Gartner analyst David Cearly peppered his audience of change-weary IT leaders with a new list of the tech trends that are going to rock their world next year as Cearly helped kick off the annual Gartner Symposium ITxpo on Monday night in Orlando.

This is always one of the most anticipated presentations of Gartner Symposium since it helps give a 20,000-foot view of the year ahead. At a conference that bombards IT executives with tons of research and statistics, it gives a little context at the beginning to put things in perspective for the rest of the week.

Here’s my breakout of the top 10, with select quotes from Cearly on the importantance of each of the items:

1. Media tablets and beyond – “The implications for IT is that the era of PC dominance with Windows as the single platform will be replaced with a post-PC era where Windows is one of a variety of environments IT will need to support.”
2. Mobile-centric applications and interfaces – “When building user interfaces for multiple screen sizes and operating systems, new types of tools are needed to take the data feeds from applications and transform them so they are usable on the target device… There is no automatic way to do this — it takes engineering skills to design the right outputs.”
3. Contextual and social user experience – “Context-aware computing (CAC) uses information about an end user or objects environment, activities connections and preferences to improve the quality of interaction with that end user or object.” This is where GPS, NFC, bar code readers, image recognition, augmented reality, and various types of digital sensors come together to make computing devices automatically adapt to the environment and streamline things for users.
4. Internet of Things – “This Internet of things will enable a wide range of new applications and services while raising new challenges. For example, objects will increasingly act as “users” of other systems. Imagine a scenario where a warehouse robot interfaces with the ERP system for self replenishment or a truck schedules it’s own maintenance. IT will increasingly have to consider how these scenarios impact issues such as software licensing.”
5. App stores and marketplaces – “With enterprise app stores the role of IT shifts from that of a centralized planner to a market manager providing governance and brokerage services to users and an potentially an ecosystem to support apptrepreneurs.”
6. Next-generation analytics – “We have reached the point in the improvement of performance and costs that we can afford to perform analytics and simulation for each and every action taken in the business. Not only will data center systems be able to do this, but mobile devices will have access to data and enough capability to perform analytics themselves, potentially enabling use of optimization and simulation everywhere and every time.”
7. Big data – “Another driver challenging IT is extreme information. Many organizations are beginning to realize they must to use this data for decisions, new analytic applications and pattern-based strategies… Big data has such a vast size that it exceeds the capacity of traditional data management technologies; it requires the use of new or exotic technologies simply to manage the volume alone.”
8. In-memory computing – “In-memory applications platforms include in-memory analytics, event processing platforms, and in-memory application servers… Running existing applications in-memory or refactoring these applications to exploit in-memory approaches can result in improved transactional application performance and scalability, lower latency (less than one microsecond) application messaging, dramatically faster batch execution and faster response time in analytical applications.”
9. Extreme low-energy servers – “The adoption of low-energy servers — the radical new systems being proposed, announced and marketed by mostly new entrants to the server business — will take the buyer on a trip backward in time. These systems will remove virtualization and lessen the shared use of systems. ”
10. Cloud computing – “We could see the failure of the cloud to live up to the hype… The luster could wear off.” Gartner dropped the cloud from number one on the list for 2011 to number 10 for 2012. However, besides the hype issue, Cearly also noted that it’s partially because the cloud is getting absorbed into lots of other operational IT areas.

Cearly also noted how IT leaders should think about the “strategic technologies” on this list:

“A strategic technology is one with the potential for significant impact on the enterprise during the next three years. Factors that denote significant impact include a high potential for disruption to IT or the business, the need for a major dollar investment or the risk of being late to adopt… Companies should use the list as a starting point and adjust based on their industry, unique business needs, technology adoption model, and other factors.”

My take

It won’t surprise anyone that tablets are at the top of the list, and rightfully so. From both an employee and customer standpoint, tablets have been driving a huge change in the way people interact with information over the past two years and the process is likely to accelerate in 2012 as the price of tablets drop, Android’s tablet software improves, and Microsoft gets into the game with a legitimate play in Windows 8.

The biggest surprise was the demotion of cloud computing from number one to number 10. I think this was a bit of grandstanding on Gartner’s part because they know that journalists and the tech world would react strongly to it and write about it. But, I think they’re generally correct that a lot of enterprises are still balking at the cloud, or at least not jumping in with both feet. The cloud is being driven heavily by SMB and in order to fully come of age it will need convince bigger players to get on board for more than just a few fringe applications.

Other than that, I think big data, analytics, and apps should have all been a lot higher up on the list, while the Internet of Things is still a couple of years away from having a widespread impact — it’s going to require better, cheaper, and more ubiquitous mobile broadband.