Technology in 2011 – Year in Review

It was the year of tablets, social, local, mobile, hacks, and the Arab spring

If 2010 was the year of the tablet, 2011 was the year of the Battle of the Tablets. Tablets played a major role in technology in 2011. So did mobile, social and local. Input like touch became the norm, and gesture and natural language recognition took off for real. Social games became mature and started the second wave, and gamification got entered into the dictionary. This is my view of the year 2011 in technology.

Let’s start with tablets. When the iPad came out, there were signs that we would be entering a new era of computing. The market embraced the device and people discovered new needs for computing. 68% of tablet owners use the device at least one hour a day and 2/3 of people use it while watching TV. On conferences, I see most people with tablets or small computers. In fact, 76% of people bought a tablet in addition to a laptop. We have entered the multidevice era where people have many devices. The laptop for work, tablet for work while travelling or couch browsing while watching TV, and smartphone anytime your not using the others.

Having multiple devices means that the cloud became more important. Basically, what you want is to have seamless access to all your data on any device. Apple has iCloud, Microsoft has SkyDrive, Amazon has Cloud Drive. Then there is Dropbox, Carbonite, SugarSync and others. Syncing content between devices is becoming a mature business in this multidevice era. Your profile and data in on online servers is an ongoing trend.

2011 is the year the PC model died. In Steve Jobs’ last keynote early 2011, he introduced Apple’s service iCloud. The interesting thing was that he demoted the PC as the center of the digital universe to be replaced by the cloud. Ten years earlier Jobs had placed the PC in the center, the digital hub. The year 2011 was the end of the PC era that took off commercially with IBM PC in 1981.

Apple continued in 2011 to lead on may fronts. iPad is still dominant with more that 60% market share. However, companies like Google and Samsung are gaining market share, and eReaders like Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble’s Nook are also gaining ground. There is one distinguishing factor between these players: content. Apple has iTunes with music, movies and books. Amazon and Barnes and Nobel have books and much more. Amazon can afford to sell the Kindle Fire with a loss as long as people consume their content. The question in 2012 will be this: will tablet-only makers like Samsung survive?

In the smartphone market, the iPhone 4S proved to be successful update, although many were disappointed not to see iPhone 5. Even if Apple dominated the technology attention in 2011, Google is still the winner in smartphone category. Google actives 700.000 Android devices every day and 3.7 million over Christmas 2011.

With iPhone 4S the era of voice recognition is starting. Voice is not new as input, we have seen voice controlled devices before but with Siri Apple is taking this to a new level. Siri is an engine to understand spoken language. This is a notoriously hard problem to solve. We are now at a point where complex software like this can run on small handheld web connected devices, using web services to construct answers in real-time.

The smartphone losers of the year are Microsoft, Nokia and RIM. Microsoft released Windows Phone 7 but adoption is slow. It took them too long to go from an old and outdated OS to a new industrial strengt OS capable of being a software platform. Nokia was in the same position with Symbian. In February, Stephen Elop, CEO of Nokia made the famous burning platform memo, and joined forces with Microsoft. 2011 was a horrible year for the Blackberry maker. The service was down for days. The timing was even worse since the iPhone 4S was released at the same time. The joke was, what do the people waiting in line to buy 4S have in common? A Blackberry. RIM has secured their place on the Technology Death List.

In social, Facebook reacted to Google’s onslaught with Google+. Google introduced Circles as a way to group your connections with people. The most interesting thing about Google+ was the growth. This was not steady or even exponential growth, more like rocket growth. Some estimates talk about Google plus has over 60 million users at the end of the year. Google’s plan is to integrate this service into all its products like google docs, youtube, pictures, etc. For example, Picasa, the photo album web has been transformed into Google Photos and is now part of the Google plus universe, just like Facebook Photos are just part of Facebook.

One theme of 2011 was streaming. We saw music streamed, movies streamed, and activities stream to name few. Music sites like Pandora, Spotify, and may others  grew in popularity. The model that seems to be emerging is offering tons of music and provide personal and shared playlists to stream music. If you don’t like playlists, just let the service pick the songs based on your listening history or searches. For example, if you like The Horrors, you might like (according to S.C.U.M, Cat’s Eyes, TOY, Spider & The Flies and July. This is the local part of the Solomo buzzword.

Another type of content to stream is movies. Netflix has been growing pretty rapidly until they changed the pricing model. That was too much for many users. Still, Netflix is responsible for 30% of internet traffic during peak times in the US. The interesting lesson from Netflix is the recommendation engine that selects 60% of the titles watched by users. Another example of local.

2011 in technology is an testament of where we are going with the online digital world. We are seeing multiple devices, PC being one of them. These devices are small, light, (relatively) affordable and fast. Cloud services with apps for functionality. New input methods are making the mouse obsolete and new UI designs are making the desktop office metaphor of files and folders obsolete. We have stopped collecting copies and started using algorithms to select our content. Welcome to 2012.

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