Arik Hesseldahl

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2012: Siri Is a Stunner, Amazon Is Amazin’ and Security Gets Spendy

On Thursday night, I attended a dinner at New York’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel, hosted by Mark Anderson, the CEO of Strategic News Service, a newsletter that many senior tech execs subscribe to. At this annual event, which I missed last year, Anderson makes predictions concerning what he thinks will be the dominant forces shaping the technology world in the coming year. And his predictions are always interesting.

Ahead of the dinner, Anderson stopped by my office to let me have a peek at his 10 predictions, and we talked them over a bit. All 10 are below, along with some comments from Anderson that emerged from our conversation.

Before diving into the predictions, Anderson tells me there is a grand theme that unifies them all: “Integrating everything.”

What does that mean? “It means a whole lot of stuff that needs to be integrated. We don’t need anything new at all. There’s so much work that needs to be done with the existing tool sets. Steve Jobs didn’t really invent anything at all. But he was great at integrating things into a product. There’s a lot more of that work to do. We have to do it in the phone world and the TV world and the health care world. We have lots of devices and lots of chips and lots of operating systems and lots of content. The bigger question is, how do human beings use it all efficiently?”

As an example, he cites the collaboration between Nuance, the speech software company, and IBM, bringing the Watson computer of “Jeopardy” fame into the area of health care. “For the first time, the idea of evidence-based medicine won’t just be in a magazine article,” Anderson says. “A doctor will be able to pick up his phone and describe four symptoms, and find out what the likely diagnosis is, what the indications are. It’s fantastic.”

So here are those 10 predictions, with additional comments from Anderson:

1. TV becomes the new center of gravity in the tech universe. All the other devices find their niches in the TV galaxy. Microsoft’s attempt to integrate Kinect into TV is a strong if qualified success. Smart phone-TV integration software becomes a new category. Pad-TV integration becomes common.

“Apple will hustle to launch the next version of Apple TV, and it will be a roaring success and be seen as Tim Cook’s first great product success. But what it really will be is Steve’s last product.”

2. 2012 will see tectonic shifts in phone markets. “Nokia will fail to come back, which is pretty clear to everyone except the people in Finland.” Samsung, Anderson says, will retain its spot as the new global leader in mobile phones by volume, and will keep this crown despite the debut of Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7.

Meanwhile, Anderson says, Google will lose control over the Android operating system, mainly because unlicensed versions of Android will multiply in type and in installed base, especially in Asian countries. “It’s already a balkanized environment. Now Google loses control of the technology entirely. China is already running an unlicensed version of Android, and I think there will be more of that.”

Finally, the smartphone will finally emerge as the dominant category of wireless phone. “Why would you have anything else? And why would sellers of content and services want you to?” he says. “It doesn’t matter if you’re in a rich country or a poor country. This stuff is cheap.”

3. Clouds are for consumers, and for start-ups. Even as a large number of big companies move pilot projects onto external clouds, it will become clear that the real trend is for enterprise to stay away from clouds in all key areas, for reasons of both security and reliability.

“The cloud guys hate this because they want to sell to enterprises,” Anderson says. “But the security issues are becoming really intense. If you’re a CIO, it’s a terrible environment, and you’re a target, for sure, especially if you’re a company with a lot of intellectual property. I’m not implying that things like SAAS (software as a service) aren’t a big trend. But no one is going to put their valuable IP on the cloud.”

4. Security splits the tech world in two, finally getting attention from CEOs. Companies with real IP start to realize they have to “go big or go home” with their security response, and their spending on protecting their “crown jewels” rises dramatically.

5. Siri stuns the world. Siri, on Apple’s iPhone 4S, has sounded the arrival of Internet personal assistants, and the world will spend this year marveling at what Siri and its rivals can and cannot do — and what they can learn to do.

“I think we’ll see a bunch of these things,” Anderson says. “Siri will get much better. It will learn how you learn. We’ve never seen people have long-term relationships with machines before, but it will be a long-term relationship, and she will remember everything, but make good use of it. She will know you learn better by seeing than hearing, or that it takes three times to tell you something. All those things that you have to program today should be learnable. None of that has been done yet. That creates a real friendship. And I think we’re going to start seeing personal assistants not just for everyday life, but for professions like medicine or car repair. Instead of just having Siri be everything, there will be many Siris for different contexts.”

6. We enter the amazing world of Dave and HAL, as voice recognition comes of age. From hospital to car, mobile to home, Kinect to Siri, exercise to play, work to entertainment, remote control to direct action, from Microsoft to Apple, from Tellme to Nuance — the time has come for computers and humans to talk to each other. With lots of funny stories, big bloopers and amazing breakthroughs, humanity at the end of 2012 will be talking to machines in a normal voice, and it will not seem unusual, nor be the cause of unending frustration.

“The voice-recognition part is almost trivial,” Anderson says. “The important part is context-sensitive understanding. It used to be that all the researchers at Carnegie Mellon used to think that all you needed was more computing horsepower to do better at voice. It turned out that was wrong. It was right for a little while, but the real problem is context. And so, if you can build up that database where you can search it contextually for what to expect, that is where you get all the mileage.”

7. E-readers prosper, but pads continue to dominate what Anderson calls the “carry-along” market. Pads and tablets will come down in price and get closer to prices of e-readers. Meanwhile, Anderson says, Amazon’s Fire will move upmarket and evolve into a full-fledged tablet.

“If you look at the specs on the Fire, it’s a tablet, but it’s hobbled,” Anderson says. “So I think that this is part of the whole strategy: Come in and sell at a low price, and then later unveil a more complete tablet. Apple will stay ahead, though. A lot of people are asking me if Amazon will catch Apple, and the answer is no. The way it’s configured right now, there’s no way the Fire will catch up with the iPad.”

8. The consumption world explodes. Get ready for new devices, new content, new bundles, new connection techniques, new distribution channels, new aggregators, new tablets, new phones, new players, new self-published authors, new garage bands, new consumption models riding on social networks. There is nothing but high energy in the content consumer market. People are now ready to spend subscription money, and the publisher response will be huge. “It’s going to be a huge melee of stuff,” Anderson says. “We’ll invent more stuff to consume, and it will be very hard to figure out who the players are from week to week, and how they’re doing. They may not even know themselves.”

9. Governments and corporations focus on intellectual property as though it were their most prized asset. It is. This new global understanding leads to a reevaluation regarding giving critical IP away for nothing versus protecting it. The age of what Anderson calls “IP naïveté” is over, and the question of proper IP valuation is here.

What is IP naïveté? “When Jeff Immelt stood on the steps of the White House the day after he was named jobs czar, and handed the plans for GE’s most important jet-engine project to Hu Jintao in order to get the permission to be allowed to bid on maybe selling engines to China — that’s IP naïveté,” Anderson says. “Thinking that’s not going to come back and show up for sale in Houston from some Chinese company in about six months is IP naïveté.”

During 2012, he says, companies and countries will start valuing their intellectual property not for its replacement value, but for figures that are magnitudes larger. State-sponsored IP theft will shift from being considered a nuisance and more along the lines of an act of aggression.

10. Amazon gets it all. Between outdoing Wal-Mart online, to beating the booksellers and delivering groceries, and making new inroads in video streaming, Amazon will prove that one company can indeed have it all. Strong Kindle and Fire sales will only be icing on the cake.


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