1. The end of patent lawsuits. If you've been paying attention, you know that 2011 has been full of patent litigation between smartphone companies. Pretty much every handset manufacturer is involved with patent-related suits with its competitors. Apple happens to be at the nexus of many of the lawsuits, and has trials and court dates on deck around the world. But it's far from alone.
Just last month, the U.S. International Trade Commission ruled that HTC is violating an Apple patent and that Motorola is violating a Microsoft patent. As great as it would be to see all the lawsuits dropped, it probably won't happen--especially since Steve Jobs called Android a "stolen idea" and vowed to fight it until it's dead.
2. The return of unlimited data. One thing we saw in 2011 was the death of the unlimited data plan. Most carriers moved to some form of tiered system for mobile broadband. Some charge overage fees for those who exceed their limits, while others throttle down the mobile broadband speeds of over-users. Though some carriers--such as Verizon Wireless--might introduce shared data family plans, the carriers aren't likely to offer unlimited data again until it is economical for them to do so.
[ Why AT&T didn't get its way with T-Mobile. See AT&T Licking Its Wounds Over T-Mobile Collapse. ]
3. Widely available mobile payments. Google and Sprint might have kicked off Google Wallet this summer, but widespread availability and adoption of mobile payments using near-field communications won't arrive in 2012. Google Wallet can be used only on a single device using Sprint's network in a limited number of markets and with a limited number of retailers.
Google Wallet's chief rival, Isis, won't even start trialing its systems until close to the end of the first half of the year. Although mobile payments will surely make solid progress throughout 2012, the technology won't be ready for prime time until 2013 at the earliest.
4. A solid competitor to AT&T and Verizon Wireless. Even though the Department of Justice and the Federal Communications Commission effectively squashed AT&T's attempt to purchase smaller rival T-Mobile USA, AT&T and Verizon Wireless will remain the dominant mobile network operators in 2012.
Sprint is in a bad spot. It trails AT&T and Verizon by tens of millions of customers, and is currently transitioning between Wi-Max and LTE 4G network technologies. This transition is going to take years, and will keep Sprint from competing effectively. T-Mobile is worse off, with even fewer customers than Sprint and no clear path toward real 4G. (Its HSPA+ network is fast, but won't be able to compete with LTE in the long run.)
Meanwhile, Verizon's LTE lead is unquestionable. AT&T is far behind Verizon, but won't be by the end of 2012. Sprint and T-Mobile won't be able to beat AT&T and Verizon at the 4G games, at least not in 2012.
5. A viable competitor to Android. Android's success shows no signs of stopping. With 700,000 daily activations, Android is a runaway hit, and its popularity will only increase once more users get a chance to adopt Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. Apple's iPhone will hang on in second place, but don't expect RIM's BlackBerry 10 or Microsoft's Windows Phone to come even close to Android.
Android owned 2011, and it will own 2012.
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