If it doesn't happen next year then we will have to hope that Window 8 does the job of putting some competition into the tablet market - but some how I doubt it. Again all bets are off until the Window 8 beta is released sometime in February, 2012. In the meantime the Kindle Fire is the best we have.
Hardware is always a big influence on software but this year it wasn't a processor or a computational platform that made the difference but a peripheral. What can you say about the Kinect depth field input device other than it is a revolution?
Just one year ago Microsoft introduced the beta of the SDK for the PC and last month Kinect SDK Beta 2, which provides raw sensor access and improved skeletal tracking arrived. We are still waiting for the full commercial SDK and next year should see the launch of the Kinect for the PC with many new features - short range detection and much higher resolution.
It is difficult to explain why the Kinect has generated so many new applications - but it has. Put simply, being able to measure the 3D details of a scene makes it possible to build a 3D model and recognize objects more easily than with a simple video camera. As a result, the Kinect makes it possible to create new gesture-based interfaces and augmented realities, not to mention what you can do when you couple a Kinect with special hardware like a robot. The Kinect allows apps to go into new territory and it is cheap enough to allow it to be used for fun and not just games.
The dark side
Talking of fun - it has been a mostly fun year from the point of view of software and related technology but there have been some deep dark worries. Mostly because the specter of lawsuits, copyright and patents have been roaming around like evil greedy monsters. To protect intellectual property is a reasonable idea, but this year has proved that it can be applied unreasonably. Most of the patents at issue in the big headline cases are laughably trivial and yet no one is able to laugh. Let's hope that most of the silly stuff is resolved in the coming year and in favour of open development, innovation and competition. In particular let's hope that the Oracle v Google spat is resolved quickly and in favour of Android freedom. There are simply too many walled gardens at the moment for us to lose the closest thing we have to an open system.
Google - friend or foe?
2011 was also the year that Google became a lot less fun. For reasons that still aren't completely clear, Google started to shut up shop on many interesting and fun projects as they closed Google Labs and cleared out just about any APIs or services they could - including App Inventor the easiest way to learn programming while creating Android apps.
Perhaps the lesson to learn is that there is no such thing as a free API. In 2012 if you want a service then perhaps you should think about paying for it to increase the chances that it might be around in the following year. Whatever the reasons for Google's withdrawal it is a lot less fun than it was and from a programmers point of view Google+ is starting to look a lot like a walled garden - next year an API?
Speculating on what might have happened if Babbage had built his Analytical Engine is fun, but did you ever think that a Victorian computer could implement a neural network and learn to read handwritt [ ... ]