It seems like every year, that darned rodent in Punxsutawney, Pa., predicts six more weeks of winter. Never mind the fact that Groundhog Day is technically six weeks before the official start of spring. We hail Punxsutawney Phil as the seer of seers, prognosticator of prognosticators. How can you not trust a psychic rodent?
We like to think that Punxsutawney Phil is just giving his best educated guess. Well, when it comes to predicting what will happen in the tech industry over the course of the next year, we too are making our best educated guesses. But, in the end, our predictions are just about as meaningful as those of the famous groundhog.
But, just like Punxsutawney Phil, sometimes we get things right.
For instance, some of my predictions for the mobile industry in 2012 were spot on. I said that Google would only unveil one major version of Android, which it did with its Jelly Bean rollout (even if Google did split Jelly Bean between version 4.1 and 4.2). I also said there would be two different iPad tablets, which was almost true. Technically, there were three, though there was not an appreciable difference between the third and fourth generation iPad. I said RIM would fall on extremely hard times, which did not take a genius to figure out. I said Apple would remain No. 1 with developers, despite the fact that Google chairman Eric Schmidt predicted Android would take over as the primary interest of app publishers. I called the fact that many niche app stores would fold (so long, Verizon App Store).
Yet, I also said we would not see a new iPhone in 2012. In retrospect, that was very dumb. I said that Windows Phone would take off, which also has not happened. I thought this would be the year for HTML5 and it would start crowding out other mobile operating systems and native development languages. Facebook did me no favors there.
All in all, my predictions from last year were not horribly inaccurate. Looking back, they were all pretty safe too. Google taking a greater interest in its app store was easy to identify, for instance.
With all that said, let us take a look into the crystal ball to see what the mobile industry might hold in 2013.
1. Apple Flips Script On iPhone/iPad Release Schedule
I learned my lesson. No more predicting that Apple will not release a new iPhone in any one given calendar year. I have already predicted that we will see a genuine Apple TV product coming in Q1 2013, so I will not rehash that prediction here.
What I do think will happen is that Apple will flip the script on when it announces new versions of its existing product lines. Apple made an interesting choice to offer a refresh of the iPad next to the announcement of the iPad Mini in late October this year. The announcement came about a month and a half after the iPhone 5 announcement. It is then natural to assume that Apple will not make two tablet launches in a row. That means that the next mobile product we will see from Cupertino will be an iPhone. I am predicting it to be announced earlier in the year than Apple has done in recent years, somewhere around July. Apple has been going after the year-end sales for iPhones in recent cycles, but must see that Samsung has done well with the Galaxy S III that was released in July this year and figure that it can replicate that same type of success.
In turn, that means that Apple will save its next iterations of the iPad and iPad Mini until the end of Q3 or in Q4 next year, somewhere between around late September or October.
2. One Major Android Flavor, Android 5.0 With Three Iterations
Google (sort of) slowed down on new flavors of Android in 2012. It only announced one actual flavor in Jelly Bean that came at Google I/O in June, but it was broken into two parts with 4.1 and 4.2. In 2013, I expect Google to do something similar but have a couple different updates.
My prediction is that the next version of Android will not be Android 4.3, but rather Android 5.0. Yet, by the end of the year, the most up to date devices will be running something along the lines of Android 5.1 or 5.2.5 or something similar to that naming scheme. Google will release it around or before Google I/O and update it at least once to fix some issues. It will then come out with another major release, like it did in 2012, towards the end of the year to reveal more Nexus devices.
3. Motorola Makes A Nexus Device
Motorola has never technically made an official Android flagship device for Google. The original Droid on Verizon was kind of the Android flagship when it was released in 2009, but that was before the popular wave of Nexus devices. Google has to be careful with how it manages its manufacturing partner ecosystem, and letting Motorola create a Nexus device may upset some of its current partners like LG, Samsung, HTC and Asus.
Yet, it might be time that Google really doubles down on Android manufacturing. Hell, it owns Motorola for a reason. And that reason has as much to do with the patents Motorola owns as it does with making money. If Google can put together its Nexus design engineers with the Motorola hardware people, we might see the best Android device ever to be released. It is time for Google to do it and 2013, in my prediction, will be the year.
4. Research In Motion Succeeds With BlackBerry 10
Yes, this might be absolutely ridiculous and we might be looking back on it in December 2013, after RIM has been sold piecemeal to patent vultures, that this was a foolish prediction.
But, I am starting to get a hunch that RIM might actually find a modicum of success with its BlackBerry 10 smartphones. Not the type of success that puts fear into the hearts of Apple executives or Android manufacturers, but enough that RIM is not in danger of going out of business immediately. People will like what RIM has done with BB 10 and many of the loyalists that left for the iPhone or Android will come back into the fold. That will be enough to get RIM back near the 8% to 10% market share of the smartphone industry by the end of the year, though nowhere near the 23%+ it had in 2010 and earlier.
5. Microsoft Keeps Plugging Away At Windows Phone
Mobile is too important to Microsoft to pull the plug on its Windows Phone 8 platform. Microsoft is often extremely stubborn. See: Xbox.
That does not mean that Microsoft will eventually see the same type of success with Windows Phone as it did by pouring years and year and millions of dollars into marketing for Xbox. Consumers have thus far been very lukewarm to Windows Phone, especially from Nokia, and I do not see that changing dramatically in 2013. Not until Nokia can take a Samsung-like approach and release four different models of the same type of phone to all four major U.S. carriers in one blow, the way that Samsung does with the Galaxy S series. For instance, the fact that the top Windows Phone device from Nokia is the Lumia 920 available only through iPhone-centric AT&T is a very big problem for both Nokia and Microsoft.
It is not just distribution that holds Windows Phone back. It is also the user interface. Some people (especially tech media pundits) love how different Hubs and Tiles are. Consumers, on the other hand, have not shown an appreciable affection for it.
Microsoft will continue to build and market Windows Phones for the next several years, but it would ultimately be surprising if it eclipses 10% of total smartphone market share by 2015.
6. Consumer Location Apps Remain Stagnant
Other consumer-based location apps like Highlight have seen hypes cycles come and then diminish. The “ambient location app” for finding people in your area along with game-based location apps like Foursquare is just not a very big market in the United States. That is not likely to change in 2013.
Note, this prediction does not include maps apps, which nearly everyone uses in one form or another.
7. Mobile Payments Begin To Gain Traction
We keep on expecting a sudden boom in mobile payments, led by NFC-based smartphones and apps. So far, we have been bitterly disappointed that the market has not materialized.
A good reason for this is infrastructure. For NFC payments to take off, brick-and-mortar stores need the proper payment equipment and consumers need smartphones that actually, you know, have NFC. With near 60% of users from the top three U.S. carriers (AT&T, Sprint, Verizon) carrying iPhones (which does not have NFC), the critical mass of NFC capable consumers has not yet been reached.
The explosion will not happen in 2013. But, progress will be made as major players in the ecosystem start pushing mobile payments to retailers and startups gain more traction. The early adopter types will be using their smartphones for a variety of purchases by the end of 2013 that will set up success for mobile payments players that will evolve for the rest of the decade.