International newsmakers of the year - TechCentral

International newsmakers of the year

It’s customary at this time of the year for TechCentral to publish its lists of who it considers the newsmakers of the year, both internationally and in SA.

We kick off, as always, with the five people we thought were the biggest newsmakers in the technology space in 2011 worldwide. Later this week, we’ll publish our newsmakers of the year in SA in two parts, so do check back for those.

Of course, lists like these are subjective, but they’re our attempt to find the people we believe deserve the title “newsmaker of the year”. Leave your thoughts in the comment box.  — Staff reporter,TechCentral

Larry Page

Google co-founder Larry Page became the company’s CEO in April, taking the reins from Eric Schmidt, and has overseen the launch of its best effort to date at creating a viable Facebook rival in the form of Google+.

The search and advertising giant has been trying to consolidate and simplify its products and has revamped its online mail, calendar and documents applications, and tried to integrate Google+ and it’s “+1” button across its product portfolio.

Google’s Internet browser, Chrome, edged out Firefox at the beginning of the month to become the second most popular browser behind Microsoft’s Windows Internet Explorer.

Meanwhile, its mobile operating system, Android, dominates the smartphone market, with Gartner estimating its market share at 52,5% in the third quarter of this year. Despite having only been open for public sign-ups since late September, Google+ claims more than 40m registered users.

The question is whether it will continue to grow as rapidly in 2012, and how effective Microsoft and Nokia’s smartphone partnership will be at encouraging Android users to defect.  — CW

Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie

For the co-CEOs of BlackBerry-maker Research in Motion, 2011 was an annus horribilis. The Canadian company stumbled from one disaster to another as its share price tanked. At the time of writing, the share was down almost 75% year on year and trading at its lowest levels since early 2004.

In SA, millions of consumers still swear by their BlackBerry smartphones, but in developed markets the company has lost market share to Apple’s iPhone and devices powered by Android. Some investors have called for Lazaridis and Balsillie to step down. And an anonymous but apparently high-ranking employee penned a damaging letter bemoaning the state of the company.

Its attempt to take on Apple’s iPad with the PlayBook appears largely to have failed. And its network outage earlier this year — and the fact that it was slow at first in communicating the problems to users — compounded the company’s public relations woes. Lazaridis’ decision to pull the plug on a BBC interview after objecting to the line of questioning can’t have helped the company’s image either.

With a new iPhone expected, new competition from Windows Phone devices and Android continuing its momentum, next year could make or break the company that helped popularise the smartphone.  — DM

Jeff Bezos

While Research in Motion continues to struggle to get consumers to buy its BlackBerry PlayBook tablet computer, online retail giant Amazon.com’s Android-based Kindle Fire, on sale for just a couple of weeks, is already reported to be the second-strongest tablet seller in the US after Apple’s iPad, with predictions the company will ship more units of the 7-inch device than the popular Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 in the run-up to Christmas.

Like Apple, Amazon has realised people buy tablets for the content on offer more than they do for the quality of the hardware. The Fire is an easy-to-use device that provides access to the company’s vast catalogue of books, movies, television shows and music. And at US$199, it’s priced to go. Amazon is said to be selling the device below cost, expecting to make profit from media sales.

Started just 16 years ago by Jeff Bezos, Amazon is now one of the world’s retail giants. With a market value of almost $90bn, it’s worth just less than half of Walmart and made Bezos one of the world’s richest people with a net worth of almost $20bn.  — DM

Stephen Elop

Nokia CEO Stephen Elop has been both praised and criticised in technology circles since he took over at the faltering Finnish handset manufacturer. The 47-year-old Canadian is the first non-Finn to head the company and made waves shortly after joining when he published the now-infamous “Burning Platform” memo that decried Nokia’s poor standing in the smartphone market and pre-empted its move to Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 as its operating system of choice for its high-end devices.

Some have lauded Elop for his decision to abandon Nokia’s MeeGo operating system and gradually to phase out another, Symbian; others regard the move as hasty and see Nokia’s relationship with Microsoft as an alliance of two blundering behemoths, neither of which has yet managed to claw back lost ground in the smartphone market.

Nokia released a new range of smartphones and feature phones in Europe in November and will almost certainly launch at least one Windows 8 tablet next year. Nokia, under Elop, and Microsoft, under CEO Steve Ballmer, are now irrevocably joined at the hip. The next 12 months will determine whether Elop made the right decision.  — CW

Steve Jobs

We think you’ll agree that there was only one person who could top our international newsmakers list in 2011: the late, great Steve Jobs.

As co-founder and CEO of Apple, Jobs designed and launched products that created consumer zeal seldom seen. At the same time, he engineered and built a media and software ecosystem that transformed entire industries. He was at the forefront of the personal computer revolution and went on to change the way people consume media and interact with technology.

Walter Isaacson’s epic biography of Jobs paints a picture of an unpleasant man who would often belittle those around him. But this was a product of his singular perfectionism. He despised poor design, often ridiculing long-term rival Microsoft, once saying of the company: “The only problem with Microsoft is they just have no taste. They have absolutely no taste.”

Jobs’s relentless focus on product simplicity and beautiful design won over the hearts and minds of consumers, taking Apple from a niche computer player to the most profitable company in smartphones and tablet computing, in the process making it the most valuable listed US company.

The impact of his work will continue to be felt long after his untimely death.  — DM

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