Last year belonged to Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL). The company’s share price rose to almost $350 over the course of 2010, making the company the most valuable tech entity on the planet.
Even more significantly, Apple’s touchscreen portable devices defined the industry. Even as the iPhone continued to grow and the iPad’s popularity spurred competitors to build their own tablet PCs, Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) was able to surpass Apple in at least one regard: More people bought Android phones than other kind. That wealth was spread across multiple manufacturers like HTC and Motorola (NYSE:MMI), but it showed that smartphone technology was now a mass-market force.
If 2010 was the year of smartphones and tablets, 2011 is proving itself to be the year of so-called cloud-based services (accessing applications via the Internet) for those devices. Google Music, Amazon’s (NASDAQ:AMZN) CloudPlayer, and Apple’s iCloud are just three of the new cloud businesses that will open before the year is out, each one of them allowing access to whatever entertainment or stored information, like documents and pictures, without the need of a hard drive.
The question now: What technology trends will define 2012? Here are three contenders:
The smaller, cheaper smartphone
AT&T (NYSE:T) and Verizon (NYSE:VZ) may be talking about how faster data transfer speeds will keep the smartphone market humming over the next 18 months, but the real hot commodity will be feature-light, cheap smartphones that can compete with the best iPhone and Android devices available now. AT&T and retailers like Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) have had tremendous success selling older model iPhones for $50 with new contracts. A smaller iPhone intended for teenagers that sells for $99 and runs as smoothly as the current iPhone model will be even more popular. Unsurprisingly, Apple is said to be working on just such a device.
Google bet big on its Google TV service being one of its biggest hits in 2010, but poor reviews of the service itself and complete consumer disinterest in the two major devices it came packed in, Sony’s (NYSE:SNE) Internet HD TV and the Logitech (NASDAQ:LOGI) Revue, put the kibosh on the company’s ambitions. Google plans to take another shot, though, and cable providers like Time Warner (NYSE:TWX) and Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA) are exploring multiple ways to allow access to the same content over mobile devices that people can get in the living room. Whether it’s as a service or a new type of living room TV set-top box like the kind made by Google and Roku, Internet TV will come into its own in 2012.
The PC market has had a rough 2011 so far, with PC sales dropping more than 1% over the first quarter. That doesn’t mean the industry is done for, however — it’s merely in a state of transition. Next year will bring the introduction of more low-cost PCs like Google’s Chromebook as well as PCs that offer more functionality in line with those in the iPad. Hewlett-Packard (NASDAQ:HPQ) has had modest success with its all-in-one touch screen Omni PCs. Apple will likely introduce its own version of the Omni next year. The industry-changer will be the company that introduces an affordable hybrid that can act as both a portable tablet and a feature-rich PC.