Top 10 Technology Forecast 2018

With 2017 in the books lets take a look at some of the most exciting areas of technology in 2018 and make a few forecasts along the way.

1 – Cryptocurrencies – How can you write a forecast without mentioning cryptocurrencies? Still tons of uncertainty around who will be the winners and losers in this space long-term. With so many technical and cost-related challenges, it is hard to see how Bitcoin could end up being the winner in the long run. Too many other currencies have chipped away at its weak spots. Those who lived through the dot com bubble will understand that it is still too early to tell who will be the big winners. I will go out on a limb, though, and say that it is unlikely that Bitcoin will end up being the most influential and powerful currency down the road. So who wins? Perhaps it will be an existing currency, a fork will occur, or something someone is developing right now will emerge. If you think this is unlikely, go back and look at some of the companies and tech that were touted in the early 2000s. Many of these companies imploded, were sold off, or trade at a fraction of the market cap they had in 1999 and have never had the influence people thought they would. Just look at what happened to Beenz, govWorks, Pets.com, Webvan, eToys, Flooz, DrKoop, Kozmo, CMGI (alone was once worth $41b in 1999), etc. You can argue that cryptocurrencies aren’t dot com companies, but there are definitely some similarities. History doesn’t always repeat, but it often rhymes.

2Blockchain – With so many potential usages being explored we are definitely living in exciting times. Some of the initial use cases have ranged from tracking tuna, loyalty points, assets, banking, music, identity management, news worthiness, security, legal agreements, supply chain verification, fundraising and we could go on. No matter where you turn every industry and segment should brace for some sort of impact from blockchain technologies. Some of the early leaders in helping companies research and deploy blockchain test beds have been IBM, Microsoft and Accenture. What interests me the most though, are companies such as Chain, Nucypher, Codelegit, Factom, Blockstack, Zeppelin, InsureX, ChainThat, Gladius, Vault One, Salt, Steem, dharma, FileCoin, golem, Oken Innovations, origintrail, and Chronicled just to name a few that are developing products for many of the aforementioned use cases. It is likely that Blockchain will be the most disruptive and important technology for the next 20 years.

3Tech Under Fire – Facebook could be a poster child for many reasons. They are the new Microsoft circa 2000 – nothing new here – they just copy anything Twitter or SNAP iterates on. Expect more of the same as they use their size to dominate. They are also reeling from a number of problems, from fake news and dealing with partners to the even bigger issue that much of social media wastes time and manipulates people into usage. Predictions of Facebook’s fall, though, are likely to be wrong or premature, as it is hard to unravel in the short-term when the majority of your user base is addicted.

4IPOs – With 200 or so unicorns (venture backed companies currently valued in the private markets at $1b+) sitting in the private markets, will IPOs finally get cooking? While I do expect activity to pick up in the short-term, the current economic expansion is really long in the tooth. Another major headwind these companies face is that late-round shareholders (typically Series D & E) have rights that can cause companies to stay private longer than they might want. Some of these rights could trigger severe financial penalties by IPOing below a specified price.

5Lyft – Should continue to grow market share as they focus on North America, while Uber continues to stumble. Last year I predicted that Lyft would be purchased and suggested Google might do it. I was wrong, but Google did end up investing in the company and it appears Lyft is now headed to an IPO. This is a huge turnaround, especially since Uber and others thought the company wouldn’t make it just a couple of years ago. Market share was 21% in early 2017 but could now be over 30% nationwide. The momentum makes it likely that Lyft finishes 2018 with a 40%+ market share in the US.

6AI – The race is clearly on. Not just startups but even traditional cloud providers have found this to be a new battlefront. Google is clearly the leader here, and we have all been helping train it. In addition, to strategic investments over the years such as purchasing DeepMind, the company has indicated that they will invest over $1B on AI in 2018. Google put AI to good use and had some fun in late 2017 when they unveiled a new AI-driven cookie recipe. They are aggressively and cleverly looking for ways to embrace this technology. Microsoft though is coming on strong and Amazon clearly is feeling the heat to try and catch up. Amazon hasn’t been a big buyer of tech companies but this arms race may force them to the table.

7M&A – High valuations have already put many private equity funds on the sidelines. Tax reform will likely help pick up the slack in the short-term as it will free up money for strategic acquisitions. Many public companies are already sitting on war chests of cash, public market valuations are high, and a large number of private enterprise companies are looking for liquidity. Watch for Walmart to continue to buy at a rapid pace in their battle to fend off Amazon. Other big buyers are likely to be Microsoft, IBM, Intel, Nvidia, Dell, Google, Apple and McAfee. Finally, don’t sleep on the telecom sector which has been consolidating companies at an incredible pace as I expect this to continue as they search for ways to grow and gain efficiencies.

8Autonomous Vehicles – Have made a ton of progress with autopilot-type features, but Level 4 and 5 autonomy still seem a ways off. The last 3% or so of the problem is the hardest to solve. Just as we saw with voice, it may take longer for an everyday use product to come to market than people currently think. It is one thing to drive a car autonomously in a fairly controlled environment, but another to deal with animals, bikes, babies, drunks, ethics, etc. Some experts have also insisted that to have fully autonomous cars, we would need smart cities to provide guidance, and that just isn’t in place at this time. When will everything be in place to have autonomous cars running throughout the US and in all cities? Definitely longer than some of the rosy predictions being made for the early 2020s. I am still very excited about this sector overall and adjacent verticals such as Sea Machines which is developing and has already developed autonomous control systems to improve vessel safety and efficiency.

9Electric Cars – Electric cars have been slow to gain much market share, but the majority of car makers are betting hard that this is about to change. Tesla has been hampered by manufacturing delays on the Model 3, but the pre-order activity and interest is undeniable. Just look at the number of domestic and foreign car companies now readying new EV models that will be available by 2020. Expect numerous announcements on new EV car models from manufacturers in 2018 and demand to begin to soar in the near future.

10Biomimicry – Has already been used for some time, leading to inventions such as Velcro and even inspiring car design thanks to studying burrs and the boxfish. As businesses try to find new ways to innovate and compete, biomimicry looks to be an area where we should see even greater acceleration. Look for companies to invest time to more deeply understand the opportunities and allocate research dollars to support these efforts. If you want to learn more I suggest reading The Shark’s Paintbrush by Jay Harman.

What tech trend are you most excited about? What crypto currency do you see having the most relevancy in 2018? What Blockchain technology or use case are you most interested in?

 

 

Top 10 Technology Forecast for 2017


2016to2017

With 2016 in the books it is time to take a stab at the trends in technology headed our way in 2017. 

1 – Disintermediation – This has been an ongoing trend that I expect to continue and even gain added speed in 2017. The primary focus of many of today’s startups is on replacing and improving upon the status quo. While many markets are a prime risk for this type of disruption, there are arguably very few that have as much at stake as the real estate market. Paying 6% to sell your home can’t last for much longer. Who is going to solve this and get mass mindshare first? Open Listings, Trelora, Open Door, Energized Real Estate, Side Door plus many more are already working on this problem. 

2 – M&A – With lower taxes and the likelihood of repatriation of dollars held overseas in 2017, I expect for companies to go on a buying binge. While large deals have dominated the news recently, look for overall volume to increase in segments of all sizes. I will even throw one name out there. My guess is this is the year Lyft gets acquired. GM supposedly already took a shot at this in 2016 but if they don’t circle back, why not Google or Amazon? They both have the ability to take Lyft beyond second place in the ride sharing economy and really leverage the asset. Both also have ample reason not to let Uber dominate the sharing economy. 

3 – Robotics – Are advancing very rapidly and are now involved with almost every aspect of business in some way or another. Get ready for the full invasion in 2017 as robots become more nimble, more specialized and more affordable. One of my favorites in this space is Casabots whose first product is a robotic salad maker. Very well designed, it helps existing food service providers with a variety of issues such as cleanliness, 24x7x365 service, freshness, convenience, made to order plus much more. 

4 – SD Everything – If you think you were already overloaded with software defined this, that, and the other in 2016; believe me you haven’t seen anything yet! In 2017, with many companies already delivering core functionality, these systems will only get better. What’s more, they will invariably cause disruption in every category they enter. The biggest challenge here is analyzing the plethora of offerings from vendors eager to get your dollars. 

5 – Customization – We live in a time when people want customization, in certain industries has even become full-fledged expectation. Therefore, in 2017 you can expect more companies to leverage technology to enable or enhance customization. Consider one of my favorites in this space called Benchmade Modern. Instead of buying something off of the showroom floor or, waiting months for custom furniture to be built from scratch and delivered, how about getting a sofa made to your exact liking?! You get to pick the style, fabric, color and size – plus the kicker is that the sofa is made in just 7 days! This is just one example but I expect this trend to proliferate this year.

6 – Space – While SpaceX and a number of companies have gotten in on the space race and are becoming household names. Quietly the mining of asteroids and cleanup of space has gotten attention. One company focused on this is Planetary Resources look for this sector to get more attention in coming years as VCs invest heavily in space.

7 – Agtech – is a space that seems prime for more investment in 2017. It’s simply too critical to civilization to be ignored, and yet it is still a very dangerous profession for many. Look for many technological advances to start the path to commercialization. 

8 – Security – To be specific, I’m focusing on the security of physical property. Robotics are beginning to be implemented to address physical security such as Knightscope. Drone technology that can be deployed to monitor, warn or follow an intruder is not far behind, and could have an impact in 2017. 

9 – Sensors – I expect sensors to make a major jump in capability in 2017. These days it is incredibly cheap to throw a sensor into almost anything. The proliferation will occur at break-neck speed in 2017.   

10 – Genomics / Customized Medicine – will get a further boost from computing. Just consider 15 years ago it cost also $3B to sequence the human genome and today it can be done for around $1k. This huge improvement in cost opens the potential for many types of customized drugs and treatments. 

 What tech trends do you see beginning or accelerating in 2017?

Top 10 Technology Forecast for 2016

2016 imageWith 2015 in the books it is time to take a look at trends, technologies and products in the Technology Forecast for 2016

1 – Artificial Intelligence – will be incorporated into technology products, services and software at a rapid pace. More interesting is that the old 1950’s proclamation “Robots will soon be everywhere!” will finally begin to take place in 2016. Robots are already well accepted for basic tasks but will gain popularity as people see other uses. AI will also be used behind the scenes to reduce fraud and loan delinquencies, improve support and compliance, enhance special education, help with security and link disparate but interesting research together.

2 – Drones – which till now have primarily been targeted to consumers and known as a cool Amazon side project, will get a serious dose of commercialization in 2016 upon the FAA releasing rules for commercial flights. Consumers will also benefit from the R&D as drones get smarter with more sensors along with the ability to play interesting games.

3 – 3D Printing – goes mainstream in 2016. While investors and companies have been disappointed in the growth and profitability of companies involved in this space, much innovation continues to take place. The cost of ownership has come down and the capabilities have gone up. The Aerospace, Automotive, Energy and Medical Device industries should lead the way in leveraging 3D printing. We have only begun to see the tip of the iceberg in how this technology will disrupt industry.

4 – Driverless Car – It’s not quite going to happen yet in 2016, but the strides in this space will still be impressive. There will be lots of hype but it will be a while before consumers can purchase or get a fully functional driverless car. The good news is that some of this technology is creeping in now in the form of driver assistance, with the aim of reducing accidents. The bad news is there is plenty more hype to go before a truly autonomous car hits the market for consumers to purchase at their leisure. The hype for a pilotless plane will be forthcoming.

5 – Augmented Reality/Virtual Reality (AR/VR) – VR got going in 2015 with affordable gear now available. What is missing is software that fully leverages these platforms, as opposed to ports of current popular games. I have seen some fun and cool stuff to demo but we are still in search of some games that will blow your mind. Call me a believer in the possibilities but in order for this to really explode we need to see some killer apps to avoid the current generation becoming the equivalent of 3D Television. Will it take haptic products to really make this go? AR still holds tremendous potential for business and gaming but in 2016 we will just get more hype.

6 – Age of Context – now has all of the pieces in place to fully be leveraged since it was first brought to the forefront some years ago. The question for 2016 is who will actually do it well? We have had mobile, social media, big data, sensors and location-based services for some time now. The big difference now is the ubiquity of all of these elements. In 2016 we should see someone finally overcome the issues of privacy to fully leverage this.

7 – Data Driven Design – Much like the Age of Context, 2016 marks the year that Data Driven Design benefits from all of the pieces finally coming together. Retail is a poster child for this as data now allows retailers to have a bidirectional relationship with their customers. This isn’t just about suggesting products to customers as Amazon has done for some time now. This is about changing the design of products, giving the customer a different experience, modifying support or creating something entirely new.

8 – Blockchain – is not just for Bitcoin anymore. Just look at the investments made by major financial institutions in this space. This technology is not only legitimate it is highly disruptive. Look for it to begin impacting not only banking, but healthcare, music, financial services, security and identity management just to name a few. It will be interesting to see if legitimizing Blockchain actually helps Bitcoin gain more traction as well.

9 – Smart Earphones – are coming. Think about what you could do with something that fits in the ear, provides more functionality than a FitBit, and allows you to take calls hands free while working to provide noise cancellation on a plane. This technology also has the ability to drastically impact the hearing aid market this year. Look for someone to launch these multifunction devices by late 2016.

10 – Apple – has greatly disappointed a number of fanboys over the past several years with limited releases and few things to get overly excited about. That is now being reflected in the stock chart, as the company is behind on several fronts. This year’s announcements were disappointing, as was the Apple Watch product launch. Even the laptop line is confusing – I still don’t know what they are doing with the Mac Air line in light of the new Mac Book. After dropping the ball on several fronts Apple is now extremely dependent on the iPhone. In 2016 I expect Apple to straighten out their confusing laptop line, deliver a second generation watch, launch iPhone 7 with major advancements over the 6, and finally start delivering on some of their home automation toolkits. Apple still builds the best and most reliable hardware but they simply have to be more innovative 2016 or risk losing the halo that surrounds many of their products. I am banking on some sort of surprise from these guys this year.

What do you see happening in 2016 that I might have missed?

 

 

5 Tech Acquisitions – Why they Really Went Down

M&A Word CloudThere are so many mergers happening today you need an app just to keep up with them. What interests me the most about these mergers is whether they are due to typical consolidation, arbitrage, a company having too much cash, or whether they are truly strategic. Let’s take a look at some recent activity and see if we can figure out what is going on. I personally think all of the following mergers were in the pretty strategic category. Thinking about why these deals really went down gives you a good clue of where many of these companies think the market is going so you can prepare accordingly.

AT&T buys DirectTV – If you guessed AT&T did this just so they could bash the cable companies like Rob Lowe you would not be correct. This is all about being able to deliver mobile video content. Home users are just an added benefit here.

Verizon buys AOL – If you guessed Verizon is doing this to obtain the remaining 2m+ dial-up users – congrats on knowing this many people still used AOL dial-up service but that would not be the correct answer. This is all about content driving wireless media and OTT (over the top) video. Besides the mobility play here, are their aforementioned acquisitions just strategies to get around net neutrality? Only time will tell, but it’s clear that the war to own and control your content is on!

Intel buys Altera – If you guessed Intel did this to move up in the phone book you would be wrong. This is all about Moore’s Law possibly coming to an end. Even if it is technically possibly to extend Moore’s Law it may not be financially viable to do so. In steps Altera with a loaded portfolio of intellectual property and expertise in FPGAs. This is all about Intel wanting to strengthen their technology portfolio and finding a way to increase power outside of Moore’s Law. By the way one of my favorite startups is working in this space check out – www.bitfusion.io

IBM buys Blue Box Cloud – If you guessed Big Blue likes the similarities of the name Blue Box there could be something Freudian going on there. However, IBM purchasing this company was actually about the fact that the private cloud is a critical piece of the ongoing retooling of IT infrastructure. The majority of the big players are opting for Hybrid Cloud strategies and IBM wants to play there.

Microsoft buys Revolution Analytics – If you guessed Microsoft was trying to improve their stodgy image by being attached to anything called Revolutionary that is not a bad guess. Actually, Revolution Analytics is working around the rapidly growing R language which is used by data scientists and many students working on statistical and predictive analysis. Microsoft wanted this piece to beef up their data analytics portfolio. A Big Data war is surely coming down the road and Microsoft appears to be adding to their cache of weapons.

2015 – Themes and Forecast

2014 2015 imageWith 2014 in the books it is time to take a look at 2015 and see if we can match or exceed last year’s results. Let’s start with the M&A picture for 2015, which should continue to be strong as long as interest rates stay low. The tricky part now is that the valuations have continued to rise in this cycle and there are fewer undervalued names from which to choose so companies likely to be acquired but trading near their highs such as CoreSite and Inphi are not listed.

To further complicate things we have the fragile world economy, oil dropping 50%+ in a few months which impacts more than most people think and then add in copper prices at 5 year lows and it smells like deflation. With that in mind, we could be in for a very tough year. The M&A picks for 2015 include a few very solid companies as well as a couple of much more speculative turnarounds.

Aviat Networks – AVNW – Speculative niche wireless player and small market cap could make them an interesting play. Turnaround appears to be happening so it makes them much more interesting.

Lumos Networks – LMOS – Lumos has been unloved for some years now but is sitting on some great assets and appears to have a very motivated management team. The company can do fine as a standalone but with all of the fiber consolidation going on it seems like they would be a great fit for a number of larger providers. Like this one a lot especially on any pullbacks.

Nokia – NOK – Turnaround underway and a number of their competitors look like they may have topped out. I also like their investment and research around haptic technologies. While it would have been much cheaper to buy them two years ago it is possible a big player will still look to merge or acquire them.

Maxwell Technologies – MXWL – Growth has stalled but the market for ultracapacitors appears to still have major growth prospects. Could be a great tuck-in for someone.

Nuance Communications – NUAN – Repeat from last year but the story stays the same. Move to recurring revenue should have been largely digested. Tremendous underperformance with the CEO on the hot seat. The pressure will be even greater on the company to get it together or get the company sold.

RadiSys – RSYS – Beaten down but appears to be turning the corner. Small market cap could make this easy to digest for a number of players.

Twitter – TWTR – Talk about a company not living up to its potential. Management is basically loathed by almost everyone. Still someone ought to be able to better leverage Twitter. Maybe this year someone will. At a minimum how about a new management team?

Now onto the forecast for trends, technologies and products.

1 – Shadow IT – specifically the consumption of cloud services without any oversight – continues to grow putting many companies at risk – will put heat on the C-Suite and IT to do something constructive about the issue.

2 – AR/VR Hype turns to Reality – Augmented and Virtual Reality have yet to do much for the masses. Though I am down on Google Glass I am very excited about this space. With Oculus being bought for $2Billion, Facebook definitely thinks the space is worth having a seat at the table. Low cost, high bang-for-your-buck products such as MergeVR could entertain the masses – your kid could be asking you to buy one of these in the near future. Higher cost products from Samsung and Oculus will help provide the marketing dollars to get this category noticed, but it is still way too early to pick a winner. Question is who can deliver in mass with a killer app in 2015?

3 – Security Issues – Internet of Things will have a host of new issues to deal with, as hackers look to exploit some of the early roll-outs. Wearables will become the next frontier for BYOD that a number of vertical industries will have to grapple with in order to leverage staff productivity. Yet another area of data privacy and security issues to deal with.

4 – Mobility continues to push cloud adoption – Companies already have incorporated push mobile devices in mass, but what type of ROI are they getting? Can they prove it? With newly designed cloud applications available, recognizing the benefits of mobility and quantifying them is becoming much easier.

5 – Xiaomi – Haven’t heard of them yet? You will as they have a huge war chest to try and invade the West. Look for them to try and exert their muscle on the mobility front as they are skilled copyists just like Samsung a couple of years ago. Sound far-fetched? Consider just 4 years ago this company wasn’t even on the map and now they are #1 in China. Here is the crazy part – they run Android but have made their phone look and behave more like an iPhone than Samsung has ever come close to doing.

6 – Skill shortage continues – The world economies will likely continue to face a number of issues keeping the labor market soft but key skills are in high demand. Just try hiring a Senior Big Data Analyst or a Chief Marketing Technologist. Many other highly skilled positions will continue to be in high demand with many slots going unfilled for more than 12 months.

7- Samsung Out of Steam – Samsung helped lead the Android revolution as they have been great at copying features from everyone else and delivering a quality product. Given that they lost market share this year they will need to come up with something new. Can they finally innovate? I am doubtful and feel they have likely hit a wall. This is part of the reason I think Nokia and others have a chance to rebound this year.

8- Wearables – 2015 appears so far to be more of the same. Lots of products coming out including quite a bit of cool technology. Problem is that many of these lead to gadget fatigue. It is still really hard to leverage all of the data. Many products miss key features and to get everything you want, you would have to wear 10 products at once. Even then the overall benefits are minimal. Until someone really figures this out we won’t be able to see how disruptive this category could really be. Could Apple have the answer?

9 – Startups – Look for a couple of things this year. Money should flow into a range of security related companies, as well-known breaches continue to make headlines throughout the year. Also, look for more specialization around verticals. Many companies will be created to attack vertical industries and continue to disrupt them. Previously, potential customers for these products were stuck developing their own code or having to purchase a major vendor’s product before spending millions to customize it to their needs. This will keep many of the big players on their toes and potentially looking for acquisition targets.

10 – Apple – You know I can’t leave this company alone. OK here is it. Apple Watch is a hard sell. So far I have seen no compelling applications to make me want to buy one – at least not yet. Factor in the faithful and they will probably still sell 7-10m of them in 2015. Question is can this product get legs and really redefine a category? Will this product release define the post-Jobs era? For now prepare for disappointment. On to other things – how about an overhaul of the Mac Air and finally a new Apple TV. The watch better not be the only new thing Apple is banking on to start building momentum beyond 2015. Only caveat – show me a killer app and I might change my mind.

I hope you enjoyed this year’s forecast. What did I miss? What do you see happening big in 2015?

Disclosure – Position in LMOS and NUAN

Report Card – 2014 Themes and Forecast

report-cards-education1

Time to take a look back at the 2014 Forecast and Predictions and see how they turned out. Overall 2014 had a number of hits along with some disappointments. Let’s start with a review of the companies that seemed like they could be M&A Targets along with one to sell and see how they did.

 

2014 Picks with Performance Data
Acquired Closing Price 1/6/2014 Last Trade 12/31/2014 Percentage of Change
Blackberry BBRY No 8.01 10.98 37.08%
Fortinet FTNT No 19.24 30.66 59.36%
Game Stop* GME No 48.17 33.8 29.83%
Multi-Fineline MFLX No 13.97 11.23 -19.61%
Nuance NUAN No 15.05 14.27 -5.18%
Rackspace RAX No 36.73 46.81 27.44%
Average Gain 21.49%
*- Recommended selling or could have gone short

Highlights of 2014 – On the Money

Amazon finally getting enough criticism to cause some customers and analysts concern around a number of their strategies.

Avoiding social media stocks such as Yelp, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook along with Amazon which had negative comments in the forecast would have served you well as a number of them were down sharply for the year and the basket would have left you with a loss even with an amazing performance from Facebook.

-The overall portfolio did well against market averages and easily beat them with a 21.49% gain for the year.

Microsoft was a tough call as they are still struggling with handset sales but they seem to have found a winner with the Surface.

IoT was on target with a ton of interest and devices being introduced. A number of vendors are jumping in to figure out how to pull all of this data together and make it more useful.

Google Glass was welcomed to a lukewarm reception. No “killer app” and high price were just a couple of reasons why the units are not flying off shelves.

Outsourcers and Integrators Disappearing seems to be gaining momentum as a wide range of businesses were either bought, merged or closed up shop in 2014. Many researchers are hot on this trend now.

Lowlights of 2014 – Off the Mark though perhaps some just delayed

None of the M&A stocks were acquired though there was some notable interest around at least one of the candidates.

Digital wallet while getting some traction still isn’t widely accepted enough to ditch carrying credit cards and alternate payment methods. Maybe next year especially with Apple’s visibility helping.

3D Printing crimes and legal issues were not major issues in 2014

Apple did not ship a TV or a wearable though one was announced this year.

What could happen in 2015? Check out my next post coming out shortly and let me know if you agree or think I am missing something?

2014 Themes and Forecast

Last year’s “2013 Themes and Forecast” were on the money. It almost scares me to pick any M&A or rebound targets this year with the market having run up to a high point, and with the Fed claiming that tightening is coming. ‘Puts me in the nervous camp, but let’s go ahead and get started on some predictions for 2014.

Nuance – Is clearly a leader in voice recognition. You would think with the explosion of Siri and other voice-related systems this stock would be on fire. Unfortunately, the company has made a number of blunders and is in the midst of changing their business to a recurring subscription model which will further impact earnings. With a number activists pressuring the company to get their act together, and Icahn buying more shares at depressed prices, I like the risk/reward that the company gets it together or gets taken out.

Rackspace – Is a leader in cloud computing. However the company has been bashed due to reports of Amazon price cutting, execution errors, missing features, slower growth than many expected and their big bet on the OpenStack ecosystem. Rackspace also has one of the poorest partner programs in the industry which sends droves of opportunities to a number of their competitors. So what’s to like? Long-term, OpenStack has some prospects and the stock got a boost from the recent RedHat announcement of it being a big growth driver. With the stock down well over 50% from its high earlier this year, the valuation is much more appealing and there is pressure mounting on management to get it right. I see this company becoming part of a bigger organization in the long run.

Fortinet – Stays on this year’s list as I still think the installed base and valuation is appealing. There’s still too much overlap in this space which makes it ripe for consolidation.

Multi-Fineline Electronix The company has an X in its name so you know I like it already. MFLX is another one of these turnaround stocks as it trades below book and has been hammered due to bad news. With much of this linked to Apple and Blackberry, the company has worked hard to reposition itself for a rebound or possible acquisition. One kicker with Apple poised to launch new products is that they could potentially benefit from any new announcements.

Game Stop – Is one stock to sell. Of all stocks in the market today, I’m not sure any scare me as much as Game Stop, though it has rebounded like crazy from the XBOX news that they would stop allowing games to be resold. Long-term, games will be distributed digitally. Software is where the margin is, so I just don’t see how Game Stop will be able to reinvent itself. It seems they will suffer much the way Blockbuster did, yet the stock is near all-time highs. I hope they prove me wrong as I’ve enjoyed perusing their stores for many years.

Blackberry – I still believe these guys may get taken out or that the company will be split into a couple pieces. There are some great assets in the company but they need to move quickly.

In general I expect more consolidation in the cloud space. I am also worried about social media stock valuations as they are once again beginning to concern me. Twitter, Yelp, Facebook, LinkedIn and others are beginning to look quite expensive as we begin the new year.

Now on to the non-stock specific outlook.

Leather Wallet Goes Away, Almost – After years of battling technologies, it appears Bluetooth has begun to chip away at the payments space. If this happens, we could reach a point where we need to carry little more than a phone. There are a number of winners and losers if this comes to pass.

Microsoft Mobility – As smart devices are linked to the cloud, they are one of the easiest devices to replace. This actually works to Microsoft’s benefit as they eat into Samsung and Apple sales ever so slightly. The big question over the next couple years is whether Microsoft’s enterprise offerings are strong enough to drive sales of their mobility products that offer full integration. This will largely depend on the focus of Microsoft’s new CEO.

Amazon – Finally faces backlash as a number of companies finally wake up to the realization of the great threat Amazon poses to their ongoing survival. The list of companies at risk of extinction or severe retrenchment due to Amazon’s competitive positioning is so large that Wall Street is putting up with Bezos’ spending and results because the endgame is so huge. This is a fact that Rackspace and the OpenStack movement must capitalize on before it’s too late.

IoT – Becomes more seamless. Connecting all of the wearables and appliances in the world may be cool, but if they require separate apps, charging, maintenance, logins, portals—and the list goes on—they will be more cumbersome than they’re worth. Single collection and coordination of this information becomes critical for many of these technologies to achieve mass adoption. Manufacturers must get this right or risk burnout.

Breaches on Mobile Devices – Become more common, forcing companies into modifying BYOD requirements and enforcing MDM.

Outsourcers and Integrators Disappear – Most of this will be driven by two factors. Companies that haven’t invested enough to compete on their own will be acquired for their customer bases or will go out of business. Companies that are growing, offer unique value adds, and are versed in new technologies and business models will be acquired by companies attempting to catch up or solidify their positions.

Encryption – Finally goes mainstream. Let me sum it up in two words: Snowden and China.

Google Glass – Was finally released to a lukewarm reception. I saw someone with a pair on the other day and I can’t see someone wearing these on a daily basis. There just isn’t a killer app today for the general population as there are too many flaws. Perhaps down the road this will change. Anyone remember the Newton? Sometimes you’re just a little too ahead of your time. I can see vertical usage with the device for mechanics, travelers and other specialized fields.

Smarter Software and Machines Everywhere – IBM now claims they can identify your personality by reading as few as 200 of your tweets. Technologies to analyze every bit of data created are exploding, and we are just seeing the tip of the iceberg.

3D Printing – Creates an entire new economy. Over time, the technology will decimate old business models while generating new ones. People are just figuring out how to use these tools, so ethical implications and the potential for infringement will be high. If you thought theft of online music and movies was a problem, wait ‘til you see how criminals leverage 3D printing.

Apple – I’ve been wrong on Apple the past couple years so what do I know. I do think Apple still has some tricks up its sleeve. This has to be the year they come with a wearable and/or a TV (or should I say home entertainment system?). Expectations will be incredibly high due to the delayed shipment of these products. Apple has no margin for error—they will have to be measurably better than what is on the market today or they’ll have to define a new category. My guess is that they get at least one of these right.

Disclosure – I am currently long Rackspace and Nuance.

REVIEW OF 2013 THEMES & FORECAST

For a number of years now, I’ve tried to make some educated, annual guesstimates on what will happen in the tech world. At the end of the year, I look back to see how I fared with my predictions. This has made for good conversation with a number of people I’ve encountered, so I look forward to your feedback this year, too.

With 2013 nearly a wrap, it’s time to revisit last years’ predictions and surprises. Let’s start with a review of stocks that were mentioned as M&A targets, plus Facebook, which I forecasted to rebound.

2013 M&A Picks with Performance Data
Closing Price Last Trade or Price Percentage of
Acquired 1/8/2013 12/24/2013 Change
Adtran ADTN No 20.72 26.38 27.32%
Brocade BRCD No 5.36 8.68 61.94%
Dolby Labs DLB No 29.67 38.57 30.00%
Facebook FB No 29.06 57.96 99.45%
Fortinet FTNT No 19.09 18.9 -1.00%
Groupon GRPN No 5.2 11.84 127.69%
NetApp NTAP No 32.5 40.38 24.25%
Palo Alto PANW No 47.63 56.85 19.36%
RIM BBRY No 11.91 7.73 -35.10%
Travel Zoo TZOO No 19.68 21.82 10.87%
Yahoo YHOO No 19.66 40.85 107.78%
Average Gain 59.07%

Highlights of 2013 – On the Money

  • Though none of this portfolio of particular stocks were actually acquired in 2013, they hummed along, crushing the market averages with a greater than 59% annualized return for this chosen portfolio of stocks.
  • Facebook mounted a huge comeback and gained back the faith of many of those whom it had disappointed in 2012.
  • Marissa Mayer is on a mission and did not disappoint investors as she made huge strides at Yahoo in 2013. Can she keep it up?
  • Smartphone cameras improved greatly and were key features in many new models.
  • The Blackberry phone was not a game changer and BBRY quickly popped back up as an M&A target.
  • Cloud War is in full progress as Amazon continues to cut prices and Wall Street seems to buy the strategy damaging many competitors in the process.
  • Laws—or lack thereof—slowing cloud adoption were commonplace. Imagine the even more impressive growth the cloud would have if businesses weren’t scared of compliance, case law and spying, for example.
  • Microsoft released their new XBOX and made some positive steps on the mobile front.
  • Crowdsourcing is now seen in tons of applications and has definitely hit the mainstream.

Lowlights of 2013 – Early Though Still Possible

  • Blackberry still didn’t get a deal done. I really thought they would seal a deal in 2013 in order to escape the drama that has so publicly haunted the company, and so they can focus on product development (even if it means killing their device business).
  • Apple has blown my mind by not releasing anything worth highlighting except the iPad Air and an offering of a free OS upgrade. I really thought Apple would do something noteworthy on the mobile device or television front. It seems Samsung read Job’s comments about a smart TV and took the lead on making televisions easier to control. Tim Cook keeps teasing us that there are exciting items in the funnel and that 2014 will be a big year. Let’s see if he is right.
  • No M&A – Not a single company in the list was taken over. The value of several of these companies was evidenced by their shares rebounding greatly, but I still believe many of them cannot continue to stand alone much longer. At this point, it may take another downturn or a technological advance to get the valuations compelling enough for a deal to happen.

What could happen in 2014? Check out my upcoming blog “2014 Themes and Forecast” and let me know where we agree or disagree.

2013 Tech Themes and Forecast

Here is a look at this years Themes and Forecast. To see how last year turned out you can read the 2012 Themes and Forecast or check the results.

  1. M&A for 2013 – I expect quite a few mergers of necessity. This doesn’t mean they will take place at the most advantageous price for purchasers or shareholders.
    1. FTNT – Let’s start with a former pick, Fortinet. This stock has gone nowhere in a couple of years and needs a partner. If the stock trends lower there could be takers.
    2. DLB – Dolby Labs has some investors concerned due to patents expiring and Disney’s ownership of THX. That said, Dolby has a wildcard that isn’t talked about much—the patents to NFC. If you believe NFC is finally going to gear up in 2013 or 2014, then Dolby could be a great buy for any number of companies. With the stock nearing its five-year low, it is definitely one to keep your eye on.
    3. RIMM – I know there is hype on the new operating system, but the odds of this truly being a game changer are extremely slim. The RIM faithful, hoping this might finally be the device that saves the company, will be out in force so look for the stock to bounce. That said, I still believe the company will be taken out later this year when the hype dies down.
    4. PANW – Palo Alto Networks is a leader in the security space having pioneered Next Generation Firewalls. Though the business is growing quickly, it has seen its results lag behind expectations, putting the stock under pressure. The valuation is still on the high side. For someone like Cisco that needs to do deals in 2013, a better deal may be had in the near future than before the company went public.
    5. GRPN – We know about the problems, but they still have a large active user base. I liked it better before the run-up, but I think someone will take them out (though it may need to go lower first).
    6. TZOO – With all of the consolidation in the travel space and the stock under pressure, Travel Zoo could find itself taken by a larger player in the industry.
    7. YHOO – Marissa Mayer has gotten the attitude turned around and brought some swagger back. Can you sense it? Perhaps they don’t need to be acquired at this point, but wouldn’t it be funny to see Microsoft come back now that the company is turning. Don’t forget they still own a good-sized stake in Alibaba.
    8. Other possible companies that could be acquired in 2013 include Brocade, Adtran and NetApp.
  2. Apple Has to Do Something New, Right? – While I could talk about why an iTV type of product still seems likely, I am going to switch my focus to personal M2M. Just walk into an Apple store and what do you see? All sorts of devices that communicate with your PC/Smartphone/Tablet via Bluetooth or the Internet. What do these devices do? Some of the early models analyze how well you sleep, give you a high level display of alerts on your wrist, track how many steps you take, how much exercise you are getting, etc. Even Nike has gotten into the fray. In December, the FDA approved a heart rate monitor for the iPhone. In 2013, Apple will jump into this space with a wrist based device to gather and share data. The new Apple Nano should have been this product but we will have to wait until 2013.
  3. Facebook Comeback – Facebook has their hooks into everything and in 2013 their monetization of those inroads will become more evident as the stock works back to the IPO price with a few detours along the way.
  4. Smartphone Cameras – Smartphone cameras are now a given but the quality is still lacking. Sure, it is acceptable for posting to Instagram but in most cases just not quite good enough to replace dedicated portable cameras. This year we see a number of major improvements that will widen the usefulness.
  5. Cloud War – There are just far too many services in the cloud so expect mergers, failures and new product launches. Apple, Google, Amazon and Microsoft all have strengths and weaknesses in the cloud today. Look for this war to heat up in 2013 as we haven’t seen anything yet. There are a number of platforms and products ripe for the picking. Pinterest or Yelp anyone?
  6. Crowdsourcing Goes Mainstream – This trend was identified in 2011 http://www.liquidnetworx.com/2011/01/ and has grown greatly. With the public and mainstream media finally getting wise, we will see it everywhere in 2013.
  7. Microsoft – The company finally makes some headway with their Windows Phone 8 and launches a new Xbox. By the way, the prediction that Lync would be a huge success two years ago has continued to hold true. UC strategists are stating that Cisco now views Lync as their top threat even above Avaya. Lync will make even further inroads in 2013, hurting Cisco and Avaya in the process.
  8. Laws Slow Cloud Adoption for Large Companies – There are still many questions. How would an internet kill switch possibly affect enterprise customers? Even outside of a black swan event such as this, there are still too many gray areas that risk-averse companies just can’t get around. For big companies, there is still little case law and precedents to reference. Look for consumers and small businesses to continue marching into the cloud eyes wide shut.
  9. Platform as a Service (PaaS) to Explode – These offerings have been limited but as businesses get more involved this segment should start getting more action. Note: Oracle recently took a stake in Engine Yard to get a foot in this space.
  10. Flexible Displays – New materials will allow new form factors for a variety of displays. Samsung is already rumored to be preparing a smartphone that will use this technology.

What do you see happening in 2013?

Disclosure – I am currently long Facebook.

2012 Themes and Forecast

The past few years I have stuck my neck out on the line and come up with Themes and Predictions for the upcoming year. 2011 was no different as I not only hit on different technology trends I also tried to predict which companies would and would not be taken over this past year. I had a lot of fun doing this and it is almost scary how well things worked out for these selections. You can go back and read my 2011 Themes and Forecast if you like but for now take a look at the stocks I removed from the M&A possibilities list and notice that every single stock not only was not acquired but all of them except Fortinet was down on the year with the average loss being much worse than the market at -17.3%. This was a really good basket of stocks to have avoided, they were overpriced and this prediction was on the money.

Closing Price Closing Price Percentage of
Company Symbol 1/4/2011 12/31/2011 Changes
Adtran ADTN 36.28 25 -31.09%
Fortinent FTNT 17.49 22 25.79%
Extreme EXTR 3.21 2.8 -12.77%
Juniper JNPR 37.16 22 -40.80%
F5 FFIV 132.07 98 -25.80%
Riverbed RVBD 37.28 22 -40.99%
-20.94%

Of the 8 companies I mentioned that were likely to be acquired 5 had either been acquired, merged or signed agreements to be acquired before the end of 2011. One company split itself in to two pieces and I believe the other two are still in play to be acquired. If you would have purchased this basket of stocks you would have scored a 21.3% gain easily beating the market in general by a wide margin. If you could have somehow purchased shares of Skype or MySpace on the secondary market or simply avoided Sprint which was the real stinker of the group you could have done much better. Take a look at how the M&A list performed below:

Closing Price Last Trade or Price Percentage of
Acquired 1/4/2011 12/31/2011 Change
XO XO Yes 0.69 1.4 102.90%
Global Crossing GLBC Yes 13.01 22.38 72.02%
Sprint S no 4.45 2.25 -49.44%
Blue Coat Systems BCSI Yes 30.24 26 -14.02%
Tekelec TKLC no 11.8 11 -6.78%
NTELOS * Company Split in to two pieces for modest gain
Skype Yes Privately Held – Investors made large gain
My Space Yes Company after floudering moved into passionate hands
20.94%

So to recap the highlights of last year’s forecasts M&A was definitely hot in 2011, the economy muddled along with uncertainty being a dominant theme, Apple did obtain the largest cap in the world shortly before the passing of Steve Jobs, smart phones and tablets continued to invade corporations at a rapid pace and Microsoft got it right with Lync being a breakout product for them.

So what about 2012? Here we go beginning with M&A.

1) M&A – I think M&A will cool down some after the blistering pace of 2011. Most likely we will see smaller deals done as tuck-ins to round out the portfolios of larger entities. The market is definitely ripe for IT service provider consolidation, security related entities, wireless players and for some more strategic cloud acquisitions where I expect the carriers to be active.

  • IDCC – If you haven’t heard of InterDigital before don’t feel bad as they are not a household name, however, many of the brands you know and love have to utilize their patents. With so many companies being taken off the board in 2011 including the acquisition of Motorola by Google the InterDigital wireless portfolio looks might impressive and the stock is trading just a little above its lows for the year.
  • NOK – See a pattern beginning to emerge here? Here is another undervalued wireless play. This is also a major partner of Microsoft trying to compete with the market leaders Apple and Google. This stock is trading close to or slightly below book value. I think this stock could head lower first since Lumia has not done well but keep an eye on them.
  • RIMM – I will not stoop to insulting die hard Blackberry users as I still have one or two friends that love them. The problem for RIM is that one or two die hard customers here or there is not going to help them recover quickly enough. But there is some good news. Even though Apple and Google have been declared winners of the smartphone wars this will not stop Microsoft and others from continuing to try. The market is just too big for them to walk away from. Just look at HP’s ill-advised purchase of Palm not so long ago. Sooner or later Microsoft, HP, Oracle, IBM, Amazon, Dell or someone else will decide that the market is just too big not to have a player in the game and with the market cap getting smaller by the day and no debt there is a good possibility that someone finally makes a play for the company this year.
  • Here are a few more names that have good potential to be taken over in 2012: InterNAP, Netflix, Sprint, Riverbed, Zix and Tekelec.

2) Dot Com Implosion 2.0? – Though having real products, many of the Web 2.0 companies we know, love and hate have seen stratospheric growth and valuations. While these are real companies unlike what we saw 10 years ago we now have some very big expectations to fill. There are a number of high profile companies readying to come public and one has to wonder if the valuations that are being thrown around are realistic. Just looking at the performance of recent IPOs in this space has to make one cautious at this point. Perhaps the Facebook IPO will tell the story.

3) Voice Recognition goes Mainstream – I know you have already heard more than enough about Siri but the bottom line is that everyone has been playing with this technology for years. Microsoft has made huge investment along with a number of other companies and yet none of them has had the success that Apple has in such a short time. This consumer driven technology will now find its way through every business.

4) Windows 8 – Given that enterprises are still upgrading to Windows 7 the biggest impact of Windows 8 may be on either side of the desktop.

  • Since it will enable PCs and Tablets to turn on instantly and potentially run all day, finally the Mac Air will have some legitimate competition. I have also heard developer chatter about a number of Windows 8 powered tablets that have the power of a PC inside enabling a much wider range of applications than current tablets. Look for Windows 8 to drive Ultrabook and sophisticated tablet sales.
  • The Server side of the house will also benefit as Microsoft is boasting a greatly upgraded hypervisor. While Hyper V3 will probably not match everything vmWare can do it should pressure pricing and provide end-users with more options.

5) iTV – When was the last time you were really excited about a television? I think there are legs to the iTV story in 2012. Just look at Jobs own words on this the television experience as penned by Walter Isaacson in his biography of Steve Jobs. Here’s what Jobs said: “I’d like to create an integrated television set that is completely easy to use. It would be seamlessly synched with all of your devices and with iCloud. It will have the simplest user interface you could imagine. I finally cracked it.” I am willing to believe he cracked it and that the first product ships before year-end.

6) M2M – While Machine 2 Machine (M2M) potential has been discussed for some time we are finally seeing a number of products begin to enter the market and fill a niche. Even more interesting is that these offerings are beginning to be integrated with other multi-function devices meaning that this technology is about ready to go mainstream. Look for a wide variety of products to deliver additional value to businesses across the marketplace but beginning with verticals.

7) Smart Wallet – Mobile enabled payment solutions definitely have interest. With both Android and iOS devices expected to come with Near Field Communications (NFC) chips built-in we could this technology gain momentum in the US very shortly.

8) HTML 5 – With Flash biting the dust there will be a mad rush to HTML 5. This will make many websites much more friendly to end-users. The prediction is that the HTML 5 will cut down on the need to design customer downloadable apps. This could make it easier for enterprises to deploy solutions but I don’t see the app store going away anytime soon. There is too much profit motive and the benefit of control for it to disappear.

9) Education – Will be greatly impacted by the tablet explosion – look no further than our local librarians giving lessons on how to utilize your tablet with the public library system. Even more amazing than the technology itself is the incredible amount of talent that can be pooled and captured on a single platform to make learning easier. If you haven’t watched a Khan Academy lesson with your children or for your own benefit you just don’t know what you are missing. http://www.khanacademy.org/ – They have topics on anything you could imagine including math, science, history and art with more lessons being added all of the time.

10) Security – 2011 got us talking about custom malware attacks that seemed almost like something out of a spy thriller. Expect even more custom attempts in 2012. PII also will gain increased visibility as states, companies and consumers all become more concerned.

What do you see happening in 2012?