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What are technology trends can we expect in 2012? (Enterprise tablets, apps, low-energy servers and the esoteric Internet, perhaps?)

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For years, companies – and tech enthusiasts, no less – have leaned on Gartner to navigate the rapidly changing world of technology, and be early to ride the waves. Weeks before the technology think tank holds its Gartner Symposium/ITxpo on the Gold Coast, it shared its views on the technologies that will gain traction next year and identified the Top 10 Strategic Technologies for 2012.

Among Gartner’s picks are the most obvious – media tablets – and the esoteric – Internet of Things, which includes such features as sensors, image recognition and near field communications payments, the kind seen on the latest Google Nexus phone. Somewhere in the middle lie things such as extremely low-energy servers that will warm the cockles of harried chief information officers, not to mention finance chiefs.

“These top 10 technologies will be strategic for most organisations, and IT leaders should use this list in their strategic planning process by reviewing the technologies and how they fit into their expected needs,” said David Cearley, vice president and Gartner fellow.

Gartner defines a “strategic technology” as one that is likely to mature into a significant one over the next three years, potentially disrupting existing systems, calling for major investment and perhaps running the risk of business loss caused by late adoption.

“Organisations should start exploratory projects to look at promised candidate technology and kick off a search for combinations of information sources, including social sites and unstructured data that may be mined for insights,” said Carl Claunch, vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner.

Here are the top 10 strategic technologies for 2012, according to Gartner:

#1. Media Tablets and Beyond. Enterprises must learn to manage diverse form factors and technology as employees bring their own smartphones/tablets because no single platform is likely to dominate. Also, businesses will have to come up with two mobile strategies – one to address the business to employee (B2E) scenario and one to address the business to consumer (B2C) scenario.

#2. Mobile-Centric Applications and Interfaces. A two-decade old user interface (IU) paradigm is changing, with windows, icons, menus and pointers being replaced by mobile-centric interfaces emphasising touch, gesture, search, voice and video. HTML5 will provide a long term model to address mobile apps and cross-platform issues. By 2015, mobile Web technologies will have advanced sufficiently, so that half the applications that would be written as native apps in 2011 will instead be delivered as Web apps.

#3. Contextual and Social User Experience. Context-aware computing uses information about an end-user or objects environment, activities, connections and preferences to improve the quality of interaction. These services will come up first in the form of augmented reality on mobile devices and mobile commerce, not to mention in location-based services.

#4. Internet of Things. The vision and concept of so-called Internet of Things (IoT) – envisaging use of sensors and intelligence – have existed for years. Now is it reaching critical mass as key technologies such as embedded sensors, image recognition and near field communication (NFC) payment are maturing and being deployed in devices.

#5. App Stores and Marketplaces. By 2014, there will be more than 70 billion mobile application downloads from app stores every year as the consumer-only phenomena invades the enterprise. With enterprise app stores, the role of IT shifts from that of a centralised planner to a market manager providing governance and brokerage services to users and potentially an ecosystem to support entrepreneurs, Gartner says.

#6. Next-Generation Analytics. Over the next three years, analytics will mature along a third dimension –  from structured and simple data analysed by individuals to analysis of complex information of many types (text, video, etc…) from many systems supporting a collaborative decision process that brings multiple people together to analyse, brainstorm and make decisions. Also, analytics will begin to shift to the cloud and leverage cloud resources for high performance and grid computing.

#7. Big Data. Many new technologies are emerging with the potential to be disruptive (e.g., in-memory DBMS) as enterprises cope with ever larger volumes of data. A major implication of big data is that in the future users will not be able to put all useful information into a single data warehouse. Logical data warehouses bringing together information from multiple sources will replace the single data warehouse model.

#8. In-Memory Computing. Growth of flash memory in consumer devices, entertainment equipment and other embedded IT systems will sharply escalate. As cost and availability of memory-intensive hardware platforms reach tipping points in 2012 and 2013, the in-memory approach will enter the mainstream.

#9. Extreme Low-Energy Servers. Radical low-energy servers being developed by new startups using low-power processors typically used in mobile devices will deliver huge savings to enterprises. The new approach is well suited for some “non-compute intensive” tasks such as map/reduce workloads or delivery of static objects to a website.

#10. Cloud Computing. Cloud computing is likely to be a disruptive force with the potential for broad long-term impact as the technology matures over the next two years. Oracle, IBM and SAP all have major initiatives to deliver a broader range of cloud services, and Microsoft continues to expand its cloud offering.

You can follow the Gartner Symposium/ITxpo on Facebook here and on Twitter here and by using #GartnerSym.

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