Each year about this time, I put out a list of predictions for the coming year. I have been doing this for 23 years, and over that time I have had a reasonable level of success with these predictions. I have had some spectacular failed ones too, like the year I said Microsoft would buy RIM.
Because of our work and research, we get to see a lot of technologies in the works behind the scenes. Looking at the data, we can make some educated deductions about tech trends for the new year.
With that in mind, here are my top predictions for 2013.
1. Augmented reality will go mainstream.
Companies like Zappar and Aurasma have some great technology that adds an AR touch to published content, posters and physical places. AR technology has been in the works for many years, but the demos I have seen from these two companies have me believing that 2013 is the year that AR becomes very important to the mobile world. More important, many of these AR companies have created great relationships with movie studios, gamemakers, publishers and more, and their technology is already showing up in many of their products. I wrote about these two companies recently, so check out some of the examples I have at the end of this column to get a visual sense of why I think AR will be big in 2013.
2. Google’s Chromebooks will get more consumer attention, gaining traction in 2013.
Google Chromebooks built by Acer and Samsung are priced around $250 and have become an attractive alternative for consumers, as price continues to be a real issue with this market segment. I know that these machines only work while online, but the proliferation of public wi-fi makes this less of an issue going forward. We all know that a Web browser as an operating system will someday happen, and these Chromebooks are a good first step. Buyers of these laptops will also serve as an important test bed for industry watchers in 2013, giving us important hints about how this market will develop over the next five years.
3. Hybrids and convertibles will see high interest from IT departments.
In our discussions with IT directors recently, we have heard that they are quite interested in hybrids or convertibles — also known as laptop-tablet combo devices. Today, with tablets part of the BYOD (bring your own device) trend, as well as the purchases of tablets for their own specific internal use, these IT managers are now forced to support three types of devices: PCs, tablets and smart phones.
The idea of just having to support a convertible or hybrid, instead of a separate laptop and tablet, is quite attractive to them. The first generation of these products, such as Lenovo’s Yoga, HP’s Elitebook convertible and Dell’s XPS DUO, are being bought in good numbers from IT types who are starting to test them inside their organizations, and newer models that are even more powerful will be out by Q3. All this points to the potential growth of hybrids and convertibles within IT beginning in 2013.
4. 7-in. tablets will dominate tablet sales.
Given the prices of 7-in. tablets — which can be as low as $79 but mostly hover around $199 — it’s not a stretch to believe that this form factor will dominate the market in 2013. But what’s not obvious is how they’ll impact the PC market. The problem for consumers with 10-in. tablets is that with a cheap Bluetooth keyboard, these tablets almost become mini-laptops. Also, since many consumers can do about 80% of what they do on a PC by using a tablet instead, many consumers are either extending the life of their current PC, or if they buy a new one, they purchase a cheaper model since they see it sitting idle most of the time. The traditional PC won’t go away because it’s still needed for heavier computing tasks like managing media, creating digital movies and other tasks.
However, if consumers begin to adopt 7-in. tablets in big numbers, they may go back to buying new laptops since 7-in. tablets are mainly for consumption. They are not good at all for traditional productivity tasks. Many industry execs hope this theory is right because it could actually help laptop sales grow in 2013 instead of shrink, as many have suggested it will. I believe that in 2013, consumers will sort out which tablets are best for them, and in doing so will finally determine the role the PC will play in the future.
5. Apple will create a hybrid tablet-laptop.
I am going out on a limb with this last prediction, but one of the more interesting developments with 10-in. tablets is that if you add Bluetooth keyboards, they become like mini-laptops. The Android and Windows sides of the tech market are moving quickly to create tablet-laptop combo devices, and business and consumers alike are showing interest in them. If these types of products gain serious traction, I believe Apple may need to respond to this growth threat in the same way it entered the 7-in.-tablet market — despite the fact that Steve Jobs told everyone that Apple would never make a 7-in. tablet.
But imagine a sleekly designed hybrid that perhaps has the design lines of the MacBook Air, but with an iPad screen that detaches from its ultra-thin keyboard. For lack of a better term, I call it the MacBook AirPad or iPad Air. I know Tim Cook has denounced this type of design, suggesting it is like attaching a “toaster to a refrigerator,” but a sleek and elegant iPad-keyboard device designed by Apple would appeal to a lot of people, myself included.
The theme for my 2013 predictions is “going vertical.” The writing on the wall has been seen for some time now, and I believe 2013 is the year we will see it officially come to fruition: there is absolutely no denying the success of Apple’s vertical model.
In a mature consumer market — and if executed properly — being vertical is simply the most sustainable model by way of differentiation, competitive advantage and a host of other long-term strategic reasons. Many parallel industries and the vertical nature of their businesses illuminate the way for this reality.
1. Samsung will invest in its own future.
Right now, Samsung is the most dominant Android smart-phone manufacturer. However, the company does not fully control or dictate the directions or agenda of Google as it relates to Android. Because of this, Samsung is dependent, to a degree, upon Google for future success. In a quickly verticalizing industry, this is a point of concern for Samsung. Samsung once invested in its own Bada operating system, but I believe it will further invest in owning its own software platform in order to fully unify its screen strategy. The most logical candidate is the Tizen operating system Samsung has been working on but has yet to release.
2. Microsoft will get into smart-phone hardware.
Microsoft signaled its intent to be a PC hardware company when it launched the Surface tablet. By doing so, Microsoft strained relationships with its existing hardware partners and went down a path that is hard to turn back from at this point. The next logical step is for Microsoft to get into the smart-phone hardware business — or acquire a company like Nokia or HTC — and begin controlling the hardware for the Windows Phone platform. I believe Microsoft will officially get into the smart-phone hardware game in 2013.
3. Apple will make a large investment in its supply chain.
In the personal-computing landscape, Apple is more vertical than any company right now. Others have some of the parts but have yet to go fully vertical and show that they can execute as vertical companies. Apple has already proved it is a well-oiled vertical machine, and I believe the company will further invest in that strategy by using its massive stockpile of cash to purchase key parts of its supply chain. The main reason for this will be not only to maintain its hardware margins but also to relieve many of the supply-chain bottlenecks that Apple deals with on a yearly basis. These investments could be things like owning a key display manufacturer, owning hardware-machining factories and even investing or co-investing in a foundry to manufacture its own semiconductors for all its computers.
4. Google will go fully vertical with Motorola.
Samsung is Google’s largest partner, and in many of the same ways that Samsung depends on Google, so too does Google depend on Samsung. The reality is that Android would not have the market share it does today without Samsung. So by Samsung investing more in its own future with a software platform, Android will be weakened. The only logical response is for Google to also officially go vertical with its Motorola purchase, taking its hardware future into its own hands. Google can do this by focusing Motorola on the high end with a Nexus-like strategy, or it can focus on the lower end by going for more volume than margins. I can see either scenario playing out.
5. RIM will make a modest rebound but will eventually be acquired.
To be entirely honest, I have some hope for RIM. I do think the company will make a modest rebound in 2013 with the release of its BlackBerry 10 devices. But to take back a significant share of the handheld market, RIM will need help from someone else. It makes the most sense in my mind for RIM to consolidate with a company that has the right marketing and a solid hardware vision. Perhaps Samsung could acquire RIM and make BlackBerry 10 its proprietary operating system if Tizen doesn’t work out. Any number of the growing Asian OEMs that could use better business platforms may show interest in RIM as well.
This should be a most interesting year in the world of technology. Aside from new innovations, changes in the PC landscape and mobile technology transforming the way people work, learn, communicate and play, it will also be a year of transition for many of the PC companies that have dominated the digital landscape for the past 30 years. Without strong mobile plays, their ability to compete will be diminished by the strong competitive positions of Apple, Google and Amazon. If they are to survive and thrive, they’ll need to fully embrace social media and find ways to partner with the Facebooks and Twitters of the world that are driving the next generation of social media and mobile advertising.
Indeed, 2013 will bring a lot of changes to the world of technology, along with some solid innovations that are bound to ingrain the digital lifestyle deeper into the fabric of our society.