Apple's iPad, Windows Phone 7 and Mark Hurd's resignation from Hewlett-Packard were among the key surprises of 2010. Here's a look at my top surprises in order.
- Apple's iPad. It wasn't like the iPad was a complete shocker when it launched (rumors were building as soon as the calendar turned). However, everything about the iPad since Steve Jobs first showed it off has been a surprise. What has been so surprising? Businesses are all over the iPad as a productivity tool. Many CIOs at the Gartner powwow---yes the same CIOs that built brick walls to keep the iPhone away---had iPads and came off as fan boys. Apple is an enterprise play now. In addition, it's shocking how flat-footed the iPad caught rivals. Apple probably will wind up with an almost two-year lead by time a credible iPad killer emerges. Android, Microsoft, HP and others are all scrambling. Apple's pricing strategy has been absolutely brilliant---and aggressive enough to keep the likes of Samsung at bay. Simply put, the launch of the iPad reinvented mobile computing.
- The death and rebirth of the e-reader. Here's a quick 2010 history lesson. At the Consumer Electronics Show, e-readers were everywhere. Startups were targeting Amazon's Kindle. Then the iPad arrived. These e-reader startups died and the Kindle looked like the iPad's ugly cousin. That iPad vs. e-reader storyline carried on because the pricing was similar. So what changed? Barnes & Noble cut the price of the Nook. Amazon matched and now you can get an e-reader for $139 or less. Guess what? E-readers aren't iPad comparisons anymore and look much better at a lower price point. Toss in e-book clouds on multiple devices such as the iPad, iPhone, Android and others and the e-reader market became very interesting again. In a nutshell, the e-reader race has three horses: Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Sony.
- Windows Phone 7. Microsoft finally got a credible entry into the mobile OS race and the biggest surprise is that it is a viable system. Microsoft's app marketplace is growing. The OS is smooth and the user interface is unique. Given Microsoft's mobile woes the delivery and reception of Windows Phone 7 qualifies as a surprise with 1.5 million shipments to OEMs. Now Microsoft just has to sell Windows Phone 7 devices. To be determined is whether Microsoft's mobile effort may be a case of too little, too late.
- The rise of Salesforce.com. Now we all knew Salesforce.com was a big enterprise player and becoming more so. When it's all said and done 2010 will be a key inflection point for Salesforce.com. The company built out its platform nicely and is poised to become a key enterprise buy on multiple cloud fronts. Add it up and Salesforce.com is becoming a big threat to incumbent enterprise software players and going after the likes of SAP and Oracle hard. Exhibit A: Salesforce.com Marc Benioff worked CIOs at the Gartner Symposium/ITxpo hard. He spent the day roaming around and chatting with CIOs and tech managers.
- Mark Hurd's resignation from Hewlett-Packard. The Hurd saga was one of the stranger tech events of 2010. First, there's the unexpected Friday afternoon resignation over fudged expense reports and sexual harassment allegations. Then there's the spectacle of Oracle CEO Larry Ellison defending Hurd and then hiring him. And the whole ordeal still won't die now that the Securities and Exchange Commission is poking around. HP's messaging on Hurd has been mixed, but it appears both parties have moved on.
- HP naming Leo Apotheker as CEO. If you thought Hurd's resignation was a surprise, the naming of former SAP CEO Apotheker was just as big of a shocker. Apotheker said he would boost research and development spending and increase HP's focus on software. HP also named former Oracle exec Ray Lane chairman. Needless to say, Ellison was yapping about this HP move too. Ellison derided the choice of Apotheker and then played the "where's Leo?" game during Oracle's TomorrowNow lawsuit against SAP. Meanwhile, Oracle tried to call the HP CEO to testify in the trial. Oracle won a $1.3 billion judgment against SAP and has declared HP public enemy No. 1. Also in the hell freezes over department: Oracle and IBM made up (for the most part) so they can gang up on HP. Good times for Apotheker.
- Since we're talking Oracle, another surprise for 2010 was the company's ability to become a contender in hardware. While rivals are panning Oracle's Exadata and Exalogic efforts, Ellison and the gang are booking pilots. Oracle also moved Sun into higher-margin areas and stopped doing silly things like selling gear at a loss. Now with Hurd as president 2011 will be the real tell for Oracle's hardware momentum. For now, it's clear that Oracle stopped the Sun bleeding quickly and may have some upside.
- Google takes on China over censorship. Google threatened a pullout over censorship and delivered. China tossed a few verbal grenades. The two sides seem to have agreed to disagree with U.S. diplomacy caught in the middle. Few U.S. companies challenge China---more probably should. Google wasn't exactly deft with its handling of China, but the moxie is appreciated. The bigger question in the years ahead: Is China just a money pit
- Palm's meltdown. The fact Palm struggled wasn't a big surprise, but the sheer velocity of the unraveling was shocking. Palm said in February that its revenue would be well below forecasts as a move to take the Pre to Verizon failed miserably. The company went from darling to the brink in just a few months. HP scooped Palm up and basically saved the company. Perhaps the biggest surprise was that Elevation Partners, Palm's big shareholder, got out of that debacle nearly whole. It's unclear what HP will do with Palm, but that's what 2011 is for.
- It was a typical year in enterprise technology spending. In fact, 2010 looked downright boring. We had the Windows 7 upgrade cycle, data center and server upgrades. Storage and virtualization spending was also healthy. IT spending will wind up in the low-single digit growth rates. That's pretty boring---if you forget that 2009 was a complete trainwreck. When you factor in the year the tech industry was coming from, a ho-hum 2010 is a big victory.
Bonus surprise: Little predicted at CES 2010 actually happened. Remember Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer talking about a slate on stage? That slate never quite arrived. We were also told 3DTV was going to be everything. Ummm, ok. People don't like wearing dumb goggles in the house. E-readers were the format of the day---oops. In fact, the only thing that lived up to its billing at CES was Microsoft's Kinect gaming system.
Bonus surprise 2: Where's Android? Frankly, the rise of Android wasn't much of a surprise. 2010 was shaping up to be the year of Android. The success---and rate of market share gains---could easily have been in the top 10.