Well, 2011 is quickly coming to a close (seriously, where did the year go?) and I think it's safe to say it has been an amazing year for the entire mobile world. (Well, except for all of those currently being sued over patent infringements, so we'll forget about that for now.) We've experienced so many changes and so many new devices, for better or for worse. Nokia is in bed with Microsoft making Windows Phones, AT&T tried to buy T-Mobile, Google is trying to acquire Motorola, the tablet market is bursting at the seams – that's only scratching the surface.
I have no doubt that next year will be big. If this year is any indication as to what we can expect, 2012 will be monumental. While we could stand to see less new phones total, I'm sure we will see just as many advances in display technology, camera technology, new and improved form factors and a slew of other things. What exactly will we encounter? It's impossible to say, but here are the top five pieces of tech I'm certainly looking forward to:
1. Different tablet designs and form factors
Through 2011, most tablets were plain, black, rectangular devices that were, for the most part, all the same. This led to Samsung and Motorola getting sued by Apple for "infringing on their design," which is ludicrous and hypocritical. I digress. While a rectangle is the most logical design for a tablet, other logical designs are also possible.
The dual-screen tablet was at one point going to be a reality, but Microsoft canceled the Courier project. I'm hoping at least one manufacturer opens this box and tries again, if only as an aftermarket attachment, like the ASUS Eee Pad Transformer's keyboard dock. But there are also other possible designs, like a collapsible "flexibook." And there is belief that Samsung may show off flexible, transparent tablets next year. It also looks like Samsung is prepping at least one larger tablet model at 11.2-inches. To sum this up, while we know very little about what tablets will entail in 2012, I look forward to all of the possibilities: design, attachments, size, etc.
2. Wearable peripherals
As we learned just the other day, both Apple and Google have been working diligently in research and development over the last year on wearable computing. Whether those may be full, working devices themselves or solely peripherals, we're not sure. But the idea of wearing your smartphone – or at least a device that can control your smartphone without it ever leaving your pocket – is novel. A watch with these capabilities wouldn't be the first of its kind, but clothes that send health information to your smartphone or a pair of glasses with an integrated interface in the place of a lens would be.
I don't expect things so futuristic (such as a contact lens with a connected display) to make an appearance in 2012, but with two of the largest tech companies in the world – with the deepest pockets – putting a year of R&D into a technology has to lead to something big. Here's to hoping we see the beginning of this in the new year.
3. Flexible phones
Both Nokia and Samsung have shown great interest in creating flexible phones in the not too distant future. Samsung showed off their flexible AMOLED panels earlier this year and allegedly has plans to show off (potentially launch) flexible devices as soon as next year. What the benefit of such a device is, I'm not sure. Nor do I know why I would even want one. But I am definitely intrigued by it and want to get my hands on one, if only to say I have.
Nokia is also hard at work, dabbling in flexible technology. They released a concept video and showed off a prototype of a flexible, kinetic phone that allows the user to navigate the interface by flexing the device itself. I'm not sure whether any flexible phones will actually make it to consumer hands in 2012, but I at least look forward to seeing and playing with bendy phones (and maybe tablets, too) at CES 2012.
4. Apple iPhone 5
Where do I start with this one? I think we all can agree that not seeing the iPhone 5 in 2011 was a huge letdown. While the iPhone 4S is a decent upgrade to last year's iPhone 4, it wasn't the iPhone 5 and wasn't at all what we were expecting from Apple. I'll admit that I wasn't sold on the idea of the alleged teardrop profile, but the mere thought of an iPhone with a larger display was enough to hook everyone.
So, what will the iPhone 5 bring? A larger display or radical hardware redesign?
There are a million questions that can be asked about it. The fact of the matter is, we won't truly know until Tim Cook takes the stage and announces it himself. Whether it is an incremental update to the 4S or a revolutionary upgrade, the iPhone 5 will be a memorable device for years to come. As Ashok Kumer of Rodman & Renshaw wrote, the iPhone 5 "was the last project that Steve Jobs was intimately involved with from concept to final design." It's expected to be a "cult classic."
5. Mobile camera technology
I'm no photographer, but I take a ton of pictures, of everything from the finest plate of sushi to an amazing sunset. I'm a firm believer that the best camera is the one you have with you, and this year was an amazing year for mobile cameras. It will be a long time before they reach DSLR quality, if ever. But with phones that have cameras capable of such quality pictures like the iPhone 4S and a handful of Nokia and HTC phones, I'm interested in how far 2012 will take mobile camera technology.
All we can do is hope that OEMs quit spec-bumping cameras and actually make them worthwhile, fitting them with proper optics and improving the software, respectively.