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2009: A Year in Review & Looking Ahead

2009: A Year in Review & Looking Ahead



Comeback Kids

The Comeback Kids of 2009

The last thing you'll expect in a year where the economic crisis dominated the headlines is that some tech companies actually came out of the storm looking better than before. Some of these success stories can be attributed to luck, while others have been rewarded for keeping faith in their technologies and products.

AMD/ATI is one that comes to mind. Down and apparently out even before the economy tanked, there was little to suggest a change in fortunes. The DDR3-compatible Phenom IIs were released but Intel still had the more powerful architecture, which went mainstream this year with the Lynnfield family (albeit delayed), further squeezing AMD's market share. On the graphics side, ATI products at least were competitive against NVIDIA.

But by the end of 2009, Intel's past came back to haunt it, with its anti-competitive practices leading to lawsuits from the State of New York and the US Federal Trade Commission. Intel also had to in a compensate AMD more than a billion dollars long-running lawsuit over the same practices. Meanwhile, ATI's DX11-capable Radeon HD 5800 series has the technological and performance edge over NVIDIA. Accordingly, AMD's shares have risen from less than US$2 at the start of 2009 to almost US$10 recently.

Another tech company that has seen a turnaround is Motorola. Without a hit in the mobile phone business for years, the company saw a return to the big leagues by allying itself with Google's rising mobile OS, Android. The result - the much hyped and heavily advertised Motorola Droid has revived the company's image and mindshare among consumers. To a much lesser extent, Palm's WebOS and Pre smartphone reminded consumers that the pioneering company is still alive, though neither Palm nor Motorola are out of the woods yet.

While it would seem incredulous to lump Microsoft together with these improbable comeback stories, the fact is that the largest software company in the world is in danger of losing its relevance in a world increasingly moving away from the Window-centric desktop. After Windows Vista failed to convince consumers, the October release and subsequent success of Windows 7 is a much needed tonic. It still remains to be seen if Microsoft can turn its behemoth legacy-riddled ship around without Bill Gates at the helm.

Of course, with every successful comeback, there are those that remain in crisis mode. Nokia is one that's hemorrhaging its smartphone market share to rivals Apple and RIM. With its Symbian OS apparently on life support, all eyes are on whether Nokia's apparent successor, Maemo can survive the competitive mobile OS scene next year.

Dell is another example, with its top spot in the US market surpassed by HP this year while its worldwide share has also eroded, conceding second place to rapidly growing Acer. Dell has been slowly losing market share since the netbook craze emerged last year and we aren't too optimistic about any changes next year in a very competitive PC market.

Not forgetting our local shores, we cast our eyes on two former tech darlings: Charted Semiconductor and Creative Technology. The former has been sold to Abu Dhabi's Advanced Technology Investment Company, the ones behind GlobalFoundries. The sale represented a loss for investors, with many unable to recoup but a fraction of what they had paid for their shares. Creative on the other hand has been relatively quiet this year. The usual product updates have not been too exciting but a shift in direction at the start of 2009 in the form of an ARM-based SoC platform for media applications, the Zii, may yet bear fruit next year.

Finally, for those who grew up kicking ass and chewing gum, 2009 also marks the end of the longest running vaporware in tech. Yes, the Duke is no more. Developer 3D Realms officially gave up on the game in May, miring the franchise in legal purgatory with publisher Take-Two Interactive suing 3D Realms. We may yet see some form of the Duke in the future but we aren't holding our breath.