12 Things to Look Forward to in 2011

Oprah Winfrey portrait -things to look forward to in 2011Life is about change, so we might as well embrace it.

Looking into our crystal ball, here are a dozen things to look forward to in 2011. It should prove to be a very interesting (and entertaining) year.

1. Oprah Launches Her Own Network

After 25 years of toiling in syndication for a few measily tens of millions of dollars, the queen of daytime talk is taking her show to her own network. Launching at the start of 2011, OWN, The Oprah Winfrey Network, will be dedicated to "self-discovery, to connecting you to your best self and the world."Joining Oprah, who will host her own show, are some of her homegrown stars such as Dr. Phil, money guru Suze Orman and Dr. Oz. The network will also run occasional drama and cooking shows in additional to the standard self-help fare.

2. The Royal Wedding

Price William and Kate MiddletonFor every woman who has ever fantasized about becoming a princess, the 2011 marriage of Britain's Prince William to Kate Middleton should provide a thrill. Certainly wedding designers and gown stylists will be watching to see what trends the royal gala might set.

Already, jewelers are receiving requests for knockoffs of the sapphire and diamond engagement ring he gave to her, one worn by the bride in the last royal wedding to capture the world's attention, Princess Diana to Prince Charles.

3. Cheap Houses

For sale signs in front of houseAlthough we are technically out of the recession, property values have yet to show signs of recovery in many markets, where sellers of homes outnumber those shopping for them. With prices deflated and mortgage rates low, those who can qualify for a loan (and this is not easy in today's climate) stand to score a bargain in housing.

4. Competitors to the iPad

Galaxy TabAfter years of Bill Gates promoting the tablet computer, it took Apple to finally design a platform to make the geeky nation squeal with joy. The iPad, a cross between a tablet computer and a smartphone, has proven to be exceptionally popular, with sales approaching 10 million.

This hasn't escaped the notice of other computer and smartphone manufacturers. In 2011, look for competitors to make inroads, including the Samsung Galaxy Tab,Toshiba Folio, the Dell Streak, and even the iPad 2, rumored to be coming in mid-year.

5. Fiat Cars in the U.S.

New Fiat 500 automobilePity the poor Chrysler dealer, stuck with few new models while a reinvigorated Ford and Chevrolet roll out sexy new products. This may change in 2011, however, as Fiat, part owner of the new Chrysler, begins to use this pipeline to bring some of its popular European models to the U.S.

The first car to hit the shore will be the Fiat 500 subcompact, a car that should compete head to head with the Mini Cooper. At $15,500, it will have a significant price edge over the popular $20,000 Mini made by BMW.

6. An All Out E-Book War

Book cover Our Kind of TraitorAmazon surprised the book publishing world by the magnitude of book sales for its Kindle e-book reader. As a whole, e-book sales have risen from $8 million in the third quarter of 2007 to $119.7 million in the same quarter of 2010.

Other book vendors have scrambled to bring competitors to the market, such as the Nook (Barnes & Noble). Apple's iPad also helped accelerate the market. However, in 2011 look for another major player to enter the market, as a book vendor; Google.

Google Editions will be offered in an open format rather than tethered to a specific format (as Amazon does with the books it sells). This will allow readers to enjoy its books on the device of their choice. Editions is also expected to offer millions of out-of-copyright books for free. With such strong competitors (Amazon, Apple and Google, to name three) fighting for dominance in this market, one can hope prices for books will come down.

7. iPhone for Verizon

Man holding iPhone According to the Wall Street Journal, AT&T's lock on the Apple iPhone is about to come to an end. Apple is rumored to be building an iPhone to offer on the network of the largest U.S. cell phone provider, Verizon.

Not coincidentally, Verizon recently launched its own 4G LTE network, promising data speeds of up to 10 times that of its 3G network.

The move is expected to challenge phones running on Google's Android system, phones that Verizon has had great success selling.

8. Electric Cars

Chevrolet VoltWhile the public has responded to the electric/gas hybrid cars like the Prius, many have been waiting for the advent of all-electric cars with performance similar to that of gas models. In 2012, the Chevrolet Volt will test the public's willingness to pay through the nose for the privilege of driving green. The Volt's base price is $32,780 after deducting the $7,500 federal tax credit.

And the Volt is not necessarily all-electric, carrying a small gas-powered generator to recharge the battery on the fly for trip distances longer than about 35 miles.

An all-electric due in 2011 is the Nissan Leaf, a $32,780 subcompact that promises around 100 miles per charge.

9. Continued Tax Breaks

1040 income tax return formFor some time, the question was, would the government extend the Bush-era tax cuts for the middle class? Now, the administration has hammered out a compromise bill that will extend the tax breaks for even the wealthiest of Americans.

The plan contains more good news. Estate taxes will be capped at 35% for estates of $5 million or more. For those collecting unemployment, benefits have been extended for another 13 months. Payroll taxes for Social Security have been reduced for the next year, leaving more money in each paycheck.

10. Final Harry Potter Movie

Book cover for Harry Potter and the Deathly HallowsAt long last, the culmination of the Harry Potter film series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, is due to premiere in July 2011. This film and the one released at the end of 2010, comprise the seventh and last book of the well-loved series. It will answer questions such as the fate of Voldemort and what characters ultimately hook up romantically.

The poor reviews for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 were predictable, as that film had to set the stage for the fireworks that will be found in the final iteration. The series has grossed nearly $2 billion in box office receipts alone.

11. Paying with Your Phone Instead of Your Credit Card

Woman using phone to pay for cola2011 could be the year that Americans hip to electronics finally ditch the credit card in favor of using their smartphone for purchases. Following in the footsteps of the trendsetting Japanese, American businesses are scrambling to mainstream this technology.

PayPal has a partnership with the iPhone to allow the phone to act as a credit card. Google bought Corduro and Visa bought CyberSource, both in 2010, to set the groundwork to free us from the tyranny of plastic.

12. Doctors' House Calls

Doctor with stethoscopeOne of the provisions of the new health care law is meant to encourage more doctors to make house calls. The Independence at Home Act allows doctors and nurse practitioners to get a taste of any savings they can produce by coordinating the care of patients, many with multiple chronic diseases, thereby reducing hospital use while improving the quality of their patient care.

According to USA Today, today around 4,000 doctors make house calls. In 2011, assuming this part of the health care law is not reversed, we may see more doctors hitting the road to meet their patients more than half-way.
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