2013 in review: The big themes

Edward Snowden, the unwinding of Nokia and the post PC era were key themes for 2013.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

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

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.

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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