Mobile 2012: More coming than just the 'iPad 3'

Two massive industry shakeups, a reworked Android ecosystem, and more are on the horizon

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By 2013, I believe the situation will be untenable. Samsung has hedged its bets with Windows Phone 7 and its own Bada OS, but Motorola, LG, Acer, and the rest are largely dependent on Android and, thus, need to come together with Google to stabilize and rationalize the Android OS and core apps. Given that under Larry Page's leadership Google has already started to rationalize its whole portfolio, I'm betting the same will happen with Android. I suspect (hope) that the 3LM security technology Google picked up when it bought Motorola Mobility will become standard on all Android devices, ending the current guessing game as to which devices can be secured and to what degree.

I also suspect we'll see Samsung and Motorola own the lion's share of the smart Android market -- the devices used in businesses -- which will give IT a manageable, definable set of devices to vet and oversee. The other Android device makers will churn out models that replace today's regular cellphones, with the same lack of cohesion and concern of such devices. It will be very much like the so-called feature phone market of today, where 1 billion devices all are powered by Java, but have nothing else in common. (Feature phones are cellphones that have limited messaging, gaming, and social neworking capabilities.) No one worries about managing feature phones because they are to smartphones what Xboxes are to PCs.

Tablets remain an iPad stronghold
That's my prediction for Android smartphones. But I believe that Android tablets will continue to struggle, even with nicely designed models such as the Asus Transformer Prime and Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1. Android apps are rare when it comes to business usage, and on the whole Android apps are inferior to iOS ones. The Android OS still isn't as good as iOS, even with the very welcome "Ice Cream Sandwich" update. Plus, Google has nothing as compelling as iTunes and iCloud to provide a digital ecosystem akin to Apple's.

These differences matter more for tablet users than for smartphone users, as tablets are judged more like computers and less like phones, for which expectations of sophisticated app capabilities are lower. iPads provide a helluva lot more for the same dollars as Android devices, and the low-end tablet market will gravitate to underpowered media-oriented devices such as the Amazon Kindle Fire, whose prices no one else can match because no one else can get the media revenues from them that Amazon.com can.

As far as the tablet market goes, it'll remain an iPad world -- especially in business.

NFC gets real traction -- but not for payments
Near-field communications (NFC) has been a buzz technology off and on since 2003, especially in 2011, when it became the foundation of the Google Wallet mobile payments system. Few devices actually support NFC, a short-range two-way wireless technology, so NFC has been more talk than action.

I believe 2012 will see significant adoption of NFC, at least in devices. And I think as that adoption spreads, NFC will get used as a quick exchange technology, not for mobile payments, at least while debit and credit cards remain much easier and simpler to use than NFC-enabled smartphones, where you have to run an app to confirm the transaction. Bluetooth is too awkward and complex for information sharing, but NFC could make it as simple as bumping devices to exchange contacts, URLs, and other bursty information. The defunct HP TouchPad's WebOS 3 showed how this could work via its Touch-to-Share capability.

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