Tech Winners and Losers of 2014

2014_year_in_review

Life’s never dull in the technology space, with company takeovers, new product launches, senior management changes and security breaches occurring on – what feels like – a near daily basis. The past 12 months has seen plenty of these scenarios play out in the IT industry, with devastating consequences for some and positive outcomes for others. With this in mind, these are the tech industry’s winners and losers in 2014.

LOSERS

Wearable technology 2014 look set to be the year where vendors stopped talking up wearable technology products, and actually started releasing some, but it didn’t quite pan out that way.

While Apple and Google both unveiled their first ventures into this area (in the form of the Apple Watch and Google Glass respectively), both products are earmarked for unspecified general release dates in 2015, but precise details are scarce right now. High cost and ugly designs have repeatedly been cited this year as reasons why the wearable tech trend hasn’t quite set the world alight, but there’s always 2015, right?

Sony Pictures The hacking community had a bumper year in 2014 by managing to take down high-profile targets including online auction site eBay and US retailer Target, to name but a few.

However, the largest, most wide-ranging and – potentially – the most damaging was the one involving Sony Pictures in November. Members of the self-styled Guardians of Peace hacking collective breached the firm’s computer network, stole company documents and emails by the hundreds and then proceeded to dump them on torrent sites.

North Korea has been cited as the source of the attack, after the hackers made repeated references to Sony Pictures’ forthcoming comedy film The Interview, the story of which centers on a fictional assassination plot involving North Korean leader Kim-Jong Un. The hack took an even more sinister turn earlier this month, with the perpetrators threatening “9/11-style” attacks on cinemas that showed the film, prompting Sony to pull its release altogether.

HP While its five-year turnaround plan continues apace, the tech giant has faced some tough decisions this year to safeguard the company’s future, resulting in widespread job cuts. In October, HP announced plans to hive-off its PC and printing business from its wider enterprise hardware and services arm at a cost of another 5,000 jobs. The move came as a surprise to many, given the backlash it suffered several years ago when former CEO Leo Apotheker proposed a similar move.

Uber While the number of people downloading the Uber taxi finder app has sky-rocketed this year, the company, its senior management and its operating methods have all come under fire. Thousands of black cab drivers took part in an hour-long protest against Uber’s method of working out the cost of fares that saw central London brought to a standstill in June.

The company has also garnered complaints about the way it treats journalists, after one of its executives suggested hiring a team of researchers to “dig up dirt” about those who write bad stories about the firm. And, if all that wasn’t bad enough, Uber faced a monumental backlash in December after its surge pricing system, whereby the cost of fares grows in line with demand, kicked in during the Sydney hostage crisis. This meant people using its service to escape the scene were charged around four times the normal fare.

Samsung After wowing smartphone buyers with its flagship Samsung Galaxy S3 and S4 handsets in 2012 and 2013, respectively, the South Korean tech giant was widely expected to replicate the sales figures notched up by these devices with the S5. Despite a striking re-design, the introduction of biometric security, a heartrate monitor, and a wealth of other bells and whistles that garnered favorable reviews, sales of the S5 fell short of analyst expectations.

Just to round off a bad year for the firm, December saw analyst house Gartner unveil its latest smartphone market tracker, which also revealed Samsung had lost 8 per cent of its global market share because of a fall in demand for its products in China.

iCloud Cloud security worriers were gifted a fairly credible reason about the integrity of off-premise storage this year, after hackers managed to side-step Apple’s iCloud log-in procedures and leak naked pictures of a host of female celebrities online. The fallout from it prompted Apple to issue assurances in September 2014 that it was tightening up security around its flagship cloud storage service.

WINNERS

Blackberry After what can only be described as a disastrous 2013 for BlackBerry, the past 12 months have been considerably better for the Canadian smartphone maker. While the previous year saw the firm hit with multi-million inventory charges, senior management changes, and an abortive attempt to acquire the firm by its largest shareholder, 2014 has seen it embark on a concerted push to reconnect with enterprise users to very positive effect.

This has resulted in the release of the eye-catching BlackBerry Passport, which has chalked up better-than expected sales, and lofty predictions about a return-to-growth for the firm in the not too distant future.

Mojang Even if hadn’t been acquired by Microsoft, it’s highly likely games developer Mojang would have made it on to our 2014 winners list, based on the continued popularity of its flagship offering Minecraft. The game is said to have 100 million registered users, and saw its user base widen considerably this year with its release on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One consoles.

Microsoft coughed up $2.5 billion for Mojang earlier this year to safeguard the game’s availability on Windows PCs and phones in the future, and – we assume – ensure Mojang’s senior management enjoys a very nice Christmas.

WhatsApp It’s fair to say WhatsApp’s 450 million-plus users were a little skeptical about how honorable Facebook’s intentions were when news first broke that it was planning to buy the IM service in February. With fears abounding that Facebook might opt to shut the service down and incorporate it into its own Messenger service, or even start charging users to send missives to each other, the WhatsApp user base wasn’t happy.

In response, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg promised users the service will operate as it always has done and continue to do so as a standalone entity. And since the $22 billion deal was finally waved through by regulators in October 2014, he’s shown no signs of backtracking on this.

Hackers 2014 has certainly been a busy one for the hacking community, with a series of high-profile attacks on the likes of Sony Pictures, iCloud and eBay causing massive disruption to their operations and – not to mention – reputations.

While vendors and industry types often predict cyber-attacks will grow in complexity and sophistication as time goes on, these three provide solid evidence that this is a trend that’s already occurring.

 

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