We’re going to see a lot more cool stuff in the tech world in 2012, from quad-core phones to tablets that can talk to slick cloud apps built on HTML5. Startups will show us things we never knew we needed and tech giants will seize opportunities to give us the tools we’re begging for. No matter what size they are, the smart companies will take risks, be bold, and buck conventional wisdom.
The flip side of that is the inertia and inaction that happens at big tech companies because they’re afraid of messing up a good thing. This leads to a lot mistakes, including some that end up dooming the company. Just ask RIM and take a look what’s happening to BlackBerry.
Look out, because we’re about to see some important blunders in 2012. Here are the three biggest.
1. Google will fail to standardize Android
Android is a runaway hit. At the end of 2011, phones running Android crossed over 50% of all new smartphone sales. However, as I wrote in 2010, a big reason for Android’s success is that hardware makers and cellular carriers can do whatever they want with it — and they have. That includes loading Android phones with uninstallable apps that drain CPU and battery life, layering the Android interface with useless software customizations, and changing the look and placement of Android’s primary function keys. But, the biggest problem is that all of these customizations have made it impossible for Google to roll out timely updates to Android, because every update now has to be vetted and tested with all of the hardware makers and cell carriers to make sure they don’t break or conflict with their customizations. The situation is a mess. It’s going to be very difficult for Google to reel its partners back in, and although Google has made some half-hearted attempts at standardization, it’s clear that Google is much more interested in getting Android devices in the hands of as many people as possible as quickly as possible. The experience of the user once they’ve already bought the device is a secondary concern.
2. Microsoft will miss PC-mobile convergence
After being early to the game in smartphones and tablets with Windows Mobile and Tablet PC, Microsoft took its eye off the ball and is scrambling to find its place in a market now dominated by Apple and Android. In August, I wrote that Microsoft’s biggest opportunity in mobile is PC-mobile convergence where smartphones will eventually be able to replace a desktop computer by wirelessly docking into a keyboard, mouse, and monitor. Bill Gates envisioned this over a decade ago, but Microsoft is unlikely to seize this opportunity out of fear that it would cannibalize sales of Windows and the company wouldn’t make as big of a profit on each sale. Also, don’t confuse this concept with Microsoft trying to shove Windows 8 on to tablet computers. That’s a losing proposition. Microsoft would be better off renaming Windows Phone 7 to Xphone, scaling it up and launching an Xtablet, and making them both capable of wirelessly docking with desktop hardware to replace a PC for light computing (which is adequate for vast majority of users).
3. Apple won’t extend Siri across its product line
When I was visiting with family and friends over the holidays, the biggest tech buzz came when I demonstrated Siri, Apple’s voice control software on the iPhone 4S. We texted people. We looked up the stock price of companies. We checked how many calories there are in a kiwi and a slice of pecan pie. And it was all done with a few quick voice commands. Everyone was wowed by it and excited about the future possibilities. It reminded me of the reaction when I showed the Internet for the first time or first demonstrated how you could read and send emails from a smartphone. With Siri, Apple clearly has the makings of something big. It could take this experiment to the next level tomorrow by rolling out Siri to the iPhone 4, the iPad 2, and all Macs running OS X 10.7 Lion. Those systems have the capability to run Siri and adding them to the mix would help Apple refine and develop Siri. But, instead of getting Siri in the hands of more users, Apple will most likely keep Siri limited to the iPhone 4S, the forthcoming iPad 3, and then the eventual iPhone 5. Instead of using this tool to push the technology world forward, Apple will treat it like a cheap gimmick for selling more phones and tablets.
All of these blunders look like a done deal to me. But, the best case scenario here is that the companies read this and prove me wrong. I doubt it will happen, but if it did it would be a good thing for technology users in all three scenarios.