Saturday, December 31, 2011

Predictions of a tech nature for 2012

2011 was a forgettable year for many people. Muammar Qadhafi, for instance. What can we possibly expect in 2012?
Well, how will I know? But I can still come up with my thoughts, can't I? So, here are some things which I am looking forward to, in no particular order. World Peace is, unfortunately, not one of them. Since it takes too much time to make sense of deep issues such as politics, economy and Shah Rukh Khan's current crop of movies, I shall restrict myself to computing.
I am not a big fan of Windows and Apple, though I must say that Windows 7, and especially MS Office, is a pleasant experience, so I shall write more about social platforms, mobile devices and desktop Linux. 
  • I expect mobile growth to be driven by cheaper smartphones and more efficient form factors. Smartphones will keep growing especially in India and will start making Internet available to many. However, this will just be the first year of this revolution and I don't expect farmers from really small villages in Chhatisgarh conducting crop price negotiations over WhatsApp.
  • Tablet computing will become ubiquitous and there will be interesting forays in system interaction. Something like tablets and phones with Kinect technology. Microsoft may be the surprise package here. They have, comparatively quietly, put a lot of pieces together across platforms and technologies. It is quite possible that Microsoft may become the next Apple, this year onwards.
  • Of course, the big G may still spoil the party. However, given the number of duds that Google has delivered in 2010 and 2011, it may be that their innovation, especially social innovation, may not work out. Google+ is an expensive experiment that has to work in 2012 for Google.
  • It will be increasingly difficult to distinguish between Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin in 2012. Just as Apple's touch interface, with black background and big icons has become default in Android, Nokia-based and even Blackberry systems, the timeline will become the default. This will throw up interesting issues for all three, the first being that of identity. For old timers, Twitter will be for quick updates, Facebook for personal updates and photo sharing and LinkedIn for professional networking. For the newer generation, however, the three will become increasingly similar and commoditized. If you can find jobs on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, and update your status on all three, to take just two examples, how are they different? To carry the GUI analogy further, will it be possible for any of these social platforms to think up of Mango or the Metro interface, which, prima facie, looks to be very different?
  • What will happen to Diaspora? will there be more such platforms? Not in 2012.
  • The killer functionality, however, will be integration and social data porting across services. Will it be possible for me to shift from Facebook to Google+, taking my 5 year old conversations with me? No? How about my photos? I know about Facebook and other platforms' privacy issues, but my guess is, in 2012, markets will  start making it difficult for social networks to behave dictatorially. Closed gardens will need gates, and 2012 may see market- or-regulator-sized holes in their fences.
  • It may be interesting if people talk of the environmental impact of smartphones and mobile devices. In India, mobile towers run on diesel and the numbers will keep increasing. In addition, smartphones and tablets consume more power and need more frequent recharging. Will environmentalists take this up? I wonder.
  • 2012 will not be the year of the Linux desktop.
  • Ubuntu and others may introduce mobile device OSes in 2012. But without OEM tie-ups, it will not make a dent in the marketplace. Rather than build an app ecosystem, it will make sense to make them Android Marketplace compatible. On the whole, at this point, I am not very optimistic about this. Linux will remain on the fringes of this revolution, unless, of course, you consider Android as Linux-based.
  • The point of interest for me is whether Libre Office or any other Office suite will be able to replace MS Office in terms of usability and interoperatability, especially across mobile platforms. There is a huge hole in the software world for an Office suite that works consistently across desktop and mobile platforms. 2012 will see that changing.
  • 2012 will be the year of reckoning for Yahoo! more than anyone else. Yahoo!, more than any other big tech company, faces an identity (and existential!) crisis. 2012 will be the year when Y! will have to decide what road to take - be acquired, introduce a blockbuster service or enter a completely different market.
Let us see how much of this comes true. And I hope I am wrong about World Peace. Happy New Year!

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