Around this time of year you see plenty of articles (such as this one) reflecting on notable technologies and events of the year now gone. Such pieces will also attempt to predict the events of the year just started.
When reading these articles, it’s worth considering how the technologies being described are never taken in isolation. Instead, these technologies always need to be seen in terms of how they interact with and impact our personal and social lives. How technology does this, however, can be subtle and extremely complex.
In fact, there is a significant amount of research – past and present – that focuses on why we do or don’t use software and technology. Most researchers agree that the reasons are sociotechnical – a complex mish-mash of technological and societal factors. The study of these factors is increasingly becoming the realm of social scientists and psychologists, rather than engineers or computer scientists.
That’s important because individual technologies appear in the context of larger sociotechnical trends. Whether a technology is significant or revolutionary will depend, in part, on its role in facilitating, or more rarely, being the catalyst behind such trends.
One such trend is the move from the PC to the use of mobile technology. Early smartphones set the groundwork for heralding the move to mobile but it took the iPhone and apps delivered from the App Store to act as the catalyst. Even then, it wasn’t until the iPhone 3 – and the Android equivalents appearing shortly afterwards – that we could truly say the era of the smartphone had begun.
In many cases, identifying the particular “tipping point” for a technology or trend is really only possible after the fact. We certainly had no idea at the launch of Facebook that social networks would become so important in our lives. But a tipping point was reached and it became widely acknowledged that social networks were part of the general fabric of society.
Predictions may be hard to make but that doesn’t stop us all from trying. Unfortunately the research done in this area only gives us pointers to reading tea leaves, and not a robust and reliable formula.
Looking back at 2011, the notable technical events were part of two major sociotechnical trends. The post-PC, move to mobile trend and the social hyper-connectedness trend. The technical events included the continued roll-out of mobile phones with new functionality, in particular the iPhone 4S and its onboard artificial intelligence Siri.
Here are my ten predictions for next year:
1) Social networks
Facebook and Twitter will continue to dominate as social network platforms. The lacklustre Google+ will continue to struggle to get past its predominantly US, white, tech-oriented and male audience. This struggle will continue despite Google’s attempts to insinuate it into everything they do.
Contrary to recent predictions, email will continue to be the primary mode of electronic communication in the non-personal world.
Android will continue as the dominant smart phone OS. Blackberry and the Symbian will continue their decline into eventual irrelevance and Windows Phone 7 will fail to become relevant. The pairing of Nokia and Microsoft will ultimately not be successful and Nokia will bring out Android phones.
Apple will survive the loss of Steve Jobs and release the iPad 3 and iPhone 5. Siri will appear on the iPad and Apple TV and her capabilities will extend into further integration with apps, including third-party apps.
5) Apps vs. web
Apple will release a TV in 2012. The convergence of TVs as network-enabled media devices will see the adoption of Android as an alternative platform to Apple’s forthcoming TV.
The convergence of TV and the computer will allow TV to become integrated with social networks. This will extend the real-time interaction with talk shows that are increasingly displaying viewer Twitter and Facebook comments. It will also allow viewers to share their TV watching on their social networks.
Of course, advertising will become increasingly personalised on TV, moving from its current broadcast format.
7) The PC
The demise of the desktop computer will continue. It will be replaced with laptops, ultra-portables, tablets and phones, with data in the cloud.
Windows 8 will be released towards the end of 2012 and will find its way to tablets. It will be universally shunned by businesses and will see only slow adoption among consumers. Microsoft will make the new Metro user interface optional.
8) The news media
Although strictly speaking not a technological issue, traditional news companies will continue to struggle to make money from either paper or online sales.
Paywall experiments will continue but at least one paywall exercise will be abandoned because of severely diminishing circulations.
9) Legislation and legal
Patent battles will continue and specific judgements will determine companies’ strategies. Defensive purchasing of patents similar to the syndicate of companies that purchased patents belonging to Nortel will continue. The participants of the patent wars will get more entrenched and their methods more convoluted.
Attempts to introduce legislation around online piracy will fail. The realisation that law enforcement agencies (in the US in particular) can already shut down supposedly infringing sites without warning, renders new legislation giving these powers to copyright holders largely unnecessary.
Hacking and cyber-warfare/cyber-vandalism will continue. I initially thought that hacking by the hacking collective Anonymous would stay focussed on real-life protests such as the Occupy Movement. However, the recent hacking of security intelligence firm Stratfor has shown that hacks in the name of Anonymous will continue to surprise,and for some, vex, next year.