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So you think Google+ is dying, eh? Your stream seems to be drying up or decaying into a mundane trickle of banality. Well, I'm sorry to say this, but it's probably not Google+, it's you. You may be doing it wrong.

I'm no "SEO expert" or social media guru, but if you want Google+ to be a dynamic, inspiring, fascinating river of content and ideas for you, I suggest doing four things:

1)      Understand yourself. Without a good understanding and appreciation of what you're passionate about, you'll meander among seemingly random posts, never finding that group of people who will light up G+ like a Christmas tree for you. If you can identify those topics that you most enjoy discussing, it will help you to find others who share that passion much more quickly and effectively. And those people are the point of social media platforms like Google+.

2)      Engage. Now, you need to engage those people in a meaningful way. If you can start to do that, the conversations you'll begin having will make it easier to find even more people who can provide content of value to you. Engagement is more than punching the +1 button on the occasional pretty photo or commenting "Nice!" on a useful infographic. Engagement is also more than just making a lot of posts. Meaningful engagement means making substantive comments and interacting with others to enhance the intellectual value of a post -- or even over a series of posts --  whether it's yours or someone else's. In a nutshell, engagement requires conversation...there's no avoiding that.

3)      Post publicly. This is a potentially confusing recommendation for some people, as they've come to believe that circles on G+ are meant to restrict the audience for your outgoing content. In some (rare) cases, that's true, such as when you want to keep a post private and give access to a small number of other people (e.g., close friends, family members, or a spouse). Personally, I use circles to limit the audience when I post photos of my kids, as I'd rather those not go floating about the Internet. But for more general content, restricting the audience hurts your ability to engage. For example, if you're posting a link to an interesting article about a new camera that's coming out, limiting that to being visible only to your Photography circle is a mistake. One reason is that you just can't be sure who is going to be interested in seeing that, and by restricting who gets to, you remove the possibility of serendipity. That guy who you circled because of his fascinating posts about cooking just might be looking for a new camera. Not letting him see that is actually a disservice. After all, if he's not looking for one, ignoring your post is as easy as, well, doing nothing. A better use for circles on G+ is for focusing your incoming content into sub-streams that are more homogeneous, which might make it easier to read if you're not bouncing around lots of different topics from incoming post to incoming post. Or, using circles to quickly catch up on what close friends and family are doing, whose posts might get lost in the torrent of those high-volume political activists you're following, is incredibly easy. So, use circles mostly just for two purposes: (a) restricting access to outgoing posts for privacy (not relevance) reasons, and (b) focusing/filtering your incoming content for easier reading.

4)      Be consistent. Unless you're famous, it can be challenging to develop a social media community that you're comfortable engaging and sharing your online existence. It's going to be doubly difficult if you only pop in once or twice a week for a little while. While you may only be following a few (dozen/hundred) people, many of those who you want to see your original thoughts, reshared posts, or external links follow lots of people. As a result, your post might just be another drop in their otherwise fast-moving stream. I've not seen too many people satisfied with the quality of their G+ experiences who don't interact at least several times a week, if not daily. It doesn't need to be obsessive, but consistent attention matters a lot. Assuming you are making posts and comments people enjoy, the more frequently people see you (or, more accurately, your avatar), the more they'll start to value your presence in their stream and the more they'll engage you back. If you only appear once every blue moon, you'll never develop enough social persistence to become an indispensable thread in their online social fabric.

To sum up, I've found Google+ to be a rich, dynamic, and rewarding social network. But, to make the most of it, you'll need to do some introspection and understand what floats your boat; meaningfully engage those with similar passions; post publicly as much of your content as can be safely shared; and do all that regularly. If you do, I think you'll find Google+ quickly becoming a cherished part of your online, social experience.

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
I was exploring a baby name site as an example of interesting data visualization tools and started plugging in first names of people I knew and their kids when I made an interesting, yet (in retrospect) obvious, connection:  names from popular media quickly become fodder for people naming their newly born children.

Here are a few examples (all screen shots are from the NameMapper website):

The TV show Friends debuted in 1994 and ran until 2004, matching exactly the run that the boy's name Chandler had in the top 100 names in several states.

babynames_chandler.pngThe Matrix came out in 1999. The girl's name Trinity went from basically having no presence to being among the top 50 (if not top 25) names in many states by 2000.

babynames_trinity.pngMariah Carey released her first album in 1991 and made her the first recording artist ever to have a freshman release with 5 Billboard Top-100 singles.  And, not surprisingly, Mariah became a top-50 name in several states almost immediately.

babynames_mariah.pngIf there's one thing that can be gleaned from this, it's that kindergarten teachers can probably expect to welcome multitudes of little girls named Miley starting in the next year or so.
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?

It's been about 8 months since our first Hot/Not List, so I thought I'd post an updated one:

HOT

  • Logitech Squeezebox - After Logitech's acquisition of Slim Devices, a lot of fans of the smaller company's products were concerned that innovation would halt and corporate fossilization would set in, as happens in so many of these cases. Well, it couldn't be further from the truth. Slim's innovative products are benefiting from Logitech's branding and distribution muscle and the combined firm is churning out really impressive audio streaming devices. Our home audio ecosystem now consists of a Squeezebox Duet controller, two receivers, and a Boom; these three cover about 80% of the house and it's wonderful to have perfectly synced music streamed throughout without breaking the bank.
  • Palm - The Pre smartphone was the buzz of CES and is still making strong headlines at MWC. Sprint may have a winner on its hands with this new device.
  • Sprint - Coming off a really impressive turnaround regarding its customer service and anticipation of its 4G wireless network, Sprint could be poised for strong growth in the next few years.
  • Aptera - So far, this innovative hypermileage boutique car-maker in California has avoided some of the pitfalls that its performance-oriented sibling Tesla Motors has made, and the 2e vehicle it should be shipping very soon looks like it could be a key evolutionary link in transforming the way we think about cars.
  • Twitter - Easily the most addictive thing I've tried recently.
  • Windows 7 - Sure, it's still in beta, but I am SO looking forward to its release. As much as I've panned Vista over the years, I think 7 will be a winner.

NOT

  • Cloud-Based Contact Management - Even with Google's recent improvements to Gmail Contacts, there are no really excellent cloud-friendly contact management solutions available. The best I've found is ClearSync, and that isn't as widely compatible as most would like.
  • Battery Technology - Seriously...scientists and engineers have been working on this for decades and we're still not fundamentally better than we were 20 years ago.
  • Obese Netbooks - Almost by definition, a "netbook" should be incredibly lightweight. Why, then, are we seeing netbooks weighing over 3 lbs released to market??
  • Winter - by definition. I am quite ready for Spring, thanks very much.
  • Digital Transition Delay - We set the date for February 17th, and now Congress is pushing it back to June 12 for those stations that want extra time. Why? Delaying it doesn't solve anything and, in fact, actually increases the costs of the conversion and sows more consumer confusion. Clearly a lose-lose proposition.

CNN.com and Facebook have partnered to bring a unified live, social experience for the 2009 Inauguration of Barack Obama today. It's accessible to everyone; Facebook account not needed to view (but needed to comment).

cnnfb.jpg

It's a pretty cool collaboration...I expect the merging of live TV from established channels with social media functions to be a big theme of 2009.

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.

blockbuster_store.jpg2) 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.

blu-ray.jpg4) 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.

jobs.jpg7) 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.

netbook.jpg10) 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?

Each year, we at GearBits post some predictions for the coming year. And then, in the interest of honesty, fairness, and self-deprecation, we take a look back to see how we did. Each of our predictions for 2008 are listed below, along with an update on what actually happened.

1) Blu-Ray Wins the Format War
Yep, I'm going to pick a winner and it's going to be Blu-Ray. The one-two punch of Warner Brothers's move to Blu-Ray exclusivity (from its Switzerland-like neutrality of supporting both formats) later in 2008 and Apple's announcement that BD will be the only HD format available in its products will cement HD DVD's demise. And none too soon. I don't really care which wins...just make it snappy so that prices on players and media can plummet, thanks.

thumbs-up.gifAs of now, the end of 2008, it seems like forever since Blu-Ray trounced HD DVD in the format war. But back in early January, it was anyone's guess. But then, on February 18th, Toshiba officially threw in the towel. Interestingly, the Warner Bros. move I thought would happen eventually was actually announced the day after I posted my predictions. Of course, Apple hasn't yet released any products with any form of HD optical drive, so that bit wasn't exactly spot on. And I'm still waiting for my $99 Blu-Ray player. But, overall, this prediction looks pretty solid.

2) Google's Android Shakes Up Phone Industry
For a while now, the cellphone industry has been fairly static. A few smartphone and mobile OS makers have generally tussled for market share, but the overall industry has been pretty evolutionary. Google's entry will prove to be a watershed moment, with open source finally making a big impact in the handheld space (and no, I don't consider the Zaurus to be a big deal...sorry). Actual handsets running Android will be announced, if not available, before the end of 2008.

thumbs-up.gifDepending on your threshold for "shaking up" the phone industry, I think most people would agree that Android made quite a splash in 2008 when the HTC G1 was launched on T-Mobile in the US on September 23rd. And we've already heard of around a dozen hardware makers signed on to release Android handsets. While handset sales still pale in comparison to the iPhone, 2009 looks like it just might be the year of the Android.

3) Palm Supports Android
This is more of a hope than an actual prediction, as I just don't know whether the egos at Palm will let the company do the right thing and admit that their next-generation OS (which has been under development since 2004!) will be a viable contender against Android (which has essentially the same technical details but scads more developer support). But, if cooler, more rational heads prevail at Palm, they'll announce that they're plans will be to produce at least one Android-based product (probably to come out sometime in 2012 :-/ ).

thumbs-down.gifOuch...I couldn't have been more wrong. While I still think Palm would have been smart to advance their product refurbishment by a full year (maybe more) by going with Android instead of continuing to pursue Nova, the company stuck to its original, go-it-alone plans. We'll see how well that pans out in 2009.

4) Microsoft's HD Photo Replacement for JPEG Image Standard Goes Nowhere
I'm not saying it's a bad idea technically; I'm just saying that JPEG is so entrenched now that replacing it would be about as reasonable a thing to try as would be replacing MP3 with any of the multitudes of better formats. JPEG, like MP3, isn't great, but it's adequate (at least for consumers) and ubiquitous. We'll still be saving all our photos in JPG (and maybe RAW) at the end of 2008...and likely long after that.

thumbs-up.gifJPEG XR, the official name of Microsoft's HD Photo format, has generated essentially zero traction in the camera industry. Part of that is Microsoft's less-than-swift transition of JPEG XR into its quasi-open licensing portfolio, a move that will have to happen for camera makers and developers to trust that they won't be bitten by huge licensing fees in the future if they move their products away from RAW to JPEG XR.

5) Subnotes Will Explode in Availability (and Maybe Popularity)
I've always been a fan of tiny, sub-3-pound laptops, but I think 2008 will see a huge number of these clamshell devices come out of every corner of the consumer electronics space. The Asus EeePC and the OLPC XO Laptop are two examples. While Microsoft had a good idea in its UMPC (Ultra-Mobile PC) concept, the hardware was just never executed all that well. Frankly, I think a 7" touchscreen for Windows is just too difficult. But, going with the traditional clamshell design and using cheaper and/or smaller technologies (e.g., flash memory instead of a HDD) will bring us a raft of interesting (and some good) designs at <$500 price points. Bring 'em on! And I think we'll start to see a lot more people toting these things along that traditionally avoided laptops for whatever reason (cost, weight, etc.).

thumbs-up.gifBingo. If the shelves at Best Buy and Circuit City are any indication, these "netbooks" (the now-favored term...at least by everyone except Psion) have multiplied faster than Tribbles on Cialis. One glance at the huuuge list of netbooks over at small-notebooks.com is enough evidence to suggest that this prediction was spot on.

6) The GPS War Heats Up
TomTom, Nokia, and Garmin will exchange hostile fire over the GPS market due to convuluted agreements regarding mapping data as well as market-share for hardware. Products will continue to decline in price and improve in functionality, and >50% of cellphones will have some form of GPS functionality available on them. I guess that's two predictions in one...oh well.

thumbs-up.gifI'm going to give myself this one. While we haven't heard that much more about the complex licensing agreements involving the big three, you need only walk through a Staples, Radio Shack, or Target to see a vast assortment of portable GPS units now available for under $150, most even having text-to-speech and other advanced functions. That's in direct comparison to late last year, when it was difficult to find a decent unit for under $300.

7) DRM Hits Choppy Water
2007 saw some movement away from DRM (digital rights management), especially in the music industry, but I expect we'll see similar initiatives in all areas of media. DRM has been proven again and again to be little more than an expensive technological boondoggle, and the leading innovators at the consumer media interface (e.g., Apple, Amazon, and Google) will make some headway into reversing the trend of more encumbrance for our media. The RIAA and MPAA will continue to fight it...they know how to do nothing else...but economic results will start to demonstrate that DRM actually hurts profitability.

thumbs-down.gifNope...we didn't hear much consistent with my prediction. While some markets moved towards offering DRM-free downloads, most are still heavily laden. And the RIAA actually reversed its strategy and is now no longer suing everyone and their mother for alleged downloading. So that's two different ways I was off on this one. Just goes to show that there's no telling what the content owners are thinking.

8) Major Tech Stocks End 2008 Up Significantly
These are bound to be wrong, but what the heck...nobody pays me for stock tips. I think Apple will end 2008 at 235, Google will be at 960, and Microsoft will finish the year at 50. As for other stocks, iRobot will end up at either 46 or 12 (can you tell I'm a cynical shareholder?), IBM will show tepid growth to 112, and RIM, hurt by the continued weak US dollar and facing increasing competition, will struggle to match its 1-year high of 127.

thumbs-down.gifUh, no. While I doubt many saw the massive downturn in stocks coming, tech stocks are decidedly not even slightly better off than most. Let's see how my specific price predictions held up:
  • Apple (AAPL): Predicted = 235; Actual = 86.29
  • Google (GOOG): Predicted = 960; Actual = 303.11
  • Microsoft (MSFT): Predicted = 50; Actual = 19.34
  • iRobot (IRBT): Predicted = 46 or 12; Actual = 8.95
  • IBM (IBM): Predicted = 112; Actual = 83.55
  • Research in Motion (RIMM): Predicted = 127; Actual = 38.77
In summary, do not ask me to manage your stock portfolio...you would be better served by setting your money on fire, as then you could at least stay warm for a while.

9) I Buy a New Laptop and Am Disappointed
My Panasonic CF-W2 is now three-and-a-half-years-old and I'm starting to cringe every time I turn it on (my luck with hard drives makes me skeptical of many living past their 4th birthday). I've been looking at possible replacements (e.g., Toshiba R500, Panasonic W7, maybe the Lenovo IdeaPad U110 or the rumored Apple subnote) and so far every single one has some significant trade-offs. So, I expect I'll get one and it will turn out to be not significantly better than my aging Toughbook. You'd think in nearly four years that two grand would buy something markedly superior. We'll see...

thumbs-up.gifUnfortunately, I was right on this. The Fujitsu LifeBook P8010 I ended up purchasing in February is a good laptop...don't get me wrong. It's just not a heads-and-shoulders better laptop than my ToughBook was, and that's what I was expecting given the nearly 4 years newer technology and the $2500 it cost. And, given that I've already had to send it in for a repair (the power button broke off), I'm guessing the durability won't even come close to that of the Panasonic (which I still use regularly around the house).

10) Major Changes in Automotive Industry Announced
While the car business makes actual change only very slowly, we'll see some huge announcements in 2008 that will fundamentally change the future of that industry. Things like record oil prices, an increasing attention to sustainable/green technology, and significant ownership changes will substantially change the competitive landscape. Make no mistake; Toyota will continue its ascent and eclipse GM as #1 car-maker in the world. But, we will see several major announcements that will start affecting actual consumers in 2009 and beyond.

thumbs-up.gifWhile I didn't get the stock predictions exactly right (OK, not even close), I think it's safe to say that the US automotive industry has been shaken up with major changes during 2008. We saw record oil prices (check!), more attention to green tech (check!), and the bottom dropping out of US consumption didn't leave them anywhere to go except to the Congress for help. And Toyota did indeed become the biggest carmaker in the world in 2008, just as predicted. Let's hope the Volt truly is something special...for all our sakes.

So, there you have it: our final score is 7 winners and 3 losers. I'll take it. :-)

In a couple of days, I'll be posting GearBits' predictions for 2009, so make sure you come back and check those out, m'kay?

When you cover up a third of the screen for the first 30 seconds after every commercial break, it makes me want to chuck the remote straight into the screen and go be entertained by the Internet.

tv_logo.jpg

Today's headline from CNN is "Poll: Race for White House tied".

It's been a lot of work to bring John McCain back from irrelevant, but for American mainstream media, no task is too large when profitability is on the line.

So, prepare to see lots and lots of "the race is too close to call" between now and November; the media wouldn't have it any other way.

Maybe I'm a little slow to realize this, but the major and traditional news media need the presidential race, actually political competition in general, to be excruciatingly close.

I don't believe most general news outlets are significantly biased (although there are some disturbing exceptions), but one thing is becoming increasingly clear: the media will work very hard to ensure that the contest is a close one. They will not settle for an easy victory. Rather, they will work to ensure that the underdog gets better, and more, coverage than the front-runner.

They do so for simple economic reasons. Media is a business. They rely on syndication of their content and advertising as their primary sources of revenue. If the contest is not close, people lose interest in the race and there is less consumption of stories about the race. This hinders syndication revenue and reduces the opportunity to sell ad space associated with those stories that people would otherwise read.

Additionally, and perhaps more significantly, the media (which mostly include both news sources and general distribution networks) sell tremendous amounts of ad space to the candidates, parties, and third parties with an interest in the outcome of the race. Much of that ad revenue would be lost if the race were considered to be a highly lopsided affair.

Without a competitive race, the media (news production and distribution networks) find themselves in a less desirable position. Thus, there is huge motivation for them to even up the race. Even if there is no official mandate from management to bias reporting, we should expect a slight shift (both in the type and amount of content) to favor the less-favorable candidate.

As I finished that last paragraph, a thought ran through my head: "No one will believe me without data." So I Googled around a bit and found a rather timely report:

Report on media bias that found a John McCain slant sparks fierce debate

A war of words over media bias in the presidential race has become, at least at the moment, at least as fierce as the debate between the candidates themselves.

An "On the Media" column Sunday in the L.A. Times on a new study concluding that, since early June, Barack Obama has drawn tougher network television coverage than John McCain, met with a predictable response -- applause from the left and skepticism from the right.

Read the entire story (LA Times)

So, I guess there may be a bit of empirical evidence to support what seems like an obvious conflict-of-interest in our political reporting industry. Given the power the media has to influence polls, perhaps it's time that some of McCain's own ideas, such as the removal of private money in campaign finances, gets reconsidered. Except now, maybe we should consider reporting on the matter to be an in-kind contribution. Since we can't control political speech, it makes one wonder if there's any way out of this Catch-22. Certainly something to think about.

lifespoke-logo.gifA week-and-a-half ago, I spent all weekend (well, about 34 hours of it) in a habitrail of meeting rooms with about 100 other people trying to do something pretty incredible: invent, build, and launch a new Internet startup in less than three days.

The event, InOneWeekend 2008, was the inaugural entrepreneurial exercise by this new Cincinnati organization, which hopes to jump-start new-venture creation in the technology-based services space (i.e., dot-coms).

After lots of thinking and working and coding and sweating (not to mention eating fast food and swilling highly caffeinated beverages), our concept was outlined and mocked up to a degree that we thought the world should be invited to share in its evolution from beta concept to fully operational service.

I, er, we give you...LifeSpoke.

Go on...click the link and check it out...it won't hurt, I promise.

LifeSpoke is, and soon will be more of, a place to save, organize, and share all your personal memorabilia and life's memories (assuming they come in handy digital format, of course). With an innovative, patent-pending interface (that we're not quite ready to share yet) and a family-oriented content model (that includes loads of privacy, security, and convenience), we're pretty stoked at the idea that moms, dads, kids, grandparents, and close friends will finally have a place to share their intimate memories and most precious media in a rich new environment.

Now, I know what you're thinking. Actually, you're thinking "I'm hungry...I wonder what's in the fridge." Hey, focus...there's just a little more to read here. You were also thinking "But aren't there a bazillion other media-sharing websites out there, like YouTube, most with sharing features?" To that I say of course! But LifeSpoke is different and will be the best solution for families and close-knit groups of friends to share their memories. While those other sites are great for stuff like watching someone's dog ride a skateboard or having anonymous 15-year-olds "friend" you, LifeSpoke focuses on the relationships in your life that mean the most.

So...go sign up for one of the limited beta invitations at LifeSpoke.com and join us as we ride this idea to wherever it takes us. Should be a fun trip.

If you're interested in reading more about the InOneWeekend adventure we had, check out these stories:
Official LifeSpoke press release (Marketwatch.com)
Cincinnati Business Courier article (bizjournals.com)

Apparently, Fox News is dead set upon further distancing itself from all "truthiness." According to the Silicon Alley Insider, it has begun doctoring photos to make people it doesn't like appear uglier, stranger, and unlikable.

Here's an example:

fox-reddicliffe.jpg

So they removed some of his hair, stretched his head, gave him black circles under his eyes, and yellowed his teeth.

Sheesh...and to think there are still people who believe Fox News is a legitimate journalistic endeavor.

Read the complete story here. (alleyinsider.com)