Following my mediocre performance with last year's predictions, let's hope that this year will see more action in the market, and hence more of my predictions coming true!
If last year's theme was the waiting game, I see this year's as the spotty recovery. There will be some big successes -- major IPOs, spectacular M&A deals -- but they will represent spikes in an otherwise halting market. Picking the right assets and the right timing will be key for for investors and entrepreneurs alike during 2010 (and probably into 2011).
Here are my punts for the year (in no particular order):
- SaaS sales productivity will not recover in line with economic recovery. The people-based sales model for software is broken and established vendors will see margins suffer, while newcomers with pure or near-pure web-selling models will take market share.
- Useability design returns to the heart of web applications and services. We've had a wonderful UI revolution with the iPhone, making most established websites look clunky. New web apps and e-commerce sites will be wildly successful not because they have more features, more data, more widgets, but because they are just easier, faster, smoother to use. Quite a few established businesses will struggle to re-invent their interfaces and will lose share as a result.
- The year of Location-Based Services (LBS). Not content with cracking the Wintel duopoly, Google finally kickstarts the LBS market by attacking it from every point in the value chain at once: a new phone and mobile OS (who needs handset makers?), a new sales channel (who needs operators?), its own geo-aware apps (who wants to pay map royalties?) and -- boldly -- its own base of potential LBS advertisers in the form of 100,000 retail outlets receiving Google decals with 2D barcodes this week. If this doesn't do it for the long-awaited promise of LBS, what will?
- Cache & Carry. The continuing increase in solid-state memory capacity helps make HD video ubiquitous. With 32GB SD cards now available, consumers will be able to store and move their favourite movies and TV shows at will. Computer manufacturers will start to ditch optical drives. Now if only Apple would open up its devices to external memory cards.... it would be a perfect world!!
- The scale of the greentech bust will startle investors and entrepreneurs, as it becomes clear that the investment horizon and capital consumption of most ventures are beyond the scope of traditional funds. As a result, 2010 will start to see the emergence of new types of funding vehicles, perhaps long-dated venture funds (20 years?) or hybrid equity/debt vehicles to better serve this market.
- Microsoft buys RIM in an admission that its mobile strategy has failed, and that corporate Blackberry users are the last stand in its effort to retain control over the desktop and email.
- One of the many startups flogging micropayment or mobile payment platforms will finally take off, kickstarting a desperately-needed revolution in the charging model for content. This has to happen, this year or next. But it will probably require the distribution power of a large partner, like a Google, a mobile operator or a financial services firm.
- The much-awaited Apple tablet will be huge and possibly disruptive. Everyone is projecting features onto this device, borrowing from the iPod below and the MacBook above. But the real game-changer is the killer feature we don't know about yet. My hunch? It could become the perfect home entertainment control system for non-geeks -- imagine the tablet connecting seamlessly to the Web, your iTunes, and your speakers, with streaming music and videos served up by Lala... Worth dreaming about.
- Shakeout in music streaming. As Spotify launches in the US this will be its year of reckoning: the company will either be crushed by the sheer scale of US freeloaders, or its ad-based revenue model will finally get the throughput it needs to be viable. Look for serious jostling and grandstanding as music majors renegotiate with streaming services and digital distributors like iTunes.
- Finally, I lamented last year that it was time to fix, really fix videoconferencing, and yet my pleas remained unheeded. But this demo at CES made me think that -- just maybe! -- 2010 will be the year that a credible alternative emerges. If Skype & HD TV makers can do this at home, why not the office? Polycom RIP (and good riddance!).