Predictions for 2011 (San Diego Transcript)

It's that time again to make some predictions about what to expect in consumer tech for 2011. But first, here's a quick review of last year's predictions.

Mostly right

I predicted that we'd see new smartphones with larger 4- and 4.5-inch touch displays, and that proved correct with the Droid X, HTC EVO and Nexus S phones, in spite of Steve Jobs referring to them as Hummer phones.

The debate over network neutrality heated up as predicted, with Google and Verizon trying to make their own side deal. One prediction that hasn't panned out is that the FCC would take a strong stand against network neutrality. Instead, it's shown no backbone.

The prediction of a new iPhone that would be built of more rugged materials proved to be true, unless you drop it and shatter the glass back. That the iPhone would continue to encounter problems on AT&T's network proved true, and that AT&T would try to limit data usage and charge for higher usage also happened. No more unlimited data plan for the iPhone (unless you're grandfathered in). That Verizon would begin selling the iPhone seemed like an easy prediction, but we're still waiting.

Apple did introduce a tablet computer that everyone predicted, but no one knew how successful it would turn out to be, except, perhaps, Jobs.


I said Apple, Android and Blackberry would dominate the mobile phone market, and they do hold the major shares. I predicted a major computer or consumer products company would buy Palm, and HP did just that.

2010 was predicted to be the year of apps. (How obvious was that one?)

I said that 3-D TVs would find limited interest. How many of you have one? So far they've not gained much traction and it may be years before they'll find success.

The prediction that Intel would be in deep trouble for its anti-competitive activities was spot on, and they decided to settle quickly rather than fight the accusations.

Misses

I thought Google would break the stranglehold on locked phones, selling subsidized versions of its special Android models at costs lower than the carriers. Instead it proved to be an inept retailer and quickly exited the business, relying on T-Mobile for sales.

While I thought touch would be everywhere, including on computers, that hasn't happened yet.

I predicted cloud computing, where all your applications and content are on the Web, would expand dramatically with new online devices, services and, of course, online apps. It's happening, but slowly and mostly behind the scenes with sync and storage. We're still waiting for the killer apps in the cloud that can rival the ease and accessibility of apps on the computer.

I predicted privacy would be an issue, but who thought it would come from the "do no evil" Google and Facebook?

Predictions for 2011

Verizon iPhone — Verizon will finally introduce an iPhone 4 in early 2011 that runs 4G. OK — I'm cheating here since this is pretty common knowledge. But my prediction is this: Don't expect Verizon to suffer from the same problems that AT&T has had with all those dropped calls. The Verizon iPhone will benefit from a better network, even with the added volumes, and the improved Qualcomm-designed electronics. Its appearance will remain the same as the AT&T version. Also expect to see a significant migration of customers from AT&T to Verizon.

New iPad — There will be a new iPad in Q1. It will be slightly thinner and flatter with the same size display, a little lighter and with a built-in camera. Pricing will not change significantly.

Tablets — There'll be a herd of Android tablets introduced, most of which will meet with disappointing sales. They'll have difficulty competing with the iPad's big lead and better-organized content. Microsoft's tablet efforts will falter with its products becoming confused with netbooks, since it wants its tablets to be equipped with keyboards. 

Apple will introduce its own mapping service to replace Google maps for its products. Apple will finally add turn-by-turn directions to the iPhone and iPad to match that feature now found on Android phones.

Garmin, TomTom and Magellan will continue to see their stand-alone personal navigator sales fall precipitously, and one of the companies will leave the market.

Network neutrality, or what we have of it now, will come to an end in 2011 with carriers and cable companies being able to charge different rates for different types of content.

Notebooks — Touch screens and solid-state memory (no hard disc drives) will go mainstream and be found on many models. Apps, pioneered by Apple on the Macs, will be a big hit and migrate to Windows machines. Sales of notebooks running Google Chrome, which relies on cloud computing, will get off to a disappointing start and sales of netbooks will continue to drop.

Smartphones will make up the majority of new phone sales in the United States, led by surging sales of the iPhone from Verizon, followed closely by Android phones. Falling precipitously will be RIM, going from 1st to 3rd place in sales.

Pay-by-Phone — We'll see a big push for using smartphones to make purchases, with several new models having the feature built-in.

Social buying site Groupon that just passed up Google's $6 billion offer will regret that decision with numerous competitors coming online and marginalizing its early advantage. I can't get excited by their  offers for manicures and day-old sushi! 

The Facebook vs. Google rivalry will continue to dominate the news with Facebook out-maneuvering Google in those areas where they go head to head. We'll see a more combative Google that fights the privacy restrictions that consumer groups want to impose. I think Google will get into real trouble with the regulatory agencies in the United States and Europe for tinkering with the neutrality of its search engine. There are already complaints that it's rigging its search results so that its own sites will get top ranking.

Sprint, which went from the worst to one of the best cellular companies, as measured by service and support by Consumer Reports, will offer a logical, fairly priced, easy-to-understand data plan that distinguishes itself from the other networks.

The cable companies and TV networks will continue to try to restrict our ability to access content from the Internet and computers, but one network, ABC, will relent and provide real-time programming via iTunes and Apple TV.

2011 should be a fascinating year with lots of excitement in the wireless, entertainment, content, social networking and device areas. I expect it to be one of the most vibrant years for innovation.

Best wishes to all for the holiday season.