Competitive markets and patent wars dominated the tech world in 2012
Following Steve Jobs’s death, the 2011 year-end largely saw Apple rule the roost. iPad was the king of its kind, whereas Apple’s share price was getting ready for the quick sprint to $705 a share. Come 2013, and it seems the throne has been shaken. Cheap Google android tablets and phones in conjunction with Samsung and HTC increasingly munch at iPad’s and iPhone’s market shares—android today is the most popular OS with 63% of the smartphone market share. And Apple’s share price has finally humbled down to near $520. Thus, competition catching up with king Apple has been the defining story of the year. After the revolutions of iPod, iPhone, and iPad, it seems Apple may have run out of ideas—iPhone 5 only marginally better than iPhone 4—and its bruised competitors are determined to get back into the game. This explains the flood of startlingly efficient tablets—in particular the Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire. And desperate rehashing of design by old and new—most prominent being Windows 8 by the ageing patriarch Microsoft.
An offshoot of this competition are the patent wars between the giants. Loose American patent law, which allows anything that is “non-obvious, novel and useful” to be patented often ends up smothering competition than upholding it. “Conceptual inventions” can now be patented. Jobs thought of the “slide-to-unlock” feature, and had it patented; now anyone using it with even wildly different aesthetics is liable to a lawsuit. No surprise that such a patent formed the cornerstone of Apple’s $1.06 billion lawsuit against Apple. And now, patent trolls (often set up by tech giants), who make a business model out of pressing charges on the basis of patents, dominate the majority of lawsuits in Silicon Valley. Increasing competition will only serve to make these patent-wars more gruesome. Yet both the bad and the good sides of may end up being rocked by the ‘next big thing’ of 2013. And what would that be—cloud computing, or a better voice-assistant? The tech world is sure to remain the most interesting industry.