9 companies fighting to stay alive in 2014
As we enter a new year of hope for a rapidly expanding tech industry we also have to take stock that the times ahead, while full of promise, could also be fraught with trouble for some.
In 2013, we lost games publisher THQ and video retail chain Blockbuster among others, so the streets are not necessarily paved with gold for all. Some are merely paved with broken dreams and diminishing returns. Hopefully, all will hop and skip their way over the slabs throughout the 12 months successfully, like Michael Jackson in the Billy Jean video, but these are the companies we think are most at risk and will have to wear their most grippy-soled dancing pumps.
The once mighty BlackBerry (née Rim) had a troubled 2013 and it's hard to see how things can improve radically over the course of 2014. The end of last year saw the axing of former CEO Thorsten Heins, a soft-launch of BlackBerry 10 handset the Z30, almost as if the company was embarrassed by it, and the confirmation that without the help of new partner Foxconn, the firm would have to exit the phone manufacturing business entirely.
Its share prices have fallen steadily and continue to do so, regardless of the ambition of new CEO John Chen. He recently announced that the company's recent enforced changes and new positioning in the market are in a good position to return to profitability by 2016. This will mean a greater focus on the company's BlackBerry Enterprise Services and BBM on multiple platforms. But with major rivals spending more on alternative solutions to attract business customers - such as Samsung's Knox - and other messaging competitors having an upper hand across the devices recently supported by BBM, the more obvious perils lie this year, not further down the line.
In all honesty, we would be devastated if HTC had a tricky 2014, it has already had a rocky 12 months regardless of the launch of what many consider the best Android phone on the market. But it is for that reason that there could still be troubles ahead for the Taiwanese firm. If the best smartphone couldn't turn the company into a profitable organisation, what can?
Early hope will lie in its follow-up handset, currently dubbed the HTC One 2 or HTC M8 (as a codename). Many expect it to be launched as soon as possible, most likely at Mobile World Congress in February in order to make a positive impact on the current financial year rather than the next. But unless it follows up with similarly well-received devices later in the calendar year, the constant rumours of a company-wide buyout could well turn from speculation to fact in 2014.
All eyes will be on what remains of Nokia once Microsoft has formerly taken ownership of the devices arm of the company, and whether there will be enough to continue to be profitable concern. Here Maps is no doubt loved by many, but recently problems with compatibility with iOS 7 have forced that branch to remove the app from iTunes and this is not something it can afford to repeat if it wants to remain competitive, considering even the initially troubled Apple Maps is improving.
Hope lies in the fact that Microsoft will be licensing the Nokia brand for its Asha handsets for the next 10 years, and although there's no such deal for the Lumia Windows Phone 8 handsets, that will at least form a steady source of income. It will also keep the Nokia name in the spotlight, even if the company itself works more in the background.
The once mighty Polaroid brand has switched owners and focus many times in the last decade or so and has recently been associated mostly with cheap digital cameras and portable printers. And while we applaud the instant photography and sharing ethos of the latest line-up, recent attempts to move into other areas of photography have met with failure.
Most notable of these comes with the Polaroid-branded iM1836 Android-based interchangeable lens camera. Although it seemed like a good idea, in practicality it was actually rather poor, as we discovered when we went hands-on with it at CES 2013. It has since been withdrawn from market, although not because it was a letdown in performance terms, but because it blatantly copied the aesthetics of Nikon's 1 series, a fact that did not go unnoticed by Nikon's team of lawyers.
Remarkably, Olympus was one of the companies we included in a similar rundown of those at risk two years ago yet remains, so there's something to be said for the firm's staying power. And with a reported rise in the popularity of mirrorless cameras, CEO Hiroyuki Sasa even believes that the camera division will trun a profit in 2014.
However, Credit Suisse analyst Yu Yoshida believes that because of the collapse of the compact camera business, Olympus will be one of a few casualties in the forthcoming year. "Only those who have a strong brand and are competitive on price will last - and only Canon, Nikon and Sony fulfil that criteria," he said.
You would think that Mozilla is a company with a big enough variety of software to stay clear of too many troubles, but we predict that it will struggle further to with the Firefox browser and the Firefox OS smartphone operating system. Mass adoption of each will remain hampered by fierce competition from Microsoft, Google and Apple.
What strikes Mozilla different from others on this list perhaps, is its philosophy of remaining true to its open source roots. And by continuing down the community path and keeping its software open source, it will continue to be support by a fervent fan base. But what could be an issue in 2014 is that a contract with Google to feature its search engine in Firefox expires in November and should that not be renewed a major source of revenue could disappear with it. Public donations and funding will not be enough to make up the difference.
It would be ludicrous to think that Nintendo, with its still healthy sales of both the 3DS and 2DS handheld consoles, could struggle in 2014, but it's hard to see how it could turn the Wii U into a success now that major and much better specified rivals in the next-generation war have joined the scene.
James Rubin, the former CEO of defunct games publisher THQ, even goes as far to say that Nintendo is "irrelevant" in the console hardware business in comparison to Sony and Microsoft, suggesting that the company will struggle unless it starts to create home grown software for other platforms. "It is a crime that we do not play those games [Mario and Zelda] on the systems that we have," he told GameTrailers at the beginning of December 2013. Perhaps 2014 is the year that the Japanese giant reconsiders. Maybe a much-wished for iOS and Android outing for the fat plumber and chums awaits.
If people were surveyed in a Pointless TV show way about movie and TV streaming services the top answers would invariably be Netflix and Amazon's Lovefilm, with, perhaps, Wuaki.tv and Tesco's BlinkBox also featuring somewhere further down. A safe bet for any contestant on the show would surely be KnowHow Movies, Currys and PC World's Rovi-powered service that continues to offer new and archive films and TV programmes to rent or buy, but with few of the plaudits afforded to the bigger names.
It's for this reason that it could struggle against much wider known competition in 2014. We believe the year will be the biggest yet for consumption of media over the internet, but KnowHow Movies is possibly being squeezed out by some of the heavy weights in the business.
While the high street retailer was saved at the last minute by Hilco, the recent closures of stores in key locations across the UK including in London, Newport and Warwickshire, show the brand is still ailing. In addition, the chain's website has been converted from an online retail outlet to a news, features and reviews source as the company has stopped selling its wares over the internet.
Instead, HMV now sells digital music for download, a tricky business to succeed in when you consider Apple's iTunes, Google Play and Amazon are the biggest competitors. In short, the company is far from out of the woods and, as with Blockbuster before it, even a promising acquisition could end up in failure eventually. We all hope not, but the signs are not great.
Do you agree with our choices? Or do you have doubts on other companies' hopes on sticking around for the full 12 months next year? Let us know in the comments below...