What's coming in 2012People are meeting even now in convention centers in Manhattan, in downtown Chicago hotels and in far-off meeting rooms in Hong Kong and Japan to discuss the emerging tech trends of 2012. I happened to be staying in Chicago this weekend to talk to some people that I know who are putting together a start-up there. I got to visit a few of my favorite sites in the morning–the Art Institute, the Field Museum–while taking care of business in the afternoon. Tech-hype is high in Chicago. In the city where Groupon was founded, I talked to my friend, Kent Story, about what we could expect within the next year. Our musings led us to discuss a few riveting technologies coming down the pipeline this year, including new interfaces with our products, digital payments with physical devices, and an increased importance of mobile computing as tablets and smartphones get faster and we begin to see a greater variety of choices.

Interface Revolutions

Q: It seems like we’re starting to move away from the standard desktop model of computing: monitor, keyboard, mouse. That’s starting to change. What do you think, Kent?

A: Part of the Cloud Computing revolution will be an evolutionary leap in the kind of hardware that’s available and useful. For too long we’ve been held back by the mouse and keyboard. The rest of our world isn’t dominated by just pressing buttons so why should our computing experience be? We slide, twist, shove, speak and shout and we need computers that allow us to do as many of those things as possible if we want our experiences to be natural. That’s coming, though, with the increasing importance of tablets and their multi-touch interfaces and voice commands like the features built into Google’s Android operating system and Apple’s recent addition of Siri to their iPhones. In 2012 we’re going to see an increased importance on alternative interfaces, with touch and voice dominating the field.

NFC Payments

Q: With the introduction of square and Google wallet, people say that the way that currency flows is going to change. There will be almost no need for cash. What are your thoughts on this development.

A: Google Wallet was the first major foray into using near field communication (NFC) technology in phones to authorize payment transactions at physical retail locations, but it’s definitely not going to be the last. Currency has driven–and been driven by–technological innovation since man first learned to refine metals. We’re constantly in search of a more compact, convenient way to carry the money we need to conduct our daily transactions. Smartphones have already combined phones, cameras, media players and Internet devices so why not include your wallet in that bunch? Apple and Microsoft are already working on their own NFC-integrated phone solutions so they can enter the game. We’re sure to see more NFC payment options cropping up in the next year.

Mobile Computing

Q: As per the theme that we started in the above-question, mobile has continued the phenomenal growth that started in 2010, and there is no sign that it will be slowing down. What can we expect from mobile in 2012?

A: Computers keep getting smaller and smaller. Today’s laptops have orders of magnitude more computing power than the most expensive mainframe computers from the 70s and the development rate shows no signs of stopping. As we’re able to cram more capabilities into smaller form factors we’ll see a continuing trend of smaller devices becoming more commonplace in our world. Tablet computers are a perfect example. A few years ago no company had successfully driven widespread adoption of tablets, but Apple has done just that with the iPad. In the next year, though, Apple will start seeing more serious competition as everyone tries to get in on the action. Phones are getting more complex, too. The latest iPhone, the 4S, has a dual-core processor that can handle stunning 3D graphics processing the likes of which weren’t even available on console game systems 10 years ago. Some smartphones even come with dedicated graphics processors that allow them to calculate real-time lighting and reflections.