Technology: a thrilling year ahead

2011-01-15 14:07

There’s no telling what the ­future will bring, but one thing is for sure: in the world of technology, nothing stays the same for long.

Last year wasn’t terribly turbulent for technology, but this year is shaping up to be more of a thrill than you might expect.

From Android’s scorched-earth march across the industry to malware threats that we’ve yet to wrap our heads around, it seems as if everything is about to change.

With that in mind, here are nine resolutions for the small business operator to think about this year.

Ignore Android at your peril
Once upon a time, Android was a quaint alternative to the iPhone, a phone operating system (OS) that only a hacker could love, and even then it was more like a sisterly love than a romantic attachment. Those days have quickly gone away. Now Android is a legitimate contender, and, in some markets, it’s outselling the iPhone. In fact, many a prediction has been made that Android will overtake the iPhone’s market share in 2011, which means that if you’re still developing applications (apps) only for the iPhone, it’s time to branch out. You also need to prepare for Android moving heavily onto larger platforms, as the more tablet-friendly Android 3.0 arrives in 2011.

Start prepping for Windows 8
That’s right, you still haven’t learned all the secrets of Windows 7, but Windows 8 is fast approaching. Microsoft hasn’t announced an official release date, but most rumours and pundits figure it’ll ship in 2012. That means the Windows 8 beta will almost undoubtedly arrive sometime next year, and you’ll have to start tinkering with it so you’re not caught off guard when it ships.

And if you haven’t yet done so, it’s time to start thinking seriously about getting off of Windows XP. Though minimal support has been extended until 2014, it’s getting awfully rickety as a platform, and some newer hardware is no longer supporting the OS.

Accept tablets as mainstream devices
Will the tablet PC replace the notebook computer as we know it? Not in 2011, but the damage is being done to the laptop world faster than you may think. Netbook sales have been the hardest hit, and the damage isn’t finished. Your employees are probably already clamouring for iPads and the like, and why not? It makes sense for a warehouse worker to tap updates on a screen rather than having to scribble numbers on paper and transcribe them later on a PC - or, even worse, trying to balance a laptop on his or her forearm and input the numbers one-handed. And in consumer electronics, no one is talking any longer about last year’s buzz category, 3D television. Instead, they’re all trying to figure out how to get into the tablet world.

Make mobile security a big deal
The app rush is far from over, and the growth of both smartphone and tablet PC platforms is about to create a bonanza for malware creators looking to cash in via the back door. Mobile exploits already exist, but so far they’ve largely been theoretical, limited in scope, or crudely crafted. That’s about to change - as the Chinese learned last month - and whether you are deploying phones and tablets to your employees or developing an app of your own, it’s time to get serious about securing those platforms. Yes, even if you’re an all-Apple shop.

Leave no stone unturned when it comes to security
We’re putting security on this list twice, because that’s how big a deal it’s becoming. Facebook? Twitter? Great for reaching customers. Terrible for security.

Attacks targeting workstations continue to grow in sophistication, to the point where “sandboxing” - relegating questionable applications to a walled-off portion of the OS - will become commonplace. And if the crooks can’t find their way into your company, they’ll simply go after the customers directly: Credit and debit card fraud is becoming rampant, some say because outsourced, offshore businesses with lax (or no) security measures now process the bulk of card payments. You can’t wait for an attack to hit you anymore. Now you have to be proactive about fighting it.

On the other hand, security firm Solutionary’s chief security strategist Jon Heimerl notes that some things won’t change: “We will see errors in operating systems, configuration errors or lapses, errors in applications, and errors in judgment by people who fall for social engineering attacks. Most of what we will see in 2011 will be nothing new.”

Develop a Flash/HTML5 strategy
Are you going to develop your Website in Flash or the newcomer HTML5? Sadly, you’re probably stuck with both, at least for now. You might want to consider one or the other: Flash if you’re heavily into Webcams or need DRM, HTML5 if mobile and Apple devices are a concern. Companies will need to pursue development on both technologies for the foreseeable future.

Get ready for video
It’s everywhere. From Youtube to Netflix to Skype conversations, video streams are clogging up the pipes everywhere from the backbone to your internal Wi-Fi network. You’ll need to prepare to upgrade capacity appropriately, or try (in futility) to lock down your network and keep video out. Given the increasing importance of video as a sales and customer service tool, though, the latter is probably a fool’s errand.

Put your social media in order
It’s Facebook’s world now. We just live in it. Today, there’s nothing that isn’t affected by social networks, and shopping is increasingly driven by Facebook, Twitter buzz, and even Youtube videos.

Of course, Groupon and its ilk play a huge role here, too. Old Spice’s “I’m on a horse” commercial reportedly doubled sales after it became a Youtube hit and social news meme, and the trend - called “social selling” - is on the rise.

Joshua Bixby of Web accel
eration firm Strangeloop predicts that next year, 15% of all sales will come via social media and mobile apps. Even so, the Guardian Life Small Business Research Institute found in a new study that, for small businesses, their Websites were more important as sales-generation tools than any social media strategy.

Figure out the cloud
Cloud computing is being dragged, kicking and screaming, into the next decade. It’s not just about putting a spreadsheet on Google Docs or signing up for Salesforce.com anymore. The cloud now encompasses just about everything: Hiring contractors to develop apps remotely, real-time collaboration, and storing anything you have in a digital, distributed format.

Security remains a serious and unavoidable concern: 58% of banks in one survey said they had no faith in the security safeguards of cloud-based technology. The outlook may be hazy for cloud technology, but it’s nonetheless certain to grow and become an increasing part of your business.

Whether that growth will be through something like Microsoft’s new Office365 service (now in beta) or something more profound remains an open question, although one possibility is the evolution of hybrid cloud models that combine the scalability and low-cost benefits of cloud computing with the uptime and security benefits of dedicated hosting.

 - This article appears on the entrepreneur.com website

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