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  • Steven Beggs

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This Year in Tablets: Apple, Amazon, and Microsoft top the list of the year's biggest winners and losers

by George Jones

December 29 2012

George is a founding editor of TabTimes and currently works for Wikia.com as Director of Programming


Also inside: The 5 most over-rated and under-rated tablet stories, events, and occurrences in 2012

It sounds like everyone was dreaming of tablets this holiday season, based on Flurry Analytics’ activation reports.

No surprise here. Over the last 4 weeks, I found everyone and their grandma—literally—asking me what tablet they should buy this year.

So how did Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, Lenovo, and the bevvy of other Android and Windows tablet manufacturers fare during the holidays? It’s a question we’re going to have to wait for a few weeks to get an answer to.

Some not very scientific results examining “first tweets” from various devices indicate that—again, not surprisingly—iPads dominated holiday lists, while the Surface and other devices did not.

We’ll know the numbers in a few weeks’ time. While we wait to hear those numbers, let’s take a look back at the most significant events of the last 12 months, as well as the biggest winners and losers in the tablet ecosystem in 2012.

Feel free to insert your own nominees in the comments section below.

The 5 most under-rated stories, trends, and events of 2012

Each year, there are a number of stories that feel under-played, or perhaps deserving of more or more favorable coverage than they received. Sometimes, this is because bigger news breaks at the same time. Sometimes it’s because the media misses the story—or the greater implications thereof.

This year, I’m sensing 5 big misses in this regard.

Kindle Fire HD: I get the sense that Amazon is quietly minting a fortune with the Kindle Fire series of tablets. And while the media covered the launch of Amazon’s second-generation tablets, the coverage lacked the fervor that accompanied other launches.

With a 1920 x 1200 resolution display, the 8.9-inch model was the real sleeper. Out of all the tablet sellers on the planet, I don’t think anyone would have bet that Amazon would have been the second device to crack into the super HD ranks.

At $299 ($199 for the 7-inch), the price is spot on for the mainstream masses. And it’s the perfect delivery device for Amazon’s video library—Instant, streaming purchases, or otherwise. This device will single-handedly get attached to $79 yearly Amazon Prime subscriptions, which in and of itself will make up for the low price in a few years’ time.

I’m still surprised more critics aren’t writing about the Kindle Fire HD on a day-to-day basis in terms of tips, performance, apps, and more. When the year is said and done, Kindle Fire will likely be the second best-selling model of the year.

BYOD: Two years ago, BYOD was all the rage, and it is still discussed at the IT level, but I’m not convinced that most IT departments are actually ready for the massive wave of devices that are going to be climbing onto their networks for the first time in January.

What happens to a work environment when millions of employees suddenly bring in the iPad or Android (or Windows) tablet they got over the holidays? We’re about to find out.

Thankfully, as TabTimes columnist Ben Bajarin pointed out in mid-December, the management and support of these devices should, in theory, fall solely on the ones doing the BYOD.

Nintendo Wii U: The fact that Nintendo’s newest video game console has a tablet for its controller is a HUGE deal.

Microsoft and Sony are talking up integrated console-mobile strategies, but Nintendo is going to have what appears to be a 2-year head-start on both companies.

What’s more, because of the Wii U’s appeal to younger gamers than the Xbox or PlayStation brands, Nintendo is effectively seeding their Gen Z audience with tablets. I’ll be shocked if Nintendo doesn’t make these tablet controllers even more self-functioning in 2013.

Google Glasses: Two weeks ago, some friends and I hopped onto BART (San Francisco’s subway system) to go to a holiday party in Oakland. This well-dressed guy gets on a few stops after us with a super-model-type woman. Beautiful, tall, thin, broad shoulders, etc.

The real showstopper however, was that the guy had on Google’s Project Glass spectacles. They are not subtle, and because we were all in one of those seating areas where two seats facing each other, we could do nothing but stare at this guy’s bespectacled face. (Which was probably a relief to this guy’s companion.)

My friends started busting on this guy when we got to the party, forgetting the fact that Mr. Project Glass was with a super-model-type chick. The nerd glasses clearly weren’t hurting his game at all.

Ultimately, I’m convinced that Project Glass is going to be one of the more significant technologies of the coming decade. In tandem with mobile devices, it’s capable of dramatically expanding what we can do with our tablets and smartphones, and how we work their interfaces.

At Google I/O this year, everyone paid a whole lot of attention to the Nexus 7 (which everyone got for free), but aside from the wow factor of literally parachuting in the glasses from the sky, there wasn’t much more said about Project Glass, or its potential.

Given that they won’t be in widespread release until 2014, that’s not unreasonable. But, aside from Time Magazine, I haven’t read about them as much as I thought I would in the end-of-year tech recaps we’re seeing everywhere.

Surface RT: Under-rated? Really?

Say what you will about Windows 8, but the fact that Microsoft released an own-brand Windows tablet this year is a bigger deal than people are giving Microsoft credit for.

To some degree, Surface got caught in the backlash against Windows 8, but it’s a fine high-end device. I know that I’m guilty of under-estimating a few things about the Surface launch:

  1. For starters, there are enough Windows devotees who want to use and want to like a Windows tablet. This crowd is used to being patient with and to some extent, apologizing for Microsoft.
  2. The truth about tablets is that most people use them mostly for the simplest of tasks: email, web browsing, book reading. Surface does all of these things well.
  3. There are hundreds of millions of Windows PCs out there, allowing Microsoft ample time to get its arsenal of third-party apps in place.
  4. Microsoft Office may have lost some of its luster, but for Windows users, Office compatibility at the tablet level is still very important.

I’m not saying that Surface is going to supplant the iPad in 2013. But launching the device by the end of 2012 established an important beachhead for Microsoft. Which can now spend time in 2013 improving the product and its partnerships.

This Year’s Winners

In a year where millions of tablets were sold, there are likely to be more way more winners than losers. These are my picks for the biggest winners in 2012:

Apple: In modern history, Apple’s 2012 has to be considered one of the most successful of all time.

Even if Apple’s market valuation has suffered in recent months, it’s hard to imagine a tech company having a better year.  Consider the following events:

  • Over fifty percent market share for the iPad
  • Released the 2048 x 1536 iPad 3
  • Thriving app ecosystem
  • 25% rise in stock price from $405/share to ~$510 a share, with a peak of $702 on September 19
  • Market valuation of $484 billion dollars
  • Successful release of the 7-inch iPad Mini (even if it was a defensive play)
  • Built a new super-high-res Retina Display MacBook laptop
  • Released the iPhone 5
  • Established a beach-head in the living room with Apple TV

Equally amazing is that, with a few exceptions (iOS map-gate being the most prominent), Apple executed at a remarkably high quality level.

What’s more: In the history of tablets, the third-gen iPad is going to go down as one of the most important devices of all time. The leap to a Retina Display was an important one for consumers because it results in a beautiful display. But the new screen was just as important for Apple. For the short-term, it essentially eliminated all paths to superiority for the competition. 

Quickoffice: Google’s acquisition of the MS Office-compatible productivity suite capped a startling run for Quickoffice. For years, this app has been at the top of the charts for mobile productivity, which is remarkable given the premium pricing.

With Google’s backing, Quickoffice should go into the stratosphere. Heck, it’s already there. While everyone is writing about Microsoft Office coming to the iPad, my reaction is that it’s already here.

Lenovo: Still feeling doubtful about Lenovo’s big turn? Check out CNN’s Tech Winners of 2012 gallery. Yup, that’s Yoga front and center.

Two years ago, if someone had told you that a Lenovo product would be considered innovative and even sexy by mainstream media, I’m betting you wouldn’t have believed it.

As someone who has used a ThinkPad laptop for more than 10 years, I’m finding myself rooting for Lenovo here. They’re doing things IBM couldn’t even have imagined.

TabTimes: Yes, I’m a homer. But still—the online media business is a tough one, and the fact that TabTimes is thriving in such a competitive space is a remarkable feat.

(I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention TabTimes’ Best 100 Apps For Business And Productivity, which will likely include a number of new entries for calendar year 2012.)

This Year’s Losers

Over the course of the last 12 months, it became clear that a few big companies were setting themselves up for disaster. Here’s my take on the 4 biggest losers of 2012.

Microsoft: The operating system that would define the future of computing? Eh, not so much.

Windows 8 does not appear to be taking off like Microsoft predicted it would, which is making me wonder (sometimes) if we’re not watching one of the epic corporate collapses of our time.

I have a hard time believing the above could ever be true, given Microsoft’s long-standing legacy—and cash reserves. But when you start looking at the ways Microsoft can get out of the jam it’s in with Windows 8, it does not look pretty.

First and foremost, there’s still time—probably another 12 months or so—before Windows 8 gets written off as a failure. Given everything Microsoft bet on for Win8, this would be a disastrous outcome, and as such, it’s not likely Microsoft will wait a year without attempting to address the core issues.

By the way, can you imagine being on Microsoft’s Windows product team now? I’m sure they’re already planning and thinking and discussing Windows 9. But what direction to take, given the less-than-stellar reception of Windows 8? Do they maintain the touch-oriented trajectory? Or do they start to backpedal and retreat?

For what it’s worth, it’s possible that Windows 8 could be just ahead enough of its time that it gains traction in 2013 in the form of ultra-books and Windows tablets. It’s not likely, but it is possible.

Complicating matters, Microsoft will almost certainly see a drop-off in its gaming business in 2013, as it announces and prepares for the next generation of its Xbox gaming system. The server business is also in decline, and the fate of Skydrive, Office, and more are all tied to the success of Windows 8.

This is not good.

Research in Motion: As bad as Microsoft has it, RIM has it worse. In 2012, the company pretty much lost on all fronts. The BlackBerry PlayBook is pretty much over, and BlackBerry smartphones are rapidly bleeding out.

If this was the boardgame Risk, RIM would be down to its last country—let’s say Irkutzk—and would have 6 armies left occupying it, with enemies on all sides.

The Daily: Sadly, News Corp’s ambitious plan to deliver to tablet owners the first authentic tablet-only newspaper was perhaps too ambitious, and ran out of gas in mid-December.

News Corp CEO Rupert Murdoch called The Daily a “bold experiment in digital publishing” and “an amazing vehicle for innovation.”

Truthfully, The Daily looked great, but the editorial coverage was too generic and too watered down for first-wave tablet adopters. Here’s hoping News Corp can apply some of this tech to other print-to-digital brands.

Intel: For the first 30 months, the biggest chipmaker in the world has missed the biggest revolution in computing. That’s astounding, and it’s both a testament to how quickly tablets have transformed the computing landscape.

Intel will probably be fine over time. However, the fact that right now, Nvidia has more processors in tablet devices than Intel does is probably keeping some folks at Intel HQ up at night.

On the horizon

With this, I’m officially turning the page on 2012. We’re now onto 2013.

Coming up next week: My picks and predictions for the New Year. (Feel free to throw suggestions my way below in the comments section if you’re so inclined.)

George is a founding editor of TabTimes and currently works for Wikia.com as Director of Programming

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