Top Twelve Trends For 2012

The world is changing quickly now. Here are my top trends for 2012.

By: Simon Anderson

1. Major Increase in the Use of Personal Monitoring Devices
We are witnessing the beginning of a soon-to-be massive trend: personal monitoring. With devices like Jawbone’s widely discussed Up and FitBit’s competitive offering, people are already using these devices in major numbers. This is not just going to affect health monitoring devices either; many sporting goods companies are seeing the value of incorporating monitoring devices as well, including Adidas with their new soccer shoes and Swimsense swimming bracelets. And, monitoring devices aren’t just being used for health tracking and athletic improvement. Recently, a company introduced shoes that have a GPS tracking unit in them to help caregivers keep track of Alzheimer’s patients. As more of these devices get into the hands (and on the bodies) of consumers, healthcare will likely improve, assuming healthcare providers can quickly learn how to use this vast new stream of patient information. Also, expect athletics to be enhanced as premier athletes gain a better understanding of their practices and performances.
Possible secondary effects:
Insurance companies start asking for this data, first offering a discount on service for providing information and hitting certain metrics, such as hours of sleep and frequency of gym visits, and then raising prices if you opt-out.

2. Sub $500 3D Printer Hits the Market, and So Begins the First Major Push Into Homes
Although 3D printing has been around for more than two decades now, it is making major advances and the number and types of devices to choose from has been growing steadily. 3D printing is no longer just for large industrial companies to make rapid prototypes. There is already a quickly growing list of services that allow anyone to choose from a catalog of designs or even submit their own design to have printed out and sent to them. Established websites such as Shapeways.com and newcomer MyRobotNation.com allow easy creation and purchase of a physical manifestation of your idea. And, if you are interested in skipping the “middle-man” and making your creations right at home, there are now a wide variety of options of machines available for around $1300, and earlier this month a basic machine from Printrbot became available in limited quantities for only a $499 Kickstarter donation (total donations reached nearly a million dollars and will certainly attract other companies to make their own offerings). As the price drops well below the thousand dollar mark, which it will in 2012, and as 3D printing communities such as Thingaverse continue to grow, we will begin to hit a critical mass that will drive widespread adoption. The number of services available to users to print out their creations will grow significantly in the next year, and I expect a large company to develop and mass produce a consumer-focused 3D printer and launch a full marketing campaign behind it. Initial advertising will be primarily focused on creating toys and jewelry at home.
Possible secondary effects:
Manufacturing companies start seeing a possibility for major disruption to their businesses and some adopt the technology and begin looking for ways to embrace it, while others fight it vigorously, desperately justifying their continued existence. Meanwhile, children everywhere begin to enjoy printing out a new toy after seeing a commercial for it just by entering a special code and paying a small fee.

3. One-Step Closer to a Cashless Society
Cash is still here, but maybe not for long. Although the demise of cash has been prophesied for a long time, the things necessary to make this a reality are starting to come together. First of all, counterfeiting has always been a major concern and it seems that the counterfeiters quickly catch up as soon as governments increase the tech to prevent fakes. Even Canada, with its new plastic money (at least in large bills for now) can’t expect it to take long for criminals to figure out how to recreate their production process. So what will people use instead cash?A variety of new offerings that really started gaining traction this year have pointed to the direction that things will go. Google has been actively pushing Near Field Communication (NFC) chips into some of their smartphones lately, allowing users to pay for things with just their cell phone, which they would have been carrying anyway. Square, founded by Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, just announced a million business accounts. Square’s explosive growth can be attributed to the problem it solves- now anyone can accept credit cards without being subject to the onerous merchant services process. Recently, a company called Dwolla (based in Des Moines, IA of all places!) looks to completely disrupt banking by offering money transfers for only a $.25 fee. Lastly, cryptocurrencies, like BitCoin are being heavily experimented with. This online only currency neatly fills the void left by the absence of cash for people who would like non-traceable methods of payments.
Possible secondary effects:
As currency moves away from cash, criminals will do the same. Even Bitcoin, once thought by enthusiasts to be super-secure, was allegedly hacked over the summer. It also becomes much easier to move large amounts of money back and forth across international borders, benefitting criminal enterprises around the globe.

4. The Rumblings of Change in Education Become Deafening.
Education, as an industry, and especially in the United States, is rapidly hurtling towards massively disruptive change. Currently in America we spend incredible amounts of money on education yet return inexcusable results when our students are compared against other countries in the world that spent far less. Online education is going to grow substantially as online services continually become more individualized and focused on results. Khan Academy recently made news securing millions in financing, as did Knewton, a profoundly promising company offering a truly revolutionary way for students K-12 to enhance their educational experience. And this is just the beginning. The opportunity cost of the United States not fully embracing new technology like e-textbooks for example, will simply become too high to ignore as countries such S. Korea take a bolder approach to the future of education. Finally, the classroom of 2012 will stop looking so much like the classroom of 1812! Also, a small but well-known and well-respected university will announce plans to completely do away with paper textbooks.
Possible secondary effects:
The majority of the education industry will continue fighting the inevitable digitization of learning or ignoring it completely, instead focusing on near-term budget issues and political infighting. Those that do contribute will find incredible growth and success helping students learn in an individualized and meaningful way.

5. Growth of Freelancing
Even though we are slowly starting to dig ourselves out of the recession and unemployment numbers are dropping, employers have realized how costly it is to reduce overstaffing. Freelance and contract work will be used to a greater extent over the coming as companies hire people to complete specific tasks. Companies such as elance.com have realized significant growth this year and that trend should continue well past 2012. The benefits of hiring freelancers and temporary workers for a company are easy to see. While job security and stability may initially suffer, this trend will also empower skilled workers because they will no longer be dependent on one company alone for their ability to support themselves and their families. Workers who embrace this change and become recognized in their fields will likely find that they are able to demand a higher per-hour wage and earn more overall than if they were tied to the salary provided by only one company.
Possible secondary effects:
Freelance and temporary employment agreements will become the norm. Although not in 2012 yet, but in the near future, the majority of companies will have less than 50% of their staff on long-term full-time payroll. With the widespread growth of telecommuting and ever-decreasing dependence on being physically in the office, this trend makes too much economic sense not to happen. Without the need to provide office space for the majority of their staff, companies will begin to seek smaller buildings from which to operate. This will have a dramatically negative effect the already depressed commercial real estate market and at the same time put a premium on houses and apartments that have a dedicated office in already them.

6. Major Breakthroughs in Healthcare
A combination of more access to genome sequencing, Watson-level diagnostic tools (Watson is the IBM supercomputer that won a Jeopardy! competition against its two top champions last February and has now been re-assigned from game shows to healthcare services), and the rapid adoption of self-monitoring devices by patients will significantly drive healthcare advancement in the next year. First, genomics research and developments have already had numerous major breakthroughs recently. These advancements lead to new discoveries and this trend should certainly continue. Quickly and cheaply decoding a patient’s genomic information provides a massive trove of data to mine. As this DNA library gets larger, it becomes easier and more reliable to find correlations between patient’s DNA and their particular ailments, aiding in the discovery and production of better treatments and medicine. Now, add a Watson computer to almost instantaneously sift through all of the data, including patient history, genetics, and symptoms. Finally, input the data from the patient’s personal monitoring device, such as a FitBit, and the accuracy of diagnosis and efficacy of the treatment increases dramatically.
Possible secondary effects:
Whenever the overall health of a population improves, there are many secondary effects. Expect increased life expectancies, coupled with low birth rates in developed countries, to further strain already scarce resources (although the effects of this certainly won’t be fully felt yet in 2012.)

7. Crowdfunding Becomes the Way to Finance Your Startup
Economic growth is primarily driven by small business and the U.S. government is finally making a big change in how new business can get funding. Last week, the U.S. House passed H.R. 2930, the Entrepreneur Access to Capital Act, and now it’s up to the Senate to do their part to pass this legislation. Traditionally, new business startups had limited options when raising money – they could self-fund, ask friends or family, or seek capital from angel investors or venture capital. Most new entrepreneurs don’t have enough cash on hand to self-fund. Some can raise enough to get started from wealthy friends and family, but that isn’t a viable option for most. Often startup founders find themselves relentlessly pitching their idea to investors, attempting to get enough funding to make that idea a reality. Then, Kickstarter came along and started to gain major traction. Although primarily used to fund artistic projects, the Kickstarter model proved that thousands of people are more than willing to micro-fund a wide variety of ventures in exchange for a gift, or early product. But it was not possible to invest if you are given equity in return for that investment. Now, the “crowd” – anyone and everyone – can invest in a new business in return for fractional equity.
Possible secondary effects:
If H.R. 2930 does result in the ability for entrepreneurs to raise capital from crowdsourcing, it should lead to the incredible growth in the number of new companies being started. It will also signal a dramatic shift away from venture capital and angel investment, although money to fund your new venture isn’t the only reason to seek the help of an investment professional.

8. Tablets Sales Growth Continues, iPad3 Breaks Records, We Get a New Amazon Tablet and Google Makes Its Own Android Tablet
Although the continued growth of tablet sales may seem like a no-brainer, this will have profound impact on personal computing in the future. The mass migration from PC’s to tablets will strengthen our reliance on mobile devices as well as our expectation to be fully connected anywhere. Already disruptive in 2011, tablet sales in 2012 will dwarf those of 2011. With the release of the iPad3 and possible an 7″ tablet from Apple, as well as an updated Kindle device such as thinner, faster Fire model, consumers will find it hard to make a case for buying a laptop instead. New 7″ Android tablets will provide a highly competitive offering at less than $200. Netbooks sales will continue to evaporate and become a non-issue by the end of the year.
Possible secondary effects:
As tablets and smartphones completely dissipate the need for us to use a PC when conducting business, playing an on-line game or watching a movie, our perception of a computer will continue to change with it. This will ease our transition to future smart devices such as wearable smart devices and vision-integrated augmented reality.

9. Heated War for Online Movie and TV Streaming Gets Hotter
In In 2011, we were just starting to see the beginning of the war to provide customers with online video streaming content. Huge companies such as Netflix, Blockbuster, Hulu, Amazon, Apple, and Vudu are all in the ring and there is still no clear winner. Netflix, once the considered the clear leader, had some major setbacks in 2011. Both Amazon and Apple are using their own hardware to drive sales content revenue. As DVD (and Blu-Ray not far behind it) continues its ride into a VHS-like sunset, this war will grow even fiercer. Smart TV’s will also have an impact, bypassing the need for cable companies and gaming consoles alike. Expect Hollywood studios to play a major role here as well, as streaming cuts into their profits once earned by physical media sales. Streaming content will continue its fast growth, with so many top-level companies trying to push content on us, web-enabled TV, better viewing available on mobile devices now, and potential problems with the post office causing slower delivery for physical discs from Netflix and Blockbuster speeding that growth.
Possible secondary effect:
Due to the significant cost of licensing content from studios, especially as they lose revenue from the sale of physical media formats, it will be difficult for there to be more than three or four big companies which is why we should expect consolidation in the industry.

10. Major Improvements in Consumer-Level Computing
Our computing device in 2012 will start showing a noticeable bump in performance as a number of huge technological advancements are released into the wild next year. Stacked 3D chips, long talked about and now finally commercially viable, both greatly reduce power consumption and increase speed by a significant amount. They will start making their way into servers, laptops and desktops when Intel introduces their 22-nm Tri-Gate chips into their Ivy Bridge line of products next year. The results from this could be dramatic, especially as they work out how to get closer to the 10-nm level which allows for faster processing and uses much less energy. Also, in 2012 we will see the first introduction of quad-core smartphones. These devices will be better optimized to handle the new faster 4G networks, and together with improving GPU capabilities, provide a better high-definition video experience. Users can begin playing games on their devices that were previously only possible on gaming consoles and voice-activated device software, like iPhone’s Siri, will be optimized to best take advantage of this massive increase in processing power. Although dual-core smartphones are still relatively new (even by consumer tech standards) recent breakthroughs will bring these power-sipping and ultra-powerful chipsets into our hands in the coming months.
Possible secondary effects:
As our handheld devices continue to improve in their abilities faster than our software demands do, people will have less and less of a reason to purchase a laptop or netbook (which were already well on their way to extinction even in 2011) and instead turn to smartphones and tablets for the majority of their computing needs.

11. Your 1080p 3D TV Won’t Be That Cool Anymore and Neither Will Your Non-Flexible Smartphone
Just when you got comfortable thinking you had the latest and greatest in display technology, a wave of new displays will start hitting consumer markets that make your flat screen look less than cutting-edge. OLED’s, which have been on the market for some time now, but only in smaller screens such as smartphones, will make a big jump to 40″ and possibly larger screens in 2012. OLED’s have a number of technical advantages of LCD’s and plasma’s, but the main factor that will drive sales is their incredible picture quality and ability to display pitch black, unlike LCD’s. QHD and 5K projectors will continue that trend, although we won’t likely see those offerings in 2012. Mobile smartphone displays and form-factors will forever change with successful launch of Samsung’s Flex phone. In 2012, smartphones will start to look radically different from last year’s models for the first time since the iPhone came out in 2007 and revolutionized the smartphone form factor and user experience. Using their much talked about AMOLED screens, Samsung has already announced a flexible phone for next year. Ultra-thin and with a bright display, a flexible, bendable mobile device will change our expectations for what a phone can do which, ironically, won’t have much to do with actually making calls . Users will be able to take advantage of the device’s flexibility to suit their current needs. For example, the phone could be bent in a certain way to improve the experience of reading an ebook, or moved into another form when gaming.
Possible secondary effects
As smartphones stop having a static form factor, we will more easily transition into using other newer devices that don’t look like “computer” or “phones.” This flexible display technology will finally spill over into tablets and other form factors, maybe even the long predicted flexible display shaped like yesterday’s news paper. As the technology gets better, our devices will become more natural to use, and even more integrated into our everyday life.

12. Numerous Major Disasters With Unpredictable Consequences
With the effects of climate change arguably getting stronger, it should be expected that we have at least one major disaster somewhere in the world in 2012. It is also quite likely we will experience a large number of disasters around the globe. Now, I’m not talking about the much-referenced December 21st Mayan Apocalypse here, but 2011 has seen so many catastrophic events, it’s only fair to think we’ll have more of the same next year. This is hardly a risky prediction, but it is important to consider the implications of catastrophic disaster. With today’s global economy, one can certainly imagine significant supply chain disruptions and major human toll in virtually any scenario. This is one trend I would love to be wrong about!
Possible secondary effects:
Since we usually have little to no advance warning before disasters occur, it is impossible to predict where or what specifically be affected. As disasters seem to become more commonplace, new detection and mitigation technologies will certainly become more prevalent and important to societies around the world. Through increased and improved monitoring of weather patterns, earthquakes and storms, as well as the use of super-computing to mine all of the data, we will slowly gain a better understanding of our world what to expect from it.