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2012 and the Technology Blahs

2012: Death of Innovation?

Microsoft Entertainment and Devices Division President Robbie Bach talks up the innovative Xbox Kinect hardware at the 2010 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. 2012 will mark the company's last big appearance at the tech show -- an indication, some say, of a slowdown in U.S. innovation.AP Photo/Laura Rauch

Has American innovation taken a beating along with the economy?

Generally, at the end of the year, predictions stream forth as to how this or that new technology will transform the world in the next 12 months. Just before Christmas, IBM announced computerized mind reading was just around the corner -- sometime after 2017, that is. But on the whole, experts and analysts don’t see a whole lot of innovation coming out of the U.S. anytime soon.

Instead, they see sluggishness.

"We'll have to wait for consumer spending to go up before the 'flying surfboard' arrives,” Chris Stephenson, partner and co-founder at Seattle-based strategy consulting firm ARRYVE, told FoxNews.com. "Bigger innovation labs and companies are holding back on numerous innovations until they can properly monetize them."

Stephenson tried to put a positive spin on 2012's unexciting tech prospects.

“We will continue to see innovation around cost savings and information flow,” he said.

Other analysts were even more critical. Professor Michael Goul, chair of the Information Systems Department at Arizona State University's W.P. Carey School of Business, told FoxNews.com that "like a frog in a blender" last year’s tech predictions looked a great deal like those from the year before.

"For 2012, most predictions are -- again -- like another round of rehashed mash-ups,” Goul said.

New technologies are no longer appearing in a flash and making a big impact: They’re evolving slowly over time. And even though technology is more pervasive in our daily lives than ever, it's stagnating.

“There's no stopping the momentum of consumerization of technology in 2012,” said Nahum Gerson, a fellow at the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), which bills itself as the leading professional society for the advancement of technology.

But consumerization is not the same thing as innovation.It’s incremental.

The top tech trends for 2012, therefore, are very likely to be similar to those seen for 2011 and 2010, with some small nuances, analysts say.

For example, as more and more smartphones populate our pockets, look for more hackers to target your Blackberry and iPhone, both at home and at work.

“Smartphone owners are increasingly paying a high price for free mobile applications, with 2012 set to be a disruptive year of widespread mobile hacking,” IEEE Fellow Dr. Jeffrey Voas, whose research has found malware in more than 2,000 free smartphone apps, told FoxNews.com.

Voas says free applications like those will “be the most common access point for hackers over the next year.”

Look for more innovations in social media next year, as well as the emergence of application stores and independent ratings for social media sites, research consultancy Gartner predicts.

Yawn.

Mobile tech continues to remake home and office life: Today's hyper-connected workforce is always on the go, and users are demanding mobile applications that mimic their desktop experience.

That means more media tables and tablets and more mobile-centric applications, experts predict. And -- of course -- cloud computing will affect consumers.

"Easing access to software applications – not just email, which has always been an online app, but Microsoft Word and more – on a per-use rather than per-user basis has been a corporate trend for years. Prices are dropping so fast that this ideology will spread further into the consumer market.

Yet there is hope for the long-term future of innovation. Traditional R&D hot-beds, start-ups and university laboratories, are still humming along, some say.

“As far as universities go, innovation is alive and well," Ian Murphy, a spokesman for the University of Southern California, tells FoxNews.com. "Our spinouts -- companies formed from USC research -- have raised more than $380 million in financing over the past three years, at the height of the economic downturn.

“A recent study we conducted also found that 19 percent of USC alumni have started at least one business,” he added.

Murphy said there was a 13 percent uptick this academic year in students taking entrepreneurship classes at USC. He concludes that, if not today, and if not tomorrow, maybe innovation will return next week.

“There is a compelling case for a strong innovation sector with a huge potential to trickle up into large businesses.”

If it doesn't come from USC, there's always those mind-reading IBM machines.