15 major lessons tech companies learned this year

From hack attacks to the king of Macs, we learned some pretty deep truths in 2015
By Jefferson Reid, Contributing Editor
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Unforgettable lessons learned in 2015

Tech companies learned plenty of hard lessons this year.

The first: Hacky days are here again. And again. And again.

It wasn't just consumer credit cards getting hijacked by hackers this year. Cheating spouse facilitator Ashley Madison was the most sensational web hack with all of its supposedly 32 million anonymous users' data leaked. Among the many others breached this year were the FBI, the IRS, T-Mobile (via Experian), Anthem, BlueCross Blue Shield, CVS & Walgreens, Donald Trump's Hotels and the U.S. government's Office of Personnel Management's 21.5 million government employees and contractors.

Maybe it would be simpler to list who wasn't breached.

Obviously, we'll be hearing even more about cyber security in the years ahead.

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Secure private messaging: Blessing and curse

Secure private messaging for everybody! Yay! Terrorists with secure private messaging! Uh, great.

Clearly we're miles from SnapChat and WhatsApp territory now, as encrypted messaging apps such as Signal, Wickr and Telegram are keeping personal messages from the prying eyes of the NSA or anyone else.

In the wake of the Paris ISIS attacks, government snooping cheerleaders are calling for increased access to secure private messaging apps. But there's a Catch-22: Any backdoor opened for governments will also let in malicious hackers and terrorists--creating more problems than it solves.

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Flash may be gone soon, if not in a flash

When Apple banned Flash from iOS in 2010, it may have seemed like a turf war, but as more tech pros came to see the Adobe product as a bug-clogged invitation to hackers, the software finally seems on the way out.

Firefox blacklisted the Flash Player and Google Chrome is doing the same. And with HTML 5 looking increasingly like the cross-platform and non-proprietary solution for video, it finally seems that Flash is about to go "Poof!"

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Tim Cook is no Steve Jobs

Okay, but the Apple honcho isn't chopped liver, either. All Cook's done is, you know, oversee the world's richest company (now worth more than $700 billion) as its iPhone continues to dominate the high-end cell market. Plus, the iOS ecosystem is thriving, and the iWatch is ruling a new (and pricy) niche market.

You're not so likely to see multiple big-budget biographies about Cook, but the same can probably be said about every other tech CEO.

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A.I. could threaten humans

This year, science and technology honchos -- including Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk -- wrote an open letter fretting that artificial intelligence may turn out to be the final solution to the human problem.

"One can imagine such technology outsmarting financial markets, out-inventing human researchers, out-manipulating human leaders, and developing weapons we cannot even understand," Hawking said.

It's food for thought that we should consume freely ... while we're still the thought leaders on planet Earth.

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Robots are rising

It was a great year for robots. For workers? Not so much. Sure, cute robots get a lot of media coverage, but the more serious, cautionary tales are told in books such as Martin Ford's acclaimed "The Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future."

Ford says that, "if you look far enough into the future, say 50 years and beyond, there aren't any jobs that you could say absolutely for sure are going to be safe."

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Google spells "dominant" with new Alphabet

Google is still Google, but now the big G is just one letter in a larger Alphabet.

That said, we're still looking at the hugest friggin' G you've ever seen. The new holding company, Alphabet Inc., encompasses Google's web services (like search and advertising) as well as tech businesses such as self-driving cars, Nest home systems, life sciences research, engineering, investment capital and a presumed myriad of others.

In other words, there may eventually be 26 subsidiaries in this Alphabet...which spells trouble for the competition.

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Watch Out for Apple, Part 2

The Apple Watch caught a lot of flack this year for not being the next iPhone, but once again, comparisons are odious. Already controlling two-thirds of the smartwatch market, the Apple Watch also is transforming the low end of the lucrative luxury watch market, boosting the smart watch biz stateside in the process, and even cutting into Swiss watch exports, which have fallen to $2 billion.

Note: If you've got to fall, $2 billion is a good neighborhood to fall into.

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An ad blocker war is raging

When Apple began allowing ad-blocking apps with iOS 9, a longstanding trend spiked.

The upside: Maddening takeover ads and extreme tracking methods took a temporary hiatus. The downside: The forces of advertising are now striking back, with Yahoo blocking access to some users' mail if they use anti-ad solutions. Stay tuned.

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The burgeoning mobile market is already massive

Mobile may not be everything in the tech world, but it's getting closer to being the only thing.

Key stat: Google now does more searches on mobile than on desktop, so the mobile tide is clearly rising. The ad business alone is about to top $100 billion per year, and mobile payment system like Apple Pay are sure to keep the revenue streaming in as Mobile First becomes more than just a slogan.

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The cord-cutter revolution WILL be televised...just not on cable

Entertainment continued its web-based tech transformation as HBO and Showtime began offering content on tablets and phones for customers without cable, augmenting services like Netflix and Hulu (accessed through Roku, Chromecast, Apple TV, XBox 360, etc).

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Cyber crime is here to stay

Ransomware is running rampant, hitting thousands each week and costing victims millions, according to FBI estimates.

After clicking on an infected link, a user's system is controlled and encrypted until a ransom is paid. Why do people click on links and attachments from people they don't know? No sure, but here's a public service message: Don't do it.

Even worse than getting your data ransomed, however, is getting it incompetently ransomed, as many are discovering that badly coded malware sometimes actually destroys your data even if you pay up. It's another reason to always back up your data!

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3-D printing is a stealth growth industry

Despite sensational news reports about 3-D printers making guns, gourmet dinners and organs for transplant (someday), the business is steadily expanding in a different direction: Construction and manufacturing, like Tesla Motors printing some of its engine parts, and SpaceX doing likewise with rocket parts.

The 3-D printing trend is poised to expand most (according to Forbes) in consumer applications, industrial manufacturing and biomedical engineering.

Also, they're 3-D printing a bridge in Amsterdam.

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The Internet of Things is a slow-mo avalanche ...

... but everyone can feel it coming. With a billion smart devices already generating huge amounts of data most folks don't know what to do with yet, the IoT is sure to change everything. Hopefully for the better.

By the time there's an estimated 40 billion smart devices online in 2020, all the leading tech companies and a slew of new startups should have figured out how all this big data will help our homes, cities, cars, appliances and whathaveyous ... right?

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Everybody's gotta pay Uncle Sam

Nobody likes taxes, but most of us have to pay them (many major corporations excepted). It's a painful lesson that Yahoo is learning. The troubled tech giant could owe the IRS $9 billion, as it tries to spin off its Alibaba acquisition. A billion here, a billion there; pretty soon, it starts to add up. Needless to say, it's enough to make you cry uncle.

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