h1Artist + Developer properly collaborating is a powerful combination - Bjork's Biophilia app was a good example, but we'll see more of this in 2012.
UK-based technology reporter Stuart Dredge knows mobile. And music. In fact, Stuart is probably one of the best-kept secrets outside of his core beat of phones, apps, mobile gaming, and music services, but he dominates the scene with consistent scoops and features. You can find his writing at Mobile Entertainment and Music Ally, on CNET UK's gadget blog Crave, and at the Guardian UK's Apps Blog. He's also someone Stuart Miles of Pocket-lint named to the SAY 100 tech channel: "His beat might be narrow, but those who read him are always influenced."
We asked Stuart to tell us what mobile and music stories he'll be watching closely this year, his favorite apps and hardware – and why 2012 will be the year the apps bubble pops for many companies.
What are the big mobile and app stories of 2012 that you're excited to cover? The whole Apple/Google/Facebook/Amazon competition is fascinating, still, with Amazon and Facebook's mobile plans the most intriguing for me. On the apps side, there's going to be some juicy HTML5 stuff to write about, particularly on the publishing and gaming side of things. Personally, I want to dig in to more apps in the health and education areas this year: there's some interesting stuff coming through that will be genuinely meaningful. However, I think 2012 is the year the apps bubble will pop for a lot of people: we'll still hear a lot of success stories, but there will be more abject-failure stories alongside them of people who spent a lot of money making an app, with little return. My hope is that 2012 will be the year more companies talk about stats other than total downloads for their apps. How many active users do they have, and how much money are they making? Although if that bubble is popping for many, this may be a vain hope.
What about the big music technology stories of 2012? Developers and APIs and hacks, that's a big one. It's been going on for a long time now, but record labels and artists are starting to dive in and really engage with developers. Artist + Developer properly collaborating is a powerful combination - Bjork's Biophilia app was a good example, but we'll see more of this in 2012 I think, aided by companies like The Echo Nest and initiatives like Music Hack Day. The debate around streaming music services is the key story though: do they cannibalise piracy more than they cannibalise existing CD and download sales? And also the issue of big artists like Adele, Coldplay and the Black Keys keeping their new albums off services like Spotify. If this trickle turns into a flood of high-profile no-shows, it'll be a real problem for the streaming services - and by extension the music industry that's making a big bet on access rather than ownership being the future for music.
You're based in the UK – what things do you see in technology that tech journalists in Silicon Valley or New York always seem to miss? I'm not sure I'd put it that negatively, in terms of them missing things. But as a tech journalist, you want to break stories and find new, interesting companies rather than just be led by what's being covered on the big U.S. tech sites. There are loads of startups doing innovative stuff here in the UK, but it's a case of getting out there and talking to them. Book-apps and games are just two areas where there are some great stories to be unearthed here in the UK, with startups building on our rich literary and games development history.
You have a reputation for being great at scoops. What are the biggest or proudest scoops of your career? I don't really think of myself as being great at scoops, I get the odd thing from sources that blows up, but nothing earth-shattering. To be honest, it's more the flow of little, daily scoops. Every morning I go through RSS feeds of all new apps released for the major smartphone/tablet platforms, which is a real pig to do. But it means regularly getting the jump on newsworthy apps that have come out but not been press released yet.
What are your favorite mobile devices right now? The iPhone 4S and iPad 2 have set a high standard, although the Samsung Galaxy Nexus and Nokia Lumia 800 are welcome signs of the competition that'll be driving the market in 2012.
Favorite new apps? There's a couple of new apps built on Spotify's API: SpotON Radio and Soundrop.fm. They show how developers are taking streaming music off in new directions. Zeebox has bags of potential as a social TV app, even just for watching X Factor tweets scroll past at a rate of knots. My kids are loving Ladybird Classic Me Books, Bizzy Bear on the Farm and Toca Kitchen this month. And this sounds like a plug but isn't - I was a Guardian reader before I wrote for them, and with the former hat on, their iPad app is marvelous.
What about games – anything as addictive as Angry Birds on your phone right now? I've got a soft spot for Kairosoft, which makes quirky simulation games for iOS and Android - I exhausted its Game Dev Story, Mega Mall Story and Pocket League Story games. I'm also really interested in the new wave of location-based games - My Town 2 and Life Is Crime in particular. Whale Trail is a beautiful piece of work, and Football Manager Handheld takes me back to my teenage Championship Manager addiction.
What other tech sites do you follow? Who's doing it right? TechCrunch and VentureBeat, for investing in writers who'll go out, talk to people and break stories. TheNextWeb is great because they go out and look beyond the obvious places - in Europe especially - to find interesting companies to write about. On the more gadgety side I like what The Verge is doing with their design, and also Engadget's move into longform content with their Distro app. It's not a blog, but I think what Paul Carr is doing with his Not Safe For Work Corporation is very exciting: the idea of publications designed from the ground up for tablets and e-readers, rather than ported from or overly influenced by print formats. I'm looking forward to their first publication, The New Gambit, which I think is due to launch in the next few weeks.
What would your readers be surprised to learn about you? I read this article by Michael Arrington called Being Less Fat, and it really struck a chord. So I actually copied him lock, stock'n'barrel, bought a TrekDesk and a treadmill, and now I'm constantly walking while writing. The ridiculousness of it has brought great joy to my friends and family on Facebook, as a bonus.
Follow Stuart on Twitter @stuartdredge