2012 might be the most pivotal year in technology market developments in the past quarter century, with ramifications that may not be fully felt until the end of the decade, according to the International Data Corporation's (IDC’s) annual trends prediction report. In fact, the year will be so pivotal, IDC titled the report "Competing for 2020."
“Absolutely, it's a hearkening back to the mid-1980s,” says Frank Gens, IDC's senior vice president and chief analyst. “In that wave, the edge device was the PC, and all the other technologies supporting it came in at the same time—relational databases, LAN/Ethernet technologies, and, of course, the client-server application architecture built on top of that.
“It seems very clear right now that we are going from that, what we call the second platform, to the beginning of the third platform. The edge devices are now obviously mobile devices. The new delivery architecture is going to be from the cloud, instead of client-server, and the scale of use is going to be much higher.”
And, Gens says, the technology companies that emerged triumphant out of the second platform, such as Microsoft, Intel, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Oracle, and SAP, will have to strategically treat 2012 as the first mile of a marathon in order to avoid by 2020 joining the ranks of defunct companies such as Wang and Digital Equipment Corporation that failed to aggressively adopt to the second platform in the 1980s. Paramount in those strategies will be satisfying the development community.
“2012 will be the most important year for them to build their presence as a platform in the cloud, for developers,” Gen says. “Any developer of a new solution with half a brain has to be looking at the cloud because of its speed of development and low marginal cost for broad market reach. So, all those guys who had developer ecosystems in the client-server world, particularly Microsoft, have to give developers a strong destination in the cloud. That's the most valuable real estate in the next 20 years in the IT market.”
The IDC report also predicts sales of mobile and tablet units will more than double that of PCs, with 895 million mobile devices shipping compared to less than 400 million PCs. At least as important, IDC thinks, 2012 will be the first year in which spending from these devices (U.S. $277 billion) exceeds that for PCs ($257 billion), growing at 23%—almost five times PC spending growth. By 2020, IDC predicts, the third platform architecture will combine for 80% of all IT spending growth.
Gens sees several important questions emerging along with the mobile boom, including how successfully emerging device manufacturers can emulate Apple's user-friendly design. In particular, IDC sees low-cost device manufacturers such as China's ZTE introducing low-end “smartphone lite” devices at lower prices than Apple's iPhone.
“The question is, Can these guys who make low-end devices still have that beautiful design, or will they get it from the engineering standpoint and still not get the art?” he says. “If they get it right, an iPhone knockoff that sells for less than $100 retail without a contract has serious implications for Apple.”
Social Media Needs Fast Pipes
Gens says 2012 will also be the year in which the fusing of social media and deep data analytics will begin to merge in earnest into sophisticated “socialytics” platforms, as businesses begin to mine user-generated content to gauge sentiment about products and services, as well as provide new channels for employee and partner communication via social platforms.
“It's starting to really be put in as a new thread running through all these different business processes—linking human beings, not just databases and apps,” he says.
The coming year to 18 months will also see the market for smart appliances and objects, what the IDC report calls “Twitter for your toaster,” expand to some 3.5 billion networked devices such as cars, thermostats, and appliances, as well as municipal services such as parking availability, managed by microblogging-type interfaces.
IDC also predicts 2012 to be a year in which network operators and “over-the-top” application providers will tussle over revenue models, with network operators attempting to implement a consumption-based model rather than the existing flat fee; such plans are likely to face regulatory hurdles, however, if they appear to be quashing new video channels.
Gens says the entire third platform paradigm is absolutely dependent on these network pipes, both wired and wireless, getting faster and stronger.
“That's the Achilles heel of this whole vision of ubiquitous cloud and mobile services; if there's a network in crisis, the whole thing collapses,” he says. “It will be interesting to see whether a funding model where the over-the-top providers have to play a more active role emerge–the Kindle is one model, where Amazon is basically paying the network bill for their Kindle customers because they are ringing up a lot of register receipts over those devices.”
Gens says the necessity for bulletproof networks may induce more public-sector investment, especially in emerging markets, which must invest in the third platform technologies even without having a large second platform foundation.
“I would not be surprised to see much more active involvement by government, a public-private partnership, because it's hard to imagine 21st century national economies that do not have robust broadband infrastructure, both wired and wireless,” he says. “That's almost like saying you don't have running water or electricity.”
More 2012 Predictions
If you want more expert information about what technologically lies ahead for us, here are links to predictions and trends reports from Deloitte, Gartner, Sans Institute, and Verizon.
Deloitte: Top 10 Technology Trends for 2012, click here.
Gartner: 2012 Predictions, click here.
Sans Institute: Security Predictions 2012 & 2013, click here.
Verizon: Top 10 Business Technology Trends, click here.
Gregory Goth is an Oakville, CT, writer who specializes in science and technology.
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