Written on a flight from Charlotte, North Carolina, to London, edited at my London hotel, and sent to silicon via a free wi-fi service.

Every year the pundits lock on to a few emerging technologies and do them to death. In 2010 social networking and child safety loomed large. So, what will it be in 2011?

By any measure, the superficial advance of technology in first decade of the new century was dominated by iPods, iPhones, iPads, iTunes, open software and app stores.

Politically, the big deals were online porn, gaming, gambling, social networking, privacy, and mobile phones cooking our brains. The invective was non-stop, with risk always voiced louder than any advantage.

Despite WikiLeaks, denial of service attacks and a rising tide of cybercrime, the planet continued to spin on its axis. The population just got on with it and new stuff was subsumed without fuss or bother. Overall, good overcame bad, a few products really succeeded, and many poor products failed, but far more lives were enhanced than damaged.

So, what will 2011 bring? More of the same for sure, but I would put my money on three biggies that will change markets and behaviours significantly:

Young man using a laptop on the grass

Mobile and fixed location-based services will change social networking by connecting the virtual and real worlds in real-time
(Photo credit: Shutterstock)

1. Mobile and fixed location-based services
To date, social networking has mainly been confined to the virtual with a small proportion of physical meetings and flash mob events.

But a new technology is creeping into the frame in the form of mobile and fixed location-based services. This technology will change social networking by connecting the virtual and real worlds in real-time.

Personal information and current location data is a killer combination. Who are you, what is your gender and history, and what are your interests and recent activities? And hey, we are not only in the same town, we are only 350 metres apart. This is going to be…

…an irresistible combination – people will just opt to meet.

The upside? Far more contact and communication leading to greater understanding, social cohesion, creativity, sharing, reduced loneliness and, potentially, reduced tension and conflict.

The downside? The media can do a much better job of highlighting the risks than I can, but everything negative has been reported and exaggerated already, but on afterburners – plus the potential to increase tension and conflict.

2. New touchscreen laptops
On the hardware front, look out for new breeds of laptop with touchscreens – combining the iPhone, iPad and existing keyboard and mouse paradigms. Augment this hardware with increasing levels of artificial intelligence and new combined gesture and voice features, and the scene really changes.

Talking to computers in a quiet room has not been a problem for the past 15 years, but doing so in a noisy environment such as a bar or a busy street remains impossible. How do we do it? We use facial expression, body language, lip reading, context and cognition, and our devices are about to get the same facilities.

Add an increasing number of cloud services and the rapid development of open applications, and our hardware will become even more powerful.

3. The struggle with cybercrime
The bad boys are not going away anytime soon and all forms of cybercrime and attack will continue and most likely intensify. The good news is that the technology and unified approaches necessary to defeat, deter, frustrate, identify and isolate them is to hand. New developments in the cloud will make their lives more difficult while making ours easier.

That is not so say we can afford to relax. However, the performance difference between those companies already adopting new solutions and those lagging behind is marked. In 2011 we should see some significant change across the board and perhaps even the emergence of super-ISPs, capable of protecting the likes of you and I at a reasonable cost.

Looking forward and predicting the future is always tricky, and simple extrapolation is the easiest tool, while spotting the stage-left surprises poses the biggest challenge. I have now placed three of my bets.

Now let’s be really positive. What history tells us about our technological progress is very encouraging. Common sense and evolutionary forces always produce a good outcome overall, with huge benefits outweighing any downsides. Despite the negative media coverage of 2010, it was an outstanding tech year, and 2011 promises to be even more so.