The year ahead, with no guarantees

The year ahead, with no guarantees

My favourite six-word sentence is “No warranty is expressed or implied” and I think it is a great way to start off a column on my predictions for 2011. It’s almost a legal requirement for a technology writer (even the occasional sort such as myself) to come up with their predictions for the year ahead so here, in no particular order and with no implied or expressed warranty, are my predictions for what might happen in 2011. Or not. Maybe.

Smartphones: Okay, so this isn’t really my prediction but it is an important one to include. According to the ultra-famous venture capitalist, analyst and ‘Queen of the ‘Net’ Mary Meeker, 2011 is the last year in which new PC shipments – including notebooks and netbooks – will exceed smartphone sales.

The number of PCs sold will continue to grow in subsequent years, but the gap between that and the number of smartphones sold will grow from 2012 onwards. This has huge implications for software developers, resellers, telcos, emerging nations and all sorts of other businesses.

Retailers: 2011 will be the first year in which local retailers begin to feel the impact of mobile technologies and the communities behind them.

The fact that an increasingly large proportion of customers are carrying a high-powered, location-aware, network-connected, camera-equipped device means retailers will be increasingly at the mercy of (a) shoppers who can shop around while instore and (b) nearby competitors who are willing to offer discounts on identical or equivalent items. 2D barcode technologies such as Microsoft’s Tag and QR codes will also play a big part in the retail revolution and I suspect 2011 will see us catching up to Japan in that regard.

The other retail revolution I believe will accelerate rapidly in 2011 is Vend — a cloud-based point-of-sale system developed right here. It’s a great solution and I think 2011 is going to be a big year for the developers. Also, Google is apparently buying Groupon, and you can expect to see clones and descendants popping up all over the place.

The cloud: The investments in this space by big players such as Amazon, Google and Microsoft almost guarantee success, however picking the inflexion point is somewhat tricky.

My guess is that 2011 will be the year that a lot of businesses – particularly SMEs – make the switch to cloud-based email and collaboration systems. There is a lot of opportunity in this area for local resellers however, as noted in a couple of previous columns, there are some major changes to margins and payment models, which will mean that many resellers may need to re-engineer their business models to be able to compete effectively (with new entrants in particular). If nothing else, expect to see an escalation in the battle between Microsoft and Google in this particular area and an increasing interest by customers in what it can offer to them.

Tablets: The iPad is a game-changer. It’s cute, it’s cool, it’s simple and it realises a vision Bill Gates had back in the 1990s (I’m not sure if it is Bill Gates or Steve Jobs who would be the most annoyed about that statement). IPads and similar devices will make huge inroads into enterprises in 2011 and will become a very common business tools by 2012. Android devices will play a big part in that market expansion as will Microsoft devices based on the Windows Phone 7 UI, Metro.

Pacific Fibre: confirmation the project is going ahead will be communicated by mid-year.

Linux on the desktop: Not now, not ever (but refer to the Android comment above).

Merry Christmas!

Brett Roberts is a partner at business strategy consultancy Business IQ and Microsoft’s former CTO. He can be contacted at

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