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7 Hot Mobile Trends for 2012

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2011 was a crazy year for mobile technology. iPads took the world by storm. Smartphones steadily replaced (and are starting to displace) feature phones. Carrier IQ put us all on notice that mobile privacy could be a major problem in the coming years. RIM finally opened up BES to other mobile OSes, which is pretty much the only move it had left to stave off extinction.

If 2011 was a tumultuous year, 2012 is shaping up to be even more chaotic. The inevitable invasion of smartphones and tablets into the enterprise will have CIOs scrambling to figure out BYOD solutions. Microsoft will finally start to challenge Apple and Android, and new types of mobile apps will start to emerge, such as context-aware apps and mobile wallets.

Here are 7 mobile trends to watch for in 2012:

1. Privacy continues to erode

Privacy took a beating in 2011, and 2012 could be even worse. Smartphones and social media are two of the main culprits eroding our privacy. Facebook has taken a beating, although Facebook’s settlement with the FTC should help.

Smartphones, though, represent a bigger privacy threat than social media. Yes, phishing attacks increasingly rely on social media, but information about you on social media is more or less information you decided to put there. There are exceptions (i.e., someone tagging you in a picture), but for the most part, the easiest way to keep sensitive information off social networks is to not put it there in the first place.

Smartphones present a more vexing privacy conundrum. Pretty much every app you download asks for all sorts of permissions, and most of us blindly hit “accept.” If you want the app, you really don’t have a choice. GPS tracking can pinpoint your every move, and even when companies say they aren’t keeping information about you, you’d be a fool to trust them.

Case in point: Carrier IQ’s apparent invasion of privacy. The company’s software is supposed to perform diagnostic tests to improve the user experience, but the software itself does many of the same things malware does, including keylogging. (Carrier IQ disputes this.)

The software has logged SMS messages, kept track of phone calls and web browsing history and tracked locations. All the major mobile players are scrambling to distance themselves from Carrier IQ, but where was all of this consternation before the story broke? Why did they let software like this onto smartphones in the first place? Because they want to know everything they can about you. It helps them sell you stuff (and less ominously, much of this data can be used to improve the user experience).

Expect privacy issues to get worse in 2012 before they get better. Our best hope to stop the erosion of privacy is legal action from the European Union, which has much stricter privacy laws than the U.S. However, the E.U. has more pressing matters to worry about at the moment, so don’t expect this situation to get better in the coming year.

2. Context-aware services displace LBS

We’ve been hearing about location-based services for years, and thus far they’ve pretty much been a bust. Overseas, they’ve done a better job at capturing mindshare with things like location-based dating services and LBS gaming.

In the U.S., well, you can check in to your favorite places on Yelp or Foursquare to become a mayor or vice shah, or whatever the heck they’re calling location squatters, and you might get a coupon. Yawn.

Today’s high octane smartphones supported by the cloud could well push LBS into new, more useful territory: context-aware services. Think of it as a mashup of presence apps with LBS combined with social media.

A context-aware app could know, for instance, that you have just left work, are a hockey fan and that cheap tickets have just become available for tonight’s Pens-Flyers game on the secondary market. A notification could pop up and ask: “Purchase tickets?” If you do, it could then book a table for you at a nearby restaurant and even send alerts to your friends to see if any of them would like to go.

With one click, your phone could start acting as your virtual assistant based on preferences you previously set up. iPhone’s Siri is a move in this direction, and Google’s acquisition of Clever Sense may well help Google deliver on its vision of a “serendipity engine.”

Expect several early context-aware apps to catch on in 2012.

3. Predictive modeling gives your phone ESP

Add a few more capabilities to context-aware apps, such as predictive modeling, the wisdom of crowds and facial recognition, and your phone could be transformed from smart to downright psychic.

From Siri to Swype, predictive technologies already make interacting with mobile devices faster and more intuitive. Nuance Communications (Dragon Go! and Flex T9) is slated to showcase next- gen voice and predictive technologies in early January at CES 2012, and as these technologies improve, so do the predictive models that they feed.

Imagine being able to snap a photo of a friend on your phone and automatically “friend” them on Facebook based on that photo. Or your UI could shift from work-mode to social-mode as soon as the GPS realizes you’ve left the office.

Data gathered from user profiles, behavioral input, artificial intelligence, GPS and even social networks could give mobile devices the creepy, but useful, ability to know what you want to do before you start doing it. You’ll see more and more of these apps in 2012.

4. Microsoft Windows Phone 7.5 becomes a viable smartphone alternative

Whenever I mention that Windows Phone could eventually challenge iPhone and Android, people say I’m crazy.

When I wrote about this for a different publication back in August, the comment section lit up with vitriol and ad hominem attacks.

Granted this is a bit of a long shot, but I expect to start being vindicated in 2012. Yes, Microsoft has made a million and one mistakes on its road to having a true mobile presence (here’s the latest shakeup), but Windows Phone 7.5 will eventually get the company over the hump.

“Microsoft used the year [2011] to polish its OS and now WP7 is a mature operating system standing on par with Android and iOS. The early sign of changes to come is that leading players (HTC and Samsung) not only developed decent hardware for WP7 (Samsung Galaxy W, HTC Titan), but have also started to advertise it extensively,” Denis Margolin, VP of Mobile Solutions for DataArt, a software development firm, wrote to me in a recent email.

The Nokia partnership could also start bearing fruit. “The Lumia 710 is an example of a cheap, yet high-quality and capable smartphone that will do very well in the European market. It’s much more responsive and better built then Android handsets with comparable price points,” Margolin argues.

Windows Phone 7.5 also offers a true alternative to the other smartphone platforms. Apple’s smartphone worldview is based on principles of elegant design and ease of use. Google placed its bet on openness and integration with search and key Google apps, such as Gmail and Google Maps. RIM’s bread and butters was secure email and messaging.

Microsoft’s approach builds on its strength: productivity. Eventually, with tighter integration to Outlook, Word, PowerPoint, SharePoint and all of the other productivity apps that power business, and with all of those tightly integrated to social networks, Windows Phone 7.5 will differentiate itself from other handsets.

Do I expect it to displace iPhone or Android anytime soon? No.

However, as BlackBerry continues to bumble its way towards irrelevancy, Windows Phone 7.5 will emerge as a solid smartphone alternative. Every market needs a viable number three, and in the smartphone market, that position is definitely up for grabs in 2012.

5. “Bring Your Own Device” initiatives increase insider security risks

According to Al Subbloie, CEO of Tangoe, a provider of telecom expense management software, in 2012 enterprises will identify their biggest security risk. No, not mobile malware or un-curated marketplaces, but employees.

“The consumerization of IT has already dramatically changed the enterprise mobility landscape in terms of device count and diversity. What further complicates the scenario is that most of the devices will be individually liable,” Subbloie said.

“According to IDC, by 2014, individual-liable devices will outnumber corporate-liable devices 99 million to 62 million units, yet will still contain sensitive corporate data. Businesses will need to strategize how they can manage devices across the spectrum to prevent harmful security risks – which begins with the employee.”

Let’s not forget that limiting access to sensitive apps only does so much. A disgruntled employee with a smartphone that can record audio, snap high-resolution photographs and record video can steal a lot of sensitive intellectual property without ever connecting the device to a corporate network.

How we think about insider risks will need to fundamentally change in 2012. But will it? I’m not terribly optimistic.

6. MDM evolves into MRM

As IT managers and CIOs struggle with (BYOD) initiatives, the quickest fix is to adopt a Mobile Device Management (MDM) solution. (See our MDM buying guide for guidance.)

Several mobile industry insiders, though, beg to differ, and many have been pitching me lately on the idea that MDM is a passing fad. Some think it should be integrated as a feature in security suites or infrastructure management software. Others believe it will be integrated into some sort of cloud-based app management tool. Still others believe that when RIM opened up BES to other OSes, it was pretty much game over for other MDM vendors.

The most interesting take is that MDM will start to refocus around risk. Startup Fixmo believes that MDM, as is, approaches things with a faulty premise.

According to Rick Segal, CEO of Fixmo, on the topic of MDM asks, Where is the device? What does our inventory look like? Can we remotely wipe it? What apps will it get access to? Mobile Risk Management, on the other hand, checks to see if the device is in an acceptable, uncompromised state, with antivirus turned on, with authentication enforced and with privileges restricted if, say, you try to access corporate assets over public WiFi.

Fixmo recently surveyed four airlines, Air Canada, Delta, American, and British Air, asking them about lost devices. “Lost phones outnumbered lost laptops 50 to 1,” Segal said. “Tablets were also frequently lost, usually just left in the seat pocket.”

The problem with MDM is that someone could find the lost tablet and access sensitive data before it is ever reported as lost or stolen. Or, let’s say it is reported as lost; if the device is in airplane mode, someone could still pilfer anything stored locally on the device, because it wouldn’t wipe until it connected to a network. And while MDM might enforce password protection, someone sitting next to you could easily see that you’ve entered “8345” or drawn a “z” to access your phone.

“This is such a huge risk that I wouldn’t be surprised if someday a lawyer who loses a poorly secured tablet is disbarred,” Segal said. With MRM in place, the lost tablet wouldn’t grant access to any sensitive data without a secure wireless connection, which would then give the MRM back-end engine the ability to check on the state of the device and lock down the device, wipe it or request a higher level of authentication if a suspicious behavior is noticed.

7. Mobile wallets and NFC challenge paper money and, perhaps, banks

Google Wallet launched in May of 2011, prompting retailers around the country to accept NFC (Near Field Communications) payments at select locations. However, to access those terminals, users needed to have NFC technologies built into their smartphones or be able to augment their current phones with technologies from third-party providers, such as Device Fidelity.

2012 will see far more phones shipped with built-in NFC technologies, and many more retailers (and banks) will line up to reap some of the profits. However, are customers going to line up and go “paper money-less” in the coming months? Or will simply pulling out a credit card seem simpler?

“Besides the convenience aspect of using your smartphone vs. utilizing your credit card, the integration of location-based services and online coupons alongside NFC will also motivate users to begin to adopt this technology,” said Tom Kemp, CEO of Centrify, a provider of security and compliance solutions.

Another concern will be security, but with companies like MasterCard, Citi, and most of the big mobile carriers poised to support NFC’s expansion, making consumers feel secure should be a priority.

One interesting possibility is that carriers could try to supplant banks as major lenders. Consumers probably won’t care much one way or another. Banks are widely loathed today, but carriers aren’t exactly loved by consumers.

5 Trends that just missed the cut:

1. Mobile malware. We all know this is a never-ending issue, so it’s not so much a trend as an ongoing disappointment.

2. RIM threatens MDM vendors with Mobile Fusion. This would have been a great move two years ago. Now, it very well could be too late.

3. Tablets. Yes, adoption will continue to rise, but the status quo has been pretty well covered in pretty much every tech and even consumer pub under the sun. Until somebody really challenges the iPad, there’s nothing new here.

4. Overtaxed bandwidth. Yes, a proliferation of devices in the enterprise will tax corporate bandwidth. Yet isn’t bandwidth always overburdened, especially in the U.S. where carrier monopolies mean that even in major metro areas, few of us have access to fiber-optic broadband connections?

5. M2M takes off. I’d argue this trend is already well under way, but the fact that GE announced that it plans to build an “industrial Internet,” which will mostly consist of machines talking to one another, could mean I’ll be revisiting this topic soon in 2012.

Do your mobile predictions differ from the ones above? Let us know in the comment section below.

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