It’s that time of year again, when we dust off our crystal ball and make a series of predictions for the coming year. We also like to iron our reinforced pants around this time too, as last year’s predictions inevitably come around to bite us in the butt. And so we dive in for another year, with our top ten predictions for 2012. Feel free to leave your own predictions in comments!

1. Convertible tablets will swallow the laptop whole

Don’t get us wrong, there are some truly great products coming out in the notebook space. Ultrabooks have finally made laptops sexy again. But you know what’s sexier? A device that gives you the best of both worlds.

Convertible tablets like the Asus Transformer are a tablet when you’re walking around and a laptop when you’re at home. In 2012, we’ll likely see products with big enough screens to truly replace the laptop.

The Asus Transformer Prime. Is this the end of laptops?

 

2. Android takes over the world

Or close to it. This past year saw Android overtake every other mobile operating system in terms of units shipped, installed base and apps sold (and that’s even though the average Apple user buys roughly twice as many apps as an Android phone owner). It shows no signs of abating, either. In the third quarter of 2011, Android ran on 52.5%* of smartphones sold worldwide. Compare that to Apple’s iOS, which ran on 15%.

While most of Android’s success has come at the expense of Symbian and BlackBerry phones, even Apple has taken a hit. And none of that looks like turning around, with Android continuing to post growth every quarter.

Even on tablets, which people tend to buy outright rather than on contract, Android has gone from virtually nothing in 2010 to 27%^ in the course of a year.

While there’s still and will remain a vast hype gap between Apple and Google, it seems likely that by this time next year, Android will be perhaps the most important operating system in the world.  Telstra certainly seems to think so.

3. Windows 8 fizzles

We don’t know exactly when Windows 8 will be released (it might not even make it in 2012), but when it does, we expect it’s not going to be the success that Microsoft is hoping for.

Windows 8 includes the biggest change to the interface the operating system has ever seen. It now opens with the Metro interface, the same one used on Windows Phone 7. It’s designed to make the OS more touchscreen friendly.

This is the new touchscreen-friendly start page for Windows 8.

From what we’ve seen in the Developer Preview of Windows 8, however, what happens is that you’re constantly bouncing back and forth between a touchscreen interface and the traditional desktop designed for a keyboard and mouse. Using the touchscreen Metro portions of the OS with a keyboard and mouse is clunky. Using traditional desktop applications on a touchscreen is painful. As a result, this hybridisation of Windows 8 will manage to upset both types of user, and neither consumers nor businesses will see a compelling reason to upgrade.

4. The NBN will finally get some traction

Not a huge amount, mind you, but a little. For those of us looking forward to the super-fast broadband future, the rollout of the NBN has been glacially slow, focussed on seemingly random parts of random country towns. In part this is because of the deal that Labor made with the independents to stay in power.

The NBN will finally start to hit some of the more populous areas in 2012. Between October 2011 and October 2012, the rollout will pass close to 500,000 new homes, compared to the just 18,000 done by September 2011. It will even start to crop up in certain areas of Sydney and Melbourne, and will perhaps be entrenched enough that the Coalition cannot stop the rollout if it wins the next federal election.

Still, chances are that you won’t be getting it. By year’s end, it will still only cover a small proportion of the population, and it apparently takes about a year between the cable rollout and services coming online.

5. Smart TVs will be everywhere

Now we’re not saying that take-up will be massive – it takes a very long time for new TV technologies to percolate down to the masses, and existing smart TVs haven’t exactly been hugely successful – but there will be a lot of talk and a heap of new smart TV products in 2012.

These TVs will offer YouTube, on-demand video, web browsing and much more from the TV set, and an increasing number will let you install new apps on them, just as you would your mobile phone.  Some will integrate gesture and voice recognition.

Smart TVs will dominate headlines, if not sales.

Apple’s possible entry into the smart TV arena will certainly help in terms of consumer awareness, but all the major TV manufacturers will be announcing new devices in 2012. Expect a good number of internet TV service announcements to go along with this, too. There have already been quite a few in 2011, but 2012 could be the year that internet TV takes off.

6. Lots of cloud hype, little cloud action

Okay, this sounds like the story of 2011 as well, but we’re predicting that the trend will continue in 2012. There’ll be lots of talk about us keeping all our data and media on internet cloud servers, accessible from anywhere, and that any day now most of our apps will be web based using HTML5 rather than locally installed.

But until we hit the era of unlimited super-high speed broadband (see prediction 4), that’s not going to happen.

Products like Google’s Cloud Music and Apple’s iCloud are good ideas, as are many web apps, but if you don’t have unlimited downloads on both wireless and fixed lines, they’re just not going to take off.

7. Cybercrime goes mobile

Okay, this one’s a bit of a downer, but by this time next year we may have to have security suites installed on our phones and tablets as well as our PCs.

The open and ubiquitous Android platform (see point 2) provides motivated cybercriminals with plenty of opportunity, and as a result an increasing number of cyber attacks are being targeted at mobiles.

With smartphone sales continuing to skyrocket, this is only going to get worse.

8. Apple can’t recapture that Steve Jobs zazz

Apple will release a new iPhone, a new iPad and some new PCs in 2012. That’s a given.

And they’re probably exactly the same products that would have been released had Steve Jobs still been at the helm.

Yet the hype surrounding them will be far more muted than before as the media focuses not on the products but on Apple itself, fixating on whether Apple has lost its edge now that Jobs is gone.

Can Apple replace Steve Jobs?

9. There will be much ado about “retina displays”

A “retina display” is a display that’s allegedly of high enough resolution that individual pixels cannot be perceived by the human eye at 30cm. Now the term itself seems to have been pretty much invented by Apple’s marketing department when the iPhone 4 came out, and the science is pretty fuzzy, but it’s still a term we’re likely to hear a lot in 2012.

The iPad 3 is rumoured to be coming with a retina display with a resolution of 2048 x 1536, and many new iPad competitors will likely follow suit – using both LCD and AMOLED technology – if Apple does release a product with a super-resolution screen.

Apple's Retina screen was first introduced on the iPhone 4. Now we just want to see one on a tablet...

 

10. Facebook will reach a billion users, but be hated more than ever

Facebook has somewhere close to 800 million users right now, and by the end of 2012 will probably have a billion users. To put that in perspective, that’s one in seven people and half of all the world’s internet users.

That being said, we expect that Facebook’s history of unrepentant privacy violations will have users turning against it and going to other services like Google+, where it’s easier to manage groups of friends.

Of those billion user accounts, how many will still be active by the end of the year, and how many will simply lie fallow, existing only because Facebook makes it notoriously hard to close an account?

Facebook's Timeline feature: love it or hate it, soon you may not have a choice.

Seven things that won’t happen in 2012

  1. You’ll still care that your TV is not 3D.
  2. Telephone tech support services will be made redundant by easy-to-use and setup up products
  3. The media starts to talk about gamers and social media users as if they’re the majority rather than some exotic sub-culture.
  4. All television ads will be broadcast with an unsubscribe option, selectable via the remote control.
  5. Big consumer electronics manufacturers decide that their patent wars just hurt everybody, and return to just trying to make the best products they can.
  6. Apple releases a technology that comprises of thin sheets of compressed wood cellulose onto which one can form images or words with ink. Calls it iPaper. The media goes wild over it, and Samsung tries to release its own version (but winds up in court because Apple has the patents).
  7. Our end of year predictions turn out to be 100% correct.