Trying to forget 2008 even happened?
You're not alone. Caught in the fallout from turmoil in the banking industry, the tech sector is reeling from dried-up credit, a timid investment community and a steep drop-off in enterprise and consumer spending.
But don't be too glad to see 2008 go. After all, it had its bright spots.
Yes, really. Social networking made great strides, clogging many an e-mail box with "friend" invitations and broadening its reach beyond the mainstays of Facebook, MySpace and LinkedIn. Apple's iPhone emerged as the hot device in 2008 while consumers turned to Web video in droves, paving the way for new businesses and new initiatives by existing players. Meanwhile, Google continued doing nothing to disprove the notion that "Resistance is Futile" when it comes to competing against it in online search.
It shouldn't be surprising, then, that we're beginning our annual, week-long look at what's next in technology with predictions that the big stories of 2008 will again be leading the way in 2009...
...although, not necessarily quite in the way that you might expect.
Social Networking Disappears
Got your attention? Well, social networking won't vanish as a technology, but as a distinct product category, its days are numbered.
It's all part of the "consumerization of IT" trend that's seeing popular Web 2.0 features becoming a more integral part of the computing fabric. Chat, blogging, wikis, user profiles, ratings and more have already found a home in many large companies, with many more on the way.
While there are clearly security and resource issues to be worked out, analysts say that companies need to start experimenting, if not implementing social networking features or risk missing out on a new generation of employees that expect it. And it's not just the young folk: IDC research indicates more than half of U.S. adults aged 35 to 44 use social networking software.
A recent Gartner report confirms the trend, which it predicts will really start to ramp up in the next three years. By 2012, the research firm predicts more than 30 percent of large organizations will have deployments of social software suites available to all their employees.
The first obvious "victim" will likely be traditional e-mail systems. By 2012, Gartner predicts a whopping 95 percent of enterprise workers will use IM as their primary interface for computer-based, real-time communications, and I would expect that transition to make significant headway in the coming year. Even traditional consumer e-mail is changing to add social features with companies like Yahoo rolling out its "smarter inbox" this month.
One thing you can bet will disappear in 2009 are some of the social networking vendors scrambling for a piece of the online pie. Again, looking out to 2012, Gartner expects more than 60 percent of the current social software vendors will exit the market through acquisition or failure.
But I expect several high profile exits as soon as 2009 as established software players adopt many of the key features more niche players are pitching as separate offerings. And many, this author included, are suffering from community overload. You can only join so many networks without the constant add a friend invitations become a serious annoyance.
iPhone Goes High and Low
Apple has been very disciplined in its less-is-more approach to bringing out new models of what's become the must-have mobile device of the year. Essentially, there is only one iPhone, with a choice of storage configurations.
But I'm betting Apple is going to have to branch out in 2009. The rumors of a $99 iPhone for Wal-mart seem pretty far-fetched. Apple doesn't do cheap anything, so I just don't see that happening. That said, I do think the current model will morph into a lower cost, more mainstream-priced model. Meanwhile, now that the rest of the smartphone industry seems to have caught up with most of the iPhone's game-changing features touch screen, easy Web access, etc. -- Apple will come up with something even "cooler" at the high end with a new model.