Tech in 2012
We're nearing the end of the year, so it's time to ask what wonders 2012 will bring. No, I'm not talking about the possible end of the world. I'm talking about tech wonders--products that many of us wish were here right now, such as Apple's (alleged) iPad 3 and iPhone 5, and Microsoft's tablet-friendly Windows 8 operating system.
What are you anticipating in the new year? Here's what I'm looking forward to.
Apple iPad 3
If the gossip is true, the next-generation iPad will be a sight to behold. Its most compelling (alleged) feature: a 2048-by-1536-pixel display, offering four times the resolution of the iPad 2's 1024-by-768-pixel screen. Assuming that Apple maintains its tablet-upgrade cycle, we can expect to see the new slate in the spring (the iPad and iPad 2 each shipped in the spring).
Microsoft Windows 8
Microsoft's next operating system promises to be everything. Designed to power both tablets and conventional PCs, Windows 8 is ambitious and risky. The new OS will feature the touch-oriented Metro interface that we first saw in Windows Phone 7. That means Microsoft's "reimagined" flagship OS will be the first Windows version since the iconic Windows 95 to revamp, rather than simply tweak, the desktop interface.
Windows 8's touch-friendly tiles might make sense for tablet users, but how will Microsoft's bread-and-butter business clientele embrace the radically new look and feel?
Smarter TVs From Apple and Sony
Rumors of an Apple-branded TV set aren't new, but recent developments lend credence to reports that the folks in Cupertino are cookin' up something good. According to Steve Jobs's biographer Walter Isaacson, Apple's cofounder was obsessed with the smart-TV concept, and had been working diligently on a genre-defining television interface before he passed. Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster, a longtime Apple watcher, recently predicted that an Apple television would debut by the end of 2012 or by the start of 2013.
Sony, meanwhile, is developing next-gen TV concepts designed to emulate Apple's successful strategy of sharing user content among multiple devices, including TVs, tablets, smartphones, and game consoles.
Quad-Core Mobile Devices
Speedy dual-core processors, such as Apple's A5 in the iPad 2 and iPhone 4S, will soon be old news as even faster quad-core chips migrate to the mobile market. Chip maker Nvidia says that smartphones featuring its quad-core Tegra 3 processors may arrive in the first half of 2012. And quad-core tablets, such as the Tegra 3-powered Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime, are already here. Qualcomm, meanwhile, says that its quad-core Snapdragon chips will appear in Windows 8 tablets in the second half of 2012.
Long-Term Evolution made last year's Most Anticipated Tech list, but its dynamic, evolving nature and growing importance have earned it a spot this year as well. Why? Because a single 4G wireless standard will simplify life for consumers and carriers alike.
The good news is that we'll be moving close to that goal in 2012. Sprint and its 4G mobile partner, Clearwire, are transitioning from WiMax to LTE, the same technology that AT&T and Verizon Wireless use. Both AT&T and Verizon expect to upgrade their respective 3G coverage areas to 4G by the end of 2013. Meanwhile, fledgling wireless provider LightSquared, which uses a hybrid satellite-LTE network, plans to offer 4G service via wireless partners such as Best Buy and Leap Wireless.
Let's hope we see a 4G-enabled iPhone next year, too.
Wider Choice of Tablets
Tablets are currently going in two directions, splitting into the "just good enough" variety and the "powerful yet pricey" business models.
On the low end you'll find Amazon's $200 Kindle Fire (whose tepid reviews aren't discouraging holiday shoppers) and Barnes & Noble's $250 Nook Tablet. Those bargain slates may force competitors such as Samsung (with its Galaxy Tab 7 Plus) and Toshiba (with its Thrive) to cut the prices of their 7-inch models. Meanwhile, other tablet makers may pursue the lucrative business market, where powerful quad-core slates such as the Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime may have a receptive audience.
Apple iPhone 5
When Apple unveiled the iPhone 4S in October, many fans felt a twinge of disenchantment. The iPhone 4S has some nice changes under the hood--including the voice-recognizing personal assistant Siri and an excellent 8-megapixel camera--but it looks virtually identical to its predecessor.
The rumored curved glass screen and daring teardrop shape are apparently still on the drawing board over in Cupertino. Assuming that the iPhone 5 arrives in 2012, it just might pack the visual wallop that Apple watchers have been waiting for.
Xbox 360 Update
The Xbox 360 debuted waaay back in May 2005. That's an eternity--maybe two--in the tech industry, although game consoles usually have decent life spans. (The Xbox 360's rival, the Sony Playstation 3, launched in November 2006.)
Will the next-generation Xbox arrive in 2012? The latest rumors from reliable sources, including Supersite for Windows editor Paul Thurrott, say the next Xbox is slated for a 2013 debut. Until then, Xbox fans will have to be content with software upgrades, including an Xbox 360 dashboard update sporting a Windows 8, Metro-style interface.
Energy-saving, Internet-enabled smart thermostats aren't new, but they are often tricky to use. Apple alum Tony Fadell has created a clever thermostat that's easy to set up, smart enough to program itself, and really cool-looking. The $249 Nest thermostat studies your thermostat-usage habits and adjusts itself accordingly.
For example, if you raise the temperature in your home on one occasion, Nest will ignore the change. But if you raise it, say, two Mondays in a row at 7 a.m., Nest will learn from your behavior and start making that change automatically. The Next ships now, but when we last checked it was sold out at major retailers such as Best Buy. If you're desperate for one, you can purchase it online for twice the retail price on eBay…or you can wait until a bigger supply comes in 2012.
Just when you thought stand-alone point-and-shoot cameras were out of the picture, along comes the Lytro. The Lytro is an innovative light-field camera that uses a new type of sensor to capture the color, intensity, and vector direction of light rays. This new approach offers some unique advantages--namely, the freedom to be able to focus an image after you've shot it.
One thing that may limit the Lytro camera's consumer appeal is its price: The 8GB versions will cost $399, and the 16GB version will cost $499.
Android 4.0 Phones
The latest version of Google's mobile operating system is already generating buzz in the mobile world. Android 4.0 offers a lot to love: a polished interface, improved multitasking, better search tools, and the intriguing-yet-gimmicky Face Unlock and Android Beam.
Plus, a fresh batch of Android smartphones (led by the Samsung Galaxy Nexus) and a new generation of tablets (including the Asus Eee Pad Transformer 2) are designed specifically for Android 4.0, also known as Ice Cream Sandwich.
Windows Phone 7 Platform
Microsoft's efforts in the mobile OS arena have been greeted by big yawns from the majority of smartphone shoppers. But Windows Phone 7's prospects may brighten in 2012. The new Windows Phone 7.5 (Mango) software adds the features and fine-tuning that the OS needs to compete with Android and iOS.
Nokia's adoption of WP7 should also help spur sales, and WP7 handsets such as the Samsung Focus S are getting good reviews. The next 12 months may decide whether Windows Phone 7 handsets succeed or go the way of the Zune.
Sony PlayStation Vita
The PlayStation Vita, which arrives in North America in February, may answer the question on everyone's mind: Are handheld gaming devices past their prime, or can a 5-inch multitouch display, front and rear cameras, augmented reality capabilities, and 3G wireless save the day?
The Vita's competitors, including Apple's iPod Touch, iPhone, and iPad--as well as a gazillion Android devices--won't make things easy.
When Apple's Siri comes out of beta--and when Google and Microsoft enhance their respective OSs with better voice commands--we'll all be able to have meaningful conversations with our devices.
And we won't be talking only with smartphones and tablets: Microsoft is launching an Xbox 360 update that adds voice navigation to the gaming console (provided that you're using the company's Kinect sensor).
Google, meanwhile, is working diligently to improve Android's voice-recognition skills. One prime example is the "experimental" Conversation Mode in the Google Translate app.
As for Siri, a new rumor has Apple adding voice controls to its mythical TV set, which may arrive in 2013.
Facebook's new profile layout, Timeline, is designed to be a better way to "tell your life story." Timeline was supposed to roll out a few weeks after its September debut, but we still haven't seen it (in mass effect) as of early December.
Given Timeline's ability to dramatically change the way Facebook users display their digital lives, it will likely be a much-discussed feature once it finally rolls out in the new year.
Pricey and picturesque OLED TVs have been trade-show favorites for years now, but they remain gorgeous novelties that are too expensive for mainstream adoption.
Will that change in 2012? According to Korean tech news site Etnews.com, both LG and Samsung will debut 55-inch OLED TVs at CES in January. What they will cost is unclear, but they will certainly be priced at a premium relative to today's LCD and plasma sets.
Recent manufacturing improvements on larger OLED panels may help lower production costs, however. Given the ongoing sales slump in the TV industry, it's debatable whether consumers will be willing to spend extra for OLED.
Don't leave home without your HDTV.
Dish Network's Tailgater is a portable satellite dish that's easy to take on the road. This $500 dish-in-a-box weighs just 10 pounds and brings live satellite television to wherever you happen to be (for example, tailgating at the big game).
The MacBook Air's success is creating a style revolution in the laptop world. Now Windows laptops are shedding pounds and inches to mimic the Air's thin-and-light chic. The Intel-led Ultrabook initiative will bring a bunch of wafer-thin notebooks in 2012, including the Lenovo IdeaPad U300s, the Asus ZenBook, and the Toshiba Portege Z830 series.
But what we're really looking forward to is the price drop. By the second quarter of 2012, Acer reportedly plans to sell Ultrabooks for just $800 to $900, with prices falling to $500 by 2013. That's a big drop from today's $800-to-$1500 range.
Wireless networking will become a lot faster in 2012 if peripheral and mobile device manufacturers adopt Wilocity's 60GHz multigigabit chipsets.
Based on the proposed 802.11ad wireless standard, Wilocity's technology speeds up a variety of mainstream computing tasks, including storage, file transfer, and high-definition video. Wilocity's first chips will reach speeds of 4 gigabits per second, but the 802.11ad spec has the potential to reach 7 gbps.
Devices with Wilocity's silicon may arrive by mid-2012, the company says.
Kinect for Windows
Microsoft's motion-sensing interface is coming to Windows in 2012, and the technology has the potential to radically change the way we interact with our PCs. Keyboards and mice aren't going away anytime soon, but hand gestures and even facial expressions may become viable means of controlling your computer.
What new desktop applications will Kinect enable? Developers can download the Kinect for Windows SDK to get started.