The worst tech predictions of 2013 -- and two that hit the mark

From the social network in business to the 'success' of the Chromebook to the launch of iTV, the pundits got it wrong, wrong, wrong

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The PC market won't be terrible

Everyone knew that the PC market was in trouble last year. That was an easy call. But hardly anyone on Wall Street or at the big research shops expected it to collapse. Barclays analyst Ben Reitzes, for example, figured that global sales would be off by about 3 percent. By the end of fall, the market had dropped even further, and now IDC predicts that the year-over-year decline will be a bit more than 10 percent, the largest dip in the history of the industry.

One of the most misguided calls related to the PC market was Microsoft's big bet on Windows 8. Sure, it's selling, people have to replace their PCs at some point, but Windows Frankenstein failed to do what earlier Windows upgrades did: Convince people they should by a new PC. Without the boost of a new OS, the market simply tanked as more and more users flocked to ever more powerful tablets.

MOOCs will sweep the campus

"There's an app for that," became a joke a couple of years ago. But an awful lot of people, particular the digerati of Silicon Valley, really believe there's an app to solve any of the world's problems -- higher education, for instance. The app to fix it: The MOOC, or massive open online course. Hmm, not so fast.

Despite the unending hype, MOOCs have not taken off. A study of more than 1 million MOOC enrollees, released in December by the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education, found that on average only about half of those who registered for a course ever viewed a lecture, and only about 4 percent completed the courses.

Perhaps even more telling, as the New York Times noted, is the failure of the widely publicized MOOC experiment at San Jose State University, in the heart of Silicon Valley, which was supposed to give a boost to underachieving students:

"Despite access to the Udacity mentors, the online students last spring -- including many from a charter high school in Oakland -- did worse than those who took the classes on campus. In the algebra class, fewer than a quarter of the students -- and only 12 percent of the high school students -- earned a passing grade."

Social networking will conquer the enterprise

If marketers ran the enterprise, there'd be no doubt that social networking would be king. But they don't, and despite the dazzling predictions and starry-eyed hype, business has not widely adopted social networking with the obvious exception of its use as a marketing tool.

InfoWorld's Galen Gruman argues that the use of social networking within the office appears to be small, despite the constant noise by vendors and management about trial efforts. Many end up wasting everyone's time and effort. Gruman notes that he has no hard evidence to back up his assertions. However, that evidence does exist.

When social networking in business is examined closely, as Harvard Business Review did earlier this year, you find that there's no "there" there. Calling social networking "Enterprise 2.0," writer Jacques Bughin says:

  • McKinsey estimates that only 6 percent of companies have truly integrated Enterprise 2.0 into the core.
  • 25 to 50 percent of a company's employees must use social networking extensively for it to produce an acceptable ROI. But more than 50 percent of companies fail to achieve this level of penetration.
  • A lot of companies congratulate themselves on having a "social media presence" -- by which they mean a Twitter following and Facebook likes and a marketing plan that uses social networks. But some 70 percent of the extra profit to be made through social technologies has nothing to do with marketing.

Sobering indeed.

Apple will tank

For a few years, Apple could do no wrong -- in the minds of the digerati, at least -- and its stock price approached $600 a share. Some thought it was headed for $1,000. But then Steve Jobs died, Android took off after a slow start, and Samsung put the pedal to the metal. Suddenly Apple was a dog, and many figured that an awful lot of chickens were coming home to roost in 2013.

Not exactly: Apple's stock recovered strongly this year, climbing from a low of $402 a share in July to $560 this week, a gain of almost 40 percent. The surge wasn't just more irrational exuberance on the part of Wall Street. Apple's products, which may have bored the blogosphere, delighted consumers.

Apple broke precedent and launched two new iPhones in September; they did not get great reviews. But at the end of the first weekend of sales, more than 9 million were sold in just three days. Apple sold 2,083 new iPhones every minute, or 34 every second, and there was little or no evidence that any significant number of those sales were reversed by returns.

More recently, a report from analysts at Canaccord Genuity shows that iPhone 5S has been the best-selling smartphone by customers of AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile.

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