Five big things to watch out for in 2012

We’re mere weeks from the dawn of a new year, and yes, it is definitely the time to be thinking about what kind of amazing new things are going to happen in tech over the next 365 days. Digital design agency Fjord got out its crystal ball and let us have an early preview of its annual rundown of what it sees as the breakout themes in tech next year. What they see is that a lot of what’s to come is going to be a continuation of trends or ideas that have started to gather steam in 2011.

Fjord is headquartered in London (it’s the team behind BBC iPlayer’s mobile app and Flickr’s Windows Phone 7 app, to name a few). Each year they brainstorm and research the future of digital services, interfaces and design. This time last year, Fjord predicted that some of the big accomplishments of 2011 would be better ways to search/manage app overload (see improvements to iTunes/Siri), the reimagining of iPad magazines (Zite launched and was acquired by CNN) the gamification of everything, and the rise in mobile payment options (Square, Google Wallet). It’s also great to see that much of the areas we’ve been writing about here at GigaOM and GigaOM Pro for many months are either predicted to finally explode next year or they’re going to see a much-needed shakeout.

We’ve cherry-picked the list a bit to bring you a quick rundown of a few of next year’s next big things to watch out for, courtesy of Fjord, and what they mean for startups and entrepreneurs:

Consumer apps capitalize on the corporate market

Many companies have been dealing for years now with employees wanting to bring their own smartphones and tablets to work. It’s great for workers of course, because they use the devices they’re comfortable with and that makes them more efficient, but it’s also creating new expectations of consumer-type experiences when it comes to the software and services we use at work too. Workers want to use Dropbox, Evernote and Skype (s MSFT) the same way they do at home.

What this means: As this continues to be more commonplace — companies of all sizes are starting to figure out how to do BYOD — doing security and compliance right are valuable services. Fjord predicts there will be a skyrocketing demand for these kinds of “corporate specific services, they just need to be built for the users and not the IT department.”

The wearable tech gold rush

The digital guys at Fjord believe there’s going to be a big change when it comes to wearable tech next year. “Prepare for a gold rush to stake out the territory of smart watches, digital jewelry and ‘wearables’,” they say. This means iPods (s AAPL) as watches — which Kevin Tofel has written about extensively — as well as personal fitness devices like the Jawbone Up and the FitBit, but also stuff we haven’t seen yet. Perhaps an iPod watch with Siri that you talk to?

What this means: When technology is affixed to our clothing, on our wrist, or in our running shoes on a near-constant basis, it will trigger “a whole new category of service innovation,” says Fjord. That means new startups will be the gold prospectors on the hunt for fresh, thoughtful interface design, functionality and new ways to have wearables interact with our mobile phones, since that’s the most likely network to connect wearables.

Living room revolution

There’s a lot of change coming to the living room. Almost no one watches TV in the traditional way anymore, thanks to TiVo, (s TIVO) Hulu, Netflix, (s NFLX) Apple TV, (s AAPL) Roku and a bunch of game consoles that act as media centers. With content companies embracing new platforms in fits and starts, the companies that will totally disrupt the pay TV model first are still being sorted out (Ryan Lawler recently discussed what he thinks is going to eventually have to happen). We still have confusing, terrible remote controls, and too many of them too — “for every new box and additional remote control in the room, end users are left more bewildered and frustrated,” notes Fjord. And when it comes to interfaces, that’s still up in the air.

What this means: While that traditional TV model is still sorting itself out, Fjord believes the hottest area of innovation next year will be with the “companion” device to the TV, a third device perhaps, where users interact with friends via chat, see what others are watching in real time (which we see in services like GetGlue and IntoNow), an important area for service providers to make money.

Banking 2.0

Some aspects of traditional banking have already been disrupted, like with peer-to-peer payments from PayPal, but coming next is mobile credit card payments (Square, Intuit) and near-field communications (NFC) payments, according to Fjord. Google (s GOOG) is aiming to be a big player with its Wallet technology. But who else will emerge? Once the idea of a digital wallet takes hold, according to Fjord, it “will begin to shift the overall financial power balance from banks and credit card companies to companies that provide the smartest and best digital wallets. Banks will continue to move too slowly to take the lead.”

What this means: To survive, Fjord says, the most progressive banks will figure out how not to be just the “dump pipe” of transactions, but “put true user-centricity and customer value” front and center. That means prioritizing digital services and embracing mobile technology with an eye toward security.

Hands-free and eyes-free UI

We’ve already mentioned Siri twice in this post, so it’s no surprise that Fjord is betting multimodal interfaces that use voice and gestures instead of just touch are going to be huge next year. Siri’s not the only example though — Microsoft has its own version of voice control tech with TellMe, there’s Nuance and Vlingo. But Siri is the implementation of voice control that has finally brought the technology to the masses. Which means we’re going to see a whole lot more of this in the coming year. When it comes to gesture-based controls, Microsoft has already made it an established interface thanks to the success of Kinect for Xbox, which allows gamers to control and interact with their video games via voice and gestures. But next we’ll have to see how or if gestures make it big outside of gaming.

Another input is facial expressions — we already have some interfaces that recognize those. “A logical next step [is] to allow users to tag things as ‘liked’ by simply showing a thumbs up, or perhaps this gets as commoditized with an action as natural as the blink,” says Fjord.

What this means: While many of these new input methods are just arriving in the mainstream via a couple of brands of smartphones and video game consoles, there are going to be new business models emerging around them, Fjord predicts. The really forward-thinking companies will start to embrace new interfaces in the coming year for their products and services and figure out how to make it work for everyone, not just tech-savvy.

We’ll of course continue to cover these trends here at GigaOM over the next year to see how they develop and show you where they will take us in terms of gadgets we use and how we do business. What are your thoughts? Feel free to weigh in on how you think these themes will shakeout in the next year.

Thumbnail courtesy of Flickr user Eustaquio Santimano