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Three trends seem prevalent in consumer electronics today:

1) Greater integration with the Internet and social media - Pieces of consumer electronics that do not talk to the Internet are getting more and more rare. Submitting to the user's choice of social media is also an increasingly popular function.

2) More sensitivity to older users (in some ways) - Older users, such as Boomers, are a larger and larger portion of the CE-buying population, so paying attention to them for usability and use cases makes a lot of sense. But, many devices are still quite difficult to set up and troubleshoot for anyone who isn't facile with networking and other technical concepts.

3) Less emphasis on durability - As the pace of CE replacement increases, companies are finding it less worthwhile to make their devices last a long time. Simultaneously, mobile devices are often evaluated on weight, and lightweight materials can often be less durable.

These three trends will continue to morph as the CE industry adapts to changes in the technological infrastructure and demographics in the marketplace.
As far as I can tell, the numbers and suits are accurate as of March 1, 2012.

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As I've done now for several years, here are a few guesses as to what shall come to pass in the tech industry during 2012. One caveat: my predictions are generally based on observations of the US/North American market, and may not make much sense if considered from the perspective of somewhere else.

1. Patent disputes in the mobile industry will escalate, threatening to tear it apart, and leading to some a significant change in tone, if not actual multi-player agreements, to reduce the risk for all (major) parties. While they could continue this miserable dance of who's-pissing-on-who-in-what-country, I think more rational heads will start to realize that it's really not doing anyone any good...except the corporate lawyers, of course.

2. RIM, maker of the Blackberry and perennial loser of market share, will be approached for acquisition, if not acquired outright. A reasonable scenario, I think, has Apple scooping them up solely for their patent portfolio, if not also their back-end server technology, which would help Apple move further into the corporate back-office (a market they've done little to woo so far).

3. Continuing on the smartphone theme, I think Google's Android will surpass 50% US smartphone market share during 2012 and end the year at around 55%. Apple's iOS will pass 30% of the smartphone market and end 2012 with about 33%. That leaves ~12% for RIM and Microsoft to split, with my prediction putting them each at 5-7%.

4. Google will announce that it's abandoning Chrome OS and consolidating all its OS efforts with Android. Those 527 Chromebooks that were sold instantly become collector's items.

5. Apple will release a crapload of new products in 2012. The iPad 3 will have a Retina display  with 2048 x 1536 resolution (although, technically, that would be only 253 pixels per inch, far less than the iPhone 4's Retina display), a better front-facing camera, and 4G. Apple will also release, or at least announce, an iTV, which will include a camera on the front bezel and everyone will suddenly wonder why TVs haven't had cameras for the past 60 years.

6. I think the new laptop category called "ultrabooks" will expand significantly (from the 3 or 4 models currently available) and sell pretty well. IMO, there's a fairly compelling value proposition in a 12-14" laptop weighing 3 lbs or less with a fast processor, great battery life, and 120+ GB of solid-state storage for under a grand. Intel and the computer OEMs all have vested interest in getting consumers to spend more than the $400 they've become accustomed to, and a lot of people seem to be tired of buying 15.6" behemoths with miserable specs and battery life that's measured in minutes.

7. The number of tech IPOs will jump dramatically in 2012. There's been a big backlog, with only a few brave souls venturing forth recently (e.g., Zillow, Groupon, and Zynga). In 2012, I expect we'll see Facebook, Yelp go public, and maybe even Evernote and Twitter. The improving economy will make it hard to resist some instant wealth for these privately held firms.

8. Sprint will abandon its unlimited cellular data policy and go with a tiered pricing structure like every other major US carrier. The public's reaction will be swift and ugly, but ultimately ineffective at making Sprint regret the change. Moreover, Sprint will continue to turn on its nascent LTE network, making it increasingly hard to sell WiMax 4G phones to its customers. 2012 will not be a good year for the yellow swoosh.

9. Microsoft will release Windows 8 to a shocked and confused public, who will mill around the OS aimlessly looking for a Start button. Ballmer will try to convince everyone that it's better while simultaneously telling us how to make Windows 8 look like Windows 7. With Windows Phone not taking off, increasing competition for Office from web apps, the brightest spots for Microsoft will be Exchange, Xbox, and licensing revenue from Android device OEMs. Windows 8's launch will be far less successful than Windows 7's was, despite being available for a wider variety of hardware platforms.

10. In 2012, the major manufacturers of family cars will continue to struggle with the public's perception of electric cars. While additional cars will come out, none will sell terribly well. The only exception will be the Tesla Model S, which will start arriving in customers' driveways and help quite a bit in convincing America that an electric car isn't really as bizarre and scary as it thought. Tesla will be approached as an acquisition target by a large international automobile manufacturer. 

Check back in about 365 days to see whether or not any of these predictions came true, mostly true, or not even close. Until then, have a great 2012!
Since 5 years in a row makes a tradition in my book, it's now once again time to revisit my predictions for 2011, and see how they panned out...or not.

1. The Apple iPad 2 (or whatever it's called) will be available with a front-facing camera and 4G (LTE), but will have the same screen resolution as the iPad.  We should know about April.

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Mostly right: Yes on the FF camera (albeit an incredibly low-resolution one) and yes on the same resolution as the original iPad, but no 4G LTE. Heck, not even the iPhone 4S has LTE. C'mon, Apple...what's the problem? Afraid of battery life complaints?

2. Nintendo will launch a new Wii console with HD output, DVD playback, and a Kinect-like video camera accessory.  I think the first two are a lock, but the third part of that is more wish than expectation.

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Again, mostly right. Nintendo launched a new console, the Wii U, and it does have HD output (although the multi-function controller, which includes a screen, is the main differentiator). But, like it's predecessor, it still won't play DVDs or Blu-Ray. Why, Nintendo, why??? The Wii U will be available early in 2012.

3. At least one of the smartphone platforms (iOS, Android, Symbian, Blackberry, WP7, MeeGo, webOS, Bada) will go away for good.  My money is on Bada.

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This was perhaps my most cynical prediction and I wasn't really that confident in it. But, amazingly, we saw not one, not two, but three smartphone platforms become abandonware in 2011. MeeGo was killed off when the Linux Foundation decided to move whole-hog towards Tizen, an HTML5-based OS. Nokia abandoned Symbian when it was clear there was no hope of it gaining traction in the smartphone space. We'll see if their cozying up to Microsoft and Windows Phone will prove to be a smart move. Finally, HP did, then didn't, then finally did open the cage and let webOS into the wilds of open sourcedom, likely to never see another smartphone installation again. So sad. Ironically, Bada is still going strong at Samsung, amazingly selling over 10 million Bada handsets in 2011. To whom, exactly, I'm not quite sure.

4. 3D will continue to grow, but not substantially and will mostly be relegated to gaming and in-theater movie experiences.

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Perhaps I was a bit too US-centric in this prediction. According to NPD DisplaySearch, while 3D TV sales were so low that 3D actually lost ground in the US, it has grown in popularity in Europe and China. Given Sony's recent entry into 3D gaming TVs and systems for the home, it seems pretty clear that, at least in North America, gaming and theater experiences are the only things keeping 3D in people's minds. Whether or not the rest of the world knows something we don't, or soon follows suit, is yet to be determined.

5. More Android tablets/slates will be sold in 2011 than iOS tablets/slates.  That assumes, of course, that the tsunami of Android slates we should see at CES results in products you can actually buy.

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Ha ha ha...not even close. All the estimates I've seen have iPads outselling all Android tablets by multiples in 2011. It's not clear to me why that is, especially now that Android phones are outselling iPhones by almost a 2:1 margin. That said, given the new Kindle Fire, Nook Color, and some other rather serious tablets running Android (e.g., the Asus Transformer Prime), and rumors that Google itself might release a Nexus tablet in 2012, this coming year might see that gap close somewhat.

6. At least one of the DSLR manufacturers (Nikon, Canon, Sony, Olympus, Pentax/Samsung, Leica, Panasonic, Sigma) will cease producing DSLRs and/or be acquired by another company.  My guess is Sigma, as I really have no idea how they can afford to put out mediocre (read "poorly selling") DSLR after mediocre DSLR.

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Yes, but it wasn't Sigma (I still have no idea how they generate revenue). Pentax was purchased by Ricoh, who wants to get into the digital camera biz in a big way. Sony, Canon, and Nikon continue to dominate the DSLR market, with Olympus (who might not be around in a year), Panasonic, and others trying to carve out share in the Micro-Four-Thirds market.

7. By the end of 2011, Windows Phone will have the third largest app catalog (behind iOS & Android).  That shouldn't be too much of a stretch, as its growth curve means it'll surpass Blackberry's 15,000 apps or so in a few months.

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Yep. Apple still has the largest, with Android catching up quickly, and Windows Phone a very distant third. Although, if Nokia can execute on hardware and marketing as it has in the past, and Microsoft can continue to spend those Android licensing revenues on writing solid updates for Windows Phone, Redmond might just crack the top 3 smartphone platforms sooner than you think. RIM certainly isn't doing anything to stop them.

8. Google will struggle to establish content licensing agreements for Google TV, ending 2011 with a still-lackluster platform.  Unless Google is willing to toss a bunch of cash at the networks, that is...it isn't going to win this on charm alone.

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I'm not sure I could've nailed this more accurately. By any definition, Google TV was a huge disappointment for Google (not to mention Logitech) in 2011. Licensing problems kept certain content from being available, and platform software issues kept the user experience from wowing anybody. Better luck with the reboot, Goog.

9. Facebook will become the 2nd largest (most trafficked) website in the world (overtaking Microsoft.com).  Heck...maybe the largest.  A reminder that being successful doesn't mean doing anything to significantly improve the human condition.

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If you look at these numbers, Facebook is indeed at #2, well behind Google and just in front of Yahoo! and MSN. However, if you add Google and YouTube together, as well as Microsoft.com and its MSN/Live properties together, Microsoft is still #2. But, the single-site statistics suggest that Facebook is a quickly growing superpower regardless.

10. Twitter will be acquired by another company. Fingers crossed they aren't evil.

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Nope. Honestly, I had hoped that Google would buy Twitter, make it a stable platform, and integrate it into its other properties and services. Instead, Google did something I didn't think they were capable of:  making a robust, vibrant, and successful social media platform from scratch. Google+ grew faster than anyone imagined and is well on its way to being the quickest to 100 million members of any online service anywhere. I can just hear Larry and Sergey asking, "Who needs Twitter?"

So, 8-ish out of 10 were mostly correct...my least incompetent job so far. Anyway, I'll be posting my predictions for 2012 tomorrow, so stay tuned. Meanwhile, here are GearBits' previous years' predictions and results:
2004:Predictions, No Results
2006:Predictions, Results
2007:Predictions, Results
2008:Predictions, Results
2009:Predictions, Results
2010:Predictions, Results

I'm not a conspiracy-minded man. Really. Most people and groups are too incompetent to manage any endeavor so complex and nefarious as to merit the title of conspiracy. But one exception is starting to become clear, and it's being perpetrated by conscienceless corporate power-brokers.

As a business professor, I'm both intellectually and professionally curious about how business should work, what it should accomplish, and how it should get along with government.  When I think about the long-term implications of corporations having so much influence over government, it starts to become scary.

Laws control people. Governments control laws. And people are supposed to control governments, just to make a nice, virtuous circle.  However, if corporations control governments (as they already do to a huge extent), and "the people" have very little control over corporations (see what influence those 100 shares you own get you at the next board meeting), then that circle becomes a unidirectional line, with business at the top and everything else at the bottom.

And the recent wave of Republican muscle-flexing is clearly, obviously aimed at supporting the eventual control of everything by corporations. Why? Money. And power. Well, there's not much difference between those, since they mutually reinforce each other...have one and you'll get the other, etc., etc.

Let's take a look at recent events to work through a hypothetical.  First, GOP governors want to end labor's rights to organize while simultaneously giving big tax breaks to corporations and the wealthy (who are almost universally tied to corporations). This is exactly the same kind of "wealth redistribution" Obama talked about, and which the Right decried as an abomination, during the 2008 election, but in the opposite direction. As labor rights decrease, so do wages and benefits....i.e., wealth. But where does that wealth go? It stays with the corporation, which no longer is forced to distribute that to its employees. If it's a good corporation, that newly conserved wealth gets distributed instead to shareholders, which are generally the wealthiest 10% already. So, now you have wealth from the working poor and middle-class being transferred to other corporations and wealthy individuals.

But that's not the most nefarious part. Not even close. By undermining the tax base, Republicans get to reduce social services and spending on public education. This drives states and local governments to lay off teachers and consolidate schools. That drives the number of kids per class up and the number of extracurricular learning activities and educational materials down. As a result, overall educational quality drops for all those kids not fortunate enough to be able to afford private school. And who would those be? Yep, the kids of the working poor and middle-class.

So these kids get a crappy education, which means it's harder to get into a good college. Not even state schools will be able to take them because they're having to cut rolls or raise tuition (and limit scholarships), if not both, as a result of these same GOP efforts to reduce support for public higher education.  And not to mention the reduction in federal and state education grants, which isn't a universally Republican thing.  This means these kids will have less of a chance to get a good education and will have a harder time competing for the most desirable jobs. Instead, who will get those good jobs? The kids of the wealthy...the ones who initially benefited from the major redistribution of wealth. 

This entrenches that wealth transfer by creating a permanent underclass, who are locked into menial and low-paying jobs by virtue of no realistic way to acquire a decent education (the only way most people move up through the socioeconomic hierarchy).  The less they earn, the less taxes their communities generate, which means even less money for education, and the cycle into entrenched poverty is complete.

Also, as voting tendencies correlate with income, the growing number of poor will have less and less influence as to who is making the laws that define their society.  And, Citizens United already granted corporations some citizen-like, or at least person-like, rights that can greatly influence elections. Since these undereducated masses will have little ability to think critically about the information being provided to them, and the "news" networks will continue to use their bully pulpits to push agendas that benefit themselves first and foremost, there's little chance that the masses will get access to good, critical information. And, even if they did, what's the chance they'd be able to comprehend it?  After all, isn't that Dancing with the Stars controversy much more interesting?

You may think I'm being melodramatic. Or that I have a conspiratorial streak in me after all. You could be right...but what if I am?  Education is the fundamental linchpin that holds society together. If we let corporations undermine that, as they are indirectly starting to, we are lost.
After a relatively successful set of predictions for 2010, here are our prognostications for 2011.  Don't laugh...if history serves as a guide, several will come true...or mostly true.

1. The Apple iPad 2 (or whatever it's called) will be available with a front-facing camera and 4G (LTE), but will have the same screen resolution as the iPad.  We should know about April.

2. Nintendo will launch a new Wii console with HD output, DVD playback, and a Kinect-like video camera accessory.  I think the first two are a lock, but the third part of that is more wish than expectation.

3. At least one of the smartphone platforms (iOS, Android, Symbian, Blackberry, WP7, MeeGo, webOS, Bada) will go away for good.  My money is on Bada.

4. 3D will continue to grow, but not substantially and will mostly be relegated to gaming and in-theater movie experiences.

5. More Android tablets/slates will be sold in 2011 than iOS tablets/slates.  That assumes, of course, that the tsunami of Android slates we should see at CES results in products you can actually buy.

6. At least one of the DSLR manufacturers (Nikon, Canon, Sony, Olympus, Pentax/Samsung, Leica, Panasonic, Sigma) will cease producing DSLRs and/or be acquired by another company.  My guess is Sigma, as I really have no idea how they can afford to put out mediocre (read "poorly selling") DSLR after mediocre DSLR.

7. By the end of 2011, Windows Phone will have the third largest app catalog (behind iOS & Android).  That shouldn't be too much of a stretch, as its growth curve means it'll surpass Blackberry's 15,000 apps or so in a few months.
 
8. Google will struggle to establish content licensing agreements for Google TV, ending 2011 with a still-lackluster platform.  Unless Google is willing to toss a bunch of cash at the networks, that is...it isn't going to win this on charm alone.

9. Facebook will become the 2nd largest (most trafficked) website in the world (overtaking Microsoft.com).  Heck...maybe the largest.  A reminder that being successful doesn't mean doing anything to significantly improve the human condition.

10. Twitter will be acquired by another company. Fingers crossed they aren't evil.
As is now a tradition, it's time to revisit our GearBits' predictions for 2010 to see if we were anywhere close to accurate. 
 
1) Cyberterrorism Becomes a Significant Issue
We've all read reports and stories that say cyberterrorism (the act of attacking a country via its computer networks) is a growing threat and that the US should take it seriously. We've even seen some limited cases where it was used to minor effect. I expect 2010 will see the first major example of the damage cyberterrorism can achieve, and we'll all be much more aware of it as a result. Sub-prediction: McAfee and Symantec sales grow significantly as a result.

thumbs-down.gifI'm REALLY happy that I got this one wrong. That is, of course, if you ignore the Chinese hacking of Google and other companies, and you don't consider WikiLeaks' activity "cyberterrorism" (I don't) or the "hacktivism" it prompted. Frankly, I was expecting some major outage -- a stock exchange taken down, a city's electrical grid compromised, or something on that order -- and it's great that that didn't happen in 2010. 
 
2) Microsoft Launches Windows Mobile 7, Enough to Stay in the Game
The smartphone space is inhabited mostly by 6 key platform players: Symbian, Blackberry, iPhone, Android, webOS, and Windows Mobile. Microsoft's recent endeavors in the mobile space haven't netted much (except perhaps some slight momentum on the media player side). WinMo 6.5 was late and generally uncompetitive with more contemporary offerings already in the marketplace. Pink was an absolute disaster. Even hardcore WinMo fans are getting restless for something really new. Windows Mobile 7 will have a daunting challenge in successfully fighting back against 5 competitors with better products and/or well-established market shares. Windows Mobile 7, when it comes out in the latter half of 2010, will still seem a little stale in comparison, but much better than 6.5. I do, however, fully expect 7 will tap into the other mobile products & services Microsoft has been cultivating, such as Bing and Zune (what is it with their onomotopoeic product names?). It won't be a barnburner, but, with some help from HTC and a couple other big-name handset producers Microsoft can count on, they'll have a small stable of fairly impressive devices available by the end of the year.

thumbs-up.gifYep...mostly. Windows Phone 7 did not come out seeming "stale," but it was roundly criticized for lacking a long list of features found on other platforms (e.g., copy & paste, tethering, multitasking, etc.). While it certainly doesn't have the fleet of handsets that Android boasts, WP7 has launched on an impressive number of devices and carriers across the globe. Add to that the fact that WP7, just a few months after launch, already has more apps than webOS does after more than 18 months, Microsoft appears to have gotten more right than wrong and certainly enough to keep their seat at the smartphone table. 
 
3) 3-D Gets Even More Press but No Real Traction in the Home
3-D televisions and video players will be all over the place at CES, but their availability and technical trade-offs will keep them from seeing significant adoption in 2010. Long-term, however, I think 3-D will eventually take off, but I doubt it will happen as long as viewers have to wear special glasses in order to not be nauseated by the image.

thumbs-up.gifBy any measure, 3D TV has been talked about in the press more than it's been brought into consumers' homes. In 2010, the combination of scant high-quality content and expensive/uncomfortable/incompatible gear failed to make 3D a compelling experience, and slow sales was the result.

4) Fervor over Social Search Subsides but Doesn't Die Out
Social search (i.e., using real-time social media as sources of useful information for returning search results) is all the rage as we enter 2010. I think that the major search engines (e.g., Google, Bing, Yahoo!, et al.) will all figure out by the end of the year that, while social search has some promise for a small subset of queries, information produced by social media is largely junk and an unreliable source of value to their customers (search engine users). However, there is some gold in them thar hills, and we'll start seeing the fruits of their efforts as they isolate those situations where social search can indeed be really, really valuable (e.g., product reviews and event status).

thumbs-up.gifThere's been relatively little discussion in 2010 of how social media should change search. While we saw a lot of sites become more integrated into social media, such as via Facebook's nearly ubiquitous "Like" button, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo!'s attempts to add a social component to their search products never really gained traction. Clearly, it's harder than it seems to glean those rare nuggets of helpful, timely information from the vast noise of the social web.

5) Movies and TV Shows Go Mashup...and Not in a Good Way
A lot of media producers seem to be running out of ideas, so I think they'll start going for unique combinations of themes and concepts to fuel their movies and television shows. Think space vampires and hot robot/android women battling killer zombies driving souped-up, well-armed cars really fast around Las Vegas. Coming soon to theaters near you.

thumbs-down.gifLooking back at 2010, I don't see any noticeable increase in "trans-genre" movies and TV shows. And maybe that's for the best, really. But, if the forthcoming "Cowboys & Aliens" is any indication, I just might've been a year early on this prediction. 
 
6) Apple Announces a Tablet
Yes, I'm a sucker for this rumor-that-will-not-die. It's not like I'm even a fan of the tablet concept, so this isn't something I'm particularly hoping will happen. I just think it will. Imagine a 7"-to-10" iPhone Touch and you won't be too far off. Oh, and it will be more expensive than anyone who isn't an Apple shareholder thinks is reasonable, yet it will sell quite well (at least initially).

thumbs-up.gifPretty much, yeah. ;-) 
 
7) SuperSpeed USB Takes Off Quickly
I think we'll see SuperSpeed USB (a.k.a. USB 3.0) be adopted very rapidly in 2010. Signs from motherboard and accessory makers are that they're very eager to adopt this recently ratified standard, and I think everyone would agree that faster USB connections is only a good thing. As long as they don't screw up backward compatibility (one of the keys to USB 2.0 being as successful as it has been), it'll be another home run. On a related note, Wireless USB will not get the attention or traction we'd all like a stable, high-speed wireless connectivity standard to get, mostly because it just won't be as simple as plugging a wire into a hole.
thumbs-up.gifI'm going to give this one to me, but I'll admit that USB 3.0 adoption has been a bit softer than I thought it would be. I mean, we do now have motherboards, PCs, external external hard drives, and flash drives that all use USB 3.0, but it's clearly not ubiquitous yet. Wireless USB went nowhere in 2010, unfortunately, just as predicted. 
 
8) Steve Jobs Gives an Apple Keynote Presentation
Might Sir Jobs be the "one more thing" at WWDC?

thumbs-up.gifClearly a thumbs-up. You don't think Steve would've missed the grand unveiling of his "magical" iPad, now would you? 
 
9) Sprint is Acquired
The cellular carrier's weak valuation and lackluster performance in retaining customers and attracting new ones, combined with its continued WiMAX roll-out will make it a target for some kind of merger or acquisition, likely by a European carrier looking to get entry into the US market. The actual acquisition may not go through in 2010 due to extensive regulatory review, but the intent will be announced.

thumbs-down.gifBzzt! Wrong...thanks for playing. Sprint never got a buyout offer, but it did end 2010 on a much stronger note than it started the year. Not only has it met all its WiMax/4G rollout milestones, it is now being lauded for having among the best customer service in the US cellular market. Not that that's saying much ("tallest pygmy" and all that), but it's something. 
 
10) Twitter Grows at a Slower Rate than in 2009
Twitter will continue to gain new members faster than it loses them, but it will not see the huge surge it enjoyed in 2009. This will mostly be because the company's management has a tenuous, at best, grasp on what its users want (leading it to make bad design decisions) and a business model that does not support both rapid growth and scalable, reliable service (thereby turning off users). It's too bad, too, as Twitter could've become the next Facebook had they played their cards right. The only thing that can save it is an acquisition...Google, perhaps?

thumbs-up.gifTwitter grew a lot in 2010, but not as quickly as it did in 2009. Two stats support this assessment. In 2009, Twitter grew from an Alexa "reach" rating of essentially zero to about a 5; in 2010, it grew from a 5 to about an 8. While that's another big increase, it's a smaller increase than in 2009. Also, in 2009, Twitter grew from 100 million tweets per quarter to 2 billion, a 1900% growth rate. In 2010, it grew from 2 billion to a around 8 billion quarterly posts, a 400% increase. So, while Twitter is still growing hugely, 2010 just wasn't as blockbuster of a year as 2009 was.
   

For 2010, things look pretty good: we got 7 right and 3 wrong.

Here are GearBits' previous years' predictions and results:

2004:Predictions,No Results
2006:Predictions,Results
2007:Predictions,Results
2008:Predictions,Results
2009:Predictions,Results
My friend is in an abusive relationship, but she won't admit it.  Sure, she recognizes the fact that it makes her crazy, but, so far, she hasn't been willing to confront the fact that it's her "significant other" who is a lot of the problem.  He's not physically abusive; it'd almost be easier to deal with if that were the case.  No, the abuse is entirely mental and emotional.

Her significant other -- let's call him Steve -- has created the epitome of an abusive relationship in several ways.

First, Steve is very controlling.  He dictates nearly every aspect of the relationship.  He makes all of their economic decisions.  He decides when she's using "appropriate language" and punishes her when she's not.  He determines when her ideas are worth sharing and rejects them when he, and only he, believes they violate some standard that only he knows.

That brings me to the second abusive aspect: Steve changes the rules of their relationship at will and unpredictably.  At one point, he'll reward her for doing something in a specific way.  Then, with no clear explanation, he'll punish her for the same (or very similar) thing another time.  He'll provide some incoherent or confusing justification for his decisions, which almost seem to purposefully designed to keep my friend off-balance and unsure of herself.

That lack of assurance opens up the third abusive element of the relationship:  Steve regularly increases my friend's dependence upon him, making it just that much harder for her to part ways.  Sure, Steve is successful; he has charisma such that being around him can almost feel like reality itself is distorted.  But when my friend even so much as finds someone new with whom she could enjoy spending time, Steve makes the relationship contingent upon her rejecting all others.  She can only rely on Steve's support, or else he threatens ending the relationship entirely.

It's really not a great situation.  My friend says the good times are absolutely the best, but the uncertainty and anxiety gnaw at her soul.  She often thinks about getting other friends behind his back, but she perceives the risks to be too great should he cut her off.  Also, Steve can be totally unapproachable even when it seems clear that he's the one causing the problem. There's just not much my friend can do since she has come to be so totally wrapped up in this twisted relationship of dependency and constantly changing expectations.

I regularly tell her, regardless of the upside, I just don't think it's emotionally healthy for her to continue being a third-party iPhone/iPad developer.
Dan Ramirez (@vara411) and I have been monitoring the webOS App Catalog and recording app counts, and we now have data clear back to its launch.  Dan just posted a terrific write-up on the overall data, along with important events over webOS' short life so far, on his blog: Totally Palmed.  He also compares it to Android's App Market over its 15-month existence and comes to some interesting conclusions. (Go read that first and then come back and finish this.)

But, being the statistics and operations guy I am, I thought it'd be interesting to see what happens if we forecast these app counts out into the future.  So, using our data, I did just that.

First, I plotted the data versus months after each platform's app store launch.  The orange are all Palm webOS and the green are, obviously, Android. Note the two different y-axis units in the graph:

apps_1.pngThen, using Excel's quick-and-dirty trendline tool (I just didn't feel like breaking out SAS for this), I looked through several forecast models and settled on second-order polynomials as the best-fitting solutions (per the R-squared values).

apps_trendlines.pngUsing those trend formulas, I projected out the app count for each platform and got the pair of graphs below.

First is the graph that shows how each platform's app count grows relative to the calendar.  Since Android got an 8-month head start on webOS, it obviously gets bigger sooner. The projected data (estimates) are shown in alternate colors: dark green for Android and light orange for webOS.

apps_forecast1.png
Then, to look at this in a more apples-to-apples fashion, I removed the time lag for webOS and overlaid the two app counts on each other.  This is the same approach as the first two graphs above and shows total counts versus months after the launch of that platform's app store.

apps_forecast2.pngIt looks pretty clear that both platforms are seeing exponential growth, which is a really good sign of healthy uptake by developers.  Also, it seems that Palm webOS will likely have 1/3rd to 1/4th the number of apps, at the equivalent time into its existence, that Android will.  And that should be fine, as any platform with 20,000+ apps (and a healthy growth rate) should be well-positioned for maintaining its position in the market. Android should pass that bar any day now, and webOS should, if these numbers are reasonably accurate, hit 20K apps before the end of next year.  Recent announcements that webOS will come to Verizon and AT&T in the first half of 2010 may accelerate webOS's app count considerably.

Granted, these charts are based on a variety of assumptions and should not be considered anything more than an interesting thought-experiment with pictures.  Google or Palm could come along with a new development tool or device or innovative program that greatly excites the dev community.  Conversely, either could screw up on something and drive them away.  Only time will tell, but it'll be fun to watch.

ceslogo.gifCES 2010 was fun. The International Consumer Electronics Show (its full name) is the world's largest trade show for gadgets, televisions, computers...pretty much everything in that fuzzy category of consumer electronics.  Sure, there are shows more focused on subsets, such as E3 for gaming, but CES is the king-daddy for the overall industry.

twitpic.gifI was there Thursday afternoon through Saturday morning.  I phototweeted (new term?) from the show floor while I was there, and my pics and comments are posted at Twitpic.

Now that I've had some time to unpack, soak my feet, and reflect on the experience, here's what comes to mind, in no particular order:

Wow It's Big! -- I've been to trade shows before, but nothing on the scale of CES.  I'm not really sure how much total floorspace the show takes up, but it spreads out across very nearly the entire Las Vegas Convention Center (which, by itself, is larger than the town I grew up in) plus two other nearby hotels. Some numbers that came in right as I was typing this entry: an estimated 120,000+ attendees, 2,500 exhibitors, and 20,000 new products announced. No wonder I felt like I'd need a week to really see everything.

No Seminal Announcement -- Unlike last year's webOS launch from Palm, which really stole the show, 2010 didn't see any particular event or surprise that caught everyone's attention.  I asked lots of people what they thought was the big thing and got lots of different answers...a few people were excited by all the 3D TVs, projectors, and laptops; some thought Google's Nexus One was big (although technically not a CES event...they held it just one day before); Boxee Box wowed some folks; and more than one mentioned Palm's flurry of announcements, but no singular thing captured all the buzz.

Ebooks A-plenty -- There were just scads of ebooks all over CES.  They ranged from cheapo Kindle knock-offs to high-end, portfolio-style, dual-screen devices.  The success of Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble have clearly excited what had previously been a rather quiet market niche.

ebooks1.jpgAndroid in Everything -- Google's free (mostly as in beer) operating system was crammed into all sorts of things, from gorgeous smartphones to touchscreen remote controls to hideously bad stationary videophones.  Mostly, at least it seemed to me, it was small Chinese and Korean companies doing this, but it does suggest the possibility of an interesting trend.

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TV Still Has Tons of Room for Innovation -- Four trends in TVs stood out clearly.  First was the ubiquitous 3D that you just couldn't escape. I'm still a skeptic that 3D TV in the home will become popular any time soon, although gaming, sports, and porn could change that.  Second, picture quality continues to improve.  I saw some LCD sets that truly rivaled plasma in black levels (but not in size). Third, LCD will be replaced in the near future.  I saw some AMOLED displays of reasonable size (20" or so) that looked flat-out amazing.  Oh, and they were 3D, too.  Finally, TVs are getting thinner by the minute.  As an example, Samsung's booth had a jaw-dropping display of crazy-thin LCD TVs (the video below is kind of short because, as you can hear at the end, I was asked not to take any photos); these will be shipping later this year!



Flying Stuff is Cool -- One of the show's major prize winners was the Parrot G Drone, a bigger and all-around better version of that remote control helicopter you like to taunt your roommates and/or family members with, but which has a remote video feed and you can pilot it with your phone.  Another guy was selling an RC X-Wing Fighter (not licensed by Lucas, I would expect, since he calls it the "Star Stryker"), which cost $299 and has the biggest remote control unit I've ever seen. Here's the video:


It's a Great Time to be a Fan of Mobile Tech -- All these reports say that nobody buys MIDs (mobile Internet devices, like the Nokia N810 or Microsoft's UMPC format), but you wouldn't guess that by looking at the CES exhibits.  There were so many slates and tablets, most powered by Windows 7, that I stopped getting excited about them.  And some of them were really impressive; Viliv had a whole line-up of interesting portables.

viliv.jpgSome other incompletely articulated thoughts:  car tech is getting interesting; Nokia's booth was pretty empty the few times I went past; few were very excited about Windows Mobile, either; there's a lot of garbage at CES, but at least they stick it in the "International Market" areas; LEGO has an interesting new MUD game coming out soon; geeks are attracted to exotic cars almost as much as they are to scantily-clad women...and they're equally unlikely to get much hands-on time; it's a good idea to have an actual working version of whatever it is you're trying to sell; there wasn't a lot of innovation in cameras that I saw...mostly around GPS embedding, which is cool; food is expensive there.

So, there you have it.  I hope to get back next year...it's a fun, if exhausting, experience.


As I have for several years now, below are my predictions for 2010.  Near the end of the year, I'll come back and evaluate how accurate I was.

1) Cyberterrorism Becomes a Significant Issue
We've all read reports and stories that say cyberterrorism (the act of attacking a country via its computer networks) is a growing threat and that the US should take it seriously.  We've even seen some limited cases where it was used to minor effect.  I expect 2010 will see the first major example of the damage cyberterrorism can achieve, and we'll all be much more aware of it as a result.  Sub-prediction: McAfee and Symantec sales grow significantly as a result.

2) Microsoft Launches Windows Mobile 7, Enough to Stay in the Game
The smartphone space is inhabited mostly by 6 key platform players: Symbian, Blackberry, iPhone, Android, webOS, and Windows Mobile.  Microsoft's recent endeavors in the mobile space haven't netted much (except perhaps some slight momentum on the media player side). WinMo 6.5 was late and generally uncompetitive with more contemporary offerings already in the marketplace. Pink was an absolute disaster. Even hardcore WinMo fans are getting restless for something really new. Windows Mobile 7 will have a daunting challenge in successfully fighting back against 5 competitors with better products and/or well-established market shares.  Windows Mobile 7, when it comes out in the latter half of 2010, will still seem a little stale in comparison, but much better than 6.5.  I do, however, fully expect 7 will tap into the other mobile products & services Microsoft has been cultivating, such as Bing and Zune (what is it with their onomotopoeic product names?).  It won't be a barnburner, but, with some help from HTC and a couple other big-name handset producers Microsoft can count on, they'll have a small stable of fairly impressive devices available by the end of the year.

3dtv.jpg3) 3-D Gets Even More Press but No Real Traction in the Home
3-D televisions and video players will be all over the place at CES, but their availability and technical trade-offs will keep them from seeing significant adoption in 2010.  Long-term, however, I think 3-D will eventually take off, but I doubt it will happen as long as viewers have to wear special glasses in order to not be nauseated by the image.

4) Fervor over Social Search Subsides but Doesn't Die Out
Social search (i.e., using real-time social media as sources of useful information for returning search results) is all the rage as we enter 2010.  I think that the major search engines (e.g., Google, Bing, Yahoo!, et al.) will all figure out by the end of the year that, while social search has some promise for a small subset of queries, information produced by social media is largely junk and an unreliable source of value to their customers (search engine users).  However, there is some gold in them thar hills, and we'll start seeing the fruits of their efforts as they isolate those situations where social search can indeed be really, really valuable (e.g., product reviews and event status).

5) Movies and TV Shows Go Mashup...and Not in a Good Way
A lot of media producers seem to be running out of ideas, so I think they'll start going for unique combinations of themes and concepts to fuel their movies and television shows. Think space vampires and hot robot/android women battling killer zombies driving souped-up, well-armed cars really fast around Las Vegas.  Coming soon to theaters near you.

6) Apple Announces a Tablet
Yes, I'm a sucker for this rumor-that-will-not-die.  It's not like I'm even a fan of the tablet concept, so this isn't something I'm particularly hoping will happen.  I just think it will.  Imagine a 7"-to-10" iPhone Touch and you won't be too far off.  Oh, and it will be more expensive than anyone who isn't an Apple shareholder thinks is reasonable, yet it will sell quite well (at least initially).

superspeed-usb.jpg7) SuperSpeed USB Takes Off Quickly
I think we'll see SuperSpeed USB (a.k.a. USB 3.0) be adopted very rapidly in 2010.  Signs from motherboard and accessory makers are that they're very eager to adopt this recently ratified standard, and I think everyone would agree that faster USB connections is only a good thing.  As long as they don't screw up backward compatibility (one of the keys to USB 2.0 being as successful as it has been), it'll be another home run. On a related note, Wireless USB will not get the attention or traction we'd all like a stable, high-speed wireless connectivity standard to get, mostly because it just won't be as simple as plugging a wire into a hole.

8) Steve Jobs Gives an Apple Keynote Presentation
Might Sir Jobs be the "one more thing" at WWDC?

9) Sprint is Acquired
The cellular carrier's weak valuation and lackluster performance in retaining customers and attracting new ones, combined with its continued WiMAX roll-out will make it a target for some kind of merger or acquisition, likely by a European carrier looking to get entry into the US market.  The actual acquisition may not go through in 2010 due to extensive regulatory review, but the intent will be announced.

twitter-logo.jpg10) Twitter Grows at a Slower Rate than in 2009
Twitter will continue to gain new members faster than it loses them, but it will not see the huge surge it enjoyed in 2009.  This will mostly be because the company's management has a tenuous, at best, grasp on what its users want (leading it to make bad design decisions) and a business model that does not support both rapid growth and scalable, reliable service (thereby turning off users).  It's too bad, too, as Twitter could've become the next Facebook had they played their cards right.  The only thing that can save it is an acquisition...Google, perhaps?

So that's it for my 2010 predictions.  What do you think will happen in the upcoming year?

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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...

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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.

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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.

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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!

palm_logo2.jpgapple_logo.jpgPalm and Apple: two icons of the consumer technology industry. Over the past 15 years, they've had a complicated relationship. These firms have both learned from each others' mistakes, emulated each others' successes, and, for the first time, are now competing squarely against each other for mastery of the smartphone market.

newton.jpgIn 1993, Apple launched what many consider to be the first serious attempt at a sophisticated PDA (personal digital assistant): the Newton MessagePad. Typically referred to simply as a Newton, it was, by most measures, a disaster in the marketplace. While it seemed like a brilliant concept, its uneven performance -- most notably, its lackluster handwriting recognition -- lead it to become the target of much mockery (e.g., several mentions in Doonesbury).

hawkins.jpgWatching all this transpire was a small group of entrepreneurs and inventors who wanted a crack at the PDA space. This foundling company lead by Jeff Hawkins was Palm. In 1996, it launched its own take on the PDA: the Palm Pilot. Palm had learned several lessons from Apple's experience with the Newton.

grafhelp.gifFor example, instead of trying to transcribe anyone's handwriting (a feat difficult even for the human brain), Palm decided to require the user to learn Graffiti, a special script specifically developed for better handwriting recognition. And it worked; the Pilot soared to heights of popularity, partly because Graffiti was a much better solution to the input problem.

Apple abandoned the PDA market and, after failing to purchase Palm, their paths crossed only very infrequently over the next several years at the corporate level. However, several Apple employees left to join Palm. That trend continued; in fact, a significant percentage of Palm's employees are today former Apple staffers. Palm's Chairman, Jon Rubenstein, lead development of the original iPod while at Apple; he joined Palm and launched the program that resulted in the new Pre smartphone. That cross-breeding may be part of the reason that Palm and Apple continued to learn from each other.

In 1997, upon Steve Jobs' return to Apple, it decided it would cease this practice (for various reasons that continue to be debated to this day). Around the same time, Palm decided to start licensing its Palm OS to other hardware/device makers. Palm quickly began to understand the complexities associated with trying to run a business that sold devices while licensing the OS that ran those devices to its competitors. Diverging product lines and pressure from licensees to open up the OS beyond what Palm could readily manage eventually lead Palm to split in two; its device (PalmOne) and OS (PalmSource) sides went their separate ways with only a licensing agreement and some lingering animosity to connect them.

webos_logo.jpgA few years later, Palm found that the venerable Palm OS was running out steam and chose to begin developing a Linux-based replacement. That new OS, which has been called webOS, will launch on the Palm Pre June 6, 2009.

MacLogo.jpgThis OS replacement situation was similar to one Apple faced about a decade ago. Around the time of Jobs' return, Apple decided to begin phasing out the original proprietary Mac OS and replace it with the new UNIX-based OS X, which launched in 2001.

jobs_iphone.jpgAnother way Palm has learned from Apple is how it handles product launches. Steve Jobs has long been considered master of the product launch. Apple tightly controls pre-launch information leaks, highly engineers new products so as to rely on minimal "patches" after launch, and puts heavy emphasis on industrial design. Palm's latest launch, that of the Palm Pre, has all the trademarks of an Apple event. Information has been, for the most part, carefully managed. Palm has taken extreme care in ensuring that the product that hits the streets on June 6 is as devoid of flaws as possible. And the trade-offs associated with form versus functionality are often skewed towards the former (e.g., the rationale for not including a removable memory card slot in the Pre was to ensure the unit was as sleek and small as possible). While both companies have less-than-perfect track records in product launches (e.g., Apple's MobileMe and Palm's Foleo), Palm is clearly learning from Apple's successes in this regard.

Treo600x.jpgBut the learning hasn't been all one-way; Apple has also learned quite a bit from Palm's experiences over the past 13 years. Several design decisions in the iPhone are straight out of Palm's playbook: a touchscreen, icon-based interface; an external "ringer" switch to silence the device; an application-launcher "home" screen; and so forth. While the iPhone is different in many ways from any Treo or Palm device ever made, it is clear that some elements were lifted from Palm's successful line of handhelds and smartphones. Palm returned the favor by including some multitouch gestures similar to those used in the iPhone; Apple was unhappy enough with that to threaten legal action, but nothing came of it (yet).

app_store.jpgApple also learned from one of Palm's main failings, which was how it managed third-party development in order to create value for its user community. While Palm had occasionally encouraged and/or partnered with software sites that catered to Palm OS users (e.g., Stingersoft, PalmGear, and Handango), there was never a centralized, easy-to-access catalog for those new to the platform. And even if the user found one of those sites, he still had to navigate downloading to a PC, sometimes unzipping and/or running an installer application, and then syncing the new app to his device. All told, it was not a thoughtfully engineered user experience suitable for the masses. Apple's App Store greatly improved all that by making the one place with all apps available directly from the device. While some might argue that the lack of an open market ecosystem retards innovation, there's no debate over the improvement the App Store approach has had on users' familiarity and usage of 3rd party software.

palmpre_small.jpg One area that both companies have had similarly poor performance is interacting with the fan community. Apple is notorious for suing blogs over rumors and product leaks. Palm has sued websites over naming issues. Both companies have had their share of PR faux pas when it comes to handling contentious issues on the Internet. Apple found itself in hot water over how it addressed pricing changes shortly after the 1st-gen iPhone launch. Palm messed up an opportunity with the PreDevCamp crowd over secrecy/transparency pressures (although that appears to be reconciled, now). While it's easy to make original mistakes, let's hope that both companies improve how they manage their community relations.

While I'm certainly not claiming that either Palm or Apple is beholden to the other company for its success (or failure), it seems clear that both companies have carefully observed each other and tried to learn from their experiences. Not replicating your competitors' mistakes is always helpful.

Going forward, as Palm and Apple find each other squarely in the other company's sights, it will be fascinating to watch how each move is countered and each new product is reacted to. With all the history and common blood linking these two firms, this match-up could be one of the more compelling and interesting over the next few years.

Update: Rene Ritchie pointed me (indirectly) to a list of Apple's product flops over the years, which is interesting reading to reflect on when you start thinking the company can do no wrong.

Update #2: Fortune has an interesting story on the impending rivalry: Palm fights back (against Apple)

twitter-custsupp.jpgPC Magazine posted a list of 10 companies using Twitter in interesting, novel ways. One of the more common uses was as a customer service channel, such as what Palm and some folks from Sprint have been doing.

And it's fairly easy to do. With Twitter's search engine, it's relatively painless to stay abreast of any mention of your company or its branded services. Monitoring this constantly is essential to initiating timely contacts with customers who mention they are having problems.

But, before companies jump into offering customer service via a novel medium like Twitter, some caution should be taken; while the payoff of an innovative move like this can be significant to your customers, there are easy mistakes to be made. So, a quick list of some general lessons:

1) Twitter isn't the best option for most, or even many, of your customers

For part of my PhD dissertation, I worked with customer support of a major ISP researching how they interact with customers over various channels (at the time, it was phone, email, and IM). We found that different problem types and different customer needs were most effectively handled via different media (due to the characteristics of those media)...there was not one medium that did the best under all circumstances.

So what does this mean when using Twitter? Different customers are going to have different needs. Some are going to have very simple problems that can be addressed quickly and are going to be fairly matter-of-fact/rational about the issue. Twitter could be a terrific medium for those kinds of situations.

But, many customers are going to have complex problems, be upset about the problem, or both. In these cases, Twitter is unlikely to be the best choice. In these situations, the 140-character limitation of Twitter makes it really difficult to engage in complex conversations with completeness and clarity. And in cases where the customer is upset or angry, you need to convey empathy and concern. The terseness required in Twitter is just not adequate for mollifying emotional customers.

2) Use Twitter to route customers to better support channels in your firm

Instead of trying (and likely failing) to address customers' issues via interaction on Twitter, use that opportunity to direct customers to those other people/channels in your company who can best handle them. But don't just rely on a message like the following:

twitter1.gif

You clearly risk losing the customer. Instead, ensure the hand-off happens by getting the customer's contact information (obviously best if done via direct message) and then passing that onto the appropriate channel so a support rep can then join and continue the conversation that was started on Twitter through whatever medium is best suited for the problem at hand (phone, email, etc.).

3) Failures are public spectacles

happy_quote.jpgIt's important to remember that Twitter is a social medium. Any failure on your part to soothe an aggravated customer could easily turn into a public shouting match, even if the shouting is only one way. And to make matters worse, that conversation is persistent, there for the customer to reference for any and all friends to view. A happy customer might tell a friend, but an unhappy one will tell the world. And, since that unhappy customer is already sitting there in front of a potentially huge social network, that negative word-of-mouth can spread quickly. This makes it just that much more important to avoid long, public conversations with upset/angry customers on social networks like Twitter. If the customer wants to vent, let them rant over a medium that is isolated away from public scrutiny and where they are guaranteed to have the customer rep's undivided attention.

4) Do it well, or don't do it

As social media are still fairly new to many companies, it's tempting to let an employee or two who are particularly interested in the medium "try it out" informally, perhaps even during off-hours. This approach is unlikely to result in highly satisfied customers for a few reasons. First, the hand-offs mentioned in #1 above are unlikely to happen smoothly and quickly, thus risking further alienating a customer already having problems. Second, these employees who are interested may not be the best people in your company to do this; they may not even be customer support professionals with appropriate training and/or people skills. And third, a lack of formality means that key lessons may not be captured in order to help improve future efforts at using social media for customer service.

No, instead, set up a quick team with appropriate resources. This doesn't have to be, nor should it be, a several-month project to assemble the team and create policies and document processes. But, some level of formality can be helpful, even if it's simply a list of contacts within the company for handing off different types of problems/customers and a regular (e.g., daily) huddle to share insights and set expectations. This will likely be a very new way to engage the customer, so learning is inevitable. You're unlikely to get it perfect from day one, but getting there as quickly as possible is the key to creating an advantage over your competitors.

Sprint sent out a rather innocuous-looking notice dated February 16, which arrived at our house yesterday. Opening it reveals two interesting bits of information:

1) Sprint will be increasing the replacement fees it charges to its Total Equipment Protection (TEP) program customers based on a two-tier system; pricier phones, including all Palm devices (which, strangely, are listed under the old PalmOne brand), Blackberries, and assorted other smartphones are listed as Tier 2, meaning a $100 replacement fee (versus the $50 fee it previously charged). These changes go into effect April 19, 2009.

2) Listed among the PalmOne [sic] devices is a model I've not previously heard of: The "TREO Jones". Anyone have any idea what that is? My guess is that it's the forthcoming Treo Pro.

treo_jones.jpg

It's also interesting that they refer to the Palm Centro by its much less common name, the Treo 690p, which seems odd for a document meant to be read by non-technical customers.

Sloppy work, Sprint...and disappointing.