If the trend is your friend, then where are your friends now?

80% of Americans 18 to 34 now own a smartphone.

Windows Phone has grabbed about 5% of the US smartphone market.

Android has fragmented itself to 75% of worldwide smartphone marketshare.

Intel has gotten into some mobile devices.

Power consumption is the new metric for mobile processors.

Amazon Kindle Fire is the number two tablet people use at work.

Yahoo bought social blogging site Tumblr for $1.1 billion.

Apple iTunes had its 50 billionth app downloaded.

So how’s the neighborhood?

Apple was the cool kid moving into the mobile hood and took over with the best user experience and changing the game. Suddenly the mobile tenement became the upscale condos where all the hip youth moved in.

Google was right behind Apple (actually Android was before iPhone), but created cookie-cutter apartments compared to the Apple luxury condos.  Soon however these cookie-cutter mobile devices got bigger screens and better features as Google engineers kept revving them up with an eye towards ever more integration with cloud services.  The cloud has made Google king of mobile since you can’t carry all your data with you.

The old guard of Microsoft and Intel were fat, happy and sleeping as people left their desktops and even laptops for new tablets and smartphones with bigger screens.  Yahoo was also on the sidelines and has the cloud presence to compete with Google, but has, so far, lacked a mobile strategy to get into your pocket.

While Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer has been on a buying spree, there’s no clear path forward in mobile for them.  Yahoo doesn’t have a mobile OS and isn’t a hardware company to make devices.  Yes Yahoo has Flickr and that has started to improve, but are apps the path for Yahoo.  Yes.

In pro-football San Francisco 49ers  coach Bill Walsh invented the “west coast offence.”  It was a strategy born of weakness, namely they didn’t have the offensive line or star running back to stick with ground game, nor did they have receivers who could be good downfield targets.  Instead Walsh came up with a game of short passes, a strategy born of weakness he later said.  It was the only thing they could do.

Yahoo is in a similar situation and apps are one way into mobile, apps plus cloud services, so I expect more of this from them and I expect a mixed bag of success.  Let’s see how much experimentation they can do.  Breathing new life into Flickr is one good sign.

Microsoft and Intel are getting small wins, so the old guard has recognized the threat from mobile and is changing to try and grab some marketshare.

Amazon is really an outsider that elbowed its way into mobile with really cool tablets.  This shows how a technology disruption can create new players.  Amazon also has the cloud services piece to stay.

Apple has conceded first market, now technological lead to Google.  Apple was the first player, the visionary, but lacked the long distance cloud service strengths Google brings.

All this tells you where your friends are and where they are in your pocket.

But what about Facebook?

Next blog post.

Smartphones shipments passed featurephone shipments for the first time ever in 2013-Q1.  While the trajectory of smartphones overtaking featurephones was long established, this still marks a watershed moment in the rise of mobile.

People don’t only want to be connected by voice, or even text messages.  We want to be connected to data, our data as well as other, public data.  We want to read about ourselves everywhere and comment on what we read, even if it only means tapping a like button.

The larger meaning of this smartphone milestone is that smartphones are now completely mainstream, mass market devices with wide acceptance.  In that sense, smartphones are no longer leading edge devices, they are as ordinary as your Toro lawn mower.

What is the leading edge today?

It looks like the next wave of early adopters will be seeking wearable computing devices like Google Glass or an Apple iWatch.  Don’t reach into your pocket for that smartphone, you’re already wearing it.

There is a gimmicky feel to these devices.  Will wearable computing amplify your social isolation as you remove yourself from conversations to react even more to technology?  How long can this perpetual data session last?

We do like smaller, lighter and easier to carry, so wearable computing looks like a winner to me.  Bluetooth headsets have been popular and they’re one precursor to the age we’re about to enter.  First the clunky wearables, next the fashionable wearables.  So expect a fusion of technology and jewelry that really didn’t happen much with smartphones, except for the rubber cases you slipped over yours.

Of course connecting us to data has meant we become less connected where we physically are.  Are we going to be always interrupted by not just a phone call, but an email, text message, tweet or status update?  Right now society is plunging into that model where the circle of your social friends will continually tug you away from whoever you’re with.

This communication revolution has meant you can communicate in a variety of expressive ways to whoever you decide matters.

Hidden in the rise of mobile devices that get ever smaller is the increasing importance of the cloud.  Connectivity enables the device shrink and server growth.  We’re starting to see data centers emerge as the reincarnation of mainframes, with all the misbegotten potential we assigned to them in the 1960s.  How much does Google know about you?  We used to ask this about IBM 50 years ago, but then IBM was a proxy for whatever organization was using an IBM mainframe (think government, phone company, etc.).  Today it literally is Google that knows what you’re searching for and also what you select out of those searches.

The cloud is growing.  The cloud hosts your data and the data of others that interest you.  There are a handful of big cloud players, so it’s not the one phone company ruling the earth scenario from The President’s Analyst 50 years ago, but the danger is apparent.

In today’s world, how do you drop out and start a new life?  We live in a world of identity cards, usually driver’s licenses or passports, and computerized verification of that identity token.  There has never been better authentication available.  As we age older most people rely on the government for pensions and healthcare.  How do you get that without identity checks?

You can’t leave your past behind.  It’s recorded, stored and retrievable in the cloud.

So all the data we are recording, uploading, then downloading and viewing is waiting, lurking for an abusive authority.  That authority knows a great deal about you.  You can’t escape it.

Mary Meeker is a technology analyst who draws an audience for her interesting and provocative reports on the technology industry.  You can read her latest batch of slides here.

In her most recent report she points to a logical conclusion of storing more and more content in the cloud.  That trend is a switch for an individual from being “asset-heavy” to “asset-light”.  The idea is that asset-heavy lifestyles use more space, time and money.

So physical documents and media take up your space, but not if they’re stored in the cloud.  It costs more money to buy music on physical media (asset-heavy) than to rent it using instant on-demand streaming (asset-light).  Same way with video media (DVD) vs. Youtube.

There are many categories this concept can be applied to.  Books are an obvious one, comparing the cost of books vs. e-reader content, but Meeker takes this idea further, even to labor markets.  The idea is that being an employee is “asset-heavy” because employees are fixed cost and full-time, while free-lancers and contractors are “asset-light”, an on-demand variable cost for employers.

Transportation is also migrating from the “asset-heavy” condition of owning a car to the “asset-light’ situation of using Zipcar or ride-sharing apps.

In a sense Meeker is saying society everywhere is moving from a purchase model to a subscriber model, meaning moving from ownership to renting everything.  Meeker sees technology as pushing us in this direction, but typically renters are less affluent than owners so perhaps the “asset-light” society is also a poorer one, where people can’t afford to buy to own, but can use a car occasionally or rent a streaming video instead of buying the DVD.

Or is society slimming down its inventories to do more just-in-time usage of products and services?  If so, then the economy is becoming more efficient and more green.  Asset-light means less production of physical goods and consumption is more time-aligned with demand.  In the asset-light world you use something when you want it, then it goes away.  In the asset-heavy world, you have to find a place to physically buy something, then you still have it when you’re done wanting it.

Since the asset-light society is more efficient, it will be the future for society or at least parts of the society.  Paper books are already in decline as e-books rise.  Perhaps the concept of the labor market becoming “asset-light” is the biggest change to a more efficient society.

Whether we become slaves to the cloud or if the cloud sets us free is not so relevant.  Information is becoming less physical and more virtual.  You won’t have your own data warehouse, it will be a portion of disk and memory in the cloud.  You won’t have the actual data, but your virtual identity will be a collection of preferences and usage history.  These preferences and history will be what you will take from provider to provider to access the data of the future.

The explosion of information availability where all knowledge is instantly available anywhere is where assets are as light as they can get.  The filter for this knowledge will be your own preferences and history which direct what data gets streamed to you.

So get used to owning less, but knowing more.

With wind at my back for the correct predictions I made for 2012 and ignoring all the wrong ones, here goes with my predictions for 2013.

(1) Android smartphone marketshare exceeds 80%

Apple has THE high end niche and by avoiding lower priced offerings has effectively ceded not just first place, but overwhelming first place to Android.  As of 2012-Q3 Android has 72% of smartphone marketshare.  How high can Android go?  I’m predicting a reach of over 80% of smartphones shipped for at least one quarter in 2013.

(2) Nokia brings 41 megapixel PureView camera to its Windows Phone Lumia

Yes Nokia has maps from buying Navteq, but can it bring any innovation to smartphones?  Amazingly Nokia came out with the world’s best camera phone in 2012, but married that innovation to its dying Symbian platform.  That phone was the 41 megapixel PureView.

So why no super-camera Windows Lumia phone in 2012?

I suspect it’s not just me wondering why Nokia took their most innovative smartphone technology and put it on their dying platform.  Time is up for Nokia to be following in 2% marketshare smartphone wake.  Everything Nokia has, every technical trick and tool has to be brought to bear to their now smoking platform: Lumia.

Can Nokia do it with cameras?  We’ll find out in 2013.

(3) Instagram continues its mobile rise and Facebook treads mobile water

Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram keeps looking better and better.  Instagram keeps adding features and rolling up users.  As Instagram grows, Facebook is struggling trying to figure out how to leverage Instagram into mobile without destroying it.  Expect more of the same in 2013, Instagram keeps improving and Facebook keeps a low mobile profile.

(4) RIM delivers on BB10, but fades into obscurity

Everything has been going wrong for RIM but they still have 5% global smartphone marketshare.  How?  Can brand loyalty exist in technology if your name isn’t Apple?  RIM has bet its farm on delivering Blackberry 10 in 2013-Q1 and it will, but despite finally coming through RIM’s marketshare will contract further.

(5) Apple launches AirBook Jr. with ARM processor

Vertically-integrated Apple would like nothing better than to ditch Intel processors and eliminate one of the most expensive components in its products by taking it in-house.  Apple is trying to grow up its mobile success by bringing Apple-designed ARM processors into their computer line.

The bad news for Apple is that ARM is probably two generations behind Intel x86 before matching performance.  So Apple can’t ditch Intel yet, although they plan to, so the incremental path will be to grow up the low end with higher-end ARM core CPUs.  Expect an A-something processor on an iPad with a keyboard that will become the new low-end Macbook Air.

(6) Samsung Galaxy S4 will be the top selling phone

I don’t know what a Galaxy S4 is yet, but it will dominate next year’s smartphone sales.

(7) Intel buys Broadcom

Intel really blew it by not buying Qualcomm in years past and you could argue that alone is what lead to Intel’s board of directors firing CEO Paul Otellini.  There’s no telling who will wind up Intel’s next CEO, an insider or a mobile outsider, but Broadcom is the consolation prize of mobile that Intel will settle on to gain wireless IP.

(8) Large screen innovation yields to small screen innovation

One of the great things in mobile has been all the different form factors for both tablets and phones that have emerged.  Google seems to have settled on 4, 7 and 10 inch sizes for its Nexus line.  Screen size inflation has driven phone sizes to even 5 inches for phablets, but that innovation wave has happened.  Consumers are now choosing which will survive, but innovation has been lacking on smaller phone sizes.

Why not wristwatch phones?  Why not pocket-watch sized phone?  Why not jewelry phones?  The technology is there, but the innovation hasn’t been.  Expect the start of small things with mobile screen sizes.

(9) Yahoo launches branded device(s)

Expect a Yahoo-branded phone and/or tablet akin to the Google Nexus line.  Why?  Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer knows mobile is the key to Yahoo’s future.  What is the path?  Yes Yahoo can make apps and cloud services, but how would that help?  I don’t see playing the app popularity contest as the way to throw down a mobile gauntlet.

Instead expect Yahoo-branded devices with a Yahoo experience.  So Yahoo will join Google, Apple, Amazon and Microsoft by hawking their own mobile devices.

(10) Windows 8 is over, expect Windows 9 to be announced in 2013

Windows 8 was always a bridge from the dying legacy past to the newer mobile future.  Windows 8 straddles the ever-present Microsoft desire to bring along its base while imitating what’s succeeding with innovators.

The pace of mobile is not dictated in Redmond, or even in Mountain View where Google is headquartered.  However it’s clear that Microsoft has to pick up its pace or die.  Expect faster operating system releases and Windows 9 announcements in 2013.

(11) Trouble at Qualcomm with big stock sell-off

An overlooked story in 2012 was Texas Instruments exit from selling mobile processors when they dumped their OMAP line.  This was bigger news than reported because although mobile is growing quickly the mobile industry is consolidating to two large players: Samsung and Apple.  Both of these mobile giants are experts at being vertical manufacturers and that makes them relentless cost cutters and profit machines.

This wave of verticalization is sweeping the mobile world as the two giants, big Samsung and little Apple, dominate and also stop buying supplier parts, like baseband processors.  The growth of the vertical giants also means a shrinking market for suppliers like Qualcomm.

Qualcomm has ridden up the mobile ladder, passing Texas Instruments as the number one mobile chip supplier, but the same problems of cutthroat price competition and large manufacturers going their own way will start to hit the big Q in San Diego.  Yes Qualcomm has built its treasure chest of patents and wireless IP, but even that will not stench the decline of revenue from decreasing chip sales and at decreasing margins.  This trend will start in 2013, although through accounting gimmicks Qualcomm will disguise it.  Smarter analysts will divine through the financial noise and expect a big sell-off of QCOM in 2013.

(12) Robert X. Cringely makes a prediction

Despite renouncing all intentions to predict, the King of all tech predictors will climb back on his zero insertion force throne to make at least one prediction for 2013.

So there are a dozen mobile foresights about the year to come.  It will be another year of consolidation, perhaps less innovation and more market force smashing as mobile continues to lead our technological lives.

The time to make 2012 predictions is in 2011 and that’s what I did.  So how did those 2012 mobile predictions fare?  A mid-year review scored them as 2 good, 5 up for grabs, 1 not likely and 2 wrong.  Let’s get the final score.

(1) More double-digit percent-of-workforce layoffs at Nokia and RIM.

Yes.

(2) RIM is acquired by either a private equity group or a carrier.

Nope, did not happen.  For bankruptcy or glory, RIM is heading forward on its own.  At least that was true in 2012.

(3) Apple kicks out Intel from its lower end laptops.

No.  This turned out to be a year, perhaps two, early.

(4) Intel licenses ARM and starts mass manufacturing ARM CPUs.

No.  Intel has not capitulated yet, but ARM is definitely in ascendancy.

(5) Microsoft launches Windows 8 on tablets only.

I’m going to take this one as a yes.  Microsoft did debut Windows 8 on their Surface RT tablets to a packed press event last June.  That debut, like this prediction, showed the importance of mobile has finally been internalized by the behemoth at Redmond, Washington.

(6) Google’s acquisition of Motorola achieves a patent armistice.

Nope, no way, nuh-uh, wrong.  The lawsuits and bickering has increased if anything and will go on and on, unfortunately.  However Apple may be learning the hard way that even courts cannot control markets.

(7) Nokia loses worldwide dominance of mobile devices to Samsung.

Yes, Samsung is the new 800 pound tech gorilla.

(8) Apple introduces a low priced iPhone for the rest of the world.

No, did not happen and Android has risen to 72% of global smartphone marketshare as a result.

(9) If Obama loses, Verizon will try to acquire Sprint

(9a) There will be no major carrier consolidation in 2012.

Yes there were no major moves in 2012.  T-Mobile did takeover MetroPCS, but this is a small pickup of 9 million subscribers to their approximately 150 million subscribers.

(10) Google will acquire Foursquare

No, but unfortunately for both Foursquare investors and employees Google is the only company big enough and relevant enough to buy them.

So the grand total is 4 right and 6 wrong, great for a baseball batting average, but not much else.  Of course some of these predictions might be recyclable for a year or two yet to come.  Yesterday’s premature prediction can be tomorrow’s incredible insight.

 

At the end of 2011 PDXmobile made 10 daring mobile predictions for 2012.  Okay well some daring, some mundane.  Overall I was seeing 2012 as a more incremental year than Mayan catastrophe.  Well just how are those predictions faring at mid-year?  Let’s see.

(1) More double-digit percent-of-workforce layoffs at Nokia and RIM.

I lead with this one and called it a “no-brainer.”  It sure was.  Both RIM and Nokia have announced layoffs in the 30% range.  I’ll call this one a Yep.

(2) RIM is acquired by either a private equity group or a carrier.

The big news about RIM this year isn’t about decline and it isn’t — yet — about being acquired.  The biggest news was when their new CEO Thorsten Heins announced Blackberry 10 would be delayed until 2013.  Missing the big holiday season when there will be a new iPhone, new Android phones and new Windows phones doesn’t bode well for Waterloo, Ontario where RIM is headquartered.

The delay will put even more pressure on RIM investors will shake, rattle and try to roll management into a deal.  Will Thorsten Heins succumb to a financial siren song?  I predicted he, meaning RIM, will so I’d still rate this prediction as In-Play.

(3) Apple kicks out Intel from its lower end laptops.

My thinking here was that the iPad with a keyboard would become the new low-end system, thus elevating ARM CPUs to a new status and threshold endangering the x86 embrace in Apple computers.  While this is still possible, in June when Apple announced their killer new thinner Macbook Pro with retina display they also announced an updated MacBook Air with a beefy Ivy Bridge x86 processor.  The more muscular MacBook Air looks to be the new low end instead of moving to slower ARM chips.  So I’d rate this prediction as Ain’t Gonna Happen.

(4) Intel licenses ARM and starts mass manufacturing ARM CPUs.

With the Microsoft Surface tablet going x86 and some phone wins with Lava and Orange, it’s looking like there is a bit of life left in x86 at the higher end of mobile performance.  Given any life in its x86 brand, there’s no way Intel will ditch it for ARM.  Hence this prediction is another Ain’t Gonna Happen.

(5) Microsoft launches Windows 8 on tablets only.

Certainly I can claim a bit of truth in this prediction when on June 18th Microsoft did show off their new Surface Tablets running Windows 8.  Was that an official launch?  Probably not, but it did show how seriously Microsoft is taking mobile now.  They correctly recognize it as an existential threat to their existence, not just dominance.  So I’d rate this prediction as In-Play.

(6) Google’s acquisition of Motorola achieves a patent armistice.

The Motorola patent portfolio has safeguarded Android, but there are still larger tussles and bustles going on between HTC and Apple, Samsung and Apple, and fill-in-the-blank and Apple.  Recently a UK judge sentenced Apple to say on its website that the Samsung Galaxy Tab is not an iPad.  This was a remarkably sensible thing to do and a truly just verdict.  Could the lawsuits be winding down?  Could the trench warfare have consumed so much and so many that the big players will keep their lawyers in their trenches?  I’d still rate this prediction as In-Play.

(7) Nokia loses worldwide dominance of mobile devices to Samsung.

This was a done deal in the first quarter this year.  Nokia has held up surprisingly well at the low-end and low margin portion of the cellphone spectrum, but Samsung has done better.  In smartphones it’s no contest as Samsung has cleaned Nokia’s Symbian grandfather clock.  This one is definitely a Yep.

(8) Apple introduces a low priced iPhone for the rest of the world.

I saw this as a strategy to hold back the Android tide sweeping the planet and it still could happen, but the over-the-top sales of the iPhone 4S have probably kept the evil Cupertino overlords in check.  Still the reality distortion field of the iPhone is hard to penetrate, so I’d rate this one as In-Play.

(9) If Obama loses, Verizon will try to acquire Sprint

(9a) There will be no major carrier consolidation in 2012.

There were two ways to phrase the ninth prediction, basically the Democrat FCC will smash any business consolidation and a Republican one will allow anything goes.  The year ain’t over, but this one is looking pretty good so far and is still In-Play.

(10) Google will acquire Foursquare

This was my stretch prediction.  Some of my friends are actually using Google Plus now.  Web traffic is a horse race now between Facebook and Google.  The social networking craze is actually near its peak with the Facebook IPO this year.  Still I do think Google wants to grow its social network into something Facebook can’t ignore, although it will.  So while this one is not as likely as it looked at the start of the year, it ain’t over yet.  I’ll rate this one as Doubtful.

Tallying the results I’ve got 2 Yeps, 5 In-Play, 1 Doubtful and 2 Ain’t Gonna Happen.

I’ll keep consulting those magic-8 balls and report back in full at year’s end.

Does the recent IPO of Facebook tell us anything?

Usually the price of a new stock goes quickly up or down as the market evaluates it.  The jury is still out on Facebook, but with nearly one billion users it’s hard to imagine Facebook fading away soon.

Perhaps this is the start of the end of social networking as an engine of high tech growth.  LinkedIn.com went public a year ago and that leaves Twitter as the last of the big three social networks to remain private.

Reports have shown that nearly two-thirds of mobile data usage is for social networking, so the big social network sites are hugely popular with people on-the-go.  Social networking, a form of communication, is heavily used on mobile devices.  Consider that if users are already spending two-thirds of their time on mobile devices for social networking, then how much room for growth is there?

Certainly social network usage will increase as smartphones increase their numbers, since there is high usage of social networks on mobile phones.  This does not mean there is a case for new social networks however.  User growth may be trending towards mobile subscriber growth and that means much slower growth for social networks as a category of high technology.

This is also good news for the entrenched players: Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.  The winner-take-all marketplace for your attention is especially amplified by social networks that require the presence of your friends.  If your friends aren’t subscribers, why join yourself?  This virtuous feedback loop of wanting to be in the network your friends are in will keep the big sites big.

While the big three are likely to remain so, I don’t see prospects for their growth over the current rate of smartphone growth which is actually slowing now as most people have a smartphone.  So if the big sites aren’t going to be picking up lots of new users, then is this the end of the social network bubble?

I think so, I believe we are at the end of a great run of technical innovation for communication.  We’re going to keep that innovation and in fact expect apps for those social sites to be pre-loaded on phones we buy.  Our smartphone is truly a communication device with not just voice calls, but also texting, email, Facebook, Twitter and even LinkedIn apps.  That is the new floor of functionality we expect for a mobile device.

But do we want more?  If we do, we have to give up time we are already spending on social networking sites or shopping sites.  I just don’t see that happening.  I also don’t see any smaller player displacing the big three.  Of the small fries, Google+ has the best shot because (1) it does have a great mobile experience, certainly better than Facebook’s as of this writing and (2) Google has the related popular web properties to integrate with Google+, think of the link in the upper right corner of your Gmail page.  Still it’s only a shot, not a certainty.

There will be new social networks popping up as people, sometimes smart people, try to duplicate the magic yellow brick road of Facebook.  I don’t expect any of them to strike it big, but I do expect future growth of the big three to come by picking up smaller social sites through acquisition.  The same forces that combined Internet ISPs will also combine social networks.

We’re at the peak.  The future of social networking is now a long slog of typical business acquisition and tepid growth.  Get online, get your accounts, don’t worry, they won’t be changing for years to come.

Instagram is a small company, two years old with only 13 people and had only 4 people a year ago.  What Instagram has is a very popular iPhone photo editing app with 30 million users.  Facebook noticed and bought Instagram for $1 billion.

Is this part of the app gold rush?  Or is this excess that marks the end of a boom?  How long can the native app craze go on?

The usual pattern is for a dominant technology company to grow and encompass, which sounds better than acquire and squash, more and more features and function of smaller players.  The leaders become bigger, but also provide more value to the end user.

It’s all happened before.

First with the invention of PCs and DOS, Microsoft added disk defragmentation, undelete, file caching and absorbed the innovation of a myriad of small utility providers.  Next with Windows, Microsoft found a dominant position being the provider of actual applications.  Word, Excel, PowerPoint, then Outlook become Office and most of the software you needed for your computer.

It took another innovation, from Netscape, to show browsers and the Internet as a new tech paradigm.  Microsoft blew them away by adding Internet Explorer to Windows, but personal computers became portals to the cloud where a new group of tech giants emerged.  First Yahoo, then Google, eBay, Amazon, LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook all became great technology brands.

The mobile universe presents a more silo-like business, with Apple controlling the hardware AND software for its devices.  Google’s Android which runs on diverse hardware is more like the Microsoft model.  Most of the hot apps which are not included with the phone operating system are still portals to the cloud: Facebook, Twitter, eBay and Amazon apps.

In that sense, most hot apps are really just single-site browsers.  How long will companies pour money into making their own single-site native app?

They will pour in that money as long as the icon on the phone screen buys them traffic, it represents one touch to traffic for them.

However what if there was a pre-installed icon on your mobile device that was just represented a browser link?  That link would be the browser-equivalent of the single-site app.

Right now companies are pouring millions into native app development, but if mobile operators start offering — meaning selling — screen icons as links to websites, then the era of the native app could grind to a halt.  The money paid to native app developers will go to mobile carriers for a preinstall of a weblink as an icon.

Users will get their single-site apps as single-site links.  Just as Microsoft Windows plus Office became most of the software you needed for your personal computer, you’ll get preinstalled links to your favorite places on the web.  Your mobile device will come with most of what you need.  The market for native apps will remain, but shrink.  There will be more native apps, but their popularity will die.  It will take a new technological paradigm and path for another era of software to emerge, grow and thrive.

Native apps are dying.

The multipurpose web browser is an embedded virus that will supplant the single-site native app.

And that will be the death of native apps.

Intel is a big profitable company, but is being left behind by a major technology paradigm shift.

The future, and present, is mobile devices.  Intel has built its business on making fast processors faster.  Employing this approach meant all power consumption considerations were swept aside in the race for ever more speed.  However to most users, computers are “fast enough.”  Do you really need that hot new multi-core Pentium to run Word or Excel?  PC upgrade cycles have been lengthening.

Computing on the go

Carrying your computer with you has become the new job and life requirement.  Even before the iconic iPhone of 2007, people started using their mobile devices for text messaging and email on-the-run.  The explosion of form factors from smartphones, airbooks or ultrabooks to tablets of all sizes shows portability and connectivity are the prized features now.

Microsoft understand this trend and has tried to carve a new path with its Windows Phone line, so far with limited success, but since Nokia has bet its farm on Windows Phone it is still too early to tell how this will fully play out.  The crown jewels of Microsoft are its Office suite of software products: Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook.   Microsoft isn’t taking any chances and is planning on a tablet version of Windows 8 this year.  Windows president Steven Sinofsky made it clear that x86 Windows apps won’t run on ARM Windows tablets.  You can read that quote here and here.

Windows 8 tablets will be ARM-based to take advantage of ARM’s superior power profile.  Battery life is the new megahertz.

Atom is too late

The mammoth Intel ship has been turned to try to meet this threat and to reduce its CPU power consumption.  Atom chips are starting to get reasonable, but especially in graphics their hunger for power lags far behind the power nibbling ARM chips.  So what can Intel do?

The Third Way

Intel is already an ARM licensee and manufactures some of their chips.  Why not support the ARM instruction set on an x86 chip?

Lest ye think this is heresy, there is precedence for this path.  TransMeta pioneered the concept of using a VLIW architecture chip to recompile, optimize and translate x86 opcodes at runtime into the CPU’s internal machine code.  They actually termed this technique “code morphing.”

Intel could take the same path and code morph ARM opcodes into x86.  Intel’s Itanium architecture is also VLIW.  ARM is a RISC style architecture with regular size instructions and could be mapped onto a VLIW word.  The challenge is to design a compiler or binary pre-processor that is intelligent enough to know how to build the very long instruction words.

Essentially this is just a translation step, best done with software compilers to translate binaries.  At this stage of VLSI life, the x86 instruction set is just one design mapped onto an internal, simpler CPU.  Why not also add the ARM instruction set and gain the ability to run ARM binaries?  ARM libraries that manipulate and push pixels in power friendly ways would be immediately available and Intel could go head-to-head with mobile big boys like Qualcomm and Texas Instruments in seeking mobile design wins.

How long would you push a shopping cart with a stuck wheel uphill?  That’s what Intel is doing with its Atom architecture.  Emulating ARM could revive their fortunes.  ARMulation can save Intel.

 

With the new year upon us, it’s a good time to make resolutions and try to look ahead.  Here’s my top ten predictions for 2012.

(1) More double-digit percent-of-workforce layoffs at Nokia and RIM.

A no-brainer here, both businesses are in decline due to the rise of iPhone and Android, so expect 10%-plus of workers at both places to be dismissed.

(2) RIM is acquired by either a private equity group or a carrier.

RIM’s decline has made it the subject of rampant takeover speculation.  The Canadian government is a bit in the way and this is usually not taken into consideration.  Either a private equity group will take over RIM to break up the pieces and part them out, or possibly more interestingly we could see a new kind of verticalization arrive in the mobile industry.

Imagine Verizon, or even Sprint – although they were really burned by buying NexTel – buying a handset maker and assuring that maker, in this case RIM, premium services and placement.  Carriers are in the process of becoming dumb bit pipes and are striving to differentiate some services.  Buying a handset maker, giving those handsets premium service for of course, a premium price, might not be a game changer, but it would be a way to fight the inevitable slide towards ever cheaper datarate prices.

(3) Apple kicks out Intel from its lower end laptops.

This is a move that would make Steve Jobs proud and one Tim Cook can call his own.  x86 processors are in a zombie-like state of deadness and ARM is the surging present.  The logical next step for Apple is to merge their mobile and laptop manufacturing processes by eliminating Intel CPUs from the laptop.  This gives Apple even more economies of scale, better power consumption numbers which they will tout to the heavens and puts more pressure on Intel pricing for the higher end desktop system CPUs.

Overlooked in the recent Anobit acquisition is how dependent on Samsung Apple is for flash memory.  Apple is taking the long view and buying insurance in case their lawsuits cause Samsung to retaliate on flash memory prices and deliveries.  Anobit is Apple taking flash memory internal and moving their laptops to ARM will further Apple’s acquisition of Intrinsity chip designers.

(4) Intel licenses ARM and starts mass manufacturing ARM CPUs.

x86 has had a great run, but it has lost in the marketplace.  All the growth is mobile and all the mobile is ARM.  This is one kind of diversification Intel is good at: hardware.  Forget any mobile-type software from this mammoth cubicle bureaucracy.

(5) Microsoft launches Windows 8 on tablets only.

Microsoft knows that mobile is threatening to eat their Office lunch, but so far Windows Phone 7 has not found a foothold.  It’s probably too late for another handheld phone operating system, although Windows Phone 7 has quite a nice user interface and has impressed the usual Microsoft critics.  Unfortunately for Redmond the mobile pony has left the barn, so I see efforts to push Windows into tablets redoubled with the vast checkbook they have.  By focusing Windows 8 on tablets the conversation will be changed.

(6) Google’s acquisition of Motorola achieves a patent armistice.

It won’t be Andy Rubin’s “patent peace”, but Google didn’t buy Motorola blindly and did due diligence to ensure Moto’s patents can provide Android protection.  There will still be skirmishes, but the major player lawsuits will calm down in 2012.  Steve Jobs will be rolled over in his grave.

(7) Nokia loses worldwide dominance of mobile devices to Samsung.

Already in the works, white-label devices will continue to eat away at Nokia’s low end offerings and even with some Windows Phone success at the high end, the competitive winds are too stiff.  Even the “middle” tier of yesterday’s smartphones-as-new-feature-phones is crumbling under the assault of cheaper Android phones and prediction number (8).

(8) Apple introduces a low priced iPhone for the rest of the world.

Take an iPhone 1, make it smaller, put fewer icons on the screen and Voila!  There’s a new iPhone for developing countries and a new path up the Apple product line.  Not to be overlooked by this offering is that its real intention is to slow the tide of Android devices and customers becoming accustomed to them.

(9) If Obama loses, Verizon will try to acquire Sprint

This is really more of a 2013 prediction, but if a Republican gets in the White House, then there will be further mobile consolidation.  The other way to word this prediction is prediction (9a).

(9a) There will be no major carrier consolidation in 2012.

The FCC torpedoing AT&T grabbing T-Mobile has frozen the playing field for now.

(10) Google will acquire Foursquare

A bit of a reach, but Google accurately senses its vulnerability to social networks and has failed with its current offerings.  Expect more energy, more Muppets and more everything put into Google+.  Facebook bought up Gowalla, but this was a talent buy and they’ve ditched the location-ness of Gowalla to part out their engineering team to Facebook Timeline.

Yelp has a better database than Foursquare, but they’ve already turned down Google.  The VCs backing Foursquare want out: either through IPO or acquisition.  Foursquare just isn’t generating the revenue needed for a decent IPO, so I expect them to be acquired.

Overall look for an incremental year of mobile fun.  I see lots of minor improvements, but no earth-shattering paradigm-smashing announcements.  There will be Google TV, but no one will care.  Well, maybe in 2013.

See you next year.

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