Compared to, say, a reporter in a war zone, tech writers have it pretty good. The worst injury we can suffer is a stiff back from an especially long product keynote. The biggest job hazard is having our bad predictions thrown back at us, either by readers, or, in my case, by myself.
Not all of my predictions for 2011 were awful. I suggested that Microsoft would unify its PC-tablet roadmap with Windows 8, though it would take several years.
I was talking up Bring Your Own Device 20 months ago, when BYOD was not yet a hot thing, much less a widely-used acronym. And I argued that with mobile devices, it's Management, not (Protection from) Malware, that matters.
Still, this column is me donning a virtual hairshirt, as I own up to all of my wrong trendspotting for the soon-to-end year.
Bad Prediction #1: Superphones would finally become a thing in 2011. As the name of a new category of phones succeeding 'smartphone', SuperPhone has everything going for it. It sounds awesome, heroic even, like it was created by some writer at DC or Marvel Comics.
Going by the rule of threes, I figured that the smartphone market had gotten mature enough that it would split into 3 tiers: SuperPhones on top (read my definition of their specs here), smartphones in the middle, and featurephones for the mass consumer at the bottom.
I think there were several reasons why I was wrong:
- Generally, the tech industry creates new jargon faster than a teenage girl changes her clothes. But it also hates to interrupt a hot streak by confusing consumers. And smartphones were definitely on a hot streak in 2011, growing by leaps and bounds. Why risk confusing customers by pushing a new, vague category?
- SuperPhones were hard to categorize because they didn't really look all that different from smartphones. They weren't particularly thicker or larger-screened, nor did they all come with keyboards. Peoples' hands and pocket sizes aren't increasing; wearing a phone clipped to your belt was no more fashionable in 2011 than it was in past years. So there was no way SuperPhones were going to become a category, unless we all became as tall as basketball players or if fanny packs become fashionable again. Wait a tic...
- SuperPhone was a term only embraced by the Android camp, and only a few manufacturers at that. Apple was careful never to use the term. That hurt, considering most consumers, if asked what phone models they can name, unprompted, can probably only name the iPhone.
According to Google News, there were just under 400 articles using the term SuperPhone, compared to 110,000 using smartphone. Will SuperPhones finally catch in 2012? I'm not betting on it.
Bad Prediction #2: Adobe Flash would become relevant on mobile. As Apple zigged away from Flash, I figured that the rest of the industry, especially the Android camp, would zag towards Flash. That happened initially - both Samsung and RIM made a big deal out of the fact that the Galaxy Tab and PlayBook were Flash-compatible.
But users never really seemed to care all that much. There was a plethora of non-Flash content for them, including, crucially, YouTube videos. Developers moved to other platforms. By November, Adobe decided to cut its losses by effectively ending Flash for mobile.
Bad Prediction #3: The market would naturally come around on the BlackBerry PlayBook. After the negative reviews of the PlayBook at its release in April and the predictions of doom for RIM, I railed against the "premature prognostication for the sake of being first."
I took the contrarian stance that what was once overrated had now become underrated, and implied basically that I believed that PlayBook sales would surprise everyone over the next six months.
After all, RIM ships 15-million+ BlackBerry phones overseas every quarter without any U.S.-based pundit seeming to realize it.
Well, I was surprised - just by how much RIM apparently over-ordered and how many PlayBooks sat on retailers' shelves. And when Amazon shipped the Kindle Fire that was oh, 90-95% identical to the Playbook, but only $199, RIM had to react by cutting the Playbook's price 60%.
While that may look like a desperation move, I think it will have the desired result of getting 1-2 million Playbooks into customers' hands by early 2012. That will bring the developers and then start the whole virtuous cycle of apps-attracting-customers-attracting-developers-attracting-customers, etc. Already, there are already 4,200 apps for the Playbook.
When Android compatibility comes in the spring, that number effectively grows by a factor of 90 or so. In other words, I don't think I'm outright wrong on the PlayBook as I was with Flash; I just haven't been proven right, yet.
Bad Prediction #4: The rise of low-cost 'FeatureTablets.' Just as inexpensive, low-powered featurephones vastly outsell smartphones worldwide, I figured that featuretablets from no-name brands like Coby running Android would become huge with consumers. These would be sub-$200 tablets that would sport single-core ARM chips, poor battery life, few apps and bad touchscreens. These would be the cheapie devices that Best Buy or Frys would advertise as doorbusters to get people in the door before trying to upsell them to iPads or Galaxy Tabs.
Then came Amazon with its $199 Kindle Fire, This is a state-of-the-art dual-core device with a large selection of content. By bringing a mid-range tablet at a low-end, below-cost price, Amazon has guaranteed that it will sell boatloads of Kindle Fires and make it almost impossible for anyone else to undercut them. I mean, there will be tablets at $100 price points, but I doubt if they will ever form the bulk of the market as cellphones/featurephones still do. At least not in the developed world.
Bad Prediction #5: Android app downloads would grow exponentially. In July, I created a chart taking historical app download data from Apple and Google and tried to extrapolate growth trends based on that. Based mostly on exponential growth for the last two quarters, I boldly predicted that Android app downloads would blow past iOS by the end of this year.
In retrospect, it's obvious to see that I was too optimistic. Google hasn't given a count in the last several weeks, but according to AndroLib's real-time counter, 7.2 billion Android apps had been downloaded by December 29 - far lower (and more reasonable) than the 40 billion I thought was possible.
However, my App Store projection, based wholly from Cupertino-announced data, appears nearly spot-on. Apple's App Store is likely to get 10 billion downloads in 2011, leading to a cumulative end of 2011 total of 20 billion downloaded apps. That's pretty close to the 23.7 billion downloads I predicted for the end of January 2012.
I still think it's likely that Android app downloads will overtake App Store downloads. There are just too many devices out there now. Will it happen in 2012? Perhaps.