Unwired Views for 2011. Brad: SDXC, NFC everywhere; CPU a new Megapixel, Honeycomb and iPad

So now it’s 2011. What’s going to happen this year in tech? Tablets, tablets, and more tablets. Okay, we get it — we’ll have tablets coming out our ears. But what else is going to happen that may be of interest?

Let’s get more specific about things. Today Unwired View writers gaze into a Crystal Ball to see what interesting things are coming  in 2011. Here’s Staska’s take on 2011 mobile trends, here’s Florin’s, here’s Vlad’s.

And here are my 5 predictions for the year 2011:

1. Goodbye SDHC; hello SDXC

This is probably my boldest prediction. Smartphone and tablet manufacturers are currently waging a hefty battle in hardware specs that will continue throughout the year, and it will be incredibly exciting to watch. One spec to look out for later on this year will be storage space, namely the inclusion of Micro SDXC cards in smartphones and tablets (especially tablets!), because it’s going to come to the point that 16 GB internal storage space with Micro SDHC maxed to 32 additional GB external storage just simply won’t be enough.

Last year we witnessed the birth of SDXC, a brand new SD card format that would fit a minimum of 64 GB and eventually be capable of a theoretical max of 2-3 TB. These 64 and 128 GB SDXC cards will work their way into smartphones and tablets sometime near the the 2011 holiday season.

As SDXC will start out at a monstrously expensive cost, this capability will definitely be limited and only available in the highest-end devices at first, so there will be plenty of standard handsets and tablets that continue to support only SDHC. That particular format isn’t going anywhere in 2011, but the bar is certainly going to be raised.

2. Processor speeds will become the new Megapixel.

Last year at this time,  1 GHz Snapdragon processors were the top-of-the-line, premier processors that were only limited to a few select high-end Android phones. Over the course of last year, however, we witnessed a decrease in the cost of manufacturing those CPUs and behold, 1 GHz seems to be the new standard in any smartphone (Android, iPhone, or Windows), at least those that aren’t trying to be “budget-friendly”.

At the end of 2010, we saw phones get announced that will use dual-core processors. By this time next year, we will be seeing a large majority of Android handsets with a dual-core CPU included. Heck, we’re already hearing rumors of the iPad 2 using a dual-core, and you know the iPhone 5 wouldn’t be too far behind in following this trend.

Expect to see several sub-$100 Android handsets that still run at 800 MHz – 1 GHz, but anything higher will either have a dual-core 1 or 1.2 GHz CPU, or could also run the brand new 1.5 GHz CPU. Either way, these phones are going to be blazing fast.

Much like the megapixel wars from a few years ago in which every company was battling to produce a camera with the highest megapixel resolution possible (while neglecting all of the other crucial elements any regular camera should have), you’ll see phone manufacturers do much the same thing, racing to crank out the best possible CPU. This means that the consumer will win in the end because a good quality Snapdragon processor (or equivalent) will drop in price and become much more affordable for everyone.

But just like megapixel counts, faster doesn’t always mean better. Several factors can contribute to the overall quickness and speed of the phones, CPU speed being only one of them: the other big ones are RAM size and OS efficiency.

3. Near-Field Communications will become a household name.

With the introduction of NFC (Near-Field Communications) in Android’s latest Gingerbread update, we will experience an explosion in popularity of the new technology. It can easily be integrated into iPhone 5, not to mention several other mobile platforms such as WebOS or Windows Phone 7 (or at least 7.5).

Alongside this emerging technology, expect to see many mainstream and small businesses adopt this technology and use it for wireless transactions (like using your phone as a credit card to purchase stuff) or digital exchanges (using a NFC chip to save a contact in your phone, trigger a phone call, or tell it to go to a specific website).

Think of the possibilities: not only does it reduce the overall cost of electronic transactions for the business, it also opens up several doors of opportunities in offering advertisements, discounts, referral programs and other similar services. A business could offer coupons if you return to their store and wave your phone in front of the NFC tag.

I’m not saying NFC will be running at full speed by the end of 2011, but it’s going to be picking up steam by then and the term NFC will be known by millions of people, not just a small group of tech-saavy gadget fans.

4. The iPad will STILL be the tablet to beat

In my review of the Samsung Galaxy Tab, I unintentionally opened up a can of worms by refusing to compare it to the iPad like thousands of other reviews have done. Some congratulated me for this move, and some left bitter comments about how my review was “moronic”. I stand by my decision. After all, so many tablets are going to be coming out soon that this is a full category of electronic devices and iPad will not be the only standard to compare newcomers to. Should we compare the Blackberry Playbook and Motorola Xoom to the iPad and Galaxy Tab in our reviews as well? The tablet market is about to become VERY crowded, and there is no point to compare every single one to the iPad.

But that doesn’t mean the iPad is all of a sudden a subpar tablet, by any means. It certainly is still going to be the most popular of them all, and the introduction of a sequel in the next few months will make it even more appealing than it currently is. I predict that no matter how many tablets come out in 2011, no matter how awesome they are, they will still be compared to the iPad by everyone and likely will still fall short. The iPad (and soon, iPad 2) will continue to be top dog and maintain top market share.

5. Honeycomb will be Android’s one major update in 2011, less fragmentation will occur

For crying out loud, we still have Android devices being sold at the end of 2010 that have version 1.6 installed by default (AT&T Xperia X10, you know who you are)! The quest of ending Android’s fragmentation problem is still pending, but by the end of 2011 this quest will be much closer to the finish.

I predict we will see the majority of new Android devices on one of two versions: Honeycomb, which will be on tablets and high-end handsets that must be built according to a minimum requirement of hardware specs; and Gingerbread, which has no minimum specs but likely will support all necessary features any mainstream consumer would ever need, plus more.

Why only two versions? Google, as it has promised a few months back, will begin slowing down the number of updates it pushes into Android handsets to a much more reasonable level that may help reduce the fragmentation that has become so rampant. Google only plans to come out with one major update per year, and it’s quite possible Honeycomb will be 2011’s big hurrah.

Note that my prediction mentioned only one major update, but I have a strong feeling that there will be another Gingerbread-like update (read: minor and relatively unimportant) near the end of 2011. Honeycomb will be the only relevant update to Android that truly adds much-needed functionality.

So whether these predictions will come true or not will be made known in 12 months. But for now, all I can say with absolute surety is that 2011 will be a landmark year, one where we’ll see a lot of things in mobile that nobody could ever predict. And that’s what keeps us wanting more.

Check out what Staska, Florin and Vlad had to say about 2011, and Happy new year!

Author: Brad Molen

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