2013 Winners And Losers In Tech

on December 9, 2013
Reading Time: 5 minutes

We track, analyze and oftentimes promote technology because of its overarching, mostly positive impact on our own lives and throughout the world. It’s many disparate parts, incorporating intellectual property and global manufacturing, hardware and software, content and creativity, when brought together at exactly the right time, in exactly the right way can be both uplifting and magical.

While we may not fully understand all the long-term ramifications of what our technology has wrought, we can know its winners and losers. In 2013, much like the harsh, unblinking truth at the final whistle of some great sporting clash, knowing who won and who lost was surprisingly rather easy to discern.

Winners

Amazon

There wasn’t even a close second.

Hardware, content, search, real-time pricing algorithms, personalization and a near-infinitely scalable platform. There is no more high tech company than Amazon. Yes, $AMZN has (only) gone up this year. If Jeff Bezos is to be believed, and the evidence certainly suggests so, then the company is just getting started. Amazon is the low-price leader in retail, a behemoth in cloud services, the first place most of us think to visit when we think about buying anything — and the unmatched leader in big ideas.

Google Glass is so Spring 2013. All anyone is talking about now are Amazon delivery drones. Amazon is more than talk, of course. It took Amazon to offer live, personal (“Mayday”) support for every new Kindle tablet user. Did Apple, king of the locked-down, high-margin, customer-focused hardware-based ecosystem, even consider such an audacious idea?

Amazon, not Silicon Valley, is the new home of really big ideas. Amazon embodies a scope of business, a level of execution, and a breathless vision that I don’t think even Google can match. They won 2013.

Twitter

A highly successful IPO, a highly engaged user base, the new home for breaking news, the place we share our most joyful moments, greatest tragedies, and idle thoughts.  Apple execs say damn near nothing outside of highly staged events. Yet both Tim Cook and Phil Schiller tweet often.

Tablets

What, exactly, is the purpose of a tablet? No one seems to know. I cover the industry and typically recommend them only to grandparents and toddlers.  Microsoft finds the tablet so utterly confounding — despite 10+ years of effort — that they can still only envision such a device with a keyboard attached. The numbers do not lie, however. At least, not in 2013. Tablets are everywhere. Per IDC, 220 million tablets moved just this year alone.

Team iOS 7

iOS 7 is audacious, shocking, beautiful as a European runway model, and just as brittle.

If you were part of the team that developed iOS 7, congratulations. The iOS 7 adoption rate is already nearing 75%. With around 500 million iOS devices in use, that’s 375 million devices running with your OS — about triple the latest Windows operating system.

iOS should fuel Apple for at least another generation, and iOS 7 points the way forward.

Gaming and Gamers

A new Playstation, a new Xbox, and a new chip (A7) powering Apple iOS devices make 2013 the best time ever to be a gamer. Add in social media gaming, a billion smartphone users, and ‘computer games’ are now as ubiquitous as Miley Cyrus gifs.

Female Tech Execs

I believe Marissa Mayer’s strategy, such as I can divine, consigns Yahoo to a permanently middling presence in our lives. Much content, some personalization, cloud-scale, new acquisitions and several new mobile apps all point toward nothing more than news, views and reviews of the sort our parents now get from morning TV talk shows. Doesn’t matter. The market has spoken and the money people obviously like what Mayer is doing.

Meanwhile, Meg Whitman is righting the busted ship that is HP and Sheryl Sandberg is making the day-to-day adult decisions at Facebook. Since Tim Cook is determined to transform Apple into a “casual luxury” brand, I can absolutely believe the rumors that Apple’s next CEO will be Burberry’s Angela Ahrendts. That’s quite a line-up.

Road Warriors

All praise the glories of the market. In-flight WiFi became possible, then practical, then profitable, then widespread, and then the government — surprise — changed the rules. Now we can keep our electronic devices turned on, legally, throughout our entire flight. Self-interest mixed with technology is a powerful combination.

Google Lawyers

What a year! Google lawyers fought off Oracle, got a judge to agree that digitizing and making “out of print” books freely available was a public service, signed a sweetheart deal with the FTC, despite a monopoly position in search which they have frequently abused, and the late Steve Jobs’ thermonuclear war on Android has not slowed down the world’s most popular OS even in the slightest. I’m assuming there will be quite the cash bonus from Larry Page to his merry band of lawyers.

Considered: Kickstarter, Pinterest, iTunes (seriously), iPhone 5s, and the ‘smartphone’. 

Losers

Computing technology is deeply personal yet seeks to connect us with everyone and everything. It can eradicate the worst parts of our past, re-invent our very notions of the future and captivate our present. Oftentimes, however, it flops worse than a petulant soccer player on a losing team. This year’s biggest losers in tech:

Facebook Home

Facebook Home was such an utter, abject, laughable failure that you probably already forgot that it ever existed. I suspect that the mysterious illness that prevented Google’s Larry Page from talking for so many months stemmed from his laughing hysterically when he first saw Facebook Home.

Steve Ballmer

I believe no non-founder ever gave more of himself, his talents, his passions, his sleepless nights, as Steve Ballmer gave to Microsoft. Ballmer helped Microsoft become so big that it — literally — scared governments and sent the mighty Steve Jobs, fortuitously, scurrying off as far away from “personal computers” as he possibly could.

Nonetheless…Microsoft’s stock has done better since Ballmer announced his “resignation” then it did during the decade he actually ran the company. Worse, much worse, and nearly inconceivable, is that there are over a billion smartphones in use plus hundreds of millions of tablets and nearly everyone has absolutely no Microsoft software inside.

For all I admire about Ballmer, and I admire much, the company’s failure in mobile computing is, in my opinion, a far more devastating capitulation than Time Warner buying AOL at the absolute top of the market.

Smartwatches

Samsung’s Galaxy Gear commercial is glorious. The watch itself is Kanye-cool. Only, no one bought one because there is no need for one. The year of the smartwatch was anything but. Galaxy Gear flopped. Apple’s iWatch never appeared. The Pebble watch was essentially a high-margin toy purchased by Silicon Valley insiders. Not wanted, not needed.

Google Maps

Every quarter, as Google reports anew the latest Motorola loss, we are presented with yet another reminder that Google’s purchase of Motorola was a profound strategic mistake.

I don’t think it’s their biggest. Rather, that would be Google’s decision to consign iOS users with an inferior version of Google Maps — for years. That led to Apple’s decision to offer its own mapping service. As Charles Arthur notes, Google Maps has already lost tens of millions of iPhone users — possibly Google Inc’s most lucrative customer base. Hubris.

Siri

Apple’s existence now spans across five decades. In all that time has the company ever promoted a device or a service as prominently, as consistently and as aggressively that has gone so utterly unused as Siri? Siri is now more than two years old and still doesn’t work as it should. Worse, even if it did we would still rarely use it.

Skeuomorphism

We all learned what this word meant when Apple killed it off. It was time.

The Third Mobile Platform

As of this moment, smartphones now sell about a billion units a year. This massive, industry-shifting market belongs almost entirely to two platforms: Android and iOS. Symbian is dead. BlackBerry is at death’s door. There is effectively no Tizen, no Firefox OS in actual use, no Ubuntu and nearly no Windows Phone.

Has the industry consolidated this quickly, despite being this big, this global? As much as I believe there is room for a thriving Windows Phone ecosystem, the market itself, in every region and across every demographic, tells us that iOS and Android are enough for nearly everyone. Perhaps 2014 will surprise us.

Considered: Obamacare website, PCs, privacy, BlackBerry, the “cheap” iPhone, and RSS.