Apple's dominance pegged by Samsung

For those that remember I like to use this issue to summarise what happened in 2012. Last year was finally the year of the tablet PC, and at the same time the smartphone wars. Coming into the year Apple was the dominant player in both the smartphone and the tablet arena with the iPad and the iPhone. It looked like Apple was unstoppable and at the end of the year they were still the biggest computer company beating out Microsoft in total sales. Apple also took a bit of a hit with the loss of Steve Jobs, the main driving force and the individual responsible for putting the company in the strong position it was.

Lurking in the wings however was Samsung and the Android platform that was evolving out of its infancy into a strong market contender. Nokia continued to fall as did RIM and the Blackberry line and then the Galaxy S3 came out. Apple recognised the threat and started a series of court cases aimed at crippling Samsung's sales mostly based on issues of generic shapes like square versus rounded corners. They won some battles but lost a few as well.

A recent loss in Mexico, for example, meant they could not use the term iPhone or any version of it if they wanted to sell their products there. What Apple could not hide, however, was the technological superiority of the Samsung product and customers started to move. Panicking and with the loss of Jobs they rushed the iPhone 5 to market and the result was a new Apple product that for the first time had no "wow factor" and had problems in hardware and software. The result was a lukewarm reception that saw even more people adopt the S3 and saw Samsung top the smartphone most units sold chart. It also started a noticeable slide in Apple sales towards the end of the year that carried into places like China where Apple is sixth in smartphone standings.

There was very little progress last year in the regular world of printers. Ink still remains more expensive than Champagne or Chanel No.5 perfume. There should be no reason for this kind of pricing except customer gouging for profit. The big news in printing this year was in the 3D arena where some of these printers dropped below 30,000 baht mark bringing them into the reach of average buyers. While there still needs to be some work done on image capture technology in a decent price range, you can print some interesting bits and pieces. The real market is in the repair space where plastic replacement parts no longer available can simply be printed up for the most part. More on where this technology is heading in next week's article.

CPUs continued to get more cores without moving upwards much in core speed, mostly to keep the power needs down. There remains a focus on lower power CPUs to power smartphones and tablets where power is in shorter supply. Despite the push from Intel the ultra-notebook didn't do as well as expected probably due to the focus on the handheld market.

This year saw the advent of the intermediate portable camera, a point and shoot format with a replaceable lens. This is aimed at those who want the SLR experience but don't want the weight. Personally I don't see the attraction as the point and shoot now has 25 times zoom, higher megapixel count and full HD capture. With the point and shoot market somewhat saturated this new category is the manufacturer's answer.

Another big release last year was Windows 8, the latest version of the Windows operating system. Originally aimed at the tablet ARM-based market, it was also released for the PC but was not received very well by organisations and many existing users. The interface is very tablet like, the Start button is gone and it will be quite a shift for traditional Windows OS users to move to the new interface that is a combination of simple and confusing.

The other big mover last year was the Cloud, or internet-based storage, remote from your computer. The positive side of such a system is you get an automatic backup, when it works properly and you don't have to buy new hard drives to store your data. On the negative side your data could be held anywhere, in any country, on any server all protected by someone else's security. My golden rule here is that anything held in public space in a digital form is never truly safe. So it becomes a risk versus reward scenario and one that banks and other financial institutions would not use. If you don't care if others get to see your data then it is a perfect storage solution. I suspect that the broader medical industry is not keeping their data in the Cloud either. The Microsoft's and the Google's want you to keep your data in their Clouds for a number of reasons.

There were no real advances in alternative data entry systems this year. We are still bound by the mouse and the keyboard for the most part. Voice input is progressively getting better and is now found on most smartphones but the idea of talking to my phone when I'm not using at as a phone seems a bit counter intuitive and also annoying on public transport.

Media players didn't really improve much this year either. A few codecs were added but the interfaces still remain clumsy. I have yet to understand why none of the major players have such a device. Where are Samsung, Panasonic and Pioneer? This is a market ripe for the taking but with no suppliers.


James Hein is an IT professional of over 30 years' standing. You can contact him at jclhein@gmail.com.

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Writer: James Hein
Position: Database Writer