Technology Predictions For 2011
iPad, Android. Facebook, Twitter. 3D, HD. Who will be the big technology winners and losers of 2011? Will it be an old friend like Apple or Google? Or will it be a new kid on the block? At the rate technology is changing it's anybody's guess.
If this past year is anything to go by, 2011 will be anything but predictable.
And yet we can at least hazard a guess -- based on early signs -- as to which technology companies will flop and which will fly in 2011.
A clear leader in tech this year is Apple -- buoyed by the hugely successful launch of the iPad, Apple became the largest technology company in the world measured by market capitalization in 2010.
The popularity of the tablet form factor, meanwhile, has brought new possibilities -- in particular, new ways to consume content.
A first-mover in the "iPad magazine" space is Flipboard: Backed by more than $10 million in venture capital, the company has attracted early-adopter buzz for its innovative method of presenting Web content in magazine form.
In 2011, thanks to the iPad's rise and partnerships with mainstream media outlets, we can expect Flipboard to be a breakout hit. Think of it as the "Angry Birds" of news apps.
Early adopters in Silicon Valley have also found a new love for mobile photo sharing in the latter part of 2010.
iPhone photography app Instagr.am, which launched just 10 weeks ago, claimed this week to have surpassed 1 million downloads. The service, which emphasizes simplicity and makes it easy to share your photos on social networks, looks set for a stellar 2011.
Super-simple blogging also saw a growth spurt at the end of 2010: Tumblr, a 3-year-old New York startup, now serves more than 3 billion page views per month according to analytics service Quantcast.
The company is on track to "cross the chasm" to mainstream appeal next year.
Groupon too will likely take its chances on the public markets, although I'm yet to be convinced that the daily deals site will continue its growth rate forever. Likewise, gaming company Zynga looks set to go public in 2011, although its fortunes are still largely dependent on its relationship with Facebook.
Facebook's fortune, meanwhile, couldn't be better. While I don't think the company will IPO next year, its "Like" buttons will allow the company to seize control of the so-called "interest graph." In plain English, Facebook will understand both our social connections and our interests, providing the holy grail of targeted advertising.
Look out, too, for Facebook deals: The company is perfectly positioned to become a leader in local coupons and offers.
Spotting the duds is perhaps more challenging than picking the winners -- after all, a well-funded company has plenty of time to change tack when things aren't going well. And yet, a number of new and upcoming services seem destined for trouble in 2011.
The number of tasks you can complete on a Web-only computer is somewhat limiting and unless the devices carrying the operating system are both extremely affordable and highly desirable, it's hard to see why consumers would choose this option over a tablet device or a fully-fledged $300 netbook.
While this is likely to take the form of a social layer integrated into all of Google's services, rather than a fully-fledged Facebook competitor, Google has so far proven itself unable to build compelling social services.
While we're on the topic of Facebook rivals, the much-hyped social networking effort Diaspora, which gained national press attention thanks to its focus on privacy, won't garner a single newspaper headline in 2011. The site's early code has been panned by bloggers, and it seems highly unlikely that Diaspora has what it takes to rival one of the world's most popular websites.
More social struggles: RockMelt, a "social" browser that launched last month has Silicon Valley abuzz thanks to the backing of Netscape founder Marc Andreessen.
But we've seen the "social browser" before: It's name was Flock, a company you've likely never heard of. In a world where social networking means logging in to Facebook, there's no pent-up desire for a social browser -- in 2011, RockMelt will either change course or melt away.
For a few young upstarts, 2011 hangs in the balance: They have what it takes to succeed, but without a change of direction they could stumble.
Take, for instance, question and answer service Quora. Almost every influential technologist in Silicon Valley uses the service religiously -- and that's Quora's problem.
The company is at risk of becoming the next FriendFeed, a social search and sharing service which early adopters fawned over, but which never achieved mainstream success.
To succeed in 2011, Quora must reach beyond the Silicon Valley crowd and expand its appeal to a much broader audience. The good news for Quora: Even if it fails at this goal, the company will likely be acquired purely for its engineering talent. (FriendFeed, too, sold for a good sum despite a lack of market traction.)
Path, an iPhone app that became one of the most eagerly awaited launches of 2010, is in a similar predicament. The company's current product -- a mobile social network that limits your friends to just 50 -- is undifferentiated and unlikely to see much uptake even among early-adopters.
And yet Path could easily make the jump into a much hotter market. Mobile photo sharing is set to be a major growth market in 2011, and a slight pivot could see Path riding that wave to success.
For the vast majority of Web companies, however, 2011 will be a typical year: Some successes, plenty of disasters, and a great deal of hard work.