I have a spotty track record for timing on predictions, but that doesn't stop me from making them. Having studied the influence of technology and media on societies, and having worked in the technology business now for almost 24 years, starting at 17 as a retail computer salesman, I have seen a lot come and go.
Amazingly that has not hampered my optimism, and I see 2012 as a pivotal year for a number of really key reasons -- including what I think will be the tipping point for smartphones and apps in the mainstream; the prominence of IP in all media; the growing intersection between social media, mobile communications and politics globally; and the continued resistance of media companies to the Internet and the ethos and consumer behaviours that it brings along with it.
In an effort to handicap my wild speculation , I will qualify each prediction with a classification of either: SAFE BET, FIFTY-FIFTY, BOLD, or LONGSHOT.
So, purely for your amusement, away we go:
1) SOPA Will Pass to Become a Law (FIFTY-FIFTY)
Media companies are key players on the US political spectrum and they have no small influence on elections. 2012 being an election year, SOPA is particularly well-timed to expose the vulnerability of US Politicians to their constant need for cash. Media Cos and their executives will look hard at the positions of politicians on the issue of SOPA and Copyright in general when it comes time to write campaign cheques. Silicon Valley has thus far been milquetoast in their response to SOPA, though consumers have not. However, in US politics these days nothing matters less than the views of the
2) RIM's Co-Whatevers Will Step Aside (SAFE BET)
Reality has already beaten me to it on this one, with trial balloons floating up from the RIM Boardroom that it'll be looking for a single outsider Chairman two replace the Co-Chairmen-in-question, of whom I have not been uncritical. From there, it's only a matter of time until we see the outright departure of Messrs Lizardis and Balsillie from the executive ranks completely, which I suspect will slip just under the wire toward the end of 2012. This will all come down to how well they have stacked the board in their favour, or how much inertia is building within the dissident shareholder ranks at RIM. My guess is: THEY HAVE; and A LOT.. in that order.
3) A Country Will Indefinitely Block The Internet (FIFTY-FIFTY)
I actually think that the influence of social media on the Arab Spring was overstated. That said, authoritarian regimes are not generally ones to quibble. Somewhere, likely a country in northern Africa, one such regime will paralyze its own economy by cutting off the internet for a period of months as it attempts to quel a well-organized Awakening. This will in the end accelerate the demise of the dictator and that of its people, and will never be tried again. As a bonus, email solicitations to help the cousin of whatever General wire you $25 Million for safekeeping will decline by 15% for a time.
4) Online Dating Will Go Mobile (SAFE BET)
I have made a very specific bet in this category in creating Tingle (which we began working on in the summer of 2009). With the astonishing growth of smartphones, consumers want to do more and more on their mobile devices. Web-based dating sites are rapidly becoming the dinosaurs of social networking, and even those with mobile apps are being challenged by upstarts. To be frank the pace of this shift has been astonishing even to me, though I predicted it: in April 2011, Match announced that growth of mobile use of its service was at 135% YoY, and a total of 30% of its users were now mobile.
5) The Canadian Venture Capital Business Will Revive (BOLD)
Almost two years ago, tax code changes (repealing the dreaded 116) signaled that it was going to be a whole lot easier for US Venture Capital to flow north to Canada. And, in many instances, it has. This left the Canadian VCs out in the cold, already queasy from some shaky investments in the 1999-2005 period and unable to close new funds in the face of US competition. Suddenly, though, things have changed. With iNovia and OMERS both announcing significant new funds and changes afoot throughout the VC industry in Canada, not to mention a few big exits, there's suddenly a lot happening. Let's see if it sticks to the wall this time.
6) Canada's Government Will Redesign SR&ED (SAFE BET)
Early last year, Canada's government floated trial balloons that it was displeased with the $3.5Bn/year SR&ED innovation tax credit program. Then in December, it sent stronger signals. The program, which is of significant value to Canadian tech startups, also happens to be the object of considerable abuse and an increasingly engorged industry of SR&ED service providers -- two things that the government does not like. We in the startup community will need to be diligent to ensure that the Harper government does not throw the baby out with the bathwater.
7) Microsoft Will Replace Ballmer (BOLD)
Things have, obviously, not been going well in Redmond. The company is in decline and morale is at an all-time low. And in September, Fortune quoted the notion that "Steve Ballmer has done to Microsoft what George W. Bush did to the USA". Ouch. The greater obstacle here is not likely acknowledgement that things are going poorly -- the challenge is who you'd get to replace Steve Ballmer. Not too many qualified people could look at Microsoft and faithfully declare that they have a strategy to turn things around quickly. As a result, and this is a side bet, I'm taking options on Bill Gates' triumphant return to revive his baby.
8) Apple Will Launch Another Set-Top Flop (FIFTY-FIFTY)
This is not exactly Nostradamus-esque. Reception to the two successive launches of AppleTV has been lukewarm. The AppleTV garden is very walled-in and the grunt of their A5 processor is insufficient to render 1080p HD video. Now, new rumours are flying that Apple will indeed launch a fully-integrated OLED Television with networking built-in. Better offerings that leverage open-ended media sharing platforms like Plex and XBMC are presently on offer from LG and Samsung. If it happens in 2012 this will be a flop and will, incorrectly, be blamed on Tim Cook.
9) Apple Will Go To Work (SAFE BET)
Apple has successfully become a dominant consumer player, successfully seeding technologies deep into households. But Tim Cook, for his part, actually used to bleed blue as an IBM guy. I won't name names, but a little LinkedIN surfing will reveal a rather radical exodus from RIM's sales and channel teams to join Apple's Enterprise Sales team beginning in 2010. For those folks the writing has been on the wall: the iPhone shall inherit the Blackberry market share, and now they're in the right place to benefit. Apple will use the iPhone and iPad, which most senior execs already have one of, as a beachhead into the Enterprise.
10) Tech IPOs Will Be The Stars of the Public Markets (LONGSHOT)
I stopped short of saying that they will revive the public markets, because I still believe that the fundamentals of the global economy are troubling. However investors looking for a quick pop will support and sustain the IPOS of worthy companies including Facebook, Dropbox, and maybe even my old alma-mater RingCentral. While other IPOs simply bubble along, favourable light will shine on the market caps of tech IPOs in particular. The real undercurrent of this story will be the fact that a tech company IPO is no longer a particularly exceptional occurrence -- good news for the rest of us.
So there you have it, sports fans.. and remember this is only an exhibition. Please, no wagering. And have a Happy New Year.