Mobile Wallets

Imagine this: you’re about to walk into a subway station, but realize you have no money on you. And they don’t take credit or debit! No problem. Just wave your phone at a sensor and you are electronically billed for the fare. Surprisingly, this technology has been around for quite a while, and is actually very popular in countries like Japan, where one can buy anything from McDonald’s burgers to train passes with the simple wave of a cellphone. In Europe and the Americas, adoption of such Near Field Communication technology has been slow, but Apple might provide just the catalyst we need: the iPhone 5, likely to be announced in June, is rumoured to be NFC-enabled. Don’t expect to be buying a latte with your cellphone by the end of the year, though. Adoption will be slow, and it will likely be several years before NFC becomes as standard as credit card chip technology is today.

Location-based Services

Foursquare, Gowalla, and Facebook Places have all made great progress in 2010 but, in 2011, location-based services will really come into their own. As more people carry GPS-enabled cellphones, location-based services are set to become a key part of the social media experience. Look no further than Facebook Places and the recent tie-in feature, Facebook Deals, where businesses can offer special deals or discounts for checking into a location on Facebook Places. The check-in, and thus the deal, then gets broadcast on news feeds for all to see. It’s essentially user-driven social media advertising. With Foursquare and Gowalla offering similar features, expect to see businesses start to flock to location-based services in 2011. We will also see an increasing movement towards an open, integrated location service database. In other words, Facebook Places, Gowalla, Foursquare and any other location-based service will “play nice” and pull from the same database, which would in turn allow for tighter integration between the different social media services.
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Streaming and the Cloud

Last year was a huge year for cloud computing, but 2011 is poised to be even bigger. As information is increasingly stored on Internet servers around the world (“the cloud”) instead of personal computers, the need to carry all of your data with you is diminishing. Instead, you are able to simply connect to an Internet-based service and access it that way. Along with online-only apps and other cloud-based services, this means 2011 will be a big year for streaming. By the end of 2011, expect to be able to stream television and movies straight to your Internet-enabled device, be it your phone, tablet, laptop, or desktop computer. Music streaming, though a bit trickier due to legal complications, also seems poised to make a big impression this year. Why else would Apple sink over one billion dollars into one of the largest server farms ever built? An iTunes music streaming service, that’s why.

Internet Privacy and Cyberwar

We’ve already gotten a taste of this with the WikiLeaks US diplomatic cable debacle, but expect much more in the coming year. As people continue to put more and more of themselves online, questions of privacy and what should (and shouldn’t) be monitored will become increasingly relevant. In November and December we saw ”hacktivists” attacking institutions such as MasterCard, Visa, and PayPal as a backlash against the hard line they had taken on WikiLeaks. This year, expect to see a lot more of this, as net neutrality (the idea that the Internet should be open and its information unregulated by governments and service providers) begins to be disputed by internet service providers, governments, and end users. As this occurs, expect cyberwar to take on new meaning, as different parties scramble to fight over the future of the internet as we know it.