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Tuesday December 6, 2011 1:00 pm

2012: The Year everything gets disrupted

Normally at this time of the year, I predict tech trends for the New Year.  As I think about 2012, I realize that over the next 12 months, the personal computing and consumer electronics industries are poised to see some big disruptions that could change their course for the next five years.

In fact, I believe that when we end 2012, we will look back and realize that it was the most disruptive year we will have had in personal computing in over a decade. In the next 12 months, the market for personal computers of all shapes and sizes will have changed dramatically.

So, what will be the major forces that could reshape the PC business in 2012? There are four technologies and trends in the works that I believe will force the computer industry in a new direction.

The first will be Intel's huge push to make ultraportables 40 percent of its laptop mix by the end of 2012. Although I don't believe it will achieve that goal, especially if ultrabooks are priced above $899, the fact is that ultrabooks are the future of portable computing. Instead of thin and light laptops driving the market as they are now, ultrabooks, which are thinner and lighter, with SSDs and longer battery life, will eventually be what all laptops will look like in five years. The heavier and more powerful laptops that exist now won't go away completely since there are power users who will still need that kind of processing power. But ultrabooks will be the laptops of the future and 2012 will be the first year of their major push to change the portable computing landscape.

There is an interesting twist with ultraportables that could be even more important starting next year: the introduction of ultraportables with detachable screens that turn into tablets. In the past, this hybrid, as it is called, ran Windows when in laptop mode and Android when in tablet mode. But this approach was dead in the water from the start. With Windows 8 tablets ready to hit the market next fall, you will see ultraportables with detachable screens that will run Windows 8 with the Metro UI both on the laptop and in tablet mode. This will bring a level of OS consistency across both device modes and I think that this concept is a sleeper. In fact, if done right, this alone could reshape the traditional PC market in the near term.

The second major disruptor will be the widespread acceptance of tablets in enterprise in 2012. Although IT directors will still buy laptops, some urge the addition of tablets to their overall business use cases. At the moment, Apple has a huge lead, with 475 of the Fortune 500 companies either buying iPads for deployment or pilot programs. Some, like American Airlines, United Airlines, and SAP, have bought more than 10,000 iPads for use in their IT programs already.

As for Android in IT, well, that boat has sailed. Not one IT director I have talked to is willing to trust Google with its Android roadmap as it is considered a moving target. And don't get me started on Android's security risks. Recent reports that Android malware has jumped 37 percent since Q2 has pushed Android out of most IT tablet discussions. IT directors don't like that.

Instead, the alternative to the iPad on their radar is Windows 8 for tablets, especially the version made for Intel processors. What they want is the ability to run Windows apps as is on a tablet, even though they may actually write their own custom programs for Windows 8 and its Metro UI, as well.

But this is sort of a comfort blanket to them. This Windows 8 tablet has many, especially hardcore Windows shops, waiting to see how good Windows 8 will be when it debuts in October 2012. Then, IT directors will make a final decision on what device or platform they will integrate into their programs over the next five years.

The third trouble maker will be the proliferation of tablets at the "low" end of the pricing spectrum, which has given birth to the "good enough" category of tablets. There is no question that the iPad will represent the higher end or "most desired" tablet, but for many, $499 is still too steep a price. Even with this competition, Creative Strategies has forecasted that Apple will sell north of 70 million iPads in 2012. The Kindle Fire, at $199, and the Nook Tablet, at $249, have opened up the tablet market to millions of new users. This coming year will be the most explosive year for tablets yet and by the end of 2012, we estimate that well over 120 million people worldwide will be using a tablet of some kind for personal and business use.

The fourth disruptor that will impact computing and especially the mobile market is related to processors. By the end of 2012, Intel should have its latest version of Atom that will have its greatest level of processing power and low voltage efficiencies built in. That means that, for the first time, Intel can aggressively compete with the ARM processors for smartphones and some tablets, where low voltage is important. Although Intel is very late to the mobile processing party, you can't count it out, as it is known as a very powerful competitor. Being this late, it could be very aggressive in pricing to buy into this market in a big way.

The other thing related to processors is the fact that Windows 8 for ARM should debut in 2012. That means that, at least in principle, the ARM guys can start going after the ultraportable market, as well. On paper, this is good news for the consumer because it could help rapidly bring prices for ultrabooks down. However, Windows programs cannot run on ARM processors as is and apps will need a lot of re-written code and UI enhancements to work. The ARM camp is pretty excited about being able to move its chips upstream and support Windows 8. This dynamic alone will shake up the market in 2012.

Yes, 2012 will be a most interesting year in computing. With these disruptions in the works, it is poised to drastically redirect the course of the PC market.

This article, written by Tim Bajarin, originally appeared on PCMag.com and is republished on Gear Live with the permission of Ziff Davis, Inc.

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