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Players race to connect the dots

Craig Gamble

Published: December 29 2012 - 3:00AM

As always, this year seems to have gone by more quickly than last, and while there has been plenty of technological news, much of it hasn't been positive or inspirational. It was a year when many of the big names stumbled and others tried to pull themselves back into a sunnier place, when former champions began to look past their best and others entered new and more challenging times. Let's look at some of the highs and lows.

Facebook and RIM were two companies that might look back at 2012 and describe it as ''challenging''. Facebook managed to pull off the biggest internet stock market offering in history, raising some US$16 billion dollars. But for founder Mark Zuckerberg, that - and, presumably, his marriage - were isolated high points. Facebook stock has plummeted since the offering and many investors blame Zuckerberg for the drop in value, saying he was not sufficiently up to speed with how Facebook would work on mobile devices. As the year ends, Zuckerberg has reassured everyone he is across it all and that Facebook will make money, though Facebook's new advertising might irk many established users.

Meanwhile, RIM, the former champion of business mobile technology with its Blackberry, had a much worse year. Its market share of smartphone users plummeted to new lows, the company value dropped and two CEOs resigned. Added to that was the continuing delay in the launch of its new OS, Blackberry 10, now due in January 2013. If that gets delayed again, RIM might not even be with us at the end of next year.

Microsoft did manage to launch its new software, Windows 8, this year. Like RIM, Microsoft no longer dominates the field of business computing as it used to, despite the millions of business PCs out there running Windows, and it has struggled to cope with the shift to mobile computing. The company boldly decided that it would ditch the traditional look of Windows and embrace the tiled, colourful and touch-friendly Windows 8. It went as far as to make its own tablet, the Surface, to show off the qualities of the new software, though this did not please many of its traditional hardware partners like HP. The jury is still out on whether the software will push Microsoft back to the front of personal computing but you have to admire the company for trying.

Juries featured large on the technological landscape in 2012, and though every major company and many smaller ones seemed to be suing each other, there was one trial that captured the attention of the media and the public - Samsung versus Apple. Apple has had its rivalries in the past - with Microsoft for many years and with Google, particularly since the launch of the very successful Android - but these pale when compared to the set-to with Samsung. Apple accused Samsung of "slavishly" copying its designs and, after a trial lasting three weeks, the jury agreed, awarding Apple US$1.05 billion in damages. But Apple's victory might mean little in the end. Apple's iPhone is still lagging behind a slew of new and good Android smartphones that won't slow down any time soon. Apple itself is wobbling a little since the death of its co-founder and inspiration, Steve Jobs, having fired several big names and restructured parts of the company. Perhaps 2013 will show whether these are speed wobbles or signs of something more awry.

By now I'm sure you've found the thread running through these stories. It's mobile, of course: the defining technology of 2012 and likely for many years to come. Tablets are everywhere and increasingly being used for many business tasks as well as for entertainment. Smartphone usage is still surging, with people adopting smartphones 10 times faster than they took up PCs in the 80s. We do much of what we used to do on a desktop PC on our phones and tablets now, and that will only become more true in 2013. The rise in the consumption of mobile is so big it's putting a strain on existing telephone networks and raising security issues. Tech companies are and will continue to be defined by how they embrace mobile and create the products and services that succeed within it..

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