6. Processing Enters the Cloud
Makers of devices such as smartphones, tablets, and even cameras are pushing the boundaries of mobile computing by thinking outside of the chip. In 2012, “cloud processing,” or the ability to process complex information on remote servers, will make considerable advances.
The most evident indicator of this coming trend is every iPhone 4S owner’s new best friend, Siri. This virtual assistant is made possible because your iPhone 4S doesn’t have to analyze your request on its own processors--it sends your voice request to Apple’s data centers, which process the audio, find a response, and then send that response back to your phone.
A year before Siri debuted, Google Goggles did the same thing: You could snap a picture of a book, a logo, or a notable landmark, for instance, and Goggles would analyze the image at one of its Google server centers and return a search page relevant to the image. So apps that take advantage of cloud processing already exist--but you should expect to see a slew of voice recognition and face/object recognition apps appear for mobile devices in 2012. (A Google exec recently revealed that the company is working on a Siri competitor, called Majel.)
7. HTML 5 Takes the Stage
Markup languages rarely make headlines, but the HTML 5 upgrade will change the Internet in 2012 more than any cool new website will. That's because it’s the foundation that all cool new websites will be built upon. By bringing XHTML under the same umbrella as HTML, and by allowing Web programmers to use brand-new video and audio commands to integrate media into sites more gracefully, HTML 5 will become the key tool for making sites act a lot more like native apps on your phone.
And in some cases, HTML 5 websites might even replace apps. All the major mobile operating systems have adopted the new Web standard. HTML 5 promises to make it easier and more affordable for developers to introduce interactivity in browsers because they no longer need to buy and install proprietary plug-ins to create click-responsive graphics or to embed video.
Facebook is one of the major companies that have committed considerable resources to developing their sites for HTML 5. Pandora redesigned its site with HTML 5, too. Then, in November, Adobe announced that it would no longer continue to develop its mobile Flash Player because HTML 5 has been so much better received than its Flash plug-in.
Watch for redesigned sites in 2012, and be prepared to see companies forgo building new apps in favor of creating a unified HTML 5-based site. There’s even an Occupy Flash movement intended to encourage developers to stop using Flash and start using HTML 5.
8. IPv6 Starts Rolling Out
To send and receive data on the Internet, every connected device needs an IP address--and 2011 was the year we finally started running out of IPv4's unique, 32-bit sequences.
For the time being, Internet service providers can assign groups of devices a single IP address using network address translation, or NAT, to break down where traffic should travel among the group of devices. We can’t use NAT forever, but for the average consumer, that won’t be a concern for quite a long time.
In 2012, however, the issue will affect websites that are hosting their content on IPv4-only servers, and smart businesses will want to get an IPv6 address in addition to an IPv4 address so that when the transition to IPv6 does come, they’ll be prepared. IPv6 isn’t backward-compatible with IPv4, but companies can “dual stack” their servers to offer content on both “versions of the Internet.”
It will be important for companies to keep their IPv4 addresses for some time, as households might not be equipped for IPv6 (increasingly, however, routers and device operating systems are offering support for both versions). When the time comes for websites to relinquish their old IPv4 addresses, many average consumer devices will be ready.
9. Consumers Borrow More Books, Movies, and Music
The Internet has done wonders for media sharing, and in 2012 it will become easier than ever to borrow media rather than buy it. Spotify and Rdio already let you listen to the music of your choice for free, and Google announced in November that its music-storing service will permit users to share songs with their friends.
E-readers such as the Amazon Kindle and the Sony Reader Wi-Fi PRS-T1 let you rent ebooks from public libraries. And you'll find no shortage of movie streaming services that let you watch flicks at a moment’s notice without filling up your hard drive with downloaded copies.
Devices that help you consume multimedia are boosting the trend. Amazon’s Kindle Fire, for instance, ships with only 8GB of storage, less than an entry-level iPhone 4S. That means Fire users will likely be streaming movies rather than downloading them, and listening to music from Rdio rather than keeping thousands of tunes on their tablets.
And Barnes & Noble’s Nook Tablet is hardly more than an e-reader with media-streaming capabilities, as only 1GB of its storage is available to hold non-Barnes & Noble downloads.
10. Fewer (but Better) Tablets Arrive
Clearly, tech companies want to sell tablets. In 2011, however, no tablet could truly compete with the iPad. From the genuinely disappointing (Fusion Garage’s Grid 10 tablet, based on a proprietary version of Android called GridOS) to the mildly dissatisfying (the Kindle Fire), there’s clearly a market for tablets, but someone other than Apple has yet to get it right.
In 2012, you'll almost certainly see some tablet makers dropping out of the game, but the ones that stick around will finally start to understand what tablet consumers want: not a big phone, but a media consumption and creation device that can stand up to heavy use.
New tablets will use the Android Ice Cream Sandwich OS, the tablet-optimized Windows 8, or the new RIM PlayBook 2.0 operating system. Let’s hope that 2011 was the warm-up, and that 2012 will be the year you’ll see real competitors to the iPad.