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Tech Trends in 2012: What's Hot, What's Not?

Tech Trends in 2012: What's Hot, What's Not?

2012 will be another exciting year in tech, wireless and telecom. A year with plenty of ups and down, good news and bad news, and plenty of wins and losses on the Wave. Public relations and advertising are growing in importance again as companies try to get attention and business in a crowded market for customers and investors. Expect big wins and big losses and lots of new ideas.

By Jeff Kagan
12/22/11 5:00 AM PT

Last week, I focused on companies to keep our eyes on in 2012. This week, I'll share my views on different technologies and their place on the Wave. Remember, some are growing and others are falling. There are key differences for investors, customers and workers.

2012 is all about togetherness. Companies will be trying to lock in customers by getting them to use multiple services and products that work together. Apple is an example, with its many devices and its cloud. This approach locks in Apple customers. This is what the company will be promoting heavily going forward.

The industry will see many new innovations this year -- like Verizon offering Netflix-type television services and Amazon selling its first smartphone along with its Kindle.

There are plenty of upsides and downsides ahead. Some companies will continue to grow while others will fail. The Wave can be a beautiful thing, but only for those on the growth side. Otherwise, it can be a pretty rough part of town. And each opportunity rides the same Wave up, then down again over time.

The last couple of years have seen many new segments take shape. Just think of Apple and Google entering the smartphone space. They are transforming it. And this segment is only four short years old. Five years ago, no one ever heard the words "iPhone" or "Android."

Public relations and advertising are growing in importance again as companies try to get attention and business in a crowded market for customers and investors. Expect big wins and big losses and lots of new ideas.

So much will happen in 2012. Let's take a look at some of what we can expect.

Smartphones will continue to grow. New areas of strength will grow. There will be plenty of advertising, marketing and press reports about it. There will be a renewed interest in trying to attract plain old cellphone users with entry-level smartphones. Some companies and technologies will do well, while others will struggle. New entrants in this space will include devices from Amazon and Nokia-Microsoft.

Tablet computers, which are hot right now, will continue to grow, but things will start to change as the segment matures. Parts of it will stay hot -- like the Apple iPad and Android-powered tablets -- and other parts will cool, like the RIM PlayBook.

Traditional wireless handsets seemed to be going away over the last few years, but while they are not growing, they are remaining strong. However, basic, first-level smartphones will start to take the place of these ordinary handsets.

Voice on wireless will shrink and data will grow. In the next three years, voice will only account for about 3 percent of network usage. The vast majority of usage will be wireless data. Brace yourselves. Only the top carriers like Verizon Wireless and AT&T Mobility are heavy-duty players in the spectrum battle. And AT&T has its troubles. A healthy industry tomorrow means wireless data needs to spread to many competitors. We aren't even close yet.

Advertising on smartphones and tablet computers will explode next year. That's if marketers can crack the code. This is a brand new area. This is the very early stage. Google has the lead now. Apple is struggling trying to understand the opportunity. So are others. This is on the early part of a growing Wave.

Amazon's Kindle and Barnes & Noble's Nook will continue to grow, change and expand in this new sector, which is brand new and increasingly competing with Apple's iPad. The big competitors will be the iPad, a variety of Android tablets, Amazon's Kindle and Barnes & Noble's Nook.

Amazon's Kindle will outsell Barnes & Noble's Nook and get more media attention, but both will grow strong. Much of the difference has to do with Amazon's great understanding of public relations. B&N is not as robust. However, I have used both and think they are very innovative devices offering strong competition in the reader and tablet market.

Amazon will offer smartphones in 2012 and compete head-to-head with Apple's iPhone. This will be a new Wave for Amazon. Another WOW moment for the company.

AT&T Mobility will partner with T-Mobile and resell its spectrum, now that its acquisition plan has failed. However, AT&T won't completely give up on the merger. It will just be on the back burner for a while until it thinks the timing is right to try again. Just like SBC eventually acquired AT&T several years after the first attempt.

T-Mobile will use the $3 billion cash and $1 billion in spectrum it gained from the failed AT&T merger to build out its own wireless data capacity. It will likely share spectrum with AT&T. Next, will it be acquired by Sprint Nextel or another smaller company?

Verizon Wireless got its hands on all the cable television wireless spectrum. This will be a big help for it going forward.

Spectrum shortage will get worse. The debate for solutions will get louder. LightSquared offers one solution if it can solve its GPS problems. Another solution is pooling spectrum together and letting every carrier have access to it. Of course, Verizon no longer needs spectrum now that it has acquired the cable television spectrum. Other ideas will be introduced and kicked around, because this is a real problem for most wireless networks.

Research In Motion is failing. It will make another bold attempt to recover. Whether it will succeed is the question. Hopefully it will. Will it be acquired? It is struggling on the downside of the Wave. It reminds me of grandparents. You know them and you love them, but they are getting older.

Netflix is suddenly on the downside of the Wave and in crisis mode. Netflix-type opportunities will spread to companies like Verizon. We saw this happen with the ISP industry. AOL, Prodigy and EarthLink led it until the Baby Bells and cable television companies started offering Internet connectivity. Of course, Verizon could acquire Netflix.

Apple will lose some of its luster. It will be less hot, though still important in 2012. Competition with others -- like Google, Amazon and Barnes & Noble -- will take a toll. It is about to attempt an iPhone- and iPad-like transformation of the cable television industry. Is it cresting on the Wave or is it still growing?

Mergers will continue, as always. Some will still be easy, while larger mergers will have a tougher time getting approval. Think of the problem AT&T and T-Mobile had.

Google and Microsoft will launch their own branded wireless phones with Motorola and Nokia. Will they be successful? Wireless is a tricky business. Remember, Cox, Comcast and Time Warner all tried and failed.

Social sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and many others continue to grow. Who is next?

Deal sites like GroupOn and LivingSocial have become overnight successes. Are they a flash in the pan, or will they have a long life?

Bargains on deal sites will get even juicier over the next six to 12 months. They all want to be No. 1 as the industry goes though the next transition. That means prices will be lower and juicier to catch customers' attention, but only for a while.

Auction deal sites seem to be hot, but I wonder if they are a short-term flash. Will they still be popular this time next year or not? They take lots of time to use, but you can sometimes get a great deal.

Wireless Health and mHealth will keep trying to make inroads with wireless service providers. Devices will continue to WOW but make little movement onto networks until carriers understand how to make money. These companies have not really scratched the surface yet.

Wireless will start to expand into other industries. Examples are helping utility companies get readings from customer homes and offices wirelessly, or helping the automotive industry give Internet connectivity from the dashboard.

Prepaid wireless continues strong growth, cutting more into the post-paid wireless world. Think companies like TracFone.

Loyalty programs will start to get popular. So will products that work together on the cloud. These are new trends. Think companies like C Spire with their Percs program and Apple with its cloud.

5G will enter the wireless discussion as 4G rapidly rolls out across the U.S. Which company will be first? Don't worry; there will be no 5G handsets or advertising for a while. Thank goodness. We are still trying to get 4G in most places.

Disaster will occur somewhere in the industry. Some company or sector will have a very rough time this year. It always happens.

So what else can we expect? Plenty. There is so much more that will happen in 2012.

This list is just a way to get your juices flowing. It will be another exciting year in tech, wireless and telecom. A year with plenty of ups and down, good news and bad news, and plenty of wins and losses on the Wave.

So get ready. 2012 will be a helluva year. The game is about to begin. Batter up!
Jeff Kagan's Pick of the Week

My Pick of the Week is a brand new category of computers called "Ultrabooks." Think of Apple's thin MacBook Air -- but on Windows.

These are a hit with Apple users, so there is no reason they shouldn't be just as popular with the Windows crowd, as long as they run well.

I have not used them yet, but from what I have seen, they have a full-size keyboard but are light and thin -- very easy to carry around.

Personally, I had a problem with the little netbooks. The screens and keyboards were small and uncomfortable. These Ultrabooks seem like just the right mix of portability, power and usability.

This new Ultrabook sector started with the Acer Aspire and Asus Zenbook, but now Lenovo is entering the space. I hear Toshiba and Samsung are getting ready to launch as well.

With all these computer makers, I expect to see this new category really take off in 2012.

These are quick. Open them and they wake up in seconds. Start from scratch, and they are up and running in 30-60 seconds. That's quick. Their size means they don't have features like a CD Rom or DVD player.

It looks like we're about to see a home run in the next few quarters. It all depends on the usability of the product and a successful marketing campaign.

I'll let you know more when I have tested them, but so far they look great.


E-Commerce Times columnist Jeff Kagan is a tech analyst and consultant who enjoys sharing his colorful perspectives on the changing industry he's been watching for 25 years. Email him at jeff@jeffKAGAN.com.


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