Apple, Tech City, Samsung and the NSA: The biggest winners and losers of 2013

2013 is fast on its way into the history books and, as ever, the last 12 months have thrown up plenty of major incidents and talking points to keep us suitably entertained, from the typically massive Apple product launches to Twitter's enormously successful New York Stock Exchange landing.

However, fortune has not smiled down on everybody in the world of technology. If you haven't felt at least a faint pang of sadness over BlackBerry's woes or gawped incredulously at Samsung's frankly awful Galaxy Gear smartwatch, I'm not sure what you've been up to.

We've compiled a list of this year's biggest winners and most wretched losers, so read on to relive technology's latest successes and failures and see if you agree with us.

Winners

Apple

Love it or hate it, Apple has had another barnstorming year. The California-based trendsetter is by now well used to hogging centre-stage and delivering big when the going gets tough (which it did).

The highlight of the company's year was undoubtedly the launch of the iPhone 5S on 10 September, and the sales frenzy that followed. It flogged a record-breaking 9 million 5S and 5C devices during the first weekend of sales – a rate of adoption that the likes of Samsung and Nokia would have been gutted to read about. iOS 7 has proved even more popular, reaching a staggering 74 per cent of iDevices in just two months.

It hasn't all been plain sailing though. Ahead of the iPhone 5S launch, doubt was cast on CEO Tim Cook's future at the company. According to reports, Apple's board no longer fancied Cook as a successor to the late, great Steve Jobs. Astronomical sales figures, the iPad Air, the iPad mini with Retina and a massive deal with China Mobile later, Cook still has his critics but looks to be sitting pretty.

Microsoft

Microsoft has had an incredibly busy and slightly chaotic several months, and the company is still travelling through its period of transition. CEO Steve Ballmer this summer announced that he will abandon his post – which he has occupied for over a decade – before August next year. His once top secret 'One Microsoft' plans are now common knowledge, as the company seeks to transform into a devices and services outfit.

Microsoft is desperately in need of a makeover, and has been for some time, so Ballmer's teary, extremely cringey departure (below) looks like a necessary, positive move. Whoever takes over will have a big challenge on their hands, but they will also be in charge of one of the true superpowers of the tech world.

Meanwhile, despite the fact that its app store is still pretty bleak, Windows Phone has made solid progress in the mobile market, accounting for almost one in 10 smartphones in Europe at the expense of Android and iOS. Meanwhile, the harshly-criticised Windows 8.1 has gained strong reviews the world over.

Last but certainly not least, amid rumours of a rift between Microsoft and Nokia, the company managed to bag the Finnish smartphone manufacturer's mobile devices and services in a deal worth €5.4 billion (£4.6 billion). The quality of Windows Phone hardware – Nokia's input – is well known to be the biggest driver of Windows Phone sales, so this purchase could finally allow Microsoft to compete with Apple and Google.

Dell

Dell was at the very centre of one of the biggest tech sagas of the year, as company founder Michael Dell battled bitterly with billionaire business mogul Carl Icahn for control of the organisation. "Very often the founder of the company should not be running it later when it matures," said Icahn this summer, bringing what should have been a professional battle into the personal arena. "[The Dell board] should have held [Michael Dell] accountable years ago."

Despite these cutting words, Mr Dell won out, taking the company private in a $24.9 billion (£15.8 billion) piece of business. And, after seeing him at Technology Camp in October, it is clear that Mr Dell has been reinvigorated by the move. "We now have the ability to be as aggressive as we want to be," said the smiling businessman, adding that his company is free again and will no longer be held back by "the affliction of short-term thinking."

NSA and GCHQ

I, like the majority of the sane world, believe that what the National Security Agency and Government Communications Headquarters have done - and continue to do - is illegal, disgraceful and terrifying. Edward Snowden's well-documented series of incredible leaks exposed PRISM, the biggest spying programme of all time, this summer and technology firms and consumers the world over were disgusted by what they read. Inventor of the world wide web and tech royalty Sir Tim Berners-Lee even proclaimed that such activities threatened to bring down democracy itself.

However, despite this universal furore, President Barack Obama and Prime Minister David Cameron have effectively told the public to turn the other cheek and pretend that none of this is actually happening. While the US government has relied on fear-mongering and nationalism, generously waving around the famous old terrorism card, Cameron has employed good old-fashioned legal threats and brute force.

As things stand, the truth-telling Snowden has been branded a traitor, millions of honest people all over the globe have been made painfully aware of a data theft circle they are powerless to stop, while the biggest, apparently civilised, superpowers on earth have pledged their ongoing support to one of the largest illegal schemes in history. We are not the winners here.

Yahoo

For years and years, the search giant has played second fiddle to Google, but 2013 has been a completely different story. In July, Marissa Mayer celebrated a year at the helm of the company, but that has not been the only occasion for fireworks. Mayer has fuelled Yahoo's rise with acquisition after acquisition - including the purchase of Tumblr for $1.1 billion (£724 million) - and the strategy seems to have payed off.

In August, Yahoo was named the top US web property for the first time since 2011, beating away fierce competition from the likes of Facebook, Microsoft and, of course Google. It now has 800 million monthly active users, which represents a 20 per cent increase from when Mayer first took over. Add a brand new logo to these successes and it's easy to see why Mayer calls the company a "new, super-charged Yahoo." However, the recent Mail outage will undoubtedly leave a bitter taste in the mouth.

Twitter

Rumours suggesting that Twitter was close to going public emerged towards the end of summer and, when the micro-blogging site confirmed them, it provided people sick of the NSA scandal and iPhone 5S launch with plenty of much-needed tech relief. It was an exciting, largely unexpected development and in typical 'big news' fashion, the build-up was dominated by negativity. After all, who could forget Facebook's disastrous, glitch-plagued Nasdaq debut last year? The fact that the privately-owned Twitter had failed to make a single profit in its entire history added a great deal of fuel to the fire of doom.

As we all now know, Twitter shunned tech trading tradition and opted to go public on the New York Stock Exchange, holding a share sale simulation to avoid following in Facebook's footsteps. The result? An unequivocal success. The San Francisco-based firm originally expected to begin trading at between $17 and $20 per share but by 7 November, stocks were instead priced at $45.10 (£28). Not bad for a company that had, at least until October, never made a penny.

Tech City

Tech City, otherwise known as Silicon Roundabout, is London's answer to San Francisco's world-famous Silicon Valley, and it is something we all should be proud of. Located in bustling East London, the hub has had plenty to shout about over the past 12 months. At Digital Shoreditch back in May, Tech City was labelled the UK's "economy of tomorrow" by councillor Guy Nicholson, who added that the rapid technological advancements of today are, in an economic sense, equivalent to the Industrial Revolution. Mobile operator EE definitely took notice of these big words, launching what it called the world's fastest 4G network in the area in November.

But it's not all about congratulatory speeches and pats on the back - there is substance behind the flattery. Tech City came top of the pops for new business generation in the UK, flying the flag for London after successfully helping to launch over 15,000 startups between March 2012 and March 2013. Warrington, Brighton and Cheshire were identified as the most effective startup hubs outside the capital, generating well over 4,000 companies between them.

Losers

BlackBerry

Poor old BlackBerry. The once high-flying Canadian company has endured one of the most painful years imaginable, suffering setback after setback after setback. And then a few more. The BlackBerry of today isn't even a shadow of the firm that less than five years ago boasted half of the US smartphone market.

BlackBerry 10 flopped, along with the highly unpopular Z10 and Q10, thousands of employees, including numerous top-level executives, lost their jobs, Apple, Samsung and Android won the enterprise and military battles, somebody somewhere scuppered the hotly-anticipated (and ultimately successful) BBM launch and PRISM took away BlackBerry's final remaining stronghold - security. Throw in some terrible financial figures and a collapsed takeover bid from Fairfax and you get a picture of just how chaotic the last 12 months have been.

For the full, uncensored version of the story, check out Past its sell-by date: BlackBerry's rotten 2013. Be warned though, it's no bedtime fairy tale.

HTC

The Taiwanese smartphone manufacturer is responsible for arguably the best mobile ever created and brought together an entertaining advertising campaign (Hipster Troll Carwash, anyone?) to go along with it. However, come the end of 2013, it finds itself in dire straits, being touted as the next major technology firm to go bust.

The simple fact is this: HTC has spent way too much money, without really threatening to earn it back. The universally-acclaimed HTC One is currently the best smartphone on the market, but it is an expensive device to manufacture, and, in the iPhone and Galaxy S4, is competing against two of the biggest names in tech, both of which boast very loyal groups of followers. HTC's marketing campaign featuring Robert Downey Jr. has also soaked up a lot of much-needed cash without really boosting the firm's reputation.

It has finally recognised that it needs to bolster its fairly bare smartphone portfolio, and partly addressed this with the One mini and One max, but there are gaping holes in HTC's business plan that still need plugging. Losing its Beats Audio partnership and having to face Nokia in court were two unwanted cherries on top of the foul-tasting cake that was 2013.

Samsung

Let me be clear. Samsung has not suffered a disastrous 2013. Instead, it has been a distinctly average year for the South Korean behemoth, spattered with a few moments of pain and embarrassment. Its irritatingly frequent squabbles with Apple have continued, but the authorities haven't been too friendly to the company this time around.

After getting various Apple products banned from the US this summer, President Obama stepped in to overrule the decision, with Samsung soon afterwards finding its own products under intense scrutiny. The decision was not only overturned but eventually reversed, and Obama was never going to grace the South Korean firm with the same forgiving behaviour shown towards its American rival. Samsung was right to feel aggrieved at such treatment, but the decision stands. Hoping to get its own back, it campaigned to get iPads and iPhones banned from South Korea, but failed spectacularly on home soil.

Samsung's other failures have also boiled down to competition with Apple. Back in May, the company boasted that it had flogged 10 million Galaxy S4s in just shy of a month, establishing the flagship as its fastest-selling smartphone ever. These figures paled in comparison to Apple's though, with the Cupertino-based firm managing to sell a staggering 9 million units of the 5S and 5C in one weekend alone.

I've saved Samsung's biggest boo-boo until last. It is the Galaxy Gear. I first read about the launch of this so-called 'smartwatch' while on holiday, and for a moment thought that ITProPortal had written a spoof article. I could barely believe that Samsung would release a gadget so utterly atrocious just for the sake of beating Apple to market, but that is precisely what it did. The Galaxy Gear is ugly, clunky, shamelessly expensive, difficult to use and woefully limited in its functionality. The fact that a third of US Galaxy Gear owners have returned the device speaks volumes.

Huawei

A lot of people have said a lot of things about the Chinese outfit this year, and very few of them have been positive. Since many of the allegations have come from the US government and revolve around foul play, it is easy to see why Huawei may feel a little hard done by.

However hypocritical it may sound to many, US authorities have spent much of the year slating the company, claiming that it illegally spies on US citizens on behalf of the Chinese government. Despite little evidence to support this claim - Huawei has been declared fit to continue working in the UK - the giant telecommunications equipment firm has suffered considerable damage. Its products have been banished from the US and its reputation is in tatters. The company is now working alongside GCHQ in an attempt to salvage its European business operations.

Jury's out

Nokia

The curious case of the Finnish company that is finally making progress after a spectacular fall from grace. Nokia has had a strange old year. It hasn't been especially bad, nor has it exactly been overtly successful. One event in particular has dominated the company's year: its major piece of business with Microsoft.

Most of the technology world was bracing itself for a huge slice of Nokia-themed news when certain rumours started circulating early this year. According to the gossipers, the Finnish firm had grown sick of driving the growth of Windows Phone single-handedly, even going on record to criticise its Redmond-based partner's perceived lack of effort. When mutterings of an upcoming Android deal made the rounds, it was pretty much just a waiting game.

However, with September came news that Microsoft had purchased Nokia's mobile devices, services and patents for €5.4 billion (£4.6 billion). The deal was baffling more for its timing than anything else. With Nokia finally making a strong recovery in the smartphone market and alternative platforms reportedly showing interest in the firm, few expected it to fall into the hands of Microsoft, the company widely blamed for holding Nokia back. Many believe that Stephen Elop, the former - and now current - Microsoft man who steered Nokia along this route, was a Trojan horse sent by Microsoft to prepare Nokia for an aquisition. Whatever the case, the company looks to be in strong hands, but must now persuade Microsoft to work much harder to expand the reach of its mobile platform. The barren app store would be a good place to start.

Image credit: Flickr (sleetq8, Karrock, Ben Carleton, samsungtomorrow)

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