2013 in review: The big themes

2013 in review: The big themes

Summary: Edward Snowden, the unwinding of Nokia and the post PC era were key themes for 2013.


As 2013 comes to a close it’s worth highlighting what ZDNet’s Editorial Board saw as the year’s biggest stories and why.

What follows is our take on the big stories, which could be both global and local in flavor, and the takeaways for the tech sector around the world.

Larry Dignan: Snowden, NSA and the hit to cloud credibility

Special Feature

IT Security in the Snowden Era

IT Security in the Snowden Era

The Edward Snowden revelations have rocked governments, global businesses, and the technology world. When we look back a decade from now, we expect this to be the biggest story of 2013. Here is our perspective on the still-unfolding implications along with IT security and risk management best practices.

Edward Snowden was an American computer specialist who came clean on how the U.S. government was tapping into the Internet as well as the services of Microsoft, Google, Yahoo and others to track people. In the U.S., the Snowden disclosures were mixed with either outrage of folks who thought surveillance was necessary and far from surprising. The larger issue in the business tech space is whether emerging markets and international companies will go for U.S. tech giants, which derive half of their revenue on average outside of the U.S. Snowden's disclosures also highlighted a few cracks in the ability of the cloud to keep your data secure. I'd argue we're only beginning to see the Snowden fallout in tech earnings.

Steve Ranger: London's start-up culture gains confidence

It's been too long since a genuine tech giant was grown in the UK: indeed for a long time many said the environment (both cultural and economic) was so hostile to tech businesses that it would never happen again. And yet, in the last few years a tech start-up ecosystem has been gradually emerging in Shoreditch to the north east of the city, simultaneously revitalising a decaying and grimy neighbourhood and giving the UK the best shot at delivering a tech giant that it has had for decades. It's still early of course and many of these companies will fail – but not all. The emergence of a particularly British (and London) entrepreneurial tech scene is an exciting development.

Chris Duckett: In Australia, politics and tech collide

For Australia, the biggest event was a change in government and the impact that the voter’s decision will have on the tech sector for decades. Switching from a government steeped in a love of nationalised infrastructure to one punch-drunk on austerity has thrown everything surrounding the NBN up in the air. Over the coming years we will see whether Malcolm Turnbull’s rollout of fibre to roadside cabinets is prudent, or whether it will be the decision that turned a mostly uniform fibre-to-the-premise network into a frankensteinian mish-mash of five different technologies.

Jo Best: Nokia unwinds

This year saw the saga of Nokia finally come to end. Since the start of the decade, speculation had run rife about the future direction of Nokia's handset division - and indeed, whether it had one at all. Would it go Android? Would it get spun off? Would it even survive at all? In the end, it turned out it was pursuing a union with Microsoft - a result that many people expected when Stephen Elop, a former Microsoft man, was appointed to the role of Nokia CEO in 2010. As of early next year, the Nokia brand name will gradually start fading from mobile handsets across the world, taking with it one of the continent's best known tech brands.

Jason Hiner: Android ascends, PCs run out of gas

Two related trends that criss-crossed in 2013 were the Android ecosystem getting its act together and becoming the dominant force in computing, while the PC ecosystem hastened its decline by failing to inspire users with hybrid Windows 8 systems.

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Android had a huge 2013. Google refined Android's industry-leading notifications system so that it's even more useful for alerts and at-a-glance information, Google Now (paired with Android notifications) gave Android a killer feature that trumps iOS and shows us the future of contextual computing, and a parade of great devices from the Galaxy S4 to the Moto X to the Nexus 5 made iPhone hardware envy a thing of the past. In Q3, Android was on over 80% of the 211 million smartphones shipped.

A year ago, the PC market contracted for the first time in its history, dropping 1.2%. In 2013, the decline accelerated big time as the PC market contracted by 10%. It is projected to continue its decline in the years ahead, as more and more people spend more of their time on mobile devices rather than second PCs and many consumers and non-desk workers simply opt for mobile devices instead of PCs.

The big question for 2014: Could we see Android cross-over into the PC market despite Google's Chromebook fetish? Would it make a difference?

Eileen Yu: Increased online monitoring across Asia

2013 saw governments across Asia including China, India, and Singapore intensify controls within their respective online community. Beijing passed a new directive to clamp down on offenders who spread false information online and promptly made a slew of arrests, rounding up several high-profile bloggers for reposting unsubstantiated claims. Singapore also introduced a rule requiring websites that reported on local news--and that met two main criteria on audience reach and news frequency--to apply for a license to operate. The news sent the local online community reeling in anger and sparked much discussion about what the new ruling would mean for online freedom of expression in Singapore. The Indian government also intensified its controls by setting up a social media monitoring facility as well a central monitoring system to tap landline and mobile communications.  

I expect legislations and government plans for online surveillance to continue in 2014, thanks in large to the Snowden revelations, giving Asian governments more reasons to intensify their security controls and monitoring. 

ZDNet's Monday Morning Opener is our opening salvo for the week in tech. As a global site, this editorial publishes on Monday at 8am AEST in Sydney, Australia, which is 6pm Eastern Time on Sunday in the US. It is written by a member of ZDNet's global editorial board, which is comprised of our lead editors across Asia, Australia, Europe, and the United States.

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  • Android and PC

    The question is though, of all the Android and other smartphone and tablet devices, are they as heavily used as a PC? I know some people use them extensively, but how much use do they get on average?

    Mine gets used to play podcasts or audio books in the car, and that's about it. On the other hand, I probably spend between 10 and 14 hours a day on my PC and Windows 8 tablet.

    The PC market is mature, which is why sales are falling off. Most people have a PC and they now last for years, before they become too slow to use. I spoke to my old neighbour yesterday. His old XP machine finally hit the bucket 2 weeks ago and he bought an HP all-in-one with touch and Windows 8 and loves it, but that will probably do him for the next 10 years...

    The general white goods market matured in the 60s and 70s, but they are still around today. I think the PC is going to be with us for a long time to come, in one form or another. I either run a 27" iMac or a Windows 8 tablet with external 24" monitor at work. The tablet is fine for meetings, but without a 24" monitor, mouse and keyboard, it couldn't have replaced my desktop for the 95% of the time that I use it.

    For many, portability, especially in the workplace generally has a much lower priority than ergonomics and productivity. Some jobs, like warehouseman and other logistics jobs, mobile sales person etc. can benefit from mobile technology, but many information workers are tied to their desks for 8 hours a day. There a decent user experience and the ability to see multiple sources of information at the same time are the important factors.

    In the home market, things are a little different, many people could probably get away with a Chromebook or a tablet for much of what they do.

    In the home arena
  • Snowden

    whilst many suspected the government agencies were spying on people, most assumed that they were following their mandate and monitoring the bad guys.

    It turns out that the NSA have redefined the term 'bad guy' to no longer mean terrorists, enemies of the state or foreign spies, but "anybody with an internet connection."

    That is the problem, especially for non-American citizens. We are held responsible for the data we create, especially personally identifiable data (emails, contact lists, CRM databases, ERP systems etc.). On the one hand, Google, Salesforce and co. provide us with a nice cloud service that automatically syncs our devices, which is great, even is quasi illegal - they tend to store the data on servers outside the country of origin, which is often technically not allowed; but a blind eye is usually turned, because of the convinience.

    The problem is, they are American companies, which means that, even if they follow local laws and keep the data stored where it is legal to store it, the US Government can request access to that data and they have to hand it over, without getting the relevant legal documents issued in the country where the data was created or stored. That is generally illegal, but the US Government won't be brought to task if it comes out, neither will the cloud provider, it is the mug who put his data in the cloud that will end up getting prosecuted for "allowing" the US Government to view the data, even if the first he knows about it is when the local police turn up on his doorstep to arrest him.

    How are businesses and consumers supposed to have any confidence in the cloud under these circumstances?

    It is a shame, I love Office 365 and the Google Apps services, but their use for actually storing data is pretty much untenable at the moment.

    Then there is the problem of the tapping of the communications between the data centres.
    • There is no confidence

      A friend of mine is a lawyer, it is the office's policy that they only store backup files offshore, or only offline. This is because the government can request any files they have on their clients from the storage provider, even confidential files that are protected by law. I guess there's no Attorney–client privilege because the files technically aren't "held" by the attorney.

      US companies will give the data away when asked by the government, however there are foreign companies out there which will protect the customer above a request by the US.

      It's sad when US citizens can't even use a US company because of government policy.
      Koopa Troopa
  • Not just cloud credibility ...

    ... the credibility of America.

    The antics of the US Government in 2013 surely indicate that America is no longer fit to be the mainstay of the economy, the gatekeeper of order, or a trusted IT partner.

    To repeat my wish for 2014: I'd like the IT incumbents to commit treason, if you will, and declare themselves stateless. They haven't found it hard to evade taxes by manipulating local rules ... so why not put their datacentres in a neutral country? The only difficulty is the will so to do, yet it would be very American to 'declare The Internet as the only truly free place left on earth'. I suspect America is too far gone to embrace this idea (again) ... and produce, say, a Digital Bill of Rights.
    • Neutral Country

      won't help. As long as the company has offices or any presence (a server in a co-hosting facility, for example) in America, they still fall under the Patriot Act.

      That would mean that Google, for example, would have to fire all US staff, or move them abroad, liquidate itself in America and re-incorporate itself overseas. They would have to also sell all hosting facilities in the US and ship all of those thousands of servers to another country.

      It just isn't practical - although it would be devastating to the US economy if all the big IT cloud providers upsticks and left.
  • "Post PC" Hype

    I roll my eyes every time I see the phrase "Post PC Era." It's as though PCs are gone, or their installed base numbers are in decline. Neither is true. We're just experiencing a slow-down in the rate of growth (i.e., the number of PCs being used is still *increasing*, just more slowly than in prior years), and a simultaneous explosion of mobile computing sales.

    Reports of PCs' death are greatly exaggerated.
    • agreed

      Every single time I hear this post pc thing, I just laugh. Clearly there are people who are just desperately holding on to the belief that if they repeat something enough, it will somehow come true.
    • you are lying to yourself

      My mother told me she used her computer less than 10 times this year. Not even once a month. When her pc breaks, she won't get another one. At work we are testing a post pc strategy for some of our sales reps. They get just a tablet (windows, android or ipad) and a smartphone. They use xenapp for the windows applications they still need. Most are really happy. PC market will not die, but the market IS shrinking. 10% less sales is a HUGE deal. Just because you love PCs doesn't change that reality one bit.
      • General computing becomes specialized

        It is dream of OEMs. Want to send email? Get email tablet. Want to watch movie? Get movie tablet. Want to sit on a couch and read website - get web tablet. In the end there would be 10 tablets that all would cost much more than one PC. Post PC era is all good and dandy it is just damn expensive as you have to buy device for every kind of activity.
  • "Post PC" Hype

    You're right on Steve. This is just a way for these ZDnet Microsoft bashing apple-heads to somehow make the prospect of a world without "Windows PCs" feel more tangible. I'm also pretty sure they are the ones who coined the Post PC term to begin with...
  • Chris Ducket - Australia and tech

    Chris I detect that you are a socialist, accusing a government of being puch drunk on austerity when it is trying to reign in 6 years of profligate lunacy by Labor is stupid in the extreme. From a position of being in the black $60 Billion to being in debt to the tune of $300Billion during two terms of a left wing government with the two worse prime ministers we have ever had is reason enough to try to curb spending. The NBN was a lash-up on the back of an envelope by Conroy on a flight back from Brisbane with Rudd. It was never costed or planned properly and nationalising anything is a recipe for low productivity and no ROI but that never bothered Labor because it is other peoples money. When a costing was eventually done the rudd goverment did not release the figures, but it has been leaked that it showed the NBN to cost to have blown out to $73 Billion and rising.

    What the Coalition should have done is cut the losses completely and gone for a re-evaluation of the whole project. Right now we are paying $7.3Billion per year in interest on the debt.
    • socialist, yeah right, with fascists on the other side...

      ... if you are to be technically incorrect across the board.

      The economy of Australia is one of the largest capitalist economies in the world with a GDP of US$1.57 trillion.

      Your pissant quoted billions are trifles buddy, and yet we have these tory idiots trying to tell us a FTTP NBN will break the bank...

      Keep believing Murdoch son, you will enjoy his trashrags on the outside toilet when this mob of neoconmen get punted after three years of kindergarden playtime...
      • We were on the way to Greece - socialism has been great for them

        A typical reply for a lefty. I like what Margaret Thatcher said. "The trouble with socialists is they eventually run out of other peoples money. eg Greece followed by the whole EU.

        The first issue is that there is never an end to running up debt for lefties. So we are now at 20% of GDP after 6 years and accelerating

        The 2nd and perhaps even bigger issue is the money was not even well spent. The home insulation scandal the school scandal, the stimulus which was not needed. The NBN was a disaster no matter what happened. More and more money would be poured into it because there is no thought that eventually anything should pay for itself.

        Also I spent time in behind the iron curtain in Hungry, Romania and Bulgaria in the late 1980's and early 90's. I saw first the impoverishment and lack of human rights that socialism brought to those countries. After iron curatins fell down, courtesy of Thatcher and Regan, capitalism bought economic uplift for my friends in all those countries. It is a pity that the socialist policies of the EU is destroying what was achieved.

        It is the same stupidity that the left in Australia was doing there is no end to debt.
      • trifles?

        If it such a trfile, I'm sure you'd be happy to pay off the Australian national debt out of your pocket change.
  • post pc, my arse...

    ... which is currently planted in front of a self selected, purpose boutique built gaming pc costing $7,000 AU, complete with 30 inch HP ZR30w screen (which won't have a finger touch it as long as it lives, and all the goodies including dual Titan videocards and a 1500 watt psu...

    ... stick that up your tablets, they are for the headache this baby causes when its ripping Bioshock Ultimate to fps shreds, while running silent as a mouse with full liquid cooling...

    Tablet? That's not a pc, THAT'S a PC...