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Technology's year of upsets

12/24/2013 | 05:22am US/Eastern

Twitter's stellar IPO debut suggests the good times are back. Lenovo and Samsung are winners with their respective victories over HP and Apple, while BlackBerry and Microsoft lag the market. But it is the NSA's spying scandal that has the greatest impact, Triska Hamid writes

There are few industries that can spark as much controversy and joy as the technology sector. From worrying revelations of United States spying on the world's online activities to billion-dollar public offerings, this year in technology has been anything but dull.

We are in the midst of another technology boom, evinced by Twitter's initial public offering last month, which valued the loss-making company at US$24.9 billion. Interest and faith in the mico-blogging website is at an all-time high, as it has become one of the most influential communications tools.

Although there are fears of another dotcom bust, if the past few years are anything to go by, another bust is quite a while away. Instead, it is the device manufacturers that are most at risk.

This year, BlackBerry gave its all to rebrand and re-establish its presence in the smartphone market without much success. It launched in January its newest operating system, BlackBerry 10, with its first full touch-screen handset, the Z10.

Sales failed to live up to the hype and the firm later entered talks with Canada'sFairFax Holdings for a possible takeover worth $4.7bn. The negotiations fell through and BlackBerry is making a final push to regain its former glory, though there is little faith throughout the industry, as BlackBerry revealed it was laying off 4,500 people.

Nokia, like BlackBerry, has seen its dominance eroded by Samsung and Apple over the past few years.

This year, it agreed to a $7.2bn takeover of its phone manufacturing unit by Microsoft. The American personal computing giant, which has been struggling with the ascent of mobile technology, hopes to challenge Google's Android dominance in the smartphone and tablet market with its Windows 8 platform.

Indeed, Jyoti Lalchandani, a senior regional executive at the market research company IDC, said 'second-platform' players could not afford to be complacent, citing BlackBerry's business problems, and Microsoft's takeover of Nokia's handset business. "We have seen a a lot of consolidation happening and we can expect to see further consolidation in 2014 and 2015," he said.

Nokia decided to unveil its latest line-up of devices in Abu Dhabi, ahead of Microsoft's takeover. It launched its maiden tablet device, which will be available next year.

Cheaper tablets and hybrid laptop and tablet devices began to take hold this year as personal computer (PC) sales continued to plummet across the world.

The only firm bucking this trend was China'sLenovo, which beat Hewlett-Packard to become the top global PC vendor for the first time in its history.

And while Lenovo sustained its strong growth, Apple continued to lose market share to Samsung, which has now shifted its focus to wearable technology with the launch of its first smart watch.

On its part, Apple launched two smartphones simultaneously for the first time: the iPhone 5S, which has a finger-scanning button for enhanced security, and the iPhone 5C, a cheaper mass-market device.

Apple's rollout of a new mobile operating system, the iOS 7, was the first major launch and overhaul since the death of its founder Steve Jobs. Although the launches were not overwhelmingly revolutionary, the new chief executive Tim Cooksproved his mettle in building on Jobs' legacy.

Perhaps the biggest technology story of the year is the revelation that Prism, a surveillance programme of America's National Security Agency, has been monitoring global communications and spying on the servers of major technology companies such as Google, Yahoo and Microsoft.

Even the German chancellor Angel Merkel was reportedly spied upon for the past 10 years by the US.

The US whistleblower Edward Snowden, a former NSA contractor, stunned the world with his disclosures about America's brazen and illegal spying on Americans and other people around the globe.

His act has made him one of the most influential and controversial people this year.

And as the leaks continue, fears over user privacy and the integrity of personal data are rising. Debates about this will continue into the new year.

thamid@thenational.ae

© Al Bawaba Ltd., Acquiremedia 2014
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