Top 10 Fearless Tech Forecasts for 2011 — Part 1

Just what will the IT industry bring in 2011? The end of the year always inspires the great guessing game of the big trends lurking on the horizon, so asked some of the leading tech pundits and analysts to read the tea leaves. Here is the first of a two-part series looking ahead to the major currents they expect to see take shape over the next year.

Social Media — Fail?

“Look for marketing’s love affair with social media to give way in 2011 to the sobering reality that a Facebook fan page and Twitter account don’t solve problems of poor products or positioning. Stories of social media failures will become more frequent as practitioners realize that customer conversations are time-consuming to maintain and that peer conversations present as many problems as they do opportunities.

Social media analyst and author Paul Gillin. Paul’s latest book, Social Marketing to the Business Customer, is due out next month.

Tablet Contenders and Pretenders

“The rise of 4G networks is going to give developers the ability to create new and better services so, for example, voice recognition on your phone will just happen in like a tenth of a second versus the three seconds it takes using Dragon Dictate on mobile device. It’s going to feel more like these services are in your phone, rather than coming from the outside, because of the faster speeds.

“There are going to be a lot more tablet devices released and Apple will probably double iPad sales in 2011. Google’s partners will finally ship pads that actually work well, but I still expect to see a lot of pretenders at CES next month.

“But even the legitimate iPad challengers will have to contend with the iPad 2, which I expect to have a sharper screen, front facing camera for FaceTime video conferencing and probably a very convenient VoIP service. I wouldn’t be surprised if Steve Jobs does some kind of pre-launch iPad 2 event in January, even though it may not ship till March, just to tweak what Google and Microsoft do at CES.

“Once all these new pads hit the market it won’t take long before people will start to wonder how they ever got along without them. Also, before the end of next year you can expect to see a lot of new accessories for iPhones and iPads for fitness, wellness and health medical monitoring — that’s an area that’s going to see a lot of activity.”

Richard Doherty, co-founder and director of The Envisioneering Group

The Rise of Media-Centric Apps

“2011 will be the year of processors with integrated graphics, at least in the PC segment. The year starts out with Intel’s Sandy Bridge followed by AMD’s Fusion release, so that by the time the year is done most systems people buy will have processors with integrated graphics. There are still going to be discrete graphics to boost performance for those that need it at the high end, but integrated graphics on the CPU means developers and ISVs will be able to do some pretty innovative applications that would have run too slow on the typical PCs in use today.

“This is going to be cause for joy among casual gamers, but the reason these GPUs are interesting is about more than making games run better, because they are also going to enable new media-centric applications, much better performance for things like video editing and new interfaces. We’re talking about PCs getting the kind of 50 to 100 gigaflop performance that you’d only find on a supercomputer just a few years ago.

“PC performance improves every year, but this is one of those significant times when there’s a huge increment in performance and that usually leads to great innovation by the software guys. And it’s coming at an important time because thin clients, tablets and other mobile devices are getting more powerful and for the PC to maintain its relevance, it has to do things those devices can’t do.”

Nathan Brookwood, principal analyst, Insight64.

The Year of the Superphone

“We’re going to continue to see the ongoing push into the cloud. Also, you’re going to a lot more movement away from the desktop with the influx of tablets and smartphones. It’s going to be the year of the superphone, as the first big wave of dual-core smartphones hits the market. These phones are going to do more of what we’ve come to expect from PCs in terms of multitasking because they will have enough horsepower. If you look at the major complaints about the iPhone and even the new Windows Phone 7 devices, it’s that they don’t multitask well or only selectively. But now you’ll be able to run music or movies in the background or whatever you want to do that was too slow before.

“What’s also going to be an interesting trend in 2011 is that more companies are going to drop their PBXs and landline phones in favor of letting employees use cell phones. Some of the PBX systems are really old and in need of a refresh, but the adoption of smartphones could put a monkey wrench in the convergence strategies of companies like Cisco, because if everyone has a cell phone, the need for VoIP services drops off dramatically.

“I also think wider video conferencing adoption is going to continue to be hampered by a lack of interoperability. Apple’s FaceTime on the iPhone got a lot of play this year, but it only talks to other iPhones. And Cisco talks to Cisco, HP’s Halo talks to other Halo systems. We seem to be going backwards in terms of interoperability and that’s why the industry will remain stalled.”

Rob Enderle, principal analyst, The Enderle Group

A Major Big Iron Shift

“Though it may offend some traditionalists, applications are becoming the primary defining factor in enterprise IT solutions. That’s certainly apparent in products like IBM’s Smart Analytics Systems and Oracle’s Exadata, which depend on highly integrated applications and middleware to maximize system and analytics performance.

“But it’s also clear in the way that software firms and executives dominated IT industry news in 2010. Larry Ellison may resemble Horatio Hornblower to his followers and Captain Queeg to his detractors, but his commanding presence has helped Oracle create and maintain a larger industry and media presence than many much larger competitors. Other firms have also made significant, software-focused shifts: HP replaced its erring CEO Mark Hurd with former SAP CEO Leo Apotheker, while IBM unified its hardware and software divisions under long time Software Group Senior Vice President Steve Mills.

“In a sense, enterprise IT is shifting away from its Big Iron past toward a Big Code future. You would think, then, that software firms in general and those catering to larger organizations would be in clover, but that’s not necessarily the case. Oracle’s vision of highly vertically-integrated solutions may make great sense for the company, but seems rather bleak for even its largest traditional partners (including HP, which earned Ellison’s wrath for summarily dismissing Hurd).

“Other vendors including IBM are far more inclusionary of partners than Oracle, but as M&A-related [activity] continues racing at a fevered pace, one can’t help thinking that by the end of 2011 enterprise IT will be a considerably different place than it is today. With that in mind, businesses large and small would be wise to hedge their bets and not become too attached to any thoroughbred IT vendor, no matter how good he or she may look on paper.”

Charles King, principal analyst and founder, Pund-IT

David Needle is the West Coast bureau chief at, the news service of, the network for technology professionals.

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