I like this type of post because it is great to look back and see how close to a coin toss the following can end up being, so without further ado, here goes:
The easy stuff
2013 is going to continue seeing the rise of the post PC platform with both tablets and smartphones outselling PCs. I don’t think that tablets will fully kill laptops but I do think we are going to see two big invariants in the future of a lot of laptops by the end of the year, both borrowed from its younger cousin the tablet: touch all the time and ARM at the core; the former you can observe from anyone who has both a laptop and a tablet and suffers from the smudged screen syndrome where they forget they can’t touch the interface element, and the latter is simply a function of ARM’s superior power/performance and the meager linear power improvements battery technology struggles to give us. As these two things happen, the lines will blur and laptop-tablets that don’t suck will begin to refine the general purpose tablet/laptop form factor. Not unlike the Surface but without the Microsoft strategy tax, legacy bloated software, and lower price points (note the big punt on this prediction is that I’m not sure how much more powerful than iOS the software will have to be but am almost sure it will be even if along simple to see features such as multi-tasking and multiple windows).
Apple is going to continue ruling the roost when it comes to the relevant new form factors, probably a little less in the phone space where carriers will do whatever it takes to balance their installed bases across iOS and Android, but they will absolutely crush it with the iPad mini (I am betting on a blowout Christmas quarter) and seal the ecosystem lock they have on the home with a Pandora killer and some sort of TV thing this year. This domination of the consumer wallet will force Amazon to keep dropping the price of the Kindle family of devices and as such I suspect 2013 will bring us two free (subsidized) Kindles: a cheaper cousin to the Paperwhite and a smartphone.
Google, on the other hand, has found its groove with a return to software, chipping away at the iOS advantage from the inside out. On iOS, one could credibly argue that the Goole search app beats Siri, Google Maps crushes Apple Maps, and Gmail is far more productive than Mail.app. Of course this assumes you use Google services, but guess what? Apple’s services stink and a little hardware/software/services diversification is a good thing. Hopefully the recent success that Google has had here will convince them to quit messing around with hardware efforts and focus on what they excel at. And while we’re at it, they should be sent the memo that netbooks are dead and they should thus kill the Chromebook.
The less obvious
Two other quick points on this prediction: the much (mis)quoted Facebook statement about how HTML5 cost them years in mobile was quite simply a MacGuffin meant to distract us from the fact that the company had been asleep at the switch. It was great to see this then proven by the nice folks at Sencha (who no doubt have a dog in the race).
The second point relates to the mantra that “2012 was about getting on the home screen and we’ll figure out the rest [enagement/monetization] later” which I’ve heard repeated several times over the last 12 months: I think that publishers are about to discover that Springboard positioning beyond the first page is about as valuable as the email address you bought 10 years ago for 20 cents from that shady email marketing firm with the address in the Bangkok. And as such, I wonder whether CPI (cost per install) won’t collapse this year, taking with it most of the “pure play mobile advertising revenue.” If it does, this will be a good thing as it will force the mobile advertising folks to look for higher ground when it comes to delivering real value to advertisers.
The speculative stuff
I was disappointed not to see more native content creation experiences for the tablet platform emerge in 2012. The main exception is the category represented by Apple’s App of the Year: Paper— a really terrific painting/drawing app in a category full of really well implemented apps. Sadly though this category predates this generation of tablets and goes back all the way to those wonky Wacom things you could plug in as peripherals. By native content app I mean something that a) isn’t done more easily on a PC and b) ideally targets its output to tablets themselves. Compiler authors have a term, “self hosting,” when a target platform is able to compile its own compiler and this is exactly what we’re still missing.
Late in the year we did get some interesting candidates in new categories though: there is the always forward leaning Horace Dedieu with his Perspective presentation app which is a very interesting experiment in self-hosted Powerpoint, a programming app called Pythonista which is a brilliant marriage of the Python programming language and just enough iOS primitives, and Betaworks’s story-telling tool Tapestry which is also experimenting with the design principle of software above the level of a single device. None of these is fully baked, but each points in interesting directions for native creation experiences and I’m hoping 2013 brings us 100 more such experiments and 10 that really start to click.
I’ve consciously left out a few big themes which I’ll hopefully get to in the coming month: social networking, spot labor markets, the death of the server in the face of the service fabric of APIs, and machine vision as the big four that I suspect will also be fun areas to make predictions about as they relate to this shift.
In the meanwhile, back to your regularly scheduled platform shift...