Top tech trends for 2012

As we get ready to usher in the new year here's a look at the ten tech trends that should generate plenty of headlines in 2012.

We couldn't end 2011 without taking a look at the top tech trends that should garner plenty of attention next year. The ubiquity of concepts like mobility, smartphones and tablets belies the rapidity in which the technology has made the jump from the drawing board to our homes and a lot of the themes from this year are likely to be developed further in 2012. With that in mind, here's a list of the top 10 tech trends to keep an eye on next year, compiled by New York-based markets communications firm JWT.

4G for all

Fourth-generation wireless communications will reach most parts of the globe by the end of 2012. Telstra is already active in the space with the launch of mobile broadband modems for its new 4G network. Optus and Vodafone Hutchison Australia are expected to launch their networks next year. Meanwhile, China Mobile has started trials in China; several major telecom providers will launch 4G in India in the first half of 2012 and Sky Brazil will roll out a 4G-based mobile broadband service. Device makers are also ramping up their product lines, with RIM launching its first 4G BlackBerry in August and Apple expected to dive into 4G with the iPhone 5 sometime next year.

Anywhere, anyway shopping

Traditional retailers are still coming to grips with e-commerce but things could better next year, with better integration and overlap between bricks-and-mortar and online retailing. Shopping could very soon entail simply clicking – buying products from a PC or mobile device – and then collecting the order at a physical location or having it immediately delivered.

Multi-channel buying will be faster and more streamlined, with less time in lines and shorter waits for online shoppers. Some supermarkets are already setting up displays where shoppers scan QR codes for the grocery items they want, then have them delivered or pick them up in-store. We’ll also see click-and-deliver for in-store shoppers who want different sizes, shorter waits or less heavy lifting.

Apps for an aging world

Apps are an integral part of the smart device experience and as marketers continue to retool for an aging population, we can expect more apps aimed at older demographics. The GlassesOff iPhone app for example, due in 2012, is a program that purports to improve vision by training readers’ eyes to adapt to certain patterns. The Tell My Geo app can help caregivers keep track of elderly friends and family.

Facebook’s IPO

We have seen a number of high profile tech IPOs this year but sadly most have failed to deliver on their promise, with the likes of Groupon, Zynga and Pandora all having a tough time convincing investors. However, 2012 has been earmarked as the year when the mother of all social networks takes the plunge. Facebook's IPO, expected sometime between April and June, will be the hottest thing in town and could value Facebook at a whopping $100 billion; and will no doubt set some records along the way and spawn a new cohort of millionaires in Silicon Valley.

Voice Control Siri is just the beginning

Voice commands went mainstream with Microsoft’s Kinect and then with Apple’s application for the iPhone 4S. The next thing on the radar is the development and introduction of spoken command applications that will let us control everything from thermostats to televisions – Apple’s rumoured TV is said to include voice recognition, and Samsung, LG and Sharp are among those planning voice-enabled TV sets and related products, perhaps making remote controls obsolete.

Split-Personality Smartphones

With employees increasingly using their mobile devices for work and play, expect to see services that are going to designed to make their lives a little easier. New services will enable people to toggle between business and pleasure while keeping them distinct, reducing the need for multiple devices. In the US, AT&T’s new Toggle allows users to easily switch from work mode to personal mode. In Germany, BizzTrust lets users turn their Android devices into secure “work phones” and sets up “work” and “personal” partitions for applications.

Smart Clothing

We know that technology is changing the game for apparel retailers but what about the products themselves? Next year could be the year of the smart clothing, with garments that help wearers monitor their bodies. Nyx Devices will sell the Somnus shirt, developed at MIT, which can monitor sleep patterns. Sportswear brand Under Armour has the E39, a shirt with a removable sensor pack that provides body data (heart rate, temperature, etc.), which wearers review on their mobile device. A Jawbone bracelet similarly provides activity and sleep data. Reebok is developing concepts like leggings with accelerometers for measuring distance, and AT&T says it plans to sell bio-tracking clothes for athletes, first responders, military personnel and senior citizens.

Voice-based microblogging

This isn't exactly a new concept but should get a lot more attention in 2012. Bubbly – a service that sends users texts carrying sound files from people they follow – was touted by some as the new Twitter back in 2010. Singapore-based Bubble Motion has now amassed 12 million Bubbly users in several Asian countries, including India, Indonesia and Japan, and is finally looking to go global with plans for iPhone and Android apps. Competitors in the space include Audioboo, as well as newcomers Yiip and Qwips.

Web chat everywhere

New tools offer opportunities for social and informational exchanges across the web. With the web plug-in Tokkster, currently in beta, users can chat with others concurrently visiting the same web page; it’s billed as “a fun way to meet new people and make new friends while surfing the internet.” ChatID is a tool that allows brands to talk to interested shoppers on third-party sites (e.g. someone shopping for a Sony product on an online retail portal could click a button to discuss products with Sony employees).

Your public story

The social network is fun, but so far it hasn’t told the whole story of who you are as a person. Increasingly, people will take more control over their public profile to tell their stories in new and unique ways. Intel’s “Museum of Me” in 2011 touched on the idea of shaping your public information into something else, and Facebook has taken a page from that with its new Timeline. Storyvite does the same for your professional story, and about.me allows users to create a personal splash page.