With 2011 about a half-day away for me, I thought it would be a good time to look back on 2010, and maybe make some (likely wrong) predictions about 2011.
Entering a New Space
It was an exciting year, with my foray into iPhone (now iOS) apps. I was able to get 3 apps up on the iTunes App Store (you can find links to them on the FarWest Software, website). The work involved with building, testing and submitting iOS apps went very smoothly, and I managed to get every submission I made to the store accepted the first time. My turn-around time from Apple was 5 working days each time. I sold far more copies of GearBox that I had expected, and XForm has done fairly well, having been downloaded nearly 1,000 times since June. Manifest hasn’t sold terribly well, but given the number of checklist apps out there, I’m not entirely surprised. I have updates planned for all 3 apps, bringing 2 of them (GearBox and XForm) to the iPad, plus feature updates for all of them. Overall, I am impressed by how fast you can design and build an app that does something useful: the Cocoa Touch framework and supporting libraries are simple and consistent. There are limits, given Apple’s approach to controlling the experience (and limited external connected through things like Bluetooth to vendors they approve). These limits have meant putting off an iOS version of an app until sometime later next year, with focus starting on Android first.
My first foray into Android has been interesting. I don’t have anything ready for the Android Market yet, but I expect I’ll have an Android version of GearBox up on the store sometime in the first quarter next year. Overall, I am underwhelmed, and overall the system is still very rough around the edges. Most apps aren’t that attractive, and the tools available to developers to design and layout the GUI are very primitive. I feel like I’m back in 1995, hand-coding layout files for Motif. I know it won’t stay this way, but the toolset is not nearly as simple and productive as the XCode/InterfaceBuilder combination for iOS. However, Android has some high spots. The ability to have background services is very cool, although I could see this biting a casual user in terms of battery life if they aren’t careful. The simple publish-and-subscribe messaging with Intents is very powerful, and allows for all sorts of interprocess communication on the device, even if the process isn’t running. The lack of a developer community (at least that I can find) in the Calgary region is a bit frustrating, and I haven’t decided if I’m going to try to get something going myself to fill the gap.
Shifts In The Market
Android has managed to build a bigger user base than I had expected this year. It isn’t surprising to me that it did, but I was expecting it to take a bit longer. The iPhone and iPad have managed to hold their own. It appears, though, that Research In Motion may not do as well as I had expected, and may be in the beginnings of their decline and potential eventual demise. I hope not, since it would be good to have one handset manufacturer still leading the way on the enterprise side, but I fear that RIM will continue to diminish while they continue to view smartphones as “handsets with smarts” instead of “little computers that make phone calls”.
The appearance of the iPad, and the subsequent interest in tablets was a pleasant surprise. I use my iPad a lot, for a combination of communications, information gathering and entertainment. The appearance of other tablets is definitely a good thing, since that should push everyone to make their products better. These tablets, done right, certainly have the potential to be an “appliance” like the smartphones have, rather than a rather arcane piece of computing technology like netbooks. Simpler installation and management of software, more power and better battery life make the current and future crop of tablets very attractive as replacements for netbooks, and the sales number of both seem to support this.
Okay, time to try to make some predictions. I expect I’ll be wrong on almost all of the, but it doesn’t hurt to think ahead.
I fully expect tablets to continue to eat into the netbook and low-end notebook market. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a lot of the selection for netbooks and lower-end notebooks start to diminish as their profit margins continue to drop, and as they cease to be an entrypoint for some customers into portable computing. I also expect that the tablets will erode the dedicated eBook reader market, since they are better in many ways, and “good enough” in the areas that eBook readers excel at. Over time, I would expect to see more travellers with just an tablet and a smartphone, with a few also having a more powerful notebook along for the ride. I would expect to see fewer Kindles and such and, except maybe for kids, fewer dedicated portable gaming machines. I could even see tablets give basic feature phone sales a lift, as some people decide they don’t need a tablet and a smartphone, but instead want something small just to make phone calls to complement their highly mobile computer.
Out of Apple I expect to see a new iPad with a front-facing camera, more storage and a retina display. I wouldn’t be surprised if they also release either a smaller iPad or a bigger iPod Touch, something in the 7″ range for screen size. It may also be possible that we see a bit of a rebranding, with the iPod Touch changing names (so iPad, iPad Mini and iPad Nano, where the Nano is the current iPod Touch). The iPod Touch is and isn’t an iPod, and really has more in common with the iPhone and iPad than the iPod now. It’s radical, and definitely a low probability event (given the brand recognition the iPod Touch does have), but it also wouldn’t surprise me. I would expect, since it’s been a year, that a new iPhone appears, but I don’t expect anything too radical right now.
I expect that Android tablets will start to capture a larger part of the tablet market, with them catching up to or at least closing on iPad around the middle of next year. I also expect to see a larger Android tablet, something more about the size of the iPad, for people who want more space on the screen.
RIM will continue it’s decline. The PlayBook may give them a bit of a boost, but without the content that Android and iOS have, I expect that uplift to be shortlived. If the rumoured battery problems with the PlayBook are true, then I would expect the PlayBook to be a disappointment for RIM for the medium term. It is a device looking for a market, and unlike the iPad, doesn’t have the wealth of app developers to take the device in new and interesting directions. A big part of the success of the iPad is because the tens of thousands of developers that are out there that found cool things to do with the device. Without that content, the iPad would not have done as well as it has. RIM’s real hope is to get a unified approach to the handsets and tablets, and make lives simpler for developers by moving to a single operating system for all devices. RIM needs to do what they can to attract developers to their platform, and the current fragmentation is not helping them right now.
Symbian will continue to lose marketshare, despite a newer version and better tools for developers. It will continue to remain non-existent in North America, and will see fewer sales and a reduced installed base globally. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear rumours of Nokia exploring Android for their handsets toward the end of 2011.
Microsoft will continue to struggle in the mobile device space. The Windows Phone 7 will continue to disappoint, and while it will attract some developers, I would expect it will end up like Blackberry and PlayBook, with a modest number of apps and minimal interest from the developer community. Microsoft will release a new version of Windows for tablets, but I expect it will be late (probably not until next fall, possibly even December), and will require far more computing and other resources than most competing tablets offer. I expect that most Windows applications won’t run well, and the devices that do support it will not succeed.
HP will release some kind of smartphone and tablet using WebOS, but they too will suffer from a lack of apps and lack of content. HP will soldier on through 2011 with WebOS, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see a gradual shift over to Android sometime in late 2011 or early 2012, with HP contributing what they can from WebOS to the Android codebase.
Google’s Chrome laptop will be an interesting experiment, but I expect it will simply get lost as tablets continue to be the platform of choice for casual users, and people looking for cheap, portable computing. I expect many businesses will stay away from it, since the data isn’t held on anything controlled by their computing infrastructure.
I expect to see at least one or two sensational legal cases around data held in cloud computing facilities, when a cloud provider ends up giving data up for some kind of investigation without first consulting the customer, because their contract says they don’t have to. 2011 should be the first real test of how viable cloud computing is, and how much control will truly be given to providers of these services. I also expect at least one high profile incident of a business’s data either being stolen or compromised, again testing whether businesses are ready to really work these types of systems.
What won’t happen? Microsoft won’t break itself into smaller companies, to make it more nimble and competitive, but instead will lumber along about 20 steps behind the rest of the market. Apple won’t be focusing on the enterprise market just yet. IBM won’t be doing anything meaningful in the mobile space. Google won’t stop squirting out betas of new services and products rather than focus on finishing things they’ve started.
Next year should be as interesting as this one, and I look forward to any surprises that no one saw coming, but again keep things from getting dull.