With ultrabooks, tablets, and smartphones topping many holiday wish lists, it seems safe to say that mobile computing and devices will continue to be a driving trend next year. With that in mind, let's take a look at some factors to keep an eye on when it comes to mobile and wireless technology in the coming year.
Pushing the Hardware Envelope
It doesn't really take a Nostradamus to predict that mobile devices will continue to leapfrog one another in the hardware department. That is just the way technology works, and mobile devices are no exception.
Quad core processors are already making their way onto tablets, and will be showing up in smartphones as well in 2012. Rumors have swirled for months--and have been recently renewed--that the next-generation iPad will have the significantly higher resolution retina display. You can expect vendors to try to one up each other with hardware specs, but remember that the user experience is more important, and hardware specs often have little impact in determining the best mobile device.
The "tablet market" has been a virtual iPad monopoly up until recently. High-profile flops like the HP TouchPad and BlackBerry PlayBook have done little to compete with the Apple tablet. Amazon has introduced a worthy rival with the Kindle Fire, and it finally seems like Android tablets are starting to get some traction and gain some momentum.
By the end of 2012, though, I expect that Microsoft will have officially launched Windows 8--its next-generation flagship OS designed to straddle the line between desktops and tablets. I am a little skeptical of the potential for Windows 8 to drive migration from Windows 7 on the desktop, but I am cautiously optimistic that Windows 8 tablets can carve out a spot and make the tablet market more interesting.
There is nothing new about streaming content per se, but the concept is certainly heating up. We have had new entries in cloud-based music and streaming with Spotify, Google Music, and Apple's iCloud with iTunes Match. Streaming video is also getting more content with YouTube, Netflix, and now Microsoft branching out from simply streaming content to actually creating original content of their own.
Tablets like the Apple iPad and the Amazon Kindle Fire are a major driver for adopting streaming audio and video services. The stumbling block, however, will be the data caps imposed by wireless and broadband providers.
The Real Year of Mobile Malware
McAfee dubbed 2011 the "Year of Mobile Malware," but it seems likely that we're just getting started. Smartphones and tablets are new, fertile ground for hacks and malware attacks. Users are more naïve about the potential security concerns, and less likely to recognize threats.
Android--by virtue of its more open platform coupled with an even more open apps ecosystem--seems to be the primary target right now, but I expect that the malicious attacks will be fairly equal opportunity. As with PC-based malware attacks, though, it is reasonable to assume that attackers will focus on the biggest market with the highest potential for success.