Five backward-compatible forecasts for 2011

Forecasting trends is easy, but forecasting specific developments in a realistic time frame is much harder

Innovation doesn’t know what day it is. It’s also true that we never seem to predict the most interesting things which actually do happen. Oh sure — years of speculation preceded Apple’s iPad announcement last January. But did anyone actually figure on the iPad?

With trepidation, then, I’ve committed to a forecast at years’ end, a moment of no moment for either tech or media. Sadly, there is no fiscal year option in the pontification game that could postpone this to a more sensible time in Q2.

So, in the spirit of tradition, I offer my First Annual Backward Compatible Tech Forecast.

1) The social net works (really!)

2010 was a franchise year for Facebook. It grew to a staggering 500 million members. Privacy-indifferent CEO Mark Zuckerberg beat out even badder-boy Julian Assange of WikiLeaks to be named Time Magazine’s “Person of the Year.” But 2010 was also the year of the niche social network. These small services hew to a more traditional definition of “community” by introducing strangers who share a common interest, like GetGlue and Foodspotting. Or, like Path, they harken to a quaint definition of “friend” by limiting one’s circle to 50. Yelp and Goodreads and Gowalla have been with us for a while, but the mass medium that are apps makes signing up and sticking with narrow networks effortless. And they are a lot easier to manage.

2) Can you see me now?

Skype had some big problems at the end of the year, but this Internet telephony pioneer is poised to deliver, on a wide scale, the most tasty combination since the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup: mobile video conferencing on “everywhere” data networks. This is part hope and part belief in a process which, while hampered by carriers in 2010, seems increasingly inevitable — perhaps more so now with the new FCC net neutrality rules.

 ideo phones have been rejected by every human with bad hair since AT&T showcased one at the 1964-65 New York City World’s Fair. But video calling is a hit in the age of the webcam. And since the smartphone set always has one handy, the only real impediment are carrier bandwidth caps.

3) Do these glasses make me look phat?

A lot of people tried to convince me this year that 3D TV was the next big thing. It was big at last year’s Consumer Electronics Show, and will be a big again at next month’s CES. I don’t see 3D TV in many living rooms next year, but the campaign to make this a mainstream consumer product won’t die either. 2011 will, however, be a make-or-break year to convince people who recently bought HD TVs (because they had to) that it’s already time for a refresh cycle. As my Wired colleague Dylan Tweney argues, home 3D camera equipment may be the catalyst. “If you could actually make your own 3-D pictures and movies easily, you might have a reason to buy 3D displays like the Nintendo 3DS or — who knows? — any one of the increasing number of 3D TVs.”
4) Tablet manners

This one writes itself. Moving on. Oh, one thing: Tablets are awesome reading devices, which brings us to …

5) Curl up with this

Who would have guessed that reading long articles would become popular again in the age of the 500-word blog post and the 140-character Tweet? But a quiet revolution began in 2008 with the advent of Instapaper, a sort of hobby by Marco Arment until the Tumblr CTO quit last September as the service grew to one million users. The idea is simple: Instapaper reformats web pages into very readable text-only versions and stores them offline. Instapaper now has competition from Read It Later, and both benefit from curation sites like Give Me Something to Read and Longform.org. Distillation (the dumbing-down of web pages) and a logical division of labor (harvest now, process later) played a part. So did the increased adoption of e-readers and the release of the iPad. But don’t underestimate the counter-intuitive power of the Twitter effect. As Clive Thompson puts it in the January Wired: “The explosion of short-form thinking is actually catalyzing more long-form meditation. The future of long form media is quite bright — and we may actually owe it to our incessant twittering.” In other words, get ready to curl up with the mobile internet device of your choice for some much needed “me” time.

 

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