Technologizer

Tech 2012: Please Don’t Call These Predictions

A few best- and worst-case scenarios for the year ahead, on Microsoft, Apple, Facebook and more.

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Alexander Ho

Facebook

What we can assume will happen: The world’s dominant social network will continue to dominate. (It claims more than 800 million active users today, so it might hit a billion before 2012 is over.)

What I hope will happen: Facebook will continue to evolve at a rapid clip. But it’ll usually manage to sidestep the controversy that’s traditionally been associated with nearly every major change it’s ever made. Thanks in part to pressure from the feds and new rivals, 2012 will be the year that Facebook grows up a bit.

What I fear will happen: It’ll continue to tick off people in unnecessary–and sometimes counter-productive–ways. And like Microsoft in the 1990s, it’ll behave as if its extreme popularity gives it the license to do pretty much anything it pleases.

(MORE: The Beginning of the End for Facebook?)

Internet TV

What we can assume will happen: Americans will be less interested in watching broadcast television at an appointed time–not of their choosing–on a TV set. They’ll want to stream whatever show they want, whenever they want to watch it, on any device they select.

What I hope will happen: The companies that control content will get more and more comfortable with transmitting it over the Internet rather than willfully holding it back to prevent competition with traditional means of distribution. Enough consumers will prove willing to pay for services such as Hulu Plus and Netflix to make the economics of Internet TV look more tantalizing. UltraViolet, the copy-protection technology which lets you buy a movie once and get access to it on multiple gadgets, will be a hit with studios and consumers alike.

What I fear will happen: We’ll backslide, as the industry chooses to protect existing profits from plain ol’ prime time and DVD/Blu-ray rather than gambling on this newfangled Internet thing.

(MORE: Google TV May Soon Be Able to Sidestep Blocked Content)

Tablets

What we can assume will happen: An awful lot of companies will release tablets, a high percentage of which will run Google’s Android operating system.

What I hope will happen: Actually, I’d be perfectly happy if the current deluge of tablets turned into a mere trickle. We don’t need gazillions of tablets in 2012 What we need are more models that have a coherent reason for existing other than that there’s a tablet fad going on. These tablets should feel more polished and professional than certain 2011 models. And they must come from outfits which, unlike some (coughcoughHP), have enough courage to keep plugging away until they get it right.

What I fear will happen: As 2012 draws to a close, it still won’t be entirely clear that any company that isn’t Apple has figured out how to make a tablet with mass appeal.

(MORE: Tablets: ‘Why Should Somebody Buy This Instead of an iPad?’)

Patents

What we can assume will happen: Patent wrangling involving major tech companies–especially ones that make smartphones and tablets–will continue to make plenty of news.

What I hope will happen: Some of the high-stakes cases currently hanging over the industry like gloomy little clouds will get resolved, one way or another. Companies such as Apple, Microsoft, Motorola and Samsung will decide that suing each other (or threatening to do so) is less fun and profitable than focusing on making cool stuff. Patent trolls will conclude that it’s harder to make money by blackmailing everybody else than they thought. In short, I hope that the patent mess gets less messy in 2012.

What I fear will happen: It’ll make news the way it did in 2011–by getting more messy.

(MORE: Patents, Anyone? Gadget Makers Continue to Square Off in Court)

So there you go. Remind me to revisit this column next December. With any luck, at least some of my dreams will pan out, and most of my fears won’t turn into ugly realities. But if none of the scenarios I outline above come to pass in 2012, don’t blame me. Didn’t I tell you that I do my best to avoid making predictions?

McCracken blogs about personal technology at Technologizer, which he founded in 2008 after nearly two decades as a tech journalist; on Twitter, he’s @harrymccracken. His column, also called Technologizer, appears every Thursday on TIME.com.

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