
We have been waiting for 3D TV for some time now, but the concepts have not been too convincing. Too few of us are willing to wear glasses and, realistically, the content available so far may not be reason enough for consumers to make the jump to a 3D TV. That could change in 2012 as we could be seeing the first serious naked-eye 3D TVs at the CES. Add interesting content from mainstream providers, including Disney, and 3D TV may be mature enough to succeed. My take? There is a 90 percent chance for 3D TV to breakthrough next year.
2. Blackberry and Windows Phone
Since the smartphone market is dominated by iOS and Android, what is happening to Blackberry and Windows Phone? Blackberrys have seen a dramatic decline in popularity in 2011, while Windows Phone was never able to gain any traction in the first place. RIM has a lot of work to do to sort out its smartphone platform and could be more likely to be acquired by a company like Oracle or HP than to be able to succeed in an environment that requires smartphone providers to offer not just a phone but a platform. While Apple, Google and Microsoft have cross-platform offerings, RIM does not and failed to establish a desktop product via the Playbook tablet. Windows Phone largely missed its target so far because of wrong product positioning in the beginning, but its opportunity is growing as Microsoft is embracing web applications, ARM architecture for Windows 8 tablets and a radically new operating system. It will be critical for Microsoft to integrate Windows Phone with Windows 8 tablets, Windows server infrastructures, and Windows 8. Conceivably, Windows Phone could become an extremely powerful product in such a scenario, especially if Nokia can come up with attractive hardware. My take? RIM will be acquired in 2012. Windows Phone has a 60 percent chance of gaining market share, if Microsoft integrates the platform with Windows 8.
1. Windows 8
Ultimately, most IT eyes may be on Windows 8 in 2012. Microsoft raised some attention this year when it introduced the touch user interface, which will be Windows 8’s main selling point into the mainstream market. Without touch, there are still major improvements under the hood that could be tough to explain to the consumer to help justify the cost for an upgrade. With touch, Microsoft is facing an uphill battle on notebooks and desktop computers, which, as mentioned above, just do not work well with touch. Microsoft is possibly dealing with a less than 100 percent supply of new touch-based computer systems anyway. Add to that a Windows Store that is clearly marketed to attract touch apps at this time, but may have limited exposure if those touch devices aren’t coming to market fast enough. Potentially, Windows 8 is Microsoft’s riskiest OS bet since 1994 (Windows 95). A risky play is exactly what the company needs. However, the proposition of Windows 8 does not make sense yet. There are gaps in Microsoft’s marketing as well as variables that could swing either way to turn Windows 8 into a success – or a failure. Given the fact that Microsoft needs Windows 8 as a platform component to succeed, it is reasonable to assume that the company will do its homework and make the new OS work. The alternative is that it simply throws Windows 8 on the market without the necessary hardware support with the hope that the market will buy into the touch hype. Such a strategy could turn into a disaster of Vista proportions.