Revisiting GearBits' Predictions for 2009

Now that we've reached the end of another calendar, in continuing a tradition I started in 2003, below is a review of my 10 predictions for 2009 and an assessment of how accurate I was on each one.

1) Microsoft Launches Windows 7 to Fanfare, Skepticism
Microsoft's two pillars of financial solvency -- Windows and Office -- have been standing on shaky ground recently. Office 2007 was a decent hit, despite it not offering much new and causing significant backward compatibility issues. But Windows Vista, on the other hand, has been an unmitigated disaster. Microsoft even had to resort to tricking users into liking Vista (Mojave, anyone?), it had developed such a bad reputation. Windows 7 will be launched late in 2009 to a general consensus of "it's better," but will not be the "wow" that Microsoft needs to regain the market share it has recently ceded to Apple. But maybe that's a good thing...having strong competitors is usually a good thing for consumer markets.

thumbs-up.gifWhen Windows 7 was officially launched October 22nd, by any measure, it came out to positive reviews and very good, if not great, sales. Of course, following a dog of a product like Vista will go a long way towards creating pent-up demand, so it wasn't unexpected. However, if you went by the press and hype, you'd think Microsoft was the underdog to Apple instead of still appearing on about 93% of all desktops. Windows 7 has slowed the slight shift towards OS X, but it's not clear yet that any ground is being made up.  Ironically, the best thing to happen to Windows in 2009 may have been the explosion of netbooks (more on that below).

2) Blockbuster Declares Bankruptcy
This may be a bit "out there," but I see exceedingly tough times at Blockbuster. And this isn't vindictiveness...I've been a reasonably happy Blockbuster.com customer for several years, now. I just think that, given the state of its business (poor), the weakness in the economy (near-critical), the nature of its service (luxury), and the rapidity with which that industry is transforming, I think Blockbuster will file for bankruptcy protection to get out of some of its debt, sell off some property (store locations that aren't faring well), and reinvest that into developing newer and more attractive services. So, they aren't going away...yet.

thumbs-down.gifAfter spending much of 2009 desperately raising capital and refinancing its debt, Blockbuster is trying a variety of tactics to stave off its own demise at the hands of an increasingly varied assortment of competitors.  Netflix and piracy, Blockbuster's perennial nemeses, are joined by Redbox in stressing the company's sweaty grip on life even further.  However, per part of my prediction, Blockbuster announced in early 2009 that it would be closing 128 physical stores.  That number was massively expanded late in 2009 to closer to 1,000 stores.  Additionally, Blockbuster is launching a large kiosk initiative.  It's amazing how consistently the company does exactly what its competitors do, but 2-3 years later.  However, Blockbuster did not enter into any form of bankruptcy during 2009, so I'm declaring this one a failed prediction.

3) Palm Launches New OS to Fanfare, Skepticism
We've all heard the rumors that Palm will be launching "Nova," its replacement for the ancient Palm OS, at CES 2009 in a few days. I'm pretty sure that's going to happen. I'm also pretty sure that Palm will have at least one new device, if not several, running the new OS available by the end of June. While launching phones can take a while, given the carriers' lengthy testing requirements, launching a PDA doesn't, so Palm could certainly come out with two (or more) non-phone PDAs running Nova pretty quickly. And it needs to...the TX is older than my grandmother (at least in technology years). Generally, I predict there will be more nice things said about Nova, and the new devices, than critical, and it will stack up fairly competitively with Android and WM 6.5. What I do not have a lot of faith in is Palm's ability to develop and deliver the ecology of services (e.g., app stores) that customers are now expecting their smartphones to be integrated into. Time will tell on that front.

thumbs-up.gif

As we all now know, Nova was introduced as Palm webOS in January, 2009 at CES.  The first device running webOS was the Palm Pre, a nifty portrait QWERTY slider with HVGA multitouch screen.  Also during 2009, a second webOS device, the Palm Pixi, was announced and launched.  However, surprisingly, there were no non-phone webOS devices released.  In hindsight, I guess that makes sense, as Palm just doesn't have the resources (technical or financial) to launch 3+ separate devices in a single year.  Looking back, it's pretty clear that webOS and the Pre were well-received.  In fact, the Pre was the only smartphone to make it onto Twitter's Top-10 Trending Topics list for 2009, something neither the iPhone 3G S nor the Motorola Droid accomplished.  The two frustrating bits for Palm in 2009 have been Sprint's performance as a sole-carrier partner (in the US) for its new devices and the slow growth of the App Catalog.  However, both of these should be resolved in 2010...for Palm's sake, I hope so.

4) Blu-Ray Players Hit $99
During 2009, I think we'll see a raft of Korean and Taiwanese off-brand manufacturers launch budget Blu-Ray players. Just like the 2008 holiday sales saw BD players hit $149 in some stores, 2009 holiday sales will see them hit $99...if not sooner.

thumbs-up.gif

As I type this, Wal-Mart is selling a Magnavox NB500MG1F Blu-Ray Player for $98.00.  While it's just a Magnavox, it does meet the minimum criteria for confirming this prediction.

5) Apple Launches a Tablet to Fanfare
This has been a persistent rumor for years, but I think 2009 will see it actually happen. Why? A few reasons. First, Apple is looking to multi-touch as a key differentiator in its product lines, and having a full-screen, large-display MT device would make total sense. Second, it fits perfectly with the needs of the "creative class," Apple's core customer base. And third, it fills out a hole in their mobile product line that netbooks and other devices not running OS X fill nicely, and that's not a good thing for Apple. So, the technology is ready, the market is willing...and now I think Apple will be able to meet the demand.

thumbs-down.gifHa ha ha ha...um, no.  While many, many individuals would love for that to happen (if only as additional blog fodder), Apple has not announced anything.  However, there is feverish excitement in OS X fanboy camps about the iSlate being launched at an Apple event in January, 2010.  Or not.

6) Consolidation in the Entertainment Industry
2009 will be a strange year on a lot of dimensions. Not only will the stock market be hard to predict, there will be a lot of odd relationships come out of the mess. One industry that is still poised to make things happen is the entertainment industry, where I expect we'll see larger firms (e.g., major movie studios) start to acquire smaller, but very successful, examples from the newer media (e.g., game producers). A good example of the type of transaction I'm imagining would be Vivendi acquiring Ubisoft. I think Time Warner would love to swallow up Electronic Arts, but that might be a bit too big a bite unless something untoward happens to EA's stock price over the next year.

thumbs-up.gif

There were a number of major entertainment industry mergers and acquisitions in 2009.  One biggie was Disney scooping up Marvel Entertainment (comic books & movies) for $4 billion. While this deal hasn't been finalized, signs point to it going through. Another deal was the spin-off and merger involving Liberty Media Entertainment and DirecTV.  Is this a baby Time Warner in the making?  Hard to say, but I doubt it.  These two deals pale in comparison to what might turn out to be a merger of tectonic proportions:  Comcast buying 51% of NBC Universal.  If this goes through (in 2010), it will continue the trend of the same companies controlling the pipes and content, which could will cause consumers serious headaches in the years to come.  Or, they'll just continue to ignore the networks more and more and, instead, turn to the Internet for socially constructed content.  In that case, pray for net neutrality...it'll be our only hope.

7) Steve Jobs Announces Transition to New Role
I think concerns over Jobs' health have more merit than most of us want to admit. In 2009, I expect him to announce that he's transitioning into a different role than President and CEO of Apple (and CEO of Pixar). Something that keeps him out of the spotlight while he deals with his health issues will be valuable to keep Apple's stock price up and customer base intact. The move towards reducing his presence in near-term product launches is consistent with this strategy. But, he's far from gone...his influence will still be felt behind the scenes, but we'll see less of him in his traditional role as Apple poster boy.

thumbs-up.gif

Despite many people calling me a pessimist, an Apple-hater, and worse, I stood by this prediction.  On January 5, 2009, Sir Jobs sent out this infamous note claiming that his health issues were minor and transient.  But then, just a few days later, he followed up with a bombshell that he was much sicker than that and he'd be leaving until mid-year.  Given his absence at keynotes and overall behavior reminiscent of the Wizard of Oz ("pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!"), his role has clearly changed.  And I take no joy in being right; Jobs is clearly a genius and consumer electronics is better off with him at the height of his abilities.  I look forward to him giving the keynote at WWDC in June, 2010.

8) Facebook Membership Growth Flattens; Twitter Surges
Signs are pointing towards Facebook's popularity beginning to peak. Just as with everything social, when moms and dads begin to frequent the coffee shop, the kids need a new place to hang out. Facebook currently has almost 40 million members in the US. While that number has been skyrocketing since it opened up membership to anyone in September 2006, I think 2009 will see a marked deceleration in its growth. The loss of perceived exclusivity and the hassle of the relatively unprotected app space will combine to make it less appealing to many long-time users and new prospects will find fewer people urging them to get on board. Twitter, however, will see continued growth as it continues to tweak and adapt its environment to meet its core users' needs.

thumbs-down.gifWhile I'm counting this as a miss, it's actually 50% true.  Facebook's growth did not slow significantly as I'd predicted, but Twitter certainly did have the surge I thought was inevitable.

Let's look at some graphs:

facebook2009.gif

You'll notice that Facebook's growth is pretty continuous up until late 2009, where some outages and privacy issues potentially took away from its momentum.  Now, Twitter...

twitter2009.gif

This is a dramatic acceleration in Twitter's reach.  2009 will clearly go down in history as the year of Twitter.  In fact, Google and Microsoft so believed in it that they both inked deals to include Twitter's stream in their search engines as real-time results.

9) App Stores Dominate Mobile Software Delivery
iPhone's app store, Android's market...these types of bazaars, managed by the sponsors/manufacturers of the mobile operating systems, are coming to be the dominant mode for software distribution to mobile users. It marks a significant break from the traditional model, where mobile developers could sell software from their own sites, through 3rd party aggregators, and through carriers. This new approach is more streamlined, making it easier for users, but also more controlled, which can make it harder to accommodate large and complex ecosystems. The fact that each of the existing app stores serves a relatively small market is why we haven't seen these problems emerge to a point where they start driving users away. 2009 will see continued movement towards these controlled markets and away from the free-form/multi-channel models that previous mobile generations (e.g., Palm OS, Windows Mobile) relied on.

thumbs-up.gif

Undoubtedly true. Apple paved the way with this new model and, by the end of 2009, the existence of a robust app store is a requirement for any smartphone platform to be considered a contender. Apple's App Store recently passed 100,000 apps while Android's App Market has around 15,000 titles.  Palm's App Catalog just left beta status and is closing in on 1,000 apps.  In 2009, Windows Mobile, Blackberry, and Symbian app catalogs were all launched as well.  Clearly, this is the dominant mobile app distribution model for the foreseeable future.

10) Line Blurs between "Netbooks" and Notebooks/Laptops
Netbooks are currently a fairly homogeneous, and well-defined, niche of laptop computers. Most of them have an Intel Atom processor, a screen from 8.9" to 10" in size, no optical drive, weigh between 2.2 and 3 lbs, and cost $300-$500. There's a big gap in pricing then between these netbooks and the subnotebooks/ultraportables that often have slightly larger screens, way more RAM and processing power, and cost $1,500 or more. To paraphrase the old adage, markets abhor a vacuum, so I expect we'll start seeing all manner of new small notebooks come into the market in this $500-$1000 range sporting screens in the 9"-12" range with anything from 512MB to 2GB of RAM, a variety of operating systems (XP and Linux will continue to be most popular), and a range of processing and display capabilities. Not everyone needs to play Crysis on their notebook, but not everyone can get by with a 1024x600 screen and do everything inside their browser.

thumbs-up.gif

This was evident even early on in 2009, and now, at year's end, the trend is clearly supportive. While initial netbooks were all burdened with screens in the 8"-9" range, recently announced models have 11" and even 12" screens.  Surprisingly, the prices we're willing to pay for netbooks is increasing, too (clear up to $1,500 if you consider the impressively engineered Sony Vaio X).  Sure, it could just be that our definition of "netbook" is expanding.  But, it's hard to argue that the line between netbook and notebook is getting pretty diffused. 

So, looking back, my record for 2009 seems to be 7 right, 3 wrong...about in line with last year. Some of these were hard to determine, as I had packed in several related predictions into a single item, something I'll try not to do when I post my predictions for 2010 in the next day or two. Until then, let me know what you think in the comments below. 

Thanks, and have a great New Year!