The past 12 months have been pretty wild for the technology industry. Tablet computers are nearing world domination, 3D TV is practically mainstream and Android smartphones are gaining ground on the Apple iPhone juggernaut.
Technology’s evolution in 2011 has seen the continued rise of social media, meaning Facebook and Twitter now play an increasingly crucial role in our lives.
So what does 2012 have in store for the world’s technology heads? In an effort to pace ourselves one step ahead of the markets, we put our predictions on the table for trends and product launches that could lie ahead this year.
Slim and light, under an inch thick and weighing just 3lbs, these ultra-portable laptops are set to explode in 2012. Who needs a DVD drive when you can have fast and reliable solid state hard drives, cloud storage and powerful processing thanks to Intel's i5 and i7 chips?
Apple and its MacBook Air have had this product area on their own for too long, and with the Consumer Electronics Show just a couple of weeks away, Ultrabooks from a range of big name manufacturers are surely going to be the talk of the Las Vegas gadget expo.
Just like Christmas will come again this time next year, so will the launch of the third-generation iPad from Apple. The rumourm ill is already gaining pace with thoughts of what it will feature, with some still claiming Apple will unveil two different versions as early as January.
What we can be sure of is that the transition from iPad 2 to 3 will be far more vast than from the original to the sequel, with more power, an even higher quality display and a camera as good as the iPhone 4S. But it will be whatever tweaks Apple has for the iOS 6 operating system that will really keep iPad 3 in front of its Android rivals. Expect to see it in time for late spring.
The long-awaited iPhone 5 will most likely be a more pronounced remodel of the iPhone 4S than the latter was of the iPhone 4. A bigger screen was the one feature Apple lovers felt was lacking from the last upgrade and that is sure to come along with more powerful processing and graphic enhancements allowing the emphasis to be put on cloud software and connectivity rather than hardware features.
This will ensure the iPhone 5 remains central to the way people live their daily lives and let’s face it, how many more megapixels does a mobile camera really need? We should see the iPhone 5 much earlier than in 2011- hopefully by late summer.
As streaming services such as Spotify become more popular thanks to link- ups with bigger brands like Facebook, along with Netflix arriving in the UK, faster and more stable broadband connections are a must. BT will use 2012 to roll out fibre technology to nearly another two million homes and businesses promising speeds of 80Mbps as a minimum norm.
Virgin Media will also continue with its speed push- attempting to bring 100Mbps to as many homes as possible around the UK.
It's a staple of American lives and Netflix's UK launch will certainly attract a lot of attention. But with broadband speeds in Britain still lagging behind US homes, can the download movie service have as much impact here?
High-profile deals with studios Miramax and MGM suggest that it can, with download speeds part of their content offerings. For those with a fast enough connection, Netflix could be the internet-based must-have subscription during the next 12 months, whether it be via a computer, tablet or connected TV.
Hand in hand with Netflix and faster broadband come advances in Connected TV. During 2011 we saw a greater move towards downloadable programming and catch-up services with Microsoft putting its Xbox 360 console at the heart of the living room through a range of content deals with big names.
In 2012, the BBC will team up with Virgin Media to launch new red button services and apps on its TiVo box, while Sky's Anytime+ service is sure to get a shot in the arm by allowing its set-top boxes to connect to other broadband services rather than just Sky's own. The number of apps for TVs will also begin to rise and this certainly is the growth area for software developers in both 2012 and 2013.
New games consoles
With the Xbox celebrating 10 years and the Wii showing its age, the time is nigh for what is being called the eighth generation in gaming. Nintendo are set to launch the ‘Wii U’ later this year with Microsoft and Sony expected to announce the successors to their wildly successful home consoles.
With the popularity of apps and downloads, internet purchases rather than discs or cartridges have to be at their heart to create a true next-generation of console experiences. 3D could also play a part but won't be the crucial selling point. Instead more built-in movement and voice-based functions will do away with controllers, peripherals and extra boxes or receivers. Holographic experiences with characters projected and appearing in your living room could be an outside bet.
US mobile payment system Google Wallet would be very welcome on this side of the Atlantic. Of course, safety and security is key but 2012 is sure to see Apple and Google compete to advance mobile payment technology so by next New Year we'll not only be using our smartphones to check out the best sale prices, we'll be paying for goods with a single tap of our handset.
Touchscreen desktops and TVs
The upcoming Windows 8 operating system is built around touchscreen technology- bringing the smartphone and tablet experience to the traditional PC. It’s still in development but is expected to launch in 2012.
It is true that previous attempts to launch touchscreen desktops failed to catch the imagination, but the fact Microsoft is building Windows 8 from the ground up for this specific purpose is invaluable. The advance should lead Apple to compete with a touchscreen Mac or MacBook- or perhaps even its mooted Apple television set.
Other TV manufacturers are also certain to be already experimenting with bringing touch to their big connected TV screens. The move will advance touch control beyond tablets and smartphones into every single aspect of our lives.
Toshiba and Nintendo have both proved, to an extent, that glasses-free 3DTV can work. Wearing those awful specs is certainly a barrier for many, not least because of the cost of buying enough glasses for the whole family.
The Consumer Electronics Show in January is sure to see another wave of promises that 3D pictures can be achieved without four eyes and but this is one trend to be wary of. With the major players still throwing their weight behind glasses, they can't all be wrong.