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Summary:

This year I am doing something a bit different than I have done in the past. Rather than make shotgun predictions covering a wide mobile tech range, this year I am going to offer up what I think will be the three biggest things in mobile […]

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This year I am doing something a bit different than I have done in the past. Rather than make shotgun predictions covering a wide mobile tech range, this year I am going to offer up what I think will be the three biggest things in mobile tech for next year. These three predictions may surprise you, and they cover the Apple Tablet (or lack thereof), the Google Computer and the smartphonification of the mainstream.

No Apple Tablet in 2010. Why do I think that Apple will not release the long-rumored, oft-discussed magical tablet? Let me back up a bit and qualify that statement. I don’t believe Apple will release the iTablet (or whatever it would be called) until very late 2010 at the earliest. If it shows up at all it will be too late to make any impact in 2010. I can not remember ever having a single product generate so much speculation and rumors about its features, pricing and even a rumor that it is delayed. I don’t know how a product that doesn’t exist and has not been announced can be late. Only in the mobile tech world.

So why will the famed tablet not appear? I believe that Apple wants to release such a tablet, but have discovered that it is incredibly difficult to do so and do it right. Steve Jobs has long made it clear that producing a product without a keyboard is not something Apple would do. I think that for an Apple tablet to hit the market it must address the sticky problem of text input without a keyboard. I don’t believe that the smart people at Apple have figured out how to handle long text entries without a keyboard any better than Microsoft. Apple knows that to release a tablet it must be ground-breaking, or it will be compared to the Microsoft Tablet PC. The Tablet PC has not set the world on fire, and it has a few years headstart; Apple must surpass it by a long shot out of the box.

Apple will have to surprise and innovate its way into a giant tablet launch, and that’s what they will do. I just don’t think they will be ready to do that next year, and to be fair, their position in various markets is so good there’s no rush. We enthusiasts are in a hurry to see the tablet, but frankly Apple can take its time and do it right.

Google Computers will appear, maybe even for free. Google shook up the tech world with the recent announcement of the Chrome OS. This OS is basically a browser on a netbook, with few frills. Google is using the Chrome OS to show that its cloud is the way to go for mainstream consumers. The browser is enough, in other words.

The tech community is already decrying the limits of a “super-browser”, but where Chrome OS is going to set things on its ear is through the mainstream. Google is going to aim Chrome right at the non-techie crowd, and they will do so through the offering next year of the “Google Computer.” To Aunt Sally and Uncle Leo these systems are not going to be “netbooks” or “Web computers”, they are simply going to be Google Computers. They will do all the things that regular folks want them to do, and right out of the box.

I believe the Google Computers will be sold in mainstream retail outlets like Target and Wal-Mart. Google will get some heavyweight partners to build them, and they will price them as low as $100. How will they do that? Through advertising that Google can do in the Chrome browser in a way that consumers are already used to seeing. Let’s face it, Google ads are already all over the web, and it will be quite easy for Google and partners to put them throughout the Google Computer experience. Google has a huge web presence, and I foresee special ad-supported versions of Google sites that will be dished up to computers identified as “Google Computers”. For a free or near free computer, Sally and Leo will be happy to put up with them.

Smartphone adoption will start driving down data plan costs. The gap between the smartphone and featurephone is already narrowing tremendously. Next year I believe that more consumers than ever will demand the ability to interact fully with the mobile web on their phones. Smartphone sales will continue to skyrocket, and carriers are going to realize that they must make the mobile web available at low cost, or lose customers to competitors.

Mainstream consumers don’t care about “smartphones”, or any other technical designation. They just want their phone to do the things they want to do on the web, and they will demand it at a reasonable cost. Next year we will start to see major carriers making pricing concessions on data plans. They won’t do it willingly, but will do it to keep customers from deserting to competitors. There will likely be a carrier that is willing to go first in this regard, and this carrier will offer a web phone with a decent monthly cost. This will open the floodgates to others following suit.

Mainstream consumers have never expressed an interest in surfing the web on their phones, but the acceptance of social networks like Twitter, Facebook and MySpace have pushed the web to the must-have list of phone features. Carriers will grudgingly accept that, and figure out ways to generate revenue other than the data plan.

  1. I remember a few years ago there was a Company in the UK ‘giving away’ PCs in return for users watching a set number of ads, every half hour I think. It was a disaster.

    Now, that failed because of very intrusive advertising. If Google could easily put ads seamlessly into the experience then that model may work. However, Geeks HATE ads ;-) and regular folks like what they are comfortable with, and that is Windows. For now anyway…let’s see what transpires.

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    1. I’m envisioning a very laid-back approach. Example- you run a Google search and get a results page, with simple ads already. That same search on a Google Computer, instead of showing the other paid ads, shows ads for the h/w manufacturer as part of Google’s deal. User sees no more ads than usual, just selective due to the subsidized computer. Simple yet effective, and nobody feels assaulted.

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  2. Why do you need good keyboard for a color eReader? Make no sense. Kindle has a garbage keyboard too.

    Tablet as a “computer” has a way smaller market than the eReader market.

    As for my google prediction, they will flip the switch and let you know Chrome and android are basically the same thing.

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    1. Tablets can be good ereaders, but not necessarily the other way around.

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  3. At this point of time, I am not able to see the price of data plans going down significantly due to simple inter-telco competition alone. I would love it if that happens, but I just don’t see it happening. Established telcos will need something drastic to push them in that direction.

    Going by the established telco mindset, they will see increased demand for data services from more and more customers as nothing but a cash cow to be milked to the max. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the telcos tried to look for ways to increase data service charges.

    Wanna take a bet, JK? :-)

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    1. Curtis Carmack Tuesday, December 8, 2009

      I would ordinarily agree that the telcos if anything would try to raise prices on data as much more of it is consumed by the average user. In this case, however, I’m finding myself agreeing with JK, based on a few data points. First, there is increasing competition already from the telcos’ own wholesalers. E.g., Verizon is providing the voice and data service behind Walmart’s Straight Talk. For $45 per month the users get unlimited talk, messaging, and data. With a couple of semi-decent phones available for consuming that data, one can see how this could become very attractive to consumers.

      This will put downward pressure on the likes of TMobile, which will then come around to Sprint, then AT&T, then Verizon. I do think prices are coming down in 2010. On the other hand, it may all be wishful thinking on my part as my AT&T contract expires in 2010. I will certainly be considering prepaid for the first time!

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      1. I’m gonna chime in here with a third opinion, not necessarily disagreeing with either of you. Whether they lower or increase prices, the problem of that 5GB cap is still a deal-breaker for me. I’ve said many times already that these caps should be eliminated, or plans priced accordingly that allow greater usage.

        Many telcos in Europe offer broadband plans that are also capped, but those caps go out to 7GB and 14GB, including pay-as-you-go plans. It’s unfortunate that US carriers fail to offer the level of choice folks in Europe have, but continue to shamelessly milk US customers for minimum-grade service.

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  4. i hope your second and third predictions come true. however, i think 2010 is the year of the tablet, http://bit.ly/6fwLIS

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    1. I hope I am wrong on the Apple tablet. I am so interested to see what they will do with it.

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  5. Here you go, from Gigaom’s blog network:
    http://gigaom.com/2009/12/09/att-exec-stop-streaming-dammit/

    Quote: Noting that roughly 3 percent of AT&T users generate 40 percent of the traffic on the network, de la Vega spoke of offering “incentives” to get users to curb their data habits. Those “incentives,” though, may come in the form of stiffer fees or higher changes for downloading information during business hours — what’s known as congestion pricing for mobile broadband.

    I stand by my earlier comments that telcos are not going to make data access cheaper any time soon. At least not in 2010. The only thing that will cause them to lower data access rates is something totally unexpected and innovative that they can’t control. Like may be super-cheap broadband access on WiMax or the white spaces, backed by a big company like Google.

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