The worst tech predictions of 2013 -- and two that hit the mark

The worst tech predictions of 2013 -- and two that hit the mark

From the social network in business to the 'success' of the Chromebook to the launch of iTV, the pundits got it wrong, wrong, wrong

Here it is; the end of 2013. It was the year that Apple finally took it on the chin, the Chromebook conquered both laptops and tablets, and Apple finally delivered the long-awaited iTV. The PC market held its own and MOOCs swept the campus. Oops. Wait a minute. None of those events occurred. They were simply the fevered imaginings of pundits at the end of 2012 predicting (often with smug certainty) the course of the technology industry in 2013.

With the benefit of hindsight, it's easy to see how wrong they were. Yet the turning of 2013 to 2014 will no doubt find you sifting through one confident proclamation after another about the year ahead. Consider this a reminder of how turbulent a year in technology can be.

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Here are eight of the worst predictions of 2013 -- and two that hit the mark.

Apple will launch iTVHas any Apple-related rumor reappeared more often than the imminent shipment of iTV? Probably not, and for some reason analysts, particularly Piper Jafray's Gene Munster, keep on believing. To be fair, Munster, who is actually a good analyst, had plenty of company, one reason being a section in "Jobs," the Steve Jobs biography by Walter Issacson, in which the man is quoted thusly:

"I'd like to create an integrated television set that is completely easy to use," Jobs told his biographer, Walter Isaacson. "It would be seamlessly synced with all of your devices and with iCloud."

But Jobs was known to toss out lots of ideas to see what might stick and this one didn't. InfoWorld's Galen Gruman blew away this particular fantasy recently, saying, "Why would Apple do an iTV? There are plenty of so-called smart TVs on the market, none doing well." After all, for $100 you can buy a Roku box and stream all you want. And the fact remains: iTV simply does not exist.

Chromebooks will come on strongSome people will never give up on the idea of what we used to call a thin client. Now we call it a Chromebook. Plenty of pundits (including Tim Bajarin, writing in Time) were sure this latest incarnation of thin-client computing was going to be a big success. It wasn't. Like the netbook before it, the Chromebook failed to give users a reason to buy it instead of a real laptop or an iOS or Android tablet.

One reason Chromebooks lifted off in the blogosphere is the unreasoning disdain for anything that Microsoft does, especially if it begins with "W." Members of the pundit class love to heap scorn on Microsoft, and what better implement than a device that doesn't use Windows or run Office.

Here's the truth, according to IDC analyst Rajani Singh, writing in November: "Chromebooks from any vendor except Samsung have not fared particularly well. Even with Samsung's products, they're primarily only having an impact on K-12 education in the U.S. -- as a replacement for aging netbooks."

And what's worth crowing about the next "netbook-killer"?

The PC market won't be terribleEveryone knew that the PC market was in trouble last year. That was an easy call. But hardly anyone on Wall Street or at the big research shops expected it to collapse. Barclays analyst Ben Reitzes, for example, figured that global sales would be off by about 3 percent. By the end of fall, the market had dropped even further, and now IDC predicts that the year-over-year decline will be a bit more than 10 percent, the largest dip in the history of the industry.

One of the most misguided calls related to the PC market was Microsoft's big bet on Windows 8. Sure, it's selling, people have to replace their PCs at some point, but Windows Frankenstein failed to do what earlier Windows upgrades did: Convince people they should by a new PC. Without the boost of a new OS, the market simply tanked as more and more users flocked to ever more powerful tablets.

MOOCs will sweep the campus"There's an app for that," became a joke a couple of years ago. But an awful lot of people, particular the digerati of Silicon Valley, really believe there's an app to solve any of the world's problems -- higher education, for instance. The app to fix it: The MOOC, or massive open online course. Hmm, not so fast.

Despite the unending hype, MOOCs have not taken off. A study of more than 1 million MOOC enrollees, released in December by the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education, found that on average only about half of those who registered for a course ever viewed a lecture, and only about 4 percent completed the courses.

Perhaps even more telling, as the New York Times noted, is the failure of the widely publicized MOOC experiment at San Jose State University, in the heart of Silicon Valley, which was supposed to give a boost to underachieving students:

"Despite access to the Udacity mentors, the online students last spring -- including many from a charter high school in Oakland -- did worse than those who took the classes on campus. In the algebra class, fewer than a quarter of the students -- and only 12 percent of the high school students -- earned a passing grade."

Social networking will conquer the enterpriseIf marketers ran the enterprise, there'd be no doubt that social networking would be king. But they don't, and despite the dazzling predictions and starry-eyed hype, business has not widely adopted social networking with the obvious exception of its use as a marketing tool.

InfoWorld's Galen Gruman argues that the use of social networking within the office appears to be small, despite the constant noise by vendors and management about trial efforts. Many end up wasting everyone's time and effort. Gruman notes that he has no hard evidence to back up his assertions. However, that evidence does exist.

When social networking in business is examined closely, as Harvard Business Review did earlier this year, you find that there's no "there" there. Calling social networking "Enterprise 2.0," writer Jacques Bughin says:

  • McKinsey estimates that only 6 percent of companies have truly integrated Enterprise 2.0 into the core.
  • 25 to 50 percent of a company's employees must use social networking extensively for it to produce an acceptable ROI. But more than 50 percent of companies fail to achieve this level of penetration.
  • A lot of companies congratulate themselves on having a "social media presence" -- by which they mean a Twitter following and Facebook likes and a marketing plan that uses social networks. But some 70 percent of the extra profit to be made through social technologies has nothing to do with marketing.

Sobering indeed.

Apple will tankFor a few years, Apple could do no wrong -- in the minds of the digerati, at least -- and its stock price approached $600 a share. Some thought it was headed for $1,000. But then Steve Jobs died, Android took off after a slow start, and Samsung put the pedal to the metal. Suddenly Apple was a dog, and many figured that an awful lot of chickens were coming home to roost in 2013.

Not exactly: Apple's stock recovered strongly this year, climbing from a low of $402 a share in July to $560 this week, a gain of almost 40 percent. The surge wasn't just more irrational exuberance on the part of Wall Street. Apple's products, which may have bored the blogosphere, delighted consumers.

Apple broke precedent and launched two new iPhones in September; they did not get great reviews. But at the end of the first weekend of sales, more than 9 million were sold in just three days. Apple sold 2,083 new iPhones every minute, or 34 every second, and there was little or no evidence that any significant number of those sales were reversed by returns.

More recently, a report from analysts at Canaccord Genuity shows that iPhone 5S has been the best-selling smartphone by customers of AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile.

Amazon will lose its lead in the cloudWhen it comes to serious, enterprise computing, hardly anyone took Amazon Web Services very seriously. After all, it's an e-commerce company -- can it be trusted it with serious stuff? asked many. Even if it was the first mover in public clouds, few people believed it would stay on top when big-business providers like IBM and Rackspace got serious about the cloud. Well, the answer is in, and for anyone who predicted that AWS would lose its lead, here's the news: It hasn't. Not even close.

According to Gartner, AWS is the overwhelming market leader, with more than five times the compute capacity in use than the combined total of its 14 nearest competitors. Empowered by the ethic of BYOD, departmental-level employees began bringing Amazon into large businesses. What's more, it has developed a very large and robust ecosystem, which is how market leaders remain market leaders.

Says Gartner: "Many software vendors have specially licensed and packaged their software to run on EC2, either independently or via the AWS Marketplace, which eases deployment and eliminates some of the challenges associated with licensing software to run in the cloud. Its API is supported by many third parties that provide associate management tools, and many open-source and commercial CMPs are compatible with its API." Top that, Rackspace.

The biggest miss of all: The NSA and our privacyYou would think that someone, somewhere in tech pundit land would have a source at Google or Microsoft or AT&T or Verizon or anywhere, for heaven's sake, that would have tipped us off to the NSA's hoovering up of our private communications. But no. It took the defection of Edward Snowden to let some really ugly cats out of the bag. If he hadn't we still wouldn't know. The tech press (along with its counterparts in the mainstream press) failed utterly to pick this one up and give the public the information it deserves.

Two predictions that hit the mark

NoSQL will soarOracle honcho Larry Ellison devoted lots of attention (not to mention money) to the America's Cup extravaganza this year. But while his team launched a breathtaking come-from-behind victory, NoSQL and Hadoop found fair winds and, as many had predicted, have become stronger challengers to the relational database establishment.

Back in October, MongoDB, provider of the MongoDB NoSQL database and formerly known as 10gen, landed $150 million in new financing, the largest round ever for a database company. The deal values the New York-based startup at $1.2 billion and is indicative of how seriously the investment community views MongoDB, Hadoop, and other players in the world of big data.

MongoDB was hardly the only next-gen database company attracting attention. Cloudera, closely associated with Hadoop, scooped up $65 million in venture funding earlier this month. The infusion brings Cloudera's total capital raised to about $140 million, and according to sources who spoke with AllThingsD, this deal values Cloudera at about $700 million.

Money aside, the real issue is what technology is best suited to handle new, largely unstructured, types of data, and will the relational data base become flexible enough to meet the challenge. 

Bye-bye BallmerAlthough we at InfoWorld would never stoop to brag -- well, not much anyway -- we deserve a little credit for predicting the end of the Steve Ballmer era at Microsoft. In late November of last year, yours truly wrote: "I'm going to stick my neck out and make another (prediction): If Windows 8 and the Surface tablet flop, you'll see a shareholder revolt that will send Steve Ballmer packing by this time next year."

Flop they did, and in August, Ballmer -- apparently prodded by the board of directors -- announced his resignation, effective whenever he's replaced.

There are a lot of reasons that the excitable one was pushed toward the door, but nothing was more responsible than the Windows 8/Surface tablet debacle. Losing $900 million on one product is bad enough, but Windows 8 is probably responsible for driving more users to Apple than any magic the late Steve Jobs pulled out of his hat.

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