Here's Where I See Tech Going In 2012

jalak jobanputra

2011 was a watershed year for technology throughout the world (see my post), with technology enabling collaborative consumption, mobile marketing, empowered individuals, social commerce and disruption in the education sector.  2012 is poised to be even more exciting.  What’s in store?

Everything Mobile:  I liken the evolution of the mobile segment to the evolution of the wireline/broadband web — except multiplied, due to the growth of mobile connectivity globally.  Mobile payments, content (driven by increased adoption of HTML5), advertising specified to the form factor, infrastructure (managing bandwidth requirements for data as more smartphones are sold, new battery technology for extended life, mobile security), and location based marketing are all areas poised for growth, as are localised solutions in the emerging markets. 

We will see continued uptake of tablets with even more applications geared towards media consumption, creation and interactivity on these devices.  The web will be increasingly defined by the mobile web; IDC predicts more U.S. Internet users will access the Internet through mobile devices than through PCs or other wireline devices by 2015.  Given the high penetration of wireline access in the US and Europe, these regions lag the rest of the world in this trend.  In many emerging markets, over 90% of Internet access is via mobile devices.   

The Intersection of Online and Offline Worlds: Meetup was one of the first to address this intersection for social and learning purposes, but the virtual world is also increasingly driving traffic and offering discovery to local retailers and service providers (see SideTour, a Techstars NYC graduate).  The 2011 holiday season has been a banner one for online commerce (with predictions of up t0 20% growth from last year) and we continue to see unique commerce models (including social commerce, highly curated longtail content, and subscription services) online.  As this trend will continue, bricks and mortar stores will have to utilise the capabilities of the web to drive traffic and sales in store.

Those that are successful will thrive – people still want to get out and interact with one another and do value a great in-store experience.  In recognition of this, many exclusively online stores establish temporary pop up stores in major markets to spread awareness and allow customers to experience their products online. Bluefly pioneered this several years ago; and Gilt, Warby Parker and the Startup Store in NYC have all followed.  The traditional store is not going away, but only those that can adapt and use online channels and marketing will survive in a world where more time is spent online. Mobile marketing (eg, couponing through apps such as Foursquare Radar) will be key in this new world.  Similarly, television broadcasters that can capitalise on the multi-screen habits of consumers will also benefit from creating cross-platform user experiences.

Healthcare: Given the inefficiencies in the US healthcare system, this sector is ripe for disruption.  Like many other recent trends, consumer behaviour and adoption has been leading change in this sector. Fitbit, one example of a growing number of fitness trackers, records information on health, wellness and exercise activity, and Kikit offers a smoking cessation app.  Shopwell allows users to make grocery purchasing decisions based on personalised nutrition goals. Many of these applications integrate social media to keep motivation levels high and foster “healthy” competition.

Cakehealth, dubbed the “Mint for health insurance” launched in 2011 and allows consumers to keep track of healthcare bills and expenses.  On the delivery side, more doctors are interacting with technology, as evidenced by Zocdoc‘s continued growth and the large numbers of doctors owning tablets or smartphones.  On the enterprise side, technology can help cut costs out of the system through better remote monitoring, data collection and diagnosis, more widespread adoption of digitized records, more effective clinical trials and preventive analysis.  Emerging markets with limited doctors and large rural populations are leading the way with telemedicine and remote diagnostic tools that can eventually make their way back to more developed markets such as the US. 

Globalization hits Startups and VCs: There have been a slew of funding announcements in recent weeks of companies raising funding to expand across borders.  Spotify came to the the US from Europe this year, and TaskRabbit and Outbrain just raised money to grow beyond the US.   As penetration peaks in the Western countries (see my post on global internet trends), startups are looking to expand quickly to underpenetrated markets before local solutions are developed.  This race for global market share also requires investors and board members that are globally savvy (and multicultural) in order to capitalise on these opportunities.

The Enterprise: The last few years have focused on consumer usage and adoption of technology.  However, large companies are recovering from the shock of the 2008 collapse and re-aligning to the New Normal.  Technology can play a role through cost reduction and creating efficiencies (virtualization, cloud computing) as well as top line revenue enhancement (utilising data and social media for better customer service and sales strategies, mobile applications).  New financial services and healthcare regulation will also create the need for related IT solutions.

Other trends to watch in the next year: more grassroots activity in the renewables space (see Solarmosaic and Greenstart), more focus on personal data and privacy (see Singly), 3D printing gaining momentum and disrupting the manufacturing industry (see Makerbot and Shapeways) and big data analytics impacting every sector, from advertising to commerce to healthcare to education to financial services.

Longer term, we’ll be interacting with objects (cars, refrigerators, televisions) as we do people – as evidenced by the strides in natural language processing witnessed in the Siri technology; we’ll have drug delivery via implantable microchips; every child will have access to great educational tools; and we’ll be able to predict natural disasters and epidemics before they happen.   We ain’t seen nothing yet!

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