Five tech trends to watch in 2012

LANCE ULANOFF
Last updated 13:55 28/12/2011
augmented reality
Karl Hilzinger

WIKITUDE: An example of augmented reality application.

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This post was originally published on Mashable.

2012 promises to be a very busy year in all things digital, but, as with any annum, there will be just a handful of big, memorable trends. Here, I've collected five such movements that are likely to make a big impact in our technologically-enhanced lives.

Augmented Reality

It's now in games, location apps, business cards and coffee shops and could start showing up in cars and even eyeglasses.

Augmented Reality, which puts a virtual view on top of your real world, is really just a cool way of saying, "Reality with Style."

Instead of simply viewing your apartment through your phone, you're playing Star Wars Arcade Falcon Gunner on top of it.

Instead looking up a restaurant in your neighborhood, you're using Yelp to see its location and reviews for it and other restaurants right on top of your on-screen view of the street. 2012 will mark the beginning of exponential growth for Mobile Augmented Reality (MAR).

According to a report from Visiongain, 25 per cent of all app downloads will feature some sort of augmented reality.

Though adoption hinges on more powerful, high-speed and camera-ready mobile devices, it's clear to me that the majority of smartphones and tablets in end-users' hands next year will be 3G-to-4G-ready, high-def, large-screen devices with not one, but two multi-megapixel cameras.

Trust me, by 2013, you'll be hard-pressed to find anyone who hasn't at least tried augmented reality.

The micro-payment economy

App manufacturers are not the only ones who can make money selling tiny wares and incremental upgrades.

The barrier to entry for starting your own small business has been effectively knocked down by a variety of online merchants who are willing to hawk your wares for next to nothing.

In truth, the merchandise isn't entirely yours.

In fact, these companies are often just selling your idea on top of their wares and you get a tiny slice for each sale, or for when the numbers of sales reaches a certain threshold.

Sites like RedBubble do everything for the artist; all they need to do is upload the content.

RedBubble will, for example, make the T-Shirt with your art, sell it for you, manage the distribution and, of course, collect payment.

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The site lets you set the price above their fixed price. Yes, you could add as much as you want onto a US$16 T-shirt, but most smart sellers know this means they won't sell a single garment.

Instead, you add 1 to-5 per cent (maybe 10 per cent if you're feeling strong) and then promote the dickens out of your product on the site and through various social networks.

RedBubble is just one of many destinations popping up to help the aspiring entrepreneur.

They join established platforms like Lulu (self-publish books), and YouTube.

YouTube has been inviting videographers into the commerce tent for years, letting them add AdSense accounts to popular videos and then sitting back and watching the pennies roll in.

As the economy sputters along, look for more and more of the sites helping you sell almost anything you can imagine and making you a "fortune"-one micro payment at a time.

The rise of the ultrabook

Tablets dominate the tech conversation, but that doesn't mean the PC is dead.

No, it's alive and well, but in a form that will closely mimic some of the best features of tablets. I don't have numbers yet, but I'm betting Desktop PCs were not big sellers this holiday season.

Laptops may have done a little better, but who among you was willing to give junior an end-of-life netbook instead of a sexy, touch-screen tablet? (I'm imagining no one raising their hands).

A term coined by Intel, ultrabooks describe exquisitely thin and light, yet pleasingly powerful laptops. Think MacBook Air and you get the idea.

No, they don't have touch screens or apps (though that's changing, too) and ultrabooks usually have just one HD camera.

Still, with just a little more heft and girth than your garden-variety iPad, an ultrabook adds a full-sized keyboard and far more powerful components.

In other words, they're perfectly designed for getting real work done, but no one will be embarrassed to carry one around.

2012 will witness an explosion of these devices as manufacturers pin on them their last best hopes for regaining consumer computing interest.

Social/digital exhaustion

Facebook will break the 1 billion user mark in 2012, but its numbers have flattened out in the US.

Twitter is growing; it may have as many 450 million users, but no one knows how many people are really active users.

Google+ is growing steadily, but is still well behind the two most established networks and much of the public is unaware of its existence. There is the now persistent, with good reason, backlash against mobile phone usage in cars and on streets.

In general, more and more people seem to be reevaluating their social and digital existence.

Even the SOPA battle in the US is revealing some unforeseen schisms.

The Stop Online Piracy Act is a bad idea, not because piracy is good, but because of the plan for enforcement is wrong and dangerous.

That said, no one who creates content can deny that the digital revolution hasn't forced them to rethink how they create, sell and distribute content.

There are no easy answers here and 2012 will be a year of introspection; one where we possibly rewrite the rules of content, copyrights and social interactions.

Mobile chip wars

The tech industry is gearing up for a rather intense battle-on a micro scale. With ARM-based CPUs in virtually all of today's tablets and handsets, Intel, the dominant system CPU manufacturer, has no presence in the mobile space.

It's a situation the company promises to change in 2012 with Medfield-its rethinking of the Atom CPU (popular in netbooks).

Meanwhile a consortium of Pacific Rim manufacturers have just banded together to produce new mobile CPUs for phones and tablets.

These efforts may not mean much, though, as Texas Instruments, Qualcomm, Motorola, Marvell, Nvidia and others all license the ARM architecture and show (along with the hardware partners) little interest in switching to a new or once-established platform.

Even Microsoft is developing Windows 8 to run on ARM-based CPUs in addition to traditional Wintel machines.

Mashable is the largest independent news source covering digital culture, social media and technology.

- Mashable.com

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