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Tech 2012: Everyone Wants a Piece of Apple or Facebook

- 2012.01.10 - Tip Jar

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2012 already? But are we through with 2011 yet? Last January, my theme for 2011 was Get Apple, with tech companies increasingly feeling the need to challenge the fruit-logoed company's smartphones, tablets and slim and light laptops (see Competitors Aim to Take a Bite Out of Apple).

How'd they do? Manufacturers loading Google's Android operating system onto smartphones had a good year in 2011. Much of Android's market share growth came at the expense of RIM's BlackBerry, which, like the favourably reviewed Microsoft Windows Phone 7 (WP7), fell in popularity.

Android was less popular on tablets, however, despite the release of a version (Android 3, a.k.a. Honeycomb) that was tweaked for the larger screen devices. Buyers snapped up non-Android tablets - RIM's PlayBook and HP's Touchpad - but only when stock was sold off at bargain-basement prices.

Amazon's Kindle Touch (not yet available in Canada) had respectable sales late in the year, but because Kindle users are locked into Amazon's book and media ecosystem, the company is able to sell it at a heavily subsidized price.

Samsung, which in 2011 emerged as the most aggressive competitor to Apple, released an attractive ultralight notebook, only to find Apple updating its MacBook Air lineup with better specifications and a lower price. Late in the year, chipmaker Intel started promoting "ultrabooks" - notebooks by PC manufacturers aping Apple's MacBook Air.

The result: 2012 in the high-tech office is going to look a lot like 2011. Most of the action will be among mobile products - smartphones, tablets, and ultraportable notebooks - continuing our theme of Get Apple.

2012 will be a critical year for RIM, which floundered throughout 2011 with lacklustre products, a confusing variety of operating systems on its phones and tablets, and an embarrassing network outage. In the US, the BlackBerry's smartphone market share plummeted from 24% in 2010's third quarter to 9% in 2011's.

It will also be an important year for Microsoft. Will its Windows Phone 7 system (perhaps on upcoming Nokia phones) finally resonate with consumers? Next generation Windows 8 is expected to have a beta version early in 2012 and full release later in the year, but with a new interface adapted from WP7 it might come too late to kick-start use of Windows on tablets while confusing and alienating users of traditional desktop and notebook computers. (The big hope: Businesses will be prepared to wait for Windows - and Microsoft Office - on tablets.)

Apple is vulnerable, however. Despite its range of successes, its attempts at social networking (like iTunes Ping) and cloud services (iCloud) have been lacklustre. The company's massive tablet and ultralight notebook market share will almost certainly shrink in the face of increased competition in 2012.

And this year, Apple will have to prove that it can maintain the excitement post-Steve Jobs.

Also in 2011, interest in social media grew from companies learning to use these popular online services more effectively as part of their marketing strategies. Google premiered its Google+ service in 2011. Despite some appealing features, it's not clear to me whether it's really taking off. 2012 will be the year to see whether there's really a variety of important social media platforms - or if it's just Facebook (and everybody else).

Mobile will continue to grow in importance as users and small businesses increasingly combine location-awareness, mobile devices, and social networks.

Security and privacy issues seemed less pressing in 2011, but they continued; perhaps we're all just taking them for granted. In 2012, expect malware and scams to increasingly take advantage of social media networks (particularly Facebook) and mobile apps (particularly Android). Don't be surprised if there's a major cloud-service outage - but also don't be surprised if companies and individual users continue to move data and applications to the cloud anyway. LEM

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Alan Zisman is Mac-using teacher and technology writer based in Vancouver, BC, Canada. Many of his articles are available on his website, www.zisman.ca. If you find Alan's articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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