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.
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. The year was defined by several breakthroughs:
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. One new research report said the AirPod’s popularity has surpassed the iPod’s at its peak. It’s a remarkable shift in fashion and culture—we’re now a species with no compunction about sporting white dongles from the sides of our heads. Amazon.com Inc, Google and others have introduced their own versions, with limited success so far.
Voice-activated speakers continue to boom. This year, 78 million people in the US used a smart speaker like the Amazon Echo or Google Home, up about 18% from last year, according to estimates from EMarketer.
It was the year of TikTok. Maybe I’m biased by having kids who walk around practicing a medley of dances they learned on the app, but the Bytedance Inc-owned video service is suddenly everywhere and putting a scare into Facebook and Snap Inc. The service has 680 million users, crossed a million downloads in February and then 1.5 billion in November, according to SensorTower.