Voice Recognition – Promise Finally a Reality?

voice recognitionAlongside the ample promise of speech recognition products like Alexa, Cortana, and Siri, users have always been sure to encounter and be frustrated by the technology’s limitations in accuracy. But these days, each incremental improvement to speech recognition technology is making a major difference. We are approaching 90-95% accuracy today (to give some perspective, in 2010 we were at 70% accuracy) – and yet the chasm between where we are today and that 99% accuracy figure is massive. Most people do not fully appreciate the magnitude of improvement 99% accuracy represents over today’s accuracy levels.

Besides accuracy, the other big issue with voice recognition is latency. The good news is that computational improvements along with massive investments in AI are bringing hope to solving the latency problem. Ultimately, voice recognition will go from niche usage to widespread adoption once the technology is able to combine pinpoint accuracy with speedy response times.

The current iteration of voice recognition, despite its many flaws, is already growing quickly…very quickly. Just consider:

  • Though users complain about accuracy, Siri currently processes over 1 billion requests per week
  • Microsoft says 25% of Bing searches on Windows 10 are driven by voice
  • Baidu projects that at least 50% of all searches will be through images or speech by 2020.

Consider the rapid pace of innovation. One year ago, Alexa could handle 14 Skills, whereas today Alexa can handle almost 1000 Skills. It’s being reported that Alexa will soon be able to detect a person’s emotional state – imagine it detecting irritation in a person’s voice and offering an apology! Voice recognition is becoming more than just a novelty and is moving firmly into a much more functional realm. Some analysts now believe that the Echo platform, which showcases Alexa, could become one of the fastest growing items of 2016/2017. Some are even suggesting that Microsoft’s purchase of LinkedIn is heavily weighted to the future of Cortana. This reality has left Apple scrambling, as evidenced by the recently leaked plans to launch their own speaker system that’s integrated with Siri. In addition, at WWDC 2016 Apple shared details of Siri making her way to the desktop in the new macOS.

Regardless of one’s preferred platform, voice recognition technology is now firmly on the fast track for widespread adoption. How will you leverage this platform personally? How will it help your company? Where does it fit on your product road map? What impact will it have on your customers?

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

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.

Products That Get You Thinking

We can become so completely engrossed in what our business is doing today that we fail to know much about the rest of our industry, much less adjacent or completely unrelated fields. However, I enjoy scouting for new products and services as a means of inspiration. Innovative new products, and those about to come to market, help me stay current and stimulate ideas that might help the businesses in which I am involved. They often get me thinking about how to apply technology or solutions differently, or help me personally in some way. The following are several that have got me thinking recently. Hopefully they will do the same for you.

After being blown away by “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind” (a must read) some time ago, I’ve been fascinated by technologies that many of us take for granted. Electricity and lighting are things we rarely give pause to, but the absence of these technologies in many countries effects well over a billion people. Twenty-one percent of the world’s population does not have access to reliable electricity. Many still use kerosene for light. That is why I was amazed at the simplicity and execution of the GravityLight. The product is now in production.

Pong Case – A new phone case, so what’s the big deal? This one definitely makes you wonder if they can back up their claims – increased outbound signal by 44%, increased range by 20%, reduced SAR exposure by 82%, built-in antenna that instantly pairs with iPhone 5s when snapped on, and can take six-foot drop. All this with a 60-day, money-back guarantee. Does this product live up to even half its claims? I intend to find out when mine is delivered later this week.

A cardboard bicycle made for only $9? I had been following this story for some time and was amazed at the possibility of a functional cardboard bicycle which could be made for $9-12 and sold for around $60-90. With bicycles providing a major form of green, economical and practical transportation for people worldwide, I was interested to see what would come of this. Check out one of the stories from earlier this year on the cardboard bike. Unfortunately after gaining some early momentum this crowd-funded project hit some potholes especially in light of the much higher than expected price. Regardless of what comes of this, and if or when we ever see a cardboard bike come to market, it’s an amazing demonstration of how powerful crowdsourcing can be from a variety of perspectives.

Another concept that fascinates me are wearables—computer-powered devices that can be worn—as we’re only just beginning to scratch the surface of this space. While many of these technologies need time to be refined, it’s interesting to see how vertical a device might be, such as a watch made for the hard of hearing or deaf. On the other hand, some of these applications have endless uses such as Bluetooth Tracking Stickers. These have mixed reviews but I am definitely intrigued by the idea.

Did any of these products resonate with you? What gets you thinking about new ideas? Where do you look for inspiration? I would love to hear from you if you come across an interesting solution or product that is still out of the mainstream.

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?

What Happened to my Toastettes?

When I was a kid, there were three breakfast foods I particularly loved when, on the rare occasion, I was able to avoid mom’s usual well-rounded breakfast. These were chocolate chip cookies, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and Toastettes, all served with a giant glass of milk. For those of you who have never eaten Toastettes, they were similar to a Pop Tart but much better. They had a thinner, less doughy crust, lightly sprinkled with sugar, that turned a wonderful golden brown in just a couple of minutes in the toaster. I can still remember the delicate crunch of the edges contrasted with a comfortingly warm and chewy center.

I am not alone, am I?

Today I still eat PB&Js for breakfast on occasion, but have no way of getting my Toastettes back. I’ve described them to my daughter but can’t share one with her. It’s not like I haven’t tried. From what I can tell, Nabisco stopped making these in 2002. When I contacted the company sometime shortly thereafter to ask why, they told me it was part of brand consolidation due to the merger with Kraft. It is disappointing to see a favorite product disappear no matter the reason, but especially due to a merger. In any case, every once and a while I find myself in the aisle of a grocery store scanning the shelves where the toaster pastries reside hoping to see my Toastettes make a reappearance. Unfortunately, I haven’t heard anything about a big Toastettes comeback, nor I have had a response from Nabisco. But the other day I decided to Google Toastettes to see if anyone else missed the warm and crunchy magic, and I found I am not alone! Here’s what others have to say about this product:

http://www.inthe70s.com/food/toastettes0.shtml

Here’s what the box looked like and there is a picture of a Toastette on the front:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/jasonliebigstuff/4984902865/

So what does this have to do with telecom?

Given that the merger with RJR/Kraft may have been a contributing factor to my beloved Toastettes going away, I wanted to step back and think about the true impact of all of the mergers going on telecom. Will it help or hurt the consumer? Will we end up with more and better choices or will some great products, teams and technologies go away? As many of you who know me and read the BLOG are aware, I’ve been thinking that these mergers would happen for years, and am actually surprised some of these companies are just getting around to finding a strategic fit. While most acquirers could have gotten better deals a couple of years ago on the acquisitions they are now attempting, they do have one thing going for them; the ability to obtain cheap money through the bond markets.

Who has made some of the best deals so far?

In no particular order, let’s take a looks at a few of these tie ups:

Level3 acquiring Global Crossing – Wow!!! This was a shocker. I kept thinking Global Crossing should have been taken off the board a couple of years ago. It made sense for a major CLEC or IXC that lacked an international footprint to pull the trigger on a deal like this. I was just surprised that Level3 was the one to acquire it, and that they could pull it off with the debt load they were already carrying. Several people have said that Level3 paid too much, but so far the market likes the deal, with Level3 stocks appreciating quite a bit from where the stock trading was before the deal was announced.

CenturyLink acquiring Savvis – After just recently completing the acquisition of Qwest, CenturyLink sent a major message to everyone in the industry that they intend to be a player. Many people I have talked with over the past year have questioned what CenturyLink would do with Qwest Business and whether or not they had a vision of how to compete in the business segment. I think this acquisition tells you how committed CenturyLink is to building value and revenue in their business segment. Hands down, Savvis was one of the best plays in this space left on the board.

AT&T acquiring T-Mobile – This acquisition probably has the biggest question mark next to it due to the regulatory issues facing the companies and a vehement opponent to the transaction in Sprint. It seems the crowd believes there is already very limited competition in the wireless space along with major barriers to entry, so there are quite a few people rooting against this. That said, the merger makes a ton of sense on paper for both companies as their size and scale should make it easier for them reduce costs, improve their network and to roll out LTE much more quickly. If this does go through, I am interested in finding out the terms and conditions of what the newly combined company might have to give up in order to get the deal to go through. While Sprint is protesting the loudest, I think the biggest long-term loser would be Verizon as it would make AT&T a much tougher competitor on almost every facet of the business.

I will monitor these mergers and comment on some of the others in an upcoming blog, in the meantime does anyone have any connections at Nabisco? I am craving a Toastette.