2012 is over and what a year it was for technology. The smartphone market began to mature and the tablet market started to go mainstream. We saw the rise of multiple consumer level 3-D printers, a social media take over and a hint at the future of computing. Let take a look at a few of the biggest "fumbles" of 2012 and what we can except from the "big 3" in 2013.
The Nexus Q was a weird product that came out of last years Google's big conference (Google I/O). On one hand, it's a beautifully designed black orb with subtle lighting around it's perimeter and on the other hand, WTF does it do? Google calls it, "the first social streaming media player". Yeah, I'm not sure if the world was clamoring for this functionality (based on sales and its discontinuation, we weren't). I'm not sure who or what market Google was trying to target with the Nexus Q but it clearly missed the mark. It cost $300, and only played media from the Google Play store & Youtube. Those two things alone made it a non-starter for most people.
iOS 6 (Maps) was probably the biggest hit Apple has taken publicly since the release of iOS, even more so than Antenna-Gate. Granted the fever for Apple to fail has been bubbling for most of the year throughout the technorati. Apple has gotten so big and has been so successful in the past 5 years that they are hyper-scrutinized and expected to fall from grace at any time now.
On the other hand, Apple Maps was broken, in sometimes obvious places all over the world. With the resources Apple has and it's history of releasing highly polished software experiences, customers expected at least as good of a Maps experience they had with the outdated Google Maps if not better. The Maps app while better in most respects compared to the old Google Maps app, (minus transit info and street-view) it struggled at the basic, yet incredibly technical feat of giving proper directions.
The Pebble, the watch that changed everything….at least that's what we thought. After raising over $10 Million on Kickstarter earlier in the year, lots of people proclaimed crowd funding would be the future of raising money for small companies with great ideas. While in theory this is true, we have to remember the high-risk that comes with crowd funding. There are no guarantees that the product you paid for in advance will ever ship. Having a great idea is just the first step, manufacturing, testing etc. all have to be considered when releasing hi-tech products.
Pebble showed there is a market for wearable technology that supplements the computers/phones that are in our pockets/bags. Unfortunately by the time the Pebble is finally released you can bet one of the larger tech giants (Apple, Google) will have a product out or coming soon that will do everything the Pebble does and more. With all of the success comes the pressure to produce and Pebble's stumble out of the gate not only reflects negatively on Kickstarter but on other upstarts looking for crowd funding.
What To Expect In 2013
Google is an interesting position. They have their hands in so many areas of tech but their bread and butter is still in search. On that front they're still doing pretty good. The concerns with the future of mobile advertising via Android, and search on iOS are real but nothing that can't be addressed in 2013. Android is as popular as ever but the only device maker that's making any money is Samsung. This could hurt Google in the long run as Samsung may do what Amazon has done with the Kindle Fire and fork Android into its own OS to further distinguish themselves. Shedding any reminiscences of the Android brand and further isolating Android, opening the door for Microsoft with former Android manufacturers.
On the iOS front they've been knocking it out of the park when it comes to software. The Gmail, Youtube, and Google Maps apps are beautifully designed, highly functional and supplanting a lot of core Apple apps on many iPhones. I do think one area that could bite Google in the long term is Siri. If Apple can get Siri's success rate 15-25% higher, along with greater functionality (shopping, Siri API, general info) with iOS 7 those queries will start eating into Google's search results. However Google does have somewhat of an answer to Siri with Google Now and Google Voice search on iOS. Google Voice search allows for Siri like search queries in a stand alone app on iOS. Google Now is different than Siri in many respects. While Siri is passive and helps you with specific task, Google Now is actively predicting information it thinks you want in real time. While Google Now is amazing technology that will continue to evolve I'm afraid as more people get Android 4.1 Google may eventually run into privacy fears. Google Now still doesn't address the issue of iPhone users using Siri instead of Google on their iOS devices for search. This could have serious implications in the near future if Apple can breath more life into Siri.
Google's Project Glass aka Google Glasses are set to make their debut sometime this year with developers and publicly by 2014. Will this be the beginning of the next step of wearable computers? We've seen lots of fitness orientated wearable computers last year (Nike fuel band, Fitbit), will Google (or Apple) take the leap in 2013?
I'm also curious to what Google has planned for TV/Home Automation as that area begins to heat up between Apple, Microsoft and now Intel. I gotta believe Google has something more planned in the TV realm.
Microsoft, once the Goliath of the tech industry is lately looking like the young scrappy company trying to get into a market (mobile) it missed 5 years ago. With the reboot of Windows 8 to a touch focused OS and the launch of two new platforms, Windows Phone 8 & Windows RT Microsoft is in the fight of its life to get a foot hold in mobile. Entering into 2013 battling RIM for 3rd place it's not going to be easy. Just as they've finished up thier big holiday campaign, with moderate success, Blackberry 10 is about to be released in the coming weeks. Microsoft will have to keep pushing Windows 8 PC's & devices hoping RIM doesnt dazzle with their new mobile OS. I'd expect Microsoft to announce a Surface Phone this year with software that somehow takes advantage of their secret weapon, the Next Xbox.
The most popular brand Microsoft owns isn't Windows or even Office, it's Xbox. And you can believe Microsoft will continue to try to rub off some of that Xbox cool onto Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8. I expect the "Next-Xbox" to be an even bigger media juggernaut in the living room as well as scratching all the itches for gamers, hardcore and casual. But make no mistake, the purpose of the Xbox is to keep you spending time in the Microsoft ecosystem regardless if they're games, movies or TV shows. I'd be shocked if the Next-Xbox OS didn't mirror Windows 8/RT to continue their continuity theme. Their biggest problem is as familiar as it looks, its still confusing. Microsoft wanted to make the Windows device family all share the same "metro" home screen to make switching from device a smoother experience. The problem is they all run different software from multiple app stores. This can be incredibly confusing for the average user, not to mention the difference between Surface RT and Pro. Hopefully this will be addressed in the near future. If I buy a Windows 8 app on my PC, I should be able to use it on my Windows Surface RT and my Windows 8 Phone (if applicable). Too be fair, Apple has a somewhat similar issue with the division of the Mac Store and the iOS store. One store across all platforms is what I'm hoping to see in 2013.
With all the rumors, wishlist and predictions everyone is expecting an Apple TV (in some form) in 2013. Will it be an actual television set or an improved set top box or both, no one knows. Whatever Apple does with their "hobby" it seems to be gearing up to be unveiled sometime this year. There hasn't been a better time to watch television but the way in which we get our favorite shows is cumbersome, annoying, and sometimes just plain inconvenient. It should not be more convenient to pirate my shows and have them available whenever/wherever I want them even though I'm paying to watch them. At the very least I see Apple opening up an API/App Store, that allows developers to produce highly functional second screen apps specifically for the Apple TV in 2013.
Software/services has been the Achilles heal for Apple in the past 18 months. In the next year they are going to have to show that they have a handle on Maps, Siri, iCloud and any future services that are launched from here on out. They not only have to improve what they have but at least catch up if not surpass the functionality that Google is providing in a lot of areas on their own devices. I'm sure Apple doesn't mind having 3rd party developers providing great software on their platform but for some of the more bread and butter items, Apple probably wants to be the standard bearer at least for the majority of their uses.
People are hoping Jony Ive makes major visual changes in the next version of iOS with his new role as software & hardware design leader. I wouldn't hold my breath. There may be subtle changes here and there but I'm guessing this year is going to be feature focused and improving what is already there. It would be nice to have a fresh coat of paint on iOS this year but making major changes to UI is risky when you have a relatively happy user base. Just ask Microsoft.
Will Apple release some type of wearable device this year? There have been rumors of Apple teaming up with Intel(?) to make a watch. While an Apple watch sounds like a likely move with the hoopla over the Pebble last year, however the Intel partnership sounds like BS. I'm not sure if an actual watch makes since or if it's some type of newly designed band that displays important data and information. A device that can sync with your iPhone and send messages, notifications, calls and Siri for $100- $199 would sale like hot cakes. It could also be Apple's "next big thing" that everyone expects from them every few years and the eventual successor to the iPhone.