It's the end of 2010, and 2011 is right around the corner promising new smartphones, tablets, operating systems, lawsuits, and 3D technology. Many controversies from 2010 will carry over into the next 12 months, including Wikileaks, net neutrality, patent lawsuits, and corporate acquisitions involving Comcast and Google. As we get set to ring in 2011, here's a look at 25 of the hottest stories, trends, and companies to watch in the New Year.
Users sent out more than 25 billion tweets in 2010, and the self-styled "information network" added over 100 million new users during the same time frame. Twitter recently raised $200 million from investors and has been experimenting with revenue-producing ideas since 2009 such as search deals with Google and Bing and promoted tweets. The microblogging service is now valued at $3.7 billion and has a passionate user base, but can Twitter find a sustainable long-term business strategy in 2011?
Resistance Is Futile, Saturation Is Inevitable
In 2010, Facebook gained its 500 millionth user, and people spent more time on Facebook than Google. The company produced new products such as Facebook Places, Deals, and Microsoft's online document editing software. Company CEO Mark Zuckerberg was named Time's Person of the Year, and who can forget the controversy surrounding The Social Network a.k.a. The Facebook Movie? Get ready for online life to become super-saturated in Facebook logins, likes, and newsfeeds in 2011.
Motion Gaming: Fad or Trend?
Ask a serious gamer what they think of motion gaming devices like Kinect for Xbox 360 or PlayStation Move for the PS3 and reactions will vary from a scoff to outright disgust. But like it or not, initial sales for Microsoft and Sony motion-gaming devices were strong in 2010. Will that trend continue in 2011 or will users grow tired of the motion-gaming novelty?
Quest for the iPad
Tablets are set to take a bite out of PC sales in 2011. Numerous manufacturers including Hewlett-Packard, Motorola, Research In Motion, and Lenovo plan on producing iPad competitors next year. Google will also release its first tablet-friendly version of Android in 2011. In short, expect to see a lot of tablet-related news over the next 12 months.
CEO Hot Seat
The coming year could see some well known technology CEOs under pressure. First up is Microsoft's Steve Ballmer, whose annual bonus was cut in September, reportedly for Microsoft's failure to compete on the mobile front in 2010. If that's the case, is Ballmer's fate in 2011 tied to the success of Windows Phone 7? Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz will be under pressure, yet again, to save the aging Web property after axing several products (but not Delicious) and a round of layoffs in late 2010. Google's Eric Schmidt will also be in the hot seat in 2011...shortly after he makes his first public comments for the New Year.
Google TV: Death or Resurgence?
The major television networks don't like Google TV, and the search giant has reportedly asked its next round of manufacturing partners for more time to tweak the set-top box's software. It's also hard to justify a Google TV purchase ranging from $250-$1400 when you can get a Roku or Apple TV set-top box for about $100. Google will be under pressure in 2011 to prove that Google TV is more than just the same warmed-over Internet TV slop we've been seeing since the 1990s.
Netflix Freak Out
Netflix has quickly become the gold standard for Internet streaming, thanks to its growing online library of movies and TV shows. The company introduced a streaming-only plan in 2010, expanded into Canada, and contributed to the demise of its brick-and-mortar rival Blockbuster. Film studios such as as Universal, 20th Century Fox, and Warner pressured Netflix to delay new DVD releases by 28 days. In return for this concession, Netflix will be allowed to offer more streaming titles. But Netflix is starting to freak out some film and TV execs who may try to stifle Netflix's growth, according to a Reuters report.
Another Brick (or Two) In the Paywall
The New York Times is set to raise its long-anticipated paywall for nytimes.com in 2011. Apple's iPad is prompting publishers to create paid digital magazines and newspapers such as Project, News Corp.'s anticipated The Daily, and older titles such as GQ and Popular Mechanics. Will these new paywall schemes win out or fail over the next 12 months?
3D Staying Power
Smartphone: The Thinning Herd?
Apple and Android were big smartphone winners in 2010, while Research In Motion and Nokia lost some ground. Microsoft revived its smartphone fortunes in 2010 with the launch of Windows Phone 7 and Palm's WebOS is set for a reboot under the direction of HP. Can the smartphone world sustain six major platforms or will some start to fall away in 2011?
Google and ITA
Federal officials will decide the fate of Google's plan to purchase ITA Software, a flight data aggregation company. The company's ITA deal is under intense scrutiny from antitrust regulators. Meanwhile, Expedia, Kayak, Travelocity, Hotwire, and Microsoft have created a coalition called Fair Search to oppose the deal fearing a Google-controlled ITA will undermine their businesses. A New York Times editorial recently said Google's search dominance "raises a real concern about the potential consequences of the [ITA] deal."
Comcast Goes NBC
Comcast in 2011 is expected to take control of NBC Universal from General Electric in a deal valued around $37 billion. There are a lot of issues to ponder about the future of NBC, such as how Comcast will deal with NBC's interest in Hulu and how much the company is willing to shell out to keep the Olympics on NBC. International Olympic Committee Chairman Jacques Rogge wants more than $2.2 billion for rights to broadcast the 2014 and 2016 games, according to The New York Times.
Net Neutrality War
If you thought the Federal Communications Commission waged a battle to pass net neutrality rules in 2010, just wait and see what happens in 2011. While Democrats are putting their feet up over the holidays, Republicans are sharpening their swords for a Congressional battle over net neutrality. Incoming House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and other prominent Republicans have already said they intend to reverse the FCC's rules by introducing new legislation in 2011.
ACTA and You
The text for the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, an international framework to protect intellectual property, was recently finalized. The Electronic Frontier Foundation says ACTA, if enacted, "raises considerable concerns for citizens' civil liberties...and the future of Internet innovation." One concern for the EFF is that Internet Service Providers could end up as copyright police required to "remove infringing material" from their networks. This is not a new idea--the Recording Industry Association of America tried something similar in 2009 -- but under ACTA it could become more commonplace. But don't expect ACTA to directly impact the Internet just yet, says University of Ottawa law professor and ACTA watcher Michael Geist. ACTA hasn't been adopted yet, so the big issue of 2011, according to Geist, is whether the agreement will require changes to domestic law in the U.S. and Europe.
Ever since the iPad was introduced critics wondered whether netbooks would kill tablets or vice versa. After endless surveys, market studies and an admission from Microsoft, the common belief is that the iPad and its tablet brethren will kill the netbook. There is still some dispute over the research, but 2011 should create a clearer picture for the future of tablets and netbooks.
Oracle is suing Google, Nokia is suing Apple, Apple is suing Nokia and HTC, Microsoft is suing Salesforce, Salesforce is suing Microsoft, Microsoft is suing Motorola, and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen is suing the entire Web. Tech lawsuits, mostly over patents, got out of hand in 2010, and 2011 promises more of the same.
Time to Put up or Shut up, 4G
In 2010, the major wireless carriers spent their time building out new so-called 4G networks that promise faster download speeds and greater traffic capacity for smartphones and wireless broadband cards. Verizon now has its LTE network covering 110 million people in 38 markets nationwide, Sprint's WiMax network covers 40 million, T-Mobile's kinda, sorta 4G covers about 200 million and AT&T will build out an LTE network in 2011. Next year is shaping up to be a 4G extravaganza, but will you see noticeable benefits in network speeds using these upgraded services?
OS Trek: The Next Generation
Apple gave a teaser preview of Lion, the next version of Mac OS X, in October. The new OS is due out by the summer with more multitouch features and new ways to organize your desktop. Windows 8 should be available as a public beta in 2011, and Microsoft may preview its new OS during the Consumer Electronics Show in January.
It's not just netbooks trying to avoid the guillotine in 2011. MySpace is hurting and appears to have surrendered the social networking space to Facebook. Apple's Ping and Google's Buzz are both lackluster attempts to get social, Ask has given up search, Yahoo is downsizing and the JooJoo tablet is supposedly being rebooted. How many of these companies and services will be around to ring in 2012?
China has spent the latter half of 2010 making life difficult for technology companies by restricting rare earth exports essential for manufacturing electronic devices. China supplies more than 90 percent of the world's rare earths. As a result of China's restrictions, at least one major U.S. rare earth mine is reopening to meet domestic demand. Critics and analysts aren't sure how much of an impact rare earth shortages will have on technology prices in 2011, but some are predicting the worst.
Online services that help you find the best deals and shops near you are set to expand next year. The relevance of location-based services got a boost in 2010 after Facebook entered the fray with Facebook Places. The world's largest social network also introduced location-based coupon deals in 2010, and Google is reportedly desperate to get into the coupon game after a failed attempt to acquire Groupon.
IPv6: Y2K All Over Again?
The Web is supposed to run out of space soon after the last few million Internet Protocol version 4 addresses, such as PC World's 184.108.40.206, are gone. Before that happens the world needs to switch over to IPv6, which has about 340 trillion trillion trillion (no, that's not a typo) possible IP addresses compared to IPv4's paltry 4.3 billion. Many major tech companies such as Akamai and Verizon are looking to switch over to IPv6 in 2011, so expect to see a lot of IPv6 news next year.
More battles were waged online in 2010 involving nations, companies, and interest groups. Google reported in January its servers were hacked in an attack linked to China, and the European Union and the U.S. are setting up separate security centers to combat online attacks. So-called cyberattacks are nothing new, but increased action from citizen groups such as the pro-Wikileaks Anonymous and the anti-Gawker group Gnosis show that anyone armed with a laptop can enlist in a digital army. Will 2011 see more digital warfare, and -- more importantly -- could the U.S. resist a serious attack?
The Wikileaks Effect
Wikileaks Founder Julian Assange is facing extradition to Sweden on rape charges, and possible criminal charges in the U.S. The Wikileaks site was almost hounded off the Internet in December, and it's not clear what the fate of Wikileaks will be. Assange threatens more damaging information to come should he or the site he founded meet an untimely end.