As I’m writing this, the last few hours of 2011 are ticking away, taking with them one year while ushering in another. 2011’s been an interesting year in the technology world, with touch interfaces — whether on smartphones, tablets or touchscreen laptops and computers — a most notable feature that defined the consumer technology landscape. But what will 2012 bring us?
Any kind of prediction about the technology landscape is inevitably one that involves a certain amount of guesswork, and that means I could be hopelessly (or even haplessly) wrong with any kind of prediction that I make. With that caveat in mind, let’s jump headfirst into the crystal ball, taking a look at three industry heavyweights and how they might fare in 2012.
Apple gets first place in my tea leaf readings, purely on alphabetical grounds. Apple’s widely tipped to update its iPad, iPhone and Mac lines this year; those things are pretty inevitable simply from a marketing point of view. On the Mac front, new chipset availability will allow newer Mac models (the exact same thing is true on the PC front), and it doesn’t take a degree from the dubious institute-of-psychic-studies-that-I-just-made-up (established eight seconds ago) to suggest that new iPhones and iPads will see money flowing into Apple’s coffers. That kind of repeat business latest-model hype is exactly what Apple does, and based on previous years, that’s clearly what it’ll continue to do.
One rumour doing the rounds here at the moment is that Apple will unveil an “Apple” TV. Not to be confused with the small set top box that the company already sells, this would be an Apple branded TV set, hooked into the iTunes store for video delivery.
I doubt it. I strongly doubt it, although I wouldn’t be shocked to find out that Apple had prototyped such a thing; big IT companies go through lots of prototypes during research and development. The reason why I’m doubtful is that while it sounds good in theory (Apple has a content ecosystem in place, it does good industrial design and as yet nobody’s really “cracked” a good Smart TV), it ignores one of the factors that’s made Apple a whole lot of money in recent years — namely that it likes repeat business. People drop iPhones and iPads all over the place, and new features prompt some buyers to replace every year. Who replaces their TV every year? Almost nobody. A TV is a long-term prospect, and as such Apple would need lots of content to make its model of TV compelling. The existing Apple TV set top box already provides a gateway to its iTunes ecosystem for selling and renting content; I’d be less shocked to see, a say, LG-presents-TV-with-integrated-Apple-TV than a genuine Apple TV.
Next on the reading of the livers of unfortunate animals (and next in the alphabet) would be Google. Google’s likely to continue chipping away at many markets, essentially doing what Microsoft’s done for years; subsidising some products via the massive profits made from just a few. In Google’s case that’s largely search advertising, and it’s funded all sorts of acquisitions (some of which Google shuttered during 2011) and startup projects, most prominently Android-based smartphones and tablets. I suspect 2012 is the year we’ll see a “Google” Android tablet. Previously this could have been one built by another company — in the same way that Google’s own Android phones have been HTC and Samsung models respectively — but with Google having gobbled up Motorola in 2011, it could be an entirely in-house effort. Google’s own moves in the netbook space with its Chromebooks seems to have stalled for the moment, as has Google’ own TV ambitions; I’d be surprised if either made significant headway in Australia, if they ever make it here at all.
Last in my prognosticating list is Microsoft. While it’s not definite, it’s highly likely we’ll see Windows 8 emerge sometime in 2012, although I wouldn’t put a pin anywhere in the calendar before June if I were you. Windows 8 is clearly part of Microsoft’s strategy to more closely align all of its consumer IT properties, from smartphones to consoles to computers under one well understood interface, and it’ll be fascinating to see how well (and how quickly) Microsoft manages this. Its coffers are immense (as are its spending habits when it comes to both R&D and marketing) and it’s got an easy head start in terms of Windows existing place in the market; while big businesses will no doubt take a slow approach to the new operating system and everything it may offer, the push for individual users to bring their own devices (and increasingly laptops) into work may make Windows 8 a very rapidly adopted operating system indeed.