21 Tech Predictions for 2011

You may be ringing in 2012 surrounded by cheap tablet devices, a robot shrink, and software that writes emails for you. Thomas E. Weber and Brian Ries forecast the gizmos likely to rule the year.

01.01.11 7:53 PM ET

Imagine going back to the start of 2010 and sitting wherever you are right now. At that point in time, tablet lovers had yet to smear their greasy fingers over the impeccable screen of Apple's now-revolutionary iPad. Three-D televisions were but a glimmer in high-end consumers' eyes. And Xbox had yet to unveil its Kinect, a cutting-edge gaming console that uses a video camera to track its player’s every move.

If this year is any indication, 2011 will prove to be yet another year of intense technological innovations. Will the smartphone soon replace the wallet? Will we be professing our deepest secrets to robot shrinks? Will Steve Jobs rule the publishing world?

To help chart these stormy waters, The Daily Beast lists 21 technological innovations we predict will happen in 2011—from the probable to the not-so-likely.

“Advances in artificial-intelligence software—including systems developed for online dating sites—will usher in a new approach in therapy: robots.”

VIDEOPHONES: Futurists have been promising videophones at least since 2001: A Space Odyssey came out in 1968. Yet even though the technology has been available in one form or another for years, few people seem to want to make video calls outside of the corporate boardroom. This is the year that consumers prove the naysayers wrong and begin using videophones in their day-to-day lives, as simple videoconference apps like FaceTime for iPhone and Fring (iPhone and Android) make the technology pervasive. It'll get a boost from tablets, including the iPad 2, which is expected to boast a camera. It's almost like... oh, yeah, 2001, which had not only videophones, but also an iPad-like tablet. Probability: high.

THE SMARTPHONE WALLET: The phone will continue its steady march toward becoming our most essential single possession as manufacturers begin adding smart payment functionality—chips that essentially turn our phones into credit cards. Probability: high.

WIKIEVERYTHING: Inspired by the impact of WikiLeaks, the start of 2011 will witness the arrival of a fresh batch of industry-specific document-leaking websites, the majority of them named with some variation of "Wiki" or "Leaks." Some will focus on the financial industry, others on the media, professional sports, and high tech. At least one specific sector will be rocked to the core, leading to multiple high-profile resignations, a period of public shaming, and consequential high-impact legislative action. Probability: high.

MUSIC IN THE CLOUD: Throughout the past 25 years, we've evolved from storing our music on hundreds of 12-inch vinyl records in bookshelves to one 6-inch external hard drive stuffed down beneath a desk. 2011 will be the year we cut the cord of ownership and begin storing our files out on the cloud. Through iTunes, Apple will be the first to make this move, forcing the labels to once again reassess their business model of charging a dollar per download of individual songs, as they move toward a streaming model. Streaming services like Spotify—which is bombastically popular in the U.K.—will finally launch in the U.S., spurring a wave of copycats with similar offerings. The concept of "owning music" will be lost to the latest generation of music listeners, but collectors of vinyl, compact discs, and soon, MP3s, will persevere. Probability: high.

Media Predictions for 2011APPS WILL SELL APPS WILL SELL APPS: Continuing in an ecosystem that began in July, 2008, with the launch of Apple's App Store, smartphone applications themselves will each evolve into micropublishers, continuously offering purchasable content under specific content umbrellas for a small fee. Mr. Jobs, of course, will continue collecting his 30 percent, sufficiently making Apple the world's largest software wholesaler. This follows the rise of magazine apps like The Daily that will charge weekly subscriptions for a stream of content, or games that sell add-on levels. Probability: high.

PUSH TO REGULATE WEBSITE SECURITY: After incidents such as the highly publicized hacking of Gawker Media's sites—which exposed the emails and passwords of thousands of readers, including some government employees—there will be a backlash against websites with lax security systems. This will include a call for the government to mandate certain standards for any websites that collect personal information. The idea will be to push U.S. sites closer to a European model of privacy protection, but the implementation will prove difficult. Probability: high.

MULTIMEDIA BOOKS: Remember when the rise of CD-ROMs brought with it the notion of the multimedia book? As the capabilities of e-readers like the Kindle and Nook grow, and as tablets like the iPad set the standard for consuming electronic content, more publishers will feel the push to turn books into hybrid forms that combine audio and video. The shift will be apparent mainly in nonfiction, where biographies will begin to include video and audio recordings of their subjects, but some clever practitioners will produce killer multimedia ebooks that will begin to blur the lines between novel and videogame. Probability: high.

STEVE JOBS: NEWSPAPER BARON: As more papers experiment with pay walls in 2011, app-based subscriptions will grow, giving Apple a cut of the news business across many publications. Before long, those cuts will effectively turn Jobs into one of the world's top newspaper publishers—raising thorny questions about the role of Apple, a secretive company often at odds with the press, in the censorship-wary news business. Probability: medium to high.

iPads on display in an Apple store in London, England. (Ian Gavan / Getty Images)

CHEAP TABLETS, EVERYWHERE: First came the e-readers, like the Amazon Kindle, or the Nook. Then came the iPad, followed by me-too tablets from Samsung, H-P, and others, all costing hundreds of dollars. Now with the price of the low-end e-readers plummeting to $150, the next wave of affordable devices will be cheap touchscreen tablets. These won't have the horsepower or flexibility of an iPad, but they'll be priced cheap enough for people to start leaving them around the house instead of carrying as a treasured personal possession. Just as homes have a cordless phone in most rooms for convenience of answering a call, they'll begin scattering these around for ease of checking email and searching the Internet. Eventually these tablets will replace our remote controls for the entertainment center, too. Probability: medium to high.

LIVING ROOM GETS A.I.: Long a staple of science-fiction movies where spacecraft pilots could yell a robot's name—J.A.R.V.I.S. in Iron Man, for example—and ask for assistance in their daily lives, the living room will soon be home to a bevy of robots on-demand. It will begin with some simple Xbox Kinect hacks combined with affordable robot technology like the Roomba vacuum, and grow to include voice-on-demand functionality for our kitchen appliances and entertainment systems. Probability: medium to high.

TERMINAL TERMINATOR: Bloomberg’s new terminal, which launches this month, will do for Washington what it’s done for Wall Street. Specifically, Bloomberg will give its customers a one-second advantage on the competition when it comes to finding out what government is going that can impact the world of business and finance. Regulations coming out of the administration, the latest government contracting opportunities, what's happening on oil drilling? Rather than a dozen bookmarks, one terminal, Bloomberg Government or BGOV, will give users every piece of information they could ever need about everything they could ever want to know about that magic place where government intersects business. Probability: medium to high.

VIRTUAL AILIBI: At some point in 2011, a sensational trial will focus on the virtual alibi—a defendant who insists they're innocent based on their obsessive online chronicling of their movements in Facebook and Foursquare, which will appear to show they were unable to commit the crime in question. This, in turn, will lead to concerns over how the Fourth Amendment can be applied to protecting the same data. Probability: medium.

Jessica Peterson / Getty Images

STREAMING VIDEOGAMES: On the heels of a decade that saw the rise—and eventual decline—of box-office video-rental stores, those late nights waiting at a GameStop for the latest Call of Duty will also be a thing of the past. By the end of 2011, we predict all major games will be sold as digital files in the dashboard marketplaces of the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and Nintendo Wii, leading to the decline of the retail powerhouses like GameStop. Probability: medium.

THE DEATH OF "PASSWORDS" The very practice of entering one's username, email, and/or password to access a personal commenting account on a website is as Internet as But following a series of high-profile data breaches that saw website users' passwords exposed, network administrators will no longer require website visitors use passwords to access their accounts, and instead employ a variety of authentication techniques--whether that's something like Facebook or OAuth, or a new technology that's set to make millions and change the way we move about the Internet's ecosystem. Probability: medium.

TERMINATOR GLASSES: Given the rise in augmented reality applications like Google Goggles or World Lens, it's only a matter of time before somebody—or something—develops sunglasses like Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Terminator, providing its wearer with real-time, visual information about everything around them. They'll be cheap enough to encourage wide scale adoption, and will become fairly common—enough to be spotted out in the wild on the occasional morning commute. Probability: medium.

EMAIL GHOSTWRITING: Journalists have been shaken by the arrival of software capable of taking a handful of essential facts—about a ball game, for instance—and turning them into a news article. The same approach will be used to automate the writing of simple corporate memos and presentations, taking already banal interoffice memos and making them even more boring—but saving valuable human-hours of productivity. Probability: medium.

WIRELESS HEALTH MONITORS: With Bluetooth-enabled, Internet-connected smartphones becoming ubiquitous, medical entrepreneurs will unleash a bevy of personal health monitors. Consumers will wear them and they'll feed data back to doctors via the phone's Internet connection. The troves of data will let doctors track patients over time and detect emerging symptoms. Probability: medium.

LIFESTREAMING: Some cutting-edge researchers have already explored the concept of lifestreaming, or recording practically everything they experience, all day, every day. Soon, some members of the younger generations will go beyond recording their moves all day long in Facebook, Foursquare and Twitter. They'll begin wearing videocameras suited for recording everything, like the recently introduced Looxcie. Question is, what will they do with all that boring footage? Probability: medium.

PERSONAL REALITY SHOW: Some creative type will combine the new lifestreaming technologies with the concept from the movie The Truman Show and begin producing watch-anytime live broadcasts of their own lives, ushering in the next reality-show craze. Probability for 2011: low.

CABLE GOES À LA CARTE: Facing years of retreating subscribers, the major cable companies in the U.S. will come to terms with the fact that nobody wants a standard set of 100 channels, and begin offering a la carte cable plans meant to retain and eventually grow their cable base. Premium channels like HBO or Showtime will begin offering online subscriptions, ending their longtime reliance on the networks that charged premium rates for a season of Curb Your Enthusiasm. Set-top boxes like Boxee, Roku, and even Apple TV will become more popular, and by year's end will be nearly as popular as the cable box. Probability: low—this'll happen over the cable companies' dead bodies.

ROBOT SHRINKS: Advances in artificial-intelligence software—including systems developed for online dating sites—will usher in a new approach in therapy: robots. Patients will interact online with software that will evaluate their symptoms and offer advice, alerting a human psychologist when warranted. They'll be aided by self-tracking software that will make it easy for patients to track their mood and feelings by entering updates on their phones. Eventually the systems will be able to extract nuggets from Facebook and Twitter updates. Probability: low.

HOLOGRAPHIC DISPLAYS: Apple recently received a patent for a screen that can display 3-D and even holographic images. IBM has been making noise about holographic imaging, too, signaling huge implications for gaming, engineering, design, and medical applications. (Plus, Princess Leia standing on your coffee table.) Computer makers predict we'll see this stuff by about 2015, which means probably more like 2020. Probability that we'll see one in 2011: Low.

Dan Lyons contributed to this article.

Thomas E. Weber covers technology for The Daily Beast. He is a former bureau chief and columnist at The Wall Street Journal and was editor of the award-winning Follow him on Twitter.

Brian Ries is tech and social media editor at The Daily Beast. He lives in Brooklyn.

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