With 2011 nearly in the rearview mirror, it seems like a good time to peer into next year's cloudy crystal ball. The technology of 2012 is likely to look fairly similar to what's popular now, but with several notable improvements. There are a number of companies poised to ride a wave of big data to big gains, including several lesser-known players driving this revolution from the inside.
The Internet is (almost) everywhere
The age of dumb machines is nearly over. Ford
A number of appliances now come with an Internet connection as part of their functionality, and city planning has taken on an increasingly digital tint. While we're not yet at the point where pervasive connectivity follows everyone beyond their cell phones, 2012 should be a major tipping point past which a cell phone and tablet alone no longer cut it. The companies that supply the processing and connectivity hardware should see major growth in this area as traditional computing growth tapers off.
Targeted social advertising booms at the expense of privacy
According to a study released this July, that "tipping point" I mentioned earlier is just over 10% of the populace. By that measure, we've long since passed that point when it comes to giving up privacy for price cuts -- 52% of US consumers don't mind being tracked in exchange for discounts or free swag. That number isn't likely to drop as consumers connect more aspects of their lives to the Internet.
Constant connectivity combined with consumers' willing acceptance of tracking offers major opportunities for companies that have the most options for keeping tabs. Google is embedded in so much of its users' lives that it seems optimally poised to control this increasingly precise flow of information. Its greatest threat comes from Facebook, which could be valued at $100 billion when it goes public next year, but Amazon.com, Microsoft, and Apple also have access to extremely specific user data.
Data analytics becomes pervasive
Wholesale business adoption of analytics has so far been hindered by costs, personnel competencies, and computing capability. Next year could be when these issues are overcome as various analytics operations consolidate under more streamlined umbrellas. IBM
Analytics will be necessary to understand the data flowing out of an ever more connected populace. While some companies now succeed by telling people what they want (think Apple), the majority of future business successes should be highly data-driven, with a deeply statistical and highly granular understanding of their target market.
Mobile data use outpaces carriers' abilities to handle it
Most users haven't noticed this yet, but they will. As of this writing, AT&T, Verizon, Sprint Nextel
What will users do? Boingo Wireless
Futuristically Foolish final thoughts
I have no way to be certain that all these predictions will be true, but they're likely to bear out sooner rather than later. All of these thoughts are based on technology we have right now, which has been progressing toward mass adoption for some time. Tomorrow's great technology already exists today; it's just not mature yet. In that spirit, The Motley Fool has just released a brand-new free report on the companies driving the mobile revolution forward. Their hardware's found in the hottest smartphones and tablets and is likely to play a critical role in powering the Internet of things. Join the thousands who know every detail, and request your free copy now. It's not just for smartphones any more.
Fool contributor Alex Planes holds no financial position in any company mentioned here. Add him on Google+ or follow him on Twitter for more news and insights. The Motley Fool owns shares of Amazon.com, Apple, Ford, IBM, Google, and Microsoft. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Google, Apple, Ford, Microsoft, and Amazon.com and creating bull call spread positions in Apple and Microsoft. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.