IT Business Trends 2012

What trends should you keep an eye on this year? Mobile services on smartphones and tablets, HTML5, and in-memory computing are just a few.


In the world of business, smartphones are taking on more and more of a key role. Such devices have made themselves nearly indispensible, and the processing power their tiny chips provide is developing at breakneck speed. Meanwhile, the sensors that continue to find their way into smartphones are transforming them into all-purpose tools – the nerve centers of our everyday work. The better the display and more fluid the user experience on smartphones become, the less likely we are to open our laptops and wait the several minutes it can take for them to be ready. When it comes to accessing company networks and the services they contain, tablets are also playing a major part.


It took just two years for tablets to establish themselves on the market: In the second quarter of 2011, manufacturers’ worldwide deliveries of the devices already surpassed those of netbooks for the first time – even though tablets cost twice as much on average. If the market analysts at Gartner are correct, this trend will continue in 2012. More than 30 million netbooks were sold in 2011, but even this figure pales in comparison to the over 60 million tablet computers consumers purchased last year. According to the market research firm Strategy Analytics, Apple’s iPad accounted for two-thirds of this number, followed by Android devices with a market share of just under 30%, Windows tablets with 2.4%, and RIM’s PlayBook with 1.2%.


It’s interesting to look at these figures next to those of conventional mobile devices – traditional laptops, for instance, around 200 million of which were sold worldwide in 2011.


Here, it’s not just touchscreens that are paving the way for the tablet’s triumph at the moment: Unlike your average laptop, which represents merely a pared-down version of a desktop computer, tablets aren’t trying to offer the same working environment as long-in-the-tooth PCs. Instead, they present a new interface designed to provide an intuitive user experience based on finger gestures. It almost seems as though today’s aging desktop machines have spent years of their evolution on a one-way street.


Meanwhile, since apps or browser-based services are now available for certain tasks, the fact that tablets don’t support a wide array of the usual business programs isn’t a major problem for most users. And it’s not just always-on-the-go employees in the field who have gotten used to reading and answering e-mails on mobile devices (as long as the messages don’t exceed the three or four lines their screens can display, of course). Others are finding it easy to access virtual corporate environments with corresponding client apps and use tablets to query databases, as well.


Trend 1: Voice commands replacing keyboards

In everyday business, the latest iPhone and other premium smartphones are impressing users with brilliant screens that provide access to all of their corporate data. What’s truly fascinating about Apple’s new firmware (since iOS 5), however, is its inclusion of an industry first: Siri, a practical system of voice control. Linking this system to an increasing number of functions and services produces results faster than when using a touchscreen. Plus, the times when users had to train a desktop computer’s software for hours to understand even the simplest overenunciated commands (“open file,” “write text”) have long since passed. Siri works semantically – that is, by connecting the meaning of words. If you speak with her like a human coworker, she’s highly likely to interpret requests like “Call Christiane Stagge” or “Read me the latest text message from Heather McIlvaine” with 100% accuracy.


Siri can also create appointments, insert contacts into your address book, and search the Internet – but that’s just the beginning. Near-perfect voice recognition systems will replace keyboard and touchscreen entry in many areas in the medium term. Right now, Apple’s system sends voice commands in a file format to its servers, where they are quickly parsed into strings of characters and sent back to users’ iPhones. It’s possible that built-in chips will be enable the devices to handle this process of interpretation all on their own in the near future.


Trend 2: HTML5 on all devices is showing how it’s done: Our dynamic online magazine and all eight of its languages are based on the upcoming Web operating system HTML5, which is set to establish itself as the new standard. HTML5 is already spreading on mobile platforms like iPhone, iPad, and Android devices. At most, competing platforms such as Adobe Flash, Microsoft Silverlight, and JavaFX will play only a secondary role. For those looking to create rich Web applications that reach as many users as possible and adjust perfectly to every mobile device’s display, all roads will lead to HTML5.


One of the most important innovations in HTML5 is the canvas element, which programmers can use to fill users’ browser windows with graphics that are accurate down to the last pixel. Simply adding in some JavaScript makes it possible to generate complex animations and graphical applications that used to require Adobe Flash and various plug-ins. The canvas element also enables content creators to embed and play audio and video files in short order.


In HTML5, geolocation and other location-based services function by means of a geolocation API, while a storage API handles the archiving of local data and ultimately facilitates offline applications.


Site-exclusive Web fonts

In place of logos and lettering with painstakingly constructed graphics, HTML5 provides the option of embedding Web fonts. These are unique fonts your browser downloads from a specified server. Major providers like Font Bureau offer an extensive range of individual fonts for use on the Web. Business customers can choose from various payment models, many of which are based on page hits. Meanwhile, out-of-date browsers that don’t support HTML5 fonts will revert to a typeface such as Arial or Verdana – likely ruining the originally desired effect of the site’s design, of course.


Trend 3: All data in-memory

At the moment, most companies are still organizing their information in relational, row-based databases on conventional hard drives for online transaction processing (OLTP). In SAP environments involving highly complex database servers, however, such hard drives are going the way of the dodo.


With its method of column-based database storage, SAP has laid the technical foundation for a new in-memory database system. Rapid advancements in hardware are also to thank for the option of outfitting today’s server motherboards with up to two terabytes of RAM, which covers the capacity requirements of most companies’ databases. This is where SAP HANA comes in: The platform makes it possible to store an entire database in server memory, eliminating the need for comparatively crawling queries of databases on hard drives.


By keeping all data column-based and accessible within server memory, SAP HANA gives you the power to complete transactional and analytical tasks simultaneously using the same database. The attendant technology is also revolutionizing how many existing business applications work thanks to the ability to access complex data structures in real time. In the medium term, more and more leading companies will begin designing their products to support in-memory computing.


Trend 4: Browser-based software on demand

Traditional installations of business software on in-house servers now compete with on-demand services that are accessible by Web browser. While not much has changed in this regard since last year, companies such as Apple, Google, Microsoft, and SAP are now setting greater store in browser-based software companies can rent according to their size, budget, and functional requirements. The advantage of such programs in corporate environments? Since they all run in-browser, they require neither installation on servers or other stationary computers, nor urgent updates and the corresponding administrative effort.


Trend 5: Mobile services for smartphones

The arrival of highly functional smartphones in the business world is demanding more of mobile communication networks. In particular, data transfer bandwidth is often unable to keep up with users’ expectations. According to estimates by Ericsson, the amount of data transmitted on mobile devices will increase tenfold from 2012 to 2016.


Many company managers expect mobile devices to be the place where the attention paid to social media grows most. The use of location-based services (including geolocation) in business apps and on dynamic or mobile Web sites will play an ever-greater role in this regard. However, when it comes to parlaying the greater profile offered by Facebook and all the rest into more orders – and ultimately into quantifiable increases in sales – executives have yet to find a universal method.


At many business events in 2011, plenty of companies were already talking about using geolocation to tailor their Web presences and services closely to mobile search. After all, whether or not a potential service provider is located near a certain company will continue to be a decisive factor in the near future.


Finally, there’s one more important topic that also relates to location-based services: mobile commerce. Here, Gartner’s market analysts anticipate a sharp rise in mobile business processes between 2012 and 2016.

February 07, 2012 //By: Frank Voelkel 

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