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Big Tech beats the odds to triumph in 2019. What’s on tap for 2020?

Bloomberg | Updated on December 16, 2019 Published on December 16, 2019

It’s mid-December, which means it’s time for the staff prognosticators at Bloomberg Technology to sheepishly revisit last year’s predictions while peering ahead with a brash certainty that we haven’t earned.

On its surface, 2019 was the difficult year that most of us anticipated. The simmering trade tensions (perhaps diffused by the new phase-one trade agreement) raised the prospect of constrained opportunities for US tech companies in China. Fears of intrusive government regulation, antitrust scrutiny and a consumer privacy backlash hung like a San Francisco fog over the major tech firms. And there was a lot of turnover in the C-suite: a record 181 tech chiefs left their posts through October, which doesn’t even include the departure of Google co-founder Larry Page from his operational role at Alphabet Inc.

Banner year

Yet, anyone who predicted this would stop or even slow the expansion of Big Tech, or the advancement of technology even deeper into our lives, was wrong. Just like 2018, it was a banner year for tech. The Alphabet stock is up 29 per cent this year, Microsoft 52 per cent and Apple Inc 74 per cent. They’re all beating the S&P 500 index, which is up 26 per cent, and the year saw a slate of tech IPOs — a record haul, despite the poor market performance of unicorns such as Uber Technologies Inc and Slack Technologies Inc and the debacle at WeWork.

By my measure, the year was defined by several breakthroughs — AirPods to voice-activated speakers like the Amazon Echo or Google Home to TikTok, the Bytedance Inc-owned video service, which is suddenly everywhere and putting a scare into Facebook and Snap Inc.

AirPods took off. Critics can no longer claim that Apple under Tim Cook hasn’t minted a mainstream hit, after the success of the Apple Watch and now these awkward ear accessories.

The company is expected to sell 60 million units, double last year’s tally, and retailers are having a hard time keeping them in stock.

Voice-activated speakers continue to boom. This year, 78 million people in the US used a smart speaker, up about 18 per cent from last year, according to estimates from EMarketer. That’s almost a quarter of the American population and comes despite the troubling revelations that companies farm out a small percentage of customer queries to human workers. Do people care about Silicon Valley snooping on their intimate conversations?

Some do, but apparently most are either confident in the noble intentions of tech companies or comfortable with sacrificing a bit of privacy for the privilege of asking a computer to play the latest hit tunes and recite the weather.

Looking ahead

So, what’s on tap for 2020? This year, I’m going to stay positive.

5G will reinvigorate the growth of smartphone sales; Samsung Electronics and Lenovo Group’s Motorola will finally make foldable phones work; streaming services will push further into sports and live news, striking another blow to terrestrial cable and satellite TV; new products will invigorate a market for home robotics, and a distracted Trump administration in an election year will fail to mount any credible attack on the tech giants.

Those are my bets. But don’t hold me to them. Bloomberg

Published on December 16, 2019
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