John Basso's 2011 Technology Forecast and Predictions
In 2011 we will continue to see many technology trends grow and develop. Even though technology grows and changes extremely quickly, growth is somewhat organic – forming new advances from past ideas and developments, and creating interconnected advances that depend on each other for survival. A lot of what we will see next year will be extensions of current technologies, but there will also be many new and interesting technologies that become mainstream as well.
Below are my predictions about the biggest trends and topics that we will see in 2011.
1. Cloud Computing
Cloud computing was a hot topic during 2010, but was not as widely adopted as many people hoped. Many cloud computing centers (Amazon®, Google® and Microsoft® specifically, but also many others) have increased their capacity to support businesses, as well as mostly resolved underlying security and privacy concerns.
In 2011, expect to see many more businesses actually transition their IT infrastructure to the cloud. This will also be a product of improved high speed connectivity (discussed later), but also less hesitation by business decision makers to reduce on-site IT infrastructure in preference for a generally more stable and scalable solution.
2. High Speed Connectivity
This year we have seen a major push for high speed Internet access. From Google's broadband project, the FCC "whitespaces" ruling which will allow for long range wireless Internet devices, and the currently increasing availability of 4G networks, these allow users to have extremely fast access to information.
This will allow for a new breed of mobile devices, as well as a new breed of mobile apps that can provide productivity and information services across vast geographical regions.
3. Computers Everywhere
Most people do not realize how many computers they actually own. Not just appliances that include circuitry, but have the ability to process information and make decisions based on that information. This may include DVRs, security systems, gaming systems, health monitoring devices, and utility management devices (such as smart thermostats, electricity monitoring systems, smart water heaters, etc). But computers are even more common than that. In fact, on average people who own a tablet computer (such as the iPad®), own at least six other Internet connected devices.
Moving outside of our homes, computers are also increasingly prevelent. They are used for automated traffic monitoring, monitoring important infrastructure such as bridges and tunnels, and remotely managing all kinds of systems such as irrigation and agriculture.
So what will be different in 2011? As high speed Internet connectivity improves, combined with improved data collection software systems, these devices will be able to transmit real time information to data centers and allow for improved data collection. This will give companies the ability to run real-time analytics and respond in real time to changing conditions, which increases efficiency and helps for better forecasting. For example, utilities can use this information to predict exact power needs and thereby serve you much more efficiently.
4. Privacy and Data Monitoring
Having computers everywhere can have its downsides too. We have seen a lot of controversy this year about Google's Street View service which seeks to photograph every street, path, trail, and park. Of course this service can be very helpful for travelling, but the visibility of the service also raises some privacy concerns. However, as we integrate more powerful monitoring systems and connect them to the web, we will not be able to see or know what data is gathered, and currently there are no systems in place to opt out.
For example, home electric monitoring systems can decipher which appliances you are using based off of electricity use and the dissonance they put back into the grid. This allows utilities to help provide electricity more efficiently in the case of shortages, but it also gives them a wealth of data on what appliances you use and when you use them.
What is most troubling about these types of monitoring is that it is often unclear to the user exactly what data is gathered, and what will be done with that data. Its fine that they use this type of information to improve their services, but are we comfortable with them selling that information to marketers or others – for example, selling the information that you are using an old inefficient refrigerator. It's not exactly a privacy breach, but it is still in an uncomfortable gray zone.
The other issue that will come up more prominently next year is that if legitimate companies can do this for legitimate reasons, what can other people do? Theoretically monitoring power cycles could let would-be robbers know when you are not home, or even know what type of TV you have and whether other electronics are worth stealing.
Of course that would be in extreme cases only, and hardly mainstream anytime soon, but it will be a topic that will arise much more prominently in 2011: What do we let companies do with all of our data that they collect?
5. Power Concerns
In 2011 power will also be a concern in other ways. Specifically, with the proliferation of computers, businesses are faced with quickly growing energy costs. This has spurred a large effort to create low-power equipment.
Many companies with large data centers and IT systems are on the edge of energy density limitations which means that they cannot legally consume more electricity without either expanding their space, or receiving special exemptions. Also, with the rising cost of electricity, IT managers are beginning to seriously consider power consumption as a selling point in any new purchase, along with speed and processing power.
6. Proliferation of Mobile Data
The Smartphone market is expanding at an incredible rate, however the app market is still in its infancy. Despite the 200,000 apps on the iPhone™ app store, there are still only a few business and productivity applications, and syncing with even the most popular office systems can be challenging.
However, it is fascinating to see how Smartphones are adapting with their own set of software types and apps that provide very specific uses. For example, you would almost never use a laptop at the airport to check flight times because it would be too cumbersome unless you already had it out and open. However, a small niche app makes checking times extremely quick and easy so you could even do it while running to your gate.
A few years ago it did not make sense for companies to invest in mobile software as only a tiny portion of users would be able to benefit from the software. In 2011, it will be unusual for a company to not have a mobile app, or at the very least a website or web app optimized for mobile devices.
Currently it is a bit challenging to make enterprise-level applications for Smartphones as Apple's® app store submission rules make acceptance very challenging, and Google™'s Android™ is very fragmented and it is hard to do quality testing for all available Android devices. However, Windows® Phone 7 is oriented toward very easy and natural integration with companies and especially business users, and Windows Phone 7 development is already very well supported, making it a preferable option for businesses once the phones gain a larger marketshare, which I predict they will in 2011.
7. Rethinking Outsourcing
Working in custom software development, we see a wide variety of people and projects. This includes everything from helping startup entrepreneurs create a proof of concept, to building large scale enterprise applications. However, one thing we have noticed is that we rescue a lot of outsourced projects from overseas developers.
Even though a lot of technology manufacturing is done oversees, one thing that the US is known for is quality engineering, especially when it comes to software programming and other high tech engineering positions. Coincidentally, development prices have also remained fairly steady in the US even though they have grown exponentially overseas, especially in India and China. This is causing many companies to rethink outsourcing in preference to the quality they receive from domestic development companies.
In other words, the last few years have started to show a reduced cost savings for offshoring, and many companies are finding better overall cost savings by staying with experienced domestic developers, once quality and ongoing support are factored in.
8. Treating Data Seriously
Another trend that will begin to take off in 2011 will be how we treat the data we gather. At this point companies have invested heavily into creating measurement tools, but as those tools become integrated into the business process, managers will be able to extract data from them at near real-time.
Real-time analytics can be a huge boost and benefit throughout all aspects of a business. Of course, we'll still have the legendary quarterly and monthly reports, but also being able to work through data as it is happening provides enormous insights and benefits to a company.
Processing vast amounts of data might be done with configurable software, or may require a custom data management application, but companies are already beginning to realize the value of real-time information to help them inform decisions, prevent problems, and increase sales.
Among the developer community, Microsoft® Silverlight® is an amazing product, but it rarely receives as much press or recognition as Adobe®'s Flash®. In web application development, we often hear about this battle between HTML and Flash. On the one hand, you can make a site using HTML and AJAX, or something similar, or you can make a site in Flash.
Flash has its benefits; it is very pretty, fairly easy to work with and debug, but it also has compatibility and performance issues, and isn't friendly to search engines in the world of SEO. The trouble is that in most cases, it is a choice of either HTML or Flash, unless you have the resources to do both.
Silverlight provides the benefit of being a good middle ground. It is excellent for streaming media and other Flash-like elements, but also maintains a "desktop" familiarity much like HTML, which makes it a great middle choice. Silverlight's adaptive streaming ability makes it ideal for streaming HD content, which is why it is used by Netflix, the Olympics and many others.
The next year will be very good for Silverlight as it is an integral part of Windows Phone 7, which may help it become even more mainstream. Silverlight is based off of .NET which makes it accessible to many developers, although there is a large and growing pool of developers who specialize in Silverlight.
Tablets are an interesting piece of technology. They have been around for years, but never really taken hold except in niche professional uses because the tablets were rather bulky, had poor processing power, and battery life problems.
Now over the last few years, we have a new class of eReaders, and a whole bunch of upcoming tablets to compete with the iPad™. However, tablets such as the iPad still have yet to define their place among the computing market, but 2011 may be their year.
Currently, the iPad and similar tablets have yet to find their place among serious business users, although the potential is certainly there. For example, some criticize the iPad as too incompatible with peripherals to make it very useful in business or productivity applications. Also, most people use it simply to read and view media, which relegates it to basically a fancy and expensive e-reader. Although it is also used for games, but still it is a very expensive gaming platform. Some argue that its benefit is that it does a little bit of everything, but it still loses out to dedicated devices on a use-for-use basis (meaning that it doesn't beat e-readers for reading, gaming systems for gaming, or business tablets for doing business).
The problem is not usually with the hardware, but rather with the software. This next year will see a lot more intelligent applications specifically designed for tablets that help bridge the gap and make them more useful (or preferable to use) in many situations. For example, any industry that uses a clipboard or has you fill out paperwork (such as the doctor's office, building inspectors, etc) could use dedicated applications.
What do you think?
I've listed some of my own thoughts, but what do you think will be the big trends and technologies in 2011? Feel free to leave your bold predictions and thoughts in the comments section below.