Looking Back at 2012's Big Tech Predictions: Did Big Data Dominate?

In the closing days of 2011, I offered several technology-based predictions that I thought would come to pass by now. They were the "5 Big Tech Predictions for 2012." In the interests of openness and accountability, it's time I revisited them to see just how well (or poorly) I've done at predicting the future. We'll be examining three of those predictions today, each tied to one important trend: a fully connected, data-driven world.

First prediction: the Internet is (almost) everywhere.
We're certainly getting used to having the Internet in our pockets, but the Internet of things -- the big promise of a truly "everywhere" Internet -- is moving forward in fits and starts. I predicted that "2012 [would] be a major tipping point past which a cell phone and tablet alone no longer cut it." A number of connected devices have stepped into the void, and we are hearing more and more about connectivity in unexpected places.

Nike (NYSE: NKE  ) started the year off by releasing the FuelBand, a connected wearable-computing device designed to help you have more fun while getting fit. It's not a new concept, but it's the first time that a global fitness powerhouse put its marketing muscle behind a connected device that offers so much functionality. In the spring, Google (NASDAQ: GOOGL  ) took a big leap toward the "everywhere" Internet by promising to put the Internet right in front of your face with Project Glass. Last month, General Electric (NYSE: GE  ) promised to spend $1.5 billion over three years developing an "industrial Internet," which aims to connect things as diverse as jet turbines and hospital beds.

In other news, a Forrester Consulting survey discovered that the Internet of things has already been implemented by 15% of the companies it surveyed, and 53% plan to put an Internet of things solution in place within the next two years. A start-up accelerator in the United Kingdom recently launched what it claims is "the world's first accelerator bootcamp targeting the Internet of things." And, on a lighter (and weirder) note, a company called Blacksocks appears to have created the world's first "smart socks," which come with an embedded NFC chip that help you find lost socks and monitor the socks' condition. A quick Google search assures me that this is a real product, but I have no idea why.

So, was I correct? Not entirely. We're still on the cusp, and the tipping point hasn't quite been reached in terms of public perception. But the hype is definitely building, from the socks up.

Verdict: A little early.

Second prediction: data analytics becomes pervasive.
There's no point to having an Internet of things without the data-crunching smarts to make sense of all its output. I pointed to IBM (NYSE: IBM  ) as a leader in the analytics field, and that segment has been one of the company's best performers this year. The global spending on "big data" is projected to hit $28 billion by year-end, and will rise to $34 billion next year. Analytics specialist Splunk (NASDAQ: SPLK  ) was the year's most prominent big data IPO, joining an array of firms from IBM to TIBCO Software (NASDAQ: TIBX  ) that are already planting their flags on the big data frontier.

However, fellow Fool Tim Beyers notes that demand for data analytics is running far ahead of the global supply of big data professionals, which could result in a million-plus understaffing crisis within the next five years. Rich Duprey, another fellow Fool, backs up this assertion with an array of statistics that show most companies failing to fully capitalize on the torrent of information generated by their day-to-day operations. Although data analytics has plenty of supporters, it hasn't quite broken through to pervasiveness yet.

One fascinating fact that arose this year in support of an analytically driven future came from the never-ending presidential campaign. Reports of the Obama team's data-driven campaign strategy hit major news sites within days of his victory, with detail after detail of finely tuned precision slicing and dicing voter information in ways no political campaign had ever before attempted. Time and The Atlantic's Alexis Madrigal have two of the best write-ups on this fascinating element of the campaign. If the notoriously low-tech world of politics can get upgraded to be big-data friendly, it can't be long before the business world catches on, too.

Verdict: Not quite pervasive yet.

Third prediction: mobile data use outpaces carriers' abilities to handle it.
This one was relatively easy to see at the tail end of 2011. Both AT&T (NYSE: T  ) and Verizon (NYSE: VZ  ) cut off new subscribers' access to unlimited data plans before I made this prediction. However, another wrench got thrown into the data-deluge machine this year when the FCC's chairman came out in support of tiered broadband Internet pricing. One obvious loser in this data clampdown is Netflix (NASDAQ: NFLX  ) , which is one of the largest sources of data on the entire Internet. Less obvious is the meaning and implications of a wholesale move by the Internet's gatekeepers toward data limitations.

Last year, Cisco's (NASDAQ: CSCO  ) Visual Networking Index research tracked a 41% rise in data traffic in North America, from 7.3 exabytes to 10.3 exabytes. Mobile data use grew by 171% and the number of networked devices on the continent doubled to two billion. North American data traffic last year was the equivalent to 31 billion DVDs downloaded in the course of a year, or about 90 DVDs for every man, woman, and child on the entire continent. Small wonder, then, that Comcast (NASDAQ: CMCSA  ) (NASDAQ: CMCSK  ) is now testing 300-gigabyte monthly data caps in Nashville and Tucson, with a possible nationwide rollout later on.

Service providers haven't been choked by the data deluge in 2012, but they're doing a fine job tightening the spigot on millions of users. No white flags, but no open floodgates. We'll call this prediction a wash.

Verdict: Carriers are keeping pace with data caps -- so far.

No crystal ball
I haven't chalked up any perfect predictions on the big data side of this ledger, but I feel more confident about my calls for targeted advertising and dwindling privacy. We'll take a look at those two sides of the same coin on Monday, to see just how far technology has intruded into our lives, and how much the average person's come to accept it.

My biggest mistake in predicting a big data explosion, driven by the Internet of things, was that I was a bit too optimistic about the speed that technology takes to move from conceptual brilliance to mass-market ubiquity. The Internet of things is gaining steam, data analytics is already changing the way millions of people work, and these two trends have combined to increase the torrent of information flowing around the world. This tide won't be stopped -- look for all three trends to become even more important in 2013.

What were this past year's biggest tech trends, in your opinion? Let me know with a comment.

One of my predictions, on a longer time frame, is for a "new industrial revolution" to take place. Right now, there are three companies at the heart of this revolution, and all three are covered in detail in the Fool's most popular free report. What does this trend mean for our future? How big is the opportunity? You can find out easily -- just click here to get started.


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