Tech Predictions for 2010

From the December 2009 Issue

And so we come to the second decade of the second millennium, having witnessed the rise of Google, YouTube and Facebook. We have seen the introduction of smartphones, the advent of broadband Internet, the redesign of light bulbs, and the first trials of a primitive form of teleportation.
For people who work in the technology field, this has been one of the most fascinating and disruptive decades since … well, since the last one, which witnessed the birth of the commercial Internet, the rise and fall of AOL, and the emergence of TurboTax, QuickBooks and Microsoft Windows.

The point is that every decade, and every year of every decade, will bring change to the field of technology. The trick is to be able to anticipate the major changes and manage the change process as it occurs. Okay, no one expected Twitter, but in reality Twitter is not an innovation but rather an extension of existing technologies. And it remains unclear whether it will be world-changing or simply a blip on the tech radar screen when the dust settles.

Last year was tough to predict because the meltdown in the housing industry dragged the entire economy, including tech companies, into the biggest recession in 75 years. Added to that was the uncertainty of an election year and the pace of technology innovation ground to a virtual standstill. Nonetheless, we still managed to score 8.5 out of 10 in last year’s predictions.




PREDICTION: This will be the year of the femtocell.
ACTUAL RESULTS: Verizon and Sprint got the first-move advantage, but AT&T was not far behind with its version of this Internet-based mini-cell-phone tower. The real story, however, was how this technology helped prove the business case for others, such as Verizon's cellular-based Wi-Fi hardware.


PREDICTION: Windows 7 will suffer a dreary and slow introduction.
ACTUAL RESULTS: It finally made it to retail shelves last October, but by then almost everyone was aware that this is just an upgrade to Vista. Better security, perhaps, and a few bells and whistles. But mostly Windows 7 has been a yawner. In my opinion, it’s still bloated, over-priced and less agile than its competitors.


PREDICTION: WiMax won’t go much of anywhere.
ACTUAL RESULTS: WiMax was supposed to be the future of wireless Internet access, but it just sputtered and died. Sure, Sprint made a big deal out of deploying WiMax in Baltimore, but even there it has not caught on.


PREDICTION: Technologies for environmental action will move to the forefront.
ACTUAL RESULTS: Green, green and more green tech. Even if global warming is debunked, there is much to be said for technology that reduces energy consumption and leads to a cleaner environment. “Green tech” companies are basking in the sunlight of investment dollars yet today.


PREDICTION: We’ll get a technology czar in Washington.
ACTUAL RESULTS: Actually, we got half a dozen. And while one of them is a technology czar of sorts — or CIO for the white house — the idea of a single person being in control of government tech proved a bit unwieldy. This is just as well, in an administration with 30-some “czars” already trying to run things.


PREDICTION: Small computers will continue to grow in importance.
ACTUAL RESULTS: Can you say Netbooks? The emergence of these low-cost, stripped down laptop computers has been the biggest story in computing hardware in the past year, as consumers discover that all they really need is a machine that can connect to the Internet.


PREDICTION: Tech will get cheaper. Much cheaper.
ACTUAL RESULTS: Netbooks (referenced above) led the way by dropping the price of a decent laptop to under $200, but the price drops didn’t end there. In the midst of a recession, virtually every device saw massive price drops. The most notable: the cost of large-screen monitors and televisions.


PREDICTION: Google’s Android phones will have only moderate success.
ACTUAL RESULTS: The Android operating system, another part of Google’s bid to take over the galaxy, was introduced in late 2007 and to date has had only moderate success. It is an open-source system that is fast and flexible and based on the Linux kernel. The problem with the Android is that it simply doesn’t break any new ground or offer substantially better features. Oh, well.


PREDICTION: VoIP companies will die.
ACTUAL RESULTS: That is, the VoIP companies that cater to the general public. While VoIP overall remains a strong technology, market leaders Vonage and Skype are both in trouble. Vonage is on its last legs, and Skype is on the auction block for sale. Neither appears likely to find an effective business model in the near term. While I have used both services, and like very much what Skype has to offer, I don’t like it well enough to pay much for it. Apparently others agree.


PREDICTION: Internet companies will begin a new wave of consolidation.
ACTUAL RESULTS: Well, they would have were it not for that pesky recession. The reality is that there are simply too many broadband companies in the top tier of service. CenturyTel did buy Embarq this year, but there are still many moves to be made as Comcast consolidates on the Cable side and AT&T battles to a standstill with Verizon.


2009 was also remarkable for the use of technology as a major component of the political process leading to the November elections. From Facebook and the Web to Twitter and the BlackBerry, technology energized the voting masses. And if our own predictions only came to the 85 percent correct level … there is always the year ahead.

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Cellular broadband will begin to dominate wireless.
It began with the BlackBerry, which enabled professionals to stay connected in new and interesting ways. Then came the ability to “tether” the BlackBerry to a computer and use it as a modem. Finally, Novatel introduced its MiFi personal cellular router, which services up to five computers with a cellular broadband connection. With WiMax dying, cellular broadband is poised to become the wireless technology of choice. Now all we need is enough bandwidth to support it.


Multitouch screens will go mainstream.
First innovated by Apple, which owns the patent, multitouch now routinely shows up in new smartphones. It has been available for some time on tablet PCs, but has suffered somewhat from a lack of development and hardware. That changed in 2009 when Microsoft unveiled a multitouch capability as part of Windows 7. Apple, in its own right, is believed to be developing a “mega-platform” around this touch technology. Admittedly, it is only a small start, but hardware makers are ramping up for touchscreen navigation to be the norm in mainstream computers.


PDF files will dominate filing.
More specifically, fillable PDF forms will become the gold standard for all manner of forms. Adobe is finally getting around to cleaning up the forms functions of its portable document system, setting the stage for this platform to replace paper-bound forms entirely. Microsoft’s effort to counter with its own document system seems to have failed (again), leaving Adobe firmly in control.


Telecommuting will finally get real.
If I had a dollar for every time I had predicted that one year or another would be “the year of telecommuting,” I could afford a cup of coffee at Starbucks. But between cellular broadband, the BlackBerry, fears of the swine flu and the global trend toward mobile offices, this could actually be the year. The best way to measure? Gartner says there are now 14 million telecommuters in the United States in 2009. I’m willing to bet the number increases by more than 15 percent by the end of 2010.


The future of “cloud” computing will be … cloudy.
Despite having enormous hype and speculation, the idea that data will somehow reside and be used in some kind of global Internet “cloud” does not make sense in a world in which hundreds of nations have different cultures, laws and copyright policies. Joni Mitchell said it best when she sang, “I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now, from up and down, and still somehow … it’s clouds illusions I recall. I really don’t know clouds at all.” Amen.


Google will introduce a new desktop operating system.
In its never-ending battle with Microsoft for dominance of everything, Google has introduced a web browser — Chrome — and an operating system for cell phones — Android. Both of these are in response to Microsoft’s assaults on Google’s primary search engine business with the new Bing search. Both Chrome and Android were released earlier than anticipated, and we can expect the new Google desktop to land early, as well. I’m betting next year.


Intuit will push into the enterprise.
Yes, there is already an enterprise version of QuickBooks. But I’m talking about a more significant push. Intuit has quietly beefed up its Quicken product to take a more commanding position in the small office/home office markets and small businesses. This frees QuickBooks to step higher up the chain in the mid-market, in the same way that Toyota entered the market building small, cheap cars and now has stepped into the luxury car market. Look for a beefed-up version of QuickBooks in 2010 designed to go after the likes of Microsoft Dynamics.


PDF files will replace paper.
Sure, we’ve heard about the so-called “paperless office” for close to two decades now. But Adobe has finally settled in to making these portable document files more than just a photo of the printed page … with more advanced editing options and better control over fonts and positioning when filling in the forms. Microsoft’s efforts to dislodge Adobe as the leader in this marketplace have largely failed, but the market doesn’t seem to care as increasing numbers of people flock to use online forms to handle their business chores. This could have an impact on the low end of the tax prep market.


Internet capacities will increase dramatically, if you pay.
The Federal Communications Commission is working on a national broadband plan, which they have been directed to present to Congress on February 17. But there’s a sticking point to broadband deployment, and that is the difficulty that some users create by using far more bandwidth than the “normal user.” The only rational solution — though unpopular with the “power users” — is to charge in some level of tiers, so that the more you use, the more you pay. In spite of much angst and wailing, such plans are almost certain to become reality in 2010.


Compact disks will begin to die.
But they won’t go away yet, because the five major companies that control popular music are not yet ready for the shift. Obviously, online music downloading will continue to be the norm, though the music companies are having a hard time adjusting to a world in which consumers control what they buy. Eventually, data and video will go to a larger capacity disk — likely whatever replaces the DVD of today. But in 2010, look for a shift to occur as some companies begin to release their content on SD cards that can more easily be used in music players, computers and other devices.

Notably, SaaS (software as a service) is not on this list, because there remains some resistance to doing everything online. But accountants are warming to the idea, and 2010 will see an increase in the number of companies shifting to a web-based platform.

Of course, with the economy poised to show some level of recovery, it will be impossible to predict what all will happen this year, though I’d encourage you to keep your eye on telemedicine and distance learning as two areas that will show growth as the next decade unfolds.