2011 tech preview: A tour through tablets, mobile, hardware, software and cloud

What does 2011 hold for the technology industry? Mobile will again dominate the headlines as all companies not named Apple will be searching for tablet strategies. Laptop price depreciation will regain steam. On the software front, cloud computing may put the hurt on established enterprise application players.

What does 2011 hold for the technology industry? Mobile will again dominate the headlines as all companies not named Apple will be searching for tablet strategies. Laptop price depreciation will regain steam. On the software front, cloud computing may put the hurt on established enterprise application players.

That microcosm will be evident at the Consumer Electronics Show. Here's a tour through the key tech themes for 2011.

Tablets....

  • Apple's iPad will continue to have the field to itself. To date, Apple has owned the tablet field with the iPad. Despite a coming onslaught of Android tablets I'm willing to wager that the iPad will continue to dominate. Projections that call for Android will have half of the tablet market by this time next year are too optimistic. Simply put, tablets are a different animal than smartphones. Android tablets that will be really competitive with the iPad won't arrive until mid-year. Toss in a next-gen iPad and aggressive pricing and it's likely that Apple will remain top dog.
  • Research in Motion's PlayBook will garner some enterprise traction, but little else. RIM's PlayBook has been demonstrated, outlined for developers and discussed for months. But there's something about tethering the PlayBook to a BlackBerry for corporate email that doesn't make a damn bit of sense. As a result, the PlayBook will go where the BlackBerries are---in the enterprise. The catch is that Android and Apple tablets will be there too.
  • Microsoft's refusal to make Windows Phone 7 the dominant tablet operating system (over Windows 7) will be a decision that will haunt the company for years. Microsoft through 2011 will continue to push every OS it has in tablets---also known as slates in Microsoftspeak---over Windows Phone 7. As a result, Microsoft will be a tablet also ran.

Mobile...

  • Windows Phone 7 will garner 14 percent of the mobile market by the end of 2011. Android will rule the roost and Apple's iOS will keeps its market share about where it is. Research in Motion will suffer as other mobile operating systems gain share. RIM's QNX operating system will generate some buzz, but it's a case of too-little-too-late for the BlackBerry maker.

Hardware....

  • The new price point for laptops (ultra light, beefed up netbooks and everything in between) will be $350 or so. The army of cheap, well-powered laptops will lead to the death of netbooks as a category. Sure, there will be a few 10-inch clamshells around, but most will be 12-inches and up.

  • The server upgrade cycle will begin to slow for three primary reasons---virtualization means you need less hardware in the long run, data center overhaul fatigue sets in and cloud computing will grab more computing share.
  • Hewlett-Packard will become a thorn in Cisco's side. HP is gunning for Cisco's market share in switches and routers. Cisco will largely be able to defend its turf, but HP will pressure the company's profit margins. HP will be the networking player that enterprises bring in to keep Cisco honest. Toss in already tough competition from Juniper Networks and Cisco may have a few rocky quarters ahead.

Software...

  • Software as a service becomes widely adopted in the enterprise. This SaaS prediction isn't much of a stretch, but the stars are lining up for on-demand software. Why? Oracle will launch its Fusion applications and customers will start deciding whether they want to upgrade or not. SAP CEO Bill McDermott has already remarked that his company will benefit from Oracle's latest software. Why? SAP will be brought in to corporate accounts to keep Oracle honest. Some of those moves will result in sales. However, enterprises are likely to look at Oracle, SAP and SaaS alternatives. SaaS will win its share of deals. Nothing like a new implementation to get companies thinking about cloud computing.

  • HP will freak when it realizes that it can't grow its way into becoming a software player. The solution is to go shopping. HP will acquire Citrix, BMC Software and Teradata in 2011.
  • This time next year we still won't quite know what to do with Google's Chrome OS. In fact, operating systems will continue to recede to the background when it comes to key themes for 2011. We'll hear a few nuggets about Windows 8, but Microsoft would have to part the seas to convince me to upgrade from Windows 7. OS cycles now last at least a decade.
  • Cloud computing will cease to exist as a term as cloudwashing accelerates. Hardware, software and all sorts of technologies will ride shotgun with the term "cloud." As a result, cloud computing becomes meaningless and just a term used to sell hardware and software.

Networks...

  • AT&T will fare better without the Apple iPhone exclusive. The conventional wisdom dictates that AT&T is so screwed when the iPhone lands at Verizon Wireless. The reality is likely to be vastly different. For starters, many iPhone users are locked in to AT&T for at least another 18 months. And then there are the network realities. If Verizon gets some of those app-happy iPhone users, AT&T's network will improve. That improvement will mean AT&T won't be spending money to constantly put out network fires (like the ones in New York and San Francisco). Factor in the end of AT&T's healthy subsidies to carry the iPhone exclusive and profit margins could improve. And a final point: AT&T isn't losing the iPhone just the exclusive. Many current customers will stick.

  • Verizon won't rule the world with the iPhone. The addition of the iPhone to Verizon's network---expected sometime in the first half of 2011---won't be a boon to Verizon. Verizon will add customers for sure, but the iPhone is likely to strain the network. In addition, the iPhone won't really put the hurt on AT&T for about two years just based on how wireless contracts work.
  • 4G will be a disappointment. We've waited for 4G speeds forever. And 2011 will bring blazing fast mobile speeds. The problem? We're all going to burn through data plan caps. Verizon's $50 plan will quickly become an $80 one. That extra expense will temper enthusiasm for 4G.
  • Net neutrality will die. You'd think that the Federal Communications Commission put the net neutrality issue to rest with last month's 3-2 vote. Not quite. The FCC adopted open Internet rules, but Congress will ultimately have to move. The problem? There's a new Congress and net neutrality just isn't a front-and-center issue. Meanwhile, Rasmussen Reports finds that just 21 percent of voters want the FCC to move on net neutrality. Most folks aren't paying attention to the issue. Chances are Congress won't either.

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