Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...

2012 in review: Which tech companies triumphed, and which ones tanked?

2012 Best Worst

2012 was a somewhat predictable year in the technology industry — mostly, the companies that did well in 2011 continued to do well while the companies that earned reputations as walking calamities didn’t do much to change perceptions. Even so, it’s good to take a look back at the winners and losers in the tech industry every year so we can get a sense of where the market may be headed in the future. So without further ado, here are the companies that had the best and worst years in 2012.

The Winners

Apple (AAPL): When the worst thing you’ve done all year is to release a shoddy Maps application, you’ve done pretty well for yourself.

Apple again set new standards for the tablet market this year when its new iPad blew competitors out of the water at the time with a gorgeous 9.7-inch Retina Display with 2,048 x 1,536-pixel resolution. From the business side of things company’s iPhone 5 sold a whopping 5 million units in its debut weekend, while also accounting for an astonishing 77% of all profits generated by the mobile industry in the second quarter of 2012.

Even when the company “disappointed” Wall Street, it still made a boatload of money and it’s pretty safe to say that most companies would gladly take Apple’s “disappointing” $35 billion profit in the third quarter of 2012.

The one potential chink in Apple’s armor is its web-based applications. We’ve already beaten Apple Maps to death, but Apple’s once-revolutionary iTunes store now seems hopelessly out of date in the age of Spotify, while other Apple web service efforts such as MobileMe and Ping have been underwhelming to say the least.

All the same, 2012 was a very good year for Apple, and 2013 will be even better if the company follows through on revolutionizing the TV industry.

Samsung (005930): Lose a $1 billion patent verdict to your most hated rival? No problem, says Samsung.

The South Korean electronics manufacturer was one of the biggest success stories of 2012 as it became the world’s dominant Android OEM with its smash-hit Galaxy S III and Galaxy Note II smartphones. In fact, Samsung’s dominance of the Android market has become so thorough that it’s now the only manufacturer to consistently post profits from selling Android devices.

One of the big reasons for Samsung’s success in the mobile space this year was that its enormous marketing department delivered a string of top-notch ads throughout the year that took some well-placed shots at Apple and helped brand Samsung smartphones as devices that could help enhance social interaction.

Looking toward the future, Samsung seems poised to become the first manufacturer to release a smartphone with a flexible display, which will give it a key innovation it can use to differentiate itself from Apple.

Google (GOOG): Remember when Google used to be a search company? Well those days are long, long over.

Sure, Google’s search engine is still the most widely used in the entire world by a big margin, but the company also owns the world’s most popular mobile operating system with Android, it runs the fastest broadband network in the United States, and it might even be getting into the wireless data business in the future as well.

Oh, and for good measure, Google is the undisputed king of mobile maps applications as well and it has a top-notch web browser.

What makes Google a terrific company is that it simply tries to do so many different things that even its failures — I’m looking at you, Nexus Q — are overshadowed by its successes.

The Losers

RIM (RIMM): Remember how making $35 billion in a quarter was considered a disappointment for Apple? Well, RIM lost $235 million in one quarter this year and it was considered a triumph because analysts had expected the company to lose a lot more.

That tells you pretty much everything you need to know about the kind of year RIM had, as the company posted its first quarterly loss in more than eight years, its BlackBerry devices continued to bleed market share to iOS and Android, and it faced major delays to the release of its BlackBerry 10 operating system.

The best news for RIM in 2012 is that the year is almost over and that things are likely to be better in 2013 after RIM finally takes the wraps off BlackBerry 10 and supplies its long-suffering fans with fresh devices to buy.

HTC (2498): The tragedy of HTC is that it’s been releasing some really nice smartphones this year, including the One S and the DROID DNA. The trouble was that it couldn’t get many people to care, especially in a year where Samsung and its Death Star-sized marketing budget loaded the airwaves with high-quality ads touting the Galaxy S III.

Things got so bad for HTC that at one point its total revenues declined by 19% between September and October this year, a stunning decline over a period where smartphone revenues tend to be stronger than the norm.

But just as with RIM, there is some hope for HTC heading into 2013: The company’s revenues bounced upward by 23% between October and November and recent rumors suggest HTC is prepping a major smartphone launch this coming spring that the company is hoping will sell at least 4 million units.

HP (HPQ): Holy mother of God, this company is a disaster.

What’s truly remarkable about HP is that it’s still cleaning up the mess left behind by former CEO Léo Apotheker, whose catastrophic, Caligula-like reign at HP could have only been worse if he’d appointed a horse to be his COO. (Or who knows, maybe that would have been an improvement?)

Apotheker’s big parting gift to HP before he was fired in 2011 was the acquisition of enterprise IT software firm Autonomy, a company that current HP CEO Meg Whitman accused of massive accounting fraud in the months leading up to the companies’ merger. Even if Autonomy turns out to be innocent of these particular charges, the decision to buy the company still resulted in HP writing off $8 billion, just months after the company had to write off nearly $9 billion related to its 2008 acquisition of Electronic Data Systems.

All we can say about Meg Whitman’s decision to take over this company is that she must have a penchant for executive-grade masochism — recall that before coming to HP, she tried to run for governor of California, whose state government is one of the few institutions more dysfunctional than her current employer.[bgr-post-bug]

Prior to joining BGR as News Editor, Brad Reed spent five years covering the wireless industry for Network World. His first smartphone was a BlackBerry but he has since become a loyal Android user.