2010 tech forecasts: What the accurate analysts predict

New-year predictions are often iffy, but these firms were pretty accurate in their 2009 calls. Will they be right again?

A venerable New Year's tradition in the tech world entails trotting out year-old predictions by analyst shops and laughing at their off-base prognostications. But here's a surprise: The two biggest analyst firms still standing -- Gartner and IDC -- did a pretty good job a year ago forecasting the shape of IT in 2009, as did the smaller Forrester Research and 451 Group.

Errors -- and they all made them -- notwithstanding, the major analyst shops did well enough for us to take their 2010 predictions seriously. Here's a look at what the analysts expected in 2009, what actually happened, and where IT may go in the new year.

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The best call? It may seem obvious today, but a year ago nobody was talking about the end of all-you-can-eat, mobile data plans. But Gartner said this: "The limited capacity of 3G operators will lead to the demise of unlimited mobile data plans. Furthermore, the user perception driven by low data throughput will increase churn rates." And that's exactly the direction in which we're heading.

The worst calls? Gartner and Forrester were too bullish on the prospects of desktop virtualization taking hold last year. To his credit, Forrester analyst Andrew Jaquith called out his own error, saying, "We were wrong, and called this trend too early. ... We also missed on the key driver." (He thought it would be security, not cost savings.)

And IDC struck out when it predicted that "government initiatives in 2009 will catalyze massive IT investments and industry growth focused on economic recovery, energy, and health industry streamlining, and improving financial markets' stability and transparency." Well, no -- and it was a surprising mistake because the company also predicted significant cuts in IT spending due to the faltering economy. It's hard to understand how that rather obvious insight squared with "massive investments."

Now onto the key predictions for 2010.

SLAs are coming to the cloud
It doesn't take a weatherman to know which way the winds of cloud computing are blowing, so predictions of continued growth in 2010 garner no extra credit in this class. However, analysts William Fellows and Antonio Piraino of the 451 Group make some thought-provoking points in their look at cloud computing in the new decade.

Coming after a year when outages angered users of Microsoft/T-Mobile Sidekick, Gmail, and PayPal, businesses will demand more accountability from cloud providers, they say. And as basic cloud services become more of a commodity, vendors will strive to differentiate themselves by packaging products and services together to target horizontal application uses, vertical and geographical markets, and specific compliance requirements.

"So far, the main applications going up on the cloud are Web 2.0 and databases, QA, T&D [test and development], batch, and disaster recovery. We expect analytics, workspace environments (integrated e-mail, portal, messaging, remote meetings, etc.), HR, and a wave of virtualized 'cloud-ready' (remember 'HDTV-ready'?) applications will be leading cloud candidates in 2010," say Fellows and Piraino.

Focusing on security in the cloud, Forrester's Jaquith figures that "concerns about data protection will lead to in-cloud encryption -- with customers holding the keys. Fears of multitenancy will give rise to private and dedicated clouds. Security policies across cloud-based VMs will become fully portable, able to be applied seamlessly across premises-based and cloud-based resources."

IDC's chief analyst Frank Gens expects IBM and Microsoft to join the cloud battle (good call) and admits to sticking his neck out a bit: "SAP may decide it needs to acquire more pure-play cloud assets to hedge its current cloud strategy and accelerate its expansion in the cloud." There's reason to believe he may be right. SAP has had little success developing its own cloud platform (along with its failure to develop a working small-business ERP strategy), so it could well try to recover some momentum with a cloud computing strategy.

Gens, by the way, has this overall perspective on the coming year: "2010 will be a year of modest recovery for the IT and telecommunications industries. But the recovery will not mean a return to the pre-recession status quo. Rather, we'll see a radically transforming marketplace -- driven by surging demand in emerging markets, growing impact from the cloud services model, an explosion of mobile devices and applications, and the continuing rollout of higher-speed networks."

Social media finally enters the enterprise
Nearly everybody figured that IT spending growth would plummet in 2009. And it did, of course. Given what had happened to the economy by the end of 2008, that call was the proverbial no-brainer.

But IDC, which is owned by InfoWorld's parent company IDG, was ahead of the curve with a prediction that "the crumbling of the 'business/personal' wall in IT will accelerate, as the economy and the 2.0 culture drive consumer and business technology together, opening new opportunities and threatening to create new IT industry dinosaurs." There was no better example then the penetration of the iPhone and other smartphones into the enterprise, creating major headaches and cultural disconnects for IT while opening up news ways to work.

And for 2010 IDC has taken that prediction a bit further, saying, "Business applications will undergo a fundamental transformation -- fusing business applications with social/collaboration software and analytics into a new generation of 'socialytic' apps, challenging current market leaders." Indeed, we at InfoWorld identified that trend as one of the top underreported tech stories of 2009, calling out the transformation of the familiar wiki to a platform for enterprise mashups.

Here comes the iTablet
No surprise here -- there have been more rumors about Apple's likely entry into the tablet market than the names of Tiger Woods' mistresses. Despite the hoo-ha, Apple may be setting itself up for a flop. Or as InfoWorld's resident skeptic Randall C. Kennedy puts it: Tablets are "underpowered, only marginally portable, and awkward to use in anything but a traditional seated position, with a desk to support them. ... To believe that Apple can somehow succeed where all others have failed is to ignore some fundamental realities of tablet computing."

IDC, though, implies that Apple has learned from the mistakes of others and will introduce a tablet that is more like an upsized iPod Touch than a Mac, with a swivel-head screen. Smartphone users, IDC predicts, "would jump at the chance to have a larger screen -- watching videos/movies, reading books/magazines/newspapers (it would take a big bite from the Kindle), surfing the Web, videophone, and online gaming. Look for Apple's 'iPad' by year-end 2010. Oh, and don't be surprised to see Microsoft also announce its own device in this space."

App stores to be in the red, Android apps to skyrocket
Not all of the worthwhile predictions came from the major analyst firms. A boutique, wireless-focused shop called CCS Insight had some interesting thoughts on 2010:

  • Most application stores will not be profitable during 2010. Like store owners, developers will be frustrated by the gap between the promise of easy income and the reality of needing careful marketing to make consumers aware of applications.
  • At least two major European operators will stop subsidizing phones in 2010. They will switch to a SIM-only strategy and offer nothing but SIM-only contracts to new customers and to people renewing or upgrading contracts. (SIM cards, the norm in most of the world, can be moved among phones, carying your account with them.)

The SIM-only theory is interesting. There's already a possibility that Google will itself sell the Android Nexus smartphone instead of using the usual business model, which entails hardware sold and subsidized by carriers. If some European carriers adopt a SIM-only model, it could be an interesting lab experiment that will be closely watched by Google.

IDC, meanwhile, had an interesting take on the future of Android apps: "There are now about 10,000 applications for Android; we predict there will be a strong ramp (albeit slower than the iPhone app ramp) for Android -- look for 50,000 to 75,000 applications by the end of 2010. The reason? The advantage of Android -- that it's more 'open' than the iPhone platform -- creates more compatibility challenges for developers across the different device manufacturers' hardware."

We'll know pretty quickly if IDC's call on Android apps is on track. But it will take another spin around the sun to test other, broader technology predictions. Stay tuned.

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This article, "2010 tech forecasts: What the accurate analysts predict," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the latest developments in cloud computing, virtualization, and mobile computing at InfoWorld.com.

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