Once again, here are GearBits' prognostications for the coming year. If you're interested, check out how our predictions for 2008 panned out, or previous years' predictions.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
So, there you have it...GearBits' predictions for 2009. Some are probably pretty safe bets, and some are bound to be wrong. What do you think will happen?