If you can manage to look past the bummer of Mayan doomsday prophecies, 2012 looks pretty promising from a tech geek’s point of view.

We’re not going to have to wait very long for the technology scene to change in 2012, with CES (the Consumer Electronic Show) set to kick off in Las Vegas on Jan. 10. This year, hardware makers are expected to bring a long lineup of Ultrabooks, the super-thin, high-powered laptops which aim to compete with Apple’s Macbook Air — I mentioned a few of these earlier in the year, such as the Asus Zenbook and the Toshiba Protege Z835. Intel’s new CPU architecture, Ivy Bridge, is also expected to drop sometime in the summer, and it could make an early surprise appearance at CES.

The event will mark Microsoft’s last CES keynote (as it has announced its intention to withdraw from the event) but expect Windows 8 to be featured, as the new operating system is likely to see a public beta release in February. Windows Phone 7 — as much as I want to dismiss anything out of Redmond — looks like a solid mobile OS, winning over many skeptics already.

In the world of smartphones, we’re going to see a lot of exciting offerings as Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich makes its way onto more mobile devices. Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt recently stated that “a tablet of the highest quality” is coming in the next 6 months that could rival Apple’s iPad — which has so far fended off would-be competitors with ease. It’s possible that we could see a Nexus branded tablet from Samsung running Android, and that would indeed be a compelling offering, particularly for Docomo here in Japan, as the carrier recently started selling the Galaxy Nexus this past month.

As for Apple, expect the Cupertino company to stay one step ahead of the competition with a number of new offerings and improvements in 2012. Among the products that fanboys across the globe are anticipating are an iPad 3 (which could come as early as February), a slimmer Air-like Macbook Pro, an iTV, and perhaps even an iPad Nano/Mini. We could also see an iPhone 5, though given the length of time we had to wait for the iPhone 4S, we may not see this until 2013.

Here in Japan, the smartphone wars are just beginning to get interesting with KDDI recently getting the iPhone 4S (in addition to SoftBank, previously the only iPhone carrier), and reports in December indicated that the carrier hopes to soon sell the iPad as well. As for Docomo, Japan’s leading carrier is still hoping that its Android lineup provides an attractive and competitive alternative. At the beginning of December there was talk of an upcoming Docomo iPhone amid rumors of talks of executive meetings with Apple CEO Tim Cook. The company denied that there were any such discussions, but did tell The Japan Times that it will continue to focus on its high-speed LTE network moving into 2012.

The second half of 2012 will also see Nintendo roll out its new home entertainment console, the Wii-U, which was unveiled at E3 back in June. Of course, these days the world of gaming is intertwined with the rise of smartphones, particularly as handheld consoles like the Nintendo 3DS and Sony’s new Vita try to fight off the challenge posed by games on phones. Nintendo has stated that it has no intentions of developing for anyone’s hardware besides its own. But will that change in 2012?

The new kids on the Japanese gaming block are not only mobile but social as well, led by GREE and DeNA. This year, we saw many Japanese gaming and Internet companies look abroad (GREE, DeNA, Capcom, Cyberagent) in contrast to how many companies in the country were previously content to focus on the local market. Expanding abroad is one thing, but 2012 could be the year when we see whether or not they can succeed internationally.

This year will also see a very notable gaming company begin its push for serious recognition here in Japan, as Rovio — the Finnish maker of the popular “Angry Birds” game — continues its push into Asia with a localized version for Japanese fans. The company celebrated its second birthday at the Apple store in Ginza in December, and indicated that it would be bringing a special “Angry Birds” to Japan very soon.


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