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.