Winners and losers of 2012
We run through 2012's biggest success stories and find out who's had a year they'd rather forget
It's been a great year for little Pi makers, and a truly awful year for one global tech giant. Yes, you can probably guess which one.
Join us as we pick out our tech winners and losers of 2012.
Winners of 2012
There have been few more heartening 2012 success stories than this one. The Raspberry Pi has been in development since 2006, but this year saw it finally move from dream to reality in truly spectacular style.
After the first ten Raspberry Pi boards fetched more than £16,000 on eBay in January, the public got the opportunity to buy their own a month later – and buy they did, in numbers so large that the Raspberry Pi Foundation could barely cope. Despite reports of shipping delays the orders just kept coming: sales topped half a million in September, prompting the Raspberry Pi Foundation to move production from China to the UK, and the big millionth sale is expected before the year is out.
Schools are buying, kids and parents are coding together. Mission accomplished? They’re only just getting started.
BDUK is doling out £530 million of public investment in broadband, with the aim of giving 90% of homes speeds of at least 24Mbits/sec by 2015. So far every penny that's been allocated has gone to a single company: BT.
The only approved rival, Fujitsu, has yet to win a bid, and has dropped out of the running in several areas. Which effectively means BT is getting taxpayer help to expand its fibre network, with the long-term profits going in its own pockets. Nice work if you can get it.
Amazon has done something amazing over the past year or so with the Kindle Fire. It’s found a way to turn a tablet into a shopfront, complete with annoying adverts, without consumers violently objecting. It’s also found a way to take a poorer user experience – reading a book on a colour screen – and make it more popular than the alternative. Add in the Nook HD, Kobo Arc and – to a lesser extent as the book store isn’t the main focus – the Nexus 7, and the previously popular monochrome ebook reader is under real threat.
Microsoft pulled off one of the few genuine surprise launches of the year when we were first introduced to the Surface back in June. All of our concerns about the Windows 8 beta were put to one side as we marvelled at this lovely piece of innovation from a company that isn’t supposed to do consumer hardware. Microsoft’s partners were seemingly as shocked as the rest of us.
Okay, the Surface didn’t end up being perfect, but it’s a nice piece of kit and Microsoft has backed it with a truly monstrous marketing budget. We always said Windows 8 needed the right device to show it in its best light, so bravo to Ballmer et al for accepting that a big change was necessary if Windows tablets are to compete. (see also: Losers of 2012)
Losers of 2012
Oh, HP. Where to start. A company with so much going on, so little of which has gone right this year. A company whose share price hit a nine-year low in October, after warnings of an impending crash in earnings. A company almost totally absent from the booming mobile market, but also losing its crown as the world’s biggest PC maker to Lenovo – if not already (HP disputed it), then probably by the time the next figures come out.
But most of all, it’s the astonishing case of Autonomy and the missing billions that has made HP something of a laughing stock. Writing down $8.8 billion – almost 80% of the purchase price – was one thing; accusing Autonomy's founder Mike Lynch of “accounting improprieties” is another entirely, and he hasn't taken it lying down. The case has already seen the disclosure of embarrassing information about HP’s inner workings, and it’s not over yet by a long chalk.
If Surface was Microsoft giving everyone a nice surprise, it’s safe to say Windows 8 proved more divisive. Now, here at PC Pro we’ve grown to quite like the new OS, which has some excellent new features and cleans up a lot of mess from old versions. But boy did we take some persuading.
You could argue The Interface Formerly Known As Metro (TIFKAM) was another necessary gamble by Microsoft, a radical shift in focus to belatedly join the tablet march. But it didn’t go down well with a PC crowd furious at the loss of its beloved Start menu. “You didn’t even use it,” said Microsoft, seemingly unaware most of us steer well clear of its Customer Experience Improvement Program. Sales haven't exactly been stellar so far. (see also: Winners of 2012)
Spare a thought this Christmas for the poor inkjet. A few years ago we feared for the existence of the standalone printer, as all-in-ones rapidly pushed them off shop shelves. Now those all-in-ones look to be heading the same way.
This year saw both Lexmark and Kodak announce plans to end all inkjet production, with insiders conceding that there simply isn’t room in a shrinking market for more than a handful of players. It’s unlikely Canon, HP and Epson will be dumping their inkjets just yet, but the future competition looks more likely to come from new technologies than from traditional rivals.
“Windows 8 pricing will be the final nail in the coffin of netbooks,” we were warned by a leading PC manufacturer in May, but in truth the netbook was dead long before Windows 8 arrived without a Starter edition. In fact, it’s tough to think of another recent product that’s arrived, been universally loved, then disappeared again quite as rapidly as the netbook (2009-2012, R.I.P.)
It showed us that laptops for basic functions – which, if we’re honest, is all many of us need – could be ultra-cheap, small and light enough to sling in a bag. We all bought one. Then Apple launched the iPad, the tablet movement sky-rocketed, and we all put our dusty netbooks on eBay. We haven’t reviewed a netbook now for over six months, and no one’s asked us to.