Tech Trends 2012: Trends Include Web TV, Tablets

TORONTO - Without having insider information it's pretty much impossible to accurately predict the future direction of technology and the ideas that will become the next big things.

But here are few guesses at tech trends we may see in 2012:

Near field communication and mobile commerce take off

It won't be long before just about every new smartphone comes equipped with the ability to handle something called near field communication, allowing users to wirelessly exchange information or make financial transactions at stores and banks.

Canadian businesses are generally considered to be laggards when it comes to e-commerce, but the big tech companies are putting a very strong push on mobile commerce and will do their best to turn smartphones into digital wallets this year.

In Canada, we've already seen a hint of what's to come with the Starbucks iPhone app, which can be used to buy coffees and lattes once a user's account is preloaded with store credit.

Groupon and the scores of copycat deal-of-the-day websites are also introducing mobile apps so customers can redeem their offers without the need to carry around a print out. And app makers are increasingly using the GPS function on smartphones to alert consumers to nearby promotions or sales they can take advantage of.

The Google Wallet app — which is not yet available in Canada — takes the idea a step further by allowing consumers to use their smartphone as a credit card at participating stores. The app can also handle data for loyalty programs, so there's no longer a need to carry around a dozen or more cards in a George Costanza-sized wallet.

Viewing TV content via the web grows

Buried within the voluminous biography "Steve Jobs" by Walter Isaacson is a passage alluding to Apple's work to reinvent the television viewing experience, perhaps by making its own iTV.

"He very much wanted to do for television sets what he had done for computers, music players, and phones: make them simple and elegant," Isaacson writes in "Steve Jobs."

"I'd like to create an integrated television set that is completely easy to use," Isaacson quotes Jobs as saying. "It would be seamlessly synced with all of your devices and with iCloud.

"I finally cracked it."

Whether we see Apple's take on TV this coming year or not — which would probably involve renting or buying digital content through the iTunes store — it will likely get easier and easier to view television content streamed through the Internet.

Rogers recently released an iPad app for its customers opening up live TV streaming on the tablet from anywhere inside the house — or perhaps even on the front patio or back deck if a WiFi signal is strong enough.

New devices to get web content onto TV screens are coming next year including the Roku, which will compete with Apple TV and the Boxee Box. Google is also expected to release a new version of its set-top box, although the first version was a bust and never made it to Canada.

Apple releases an iPad 3, iPhone 5?

Apple has followed a familiar pattern in releasing its iPhones and iPads, so new iterations of the best-selling tablet and phone are expected to be mere months away. The original tablet hit U.S. stores in April 2010 and the iPad 2 was released in March of this year, which has everyone guessing that we'll see the third version this spring.

And we may finally see the iPhone 5 in the second half of the year — again, if Apple's release pattern holds true. Going back to the release of the first iPhone in June 2007, Apple has launched a new phone every year, usually in June (the iPhone 4S was an exception, hitting the market in October instead).

Tech missteps in 2011

Nothing comes close to the iPad

Competitors have had since the spring of 2010 to dream up their answers to the iPad and most have failed miserably. Research in Motion's PlayBook and HP's TouchPad were complete flops until their prices were slashed down, suggesting that while consumers will overwhelmingly choose the iPad at the $500 price point, they'll settle on another tablet for $200 or less.

3D in the home

Hollywood's big bet on 3D has paid dividends in theatres but in homes, few are eager to pay for the experience. According to a survey commissioned by Sharp Canada, 44 per cent of Canadian shoppers said they considered 3D technology to be the least important feature when buying a new TV.

QR codes

The funny looking black-and-white images became ubiquitous in advertising in 2011 but relatively few seem interested in QR codes. The modern barcodes provide consumers with more information when they're snapped with a phone's camera, but not many are using them. According to a report by the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association, about 45 per cent of mobile phone users recognize QR codes but only one in 10 have actually used them.