For millions of people in the tech sector and beyond, 2021 was a much more comfortable and routine year than the unmitigated disaster that was 2020.
But not all companies kicked off the first year of the new decade smoothly, and some even failed spectacularly. With 2022 on the horizon, we take a look at tech’s biggest winners – and losers – from the last 12 months.
Tech's Biggest Winners of 2021
It’s difficult to put this man into any columns or categories, let alone ones titled ‘winners' or ‘losers’. Musk seemed to spend most of the year making cryptocurrencies soar in value whilst decreasing the value of his own company, Tesla, by billions through social media posts. He announced new drugs on Twitter and took straw polls of whether he should sell huge amounts of stocks and subsequently pay taxes.
Despite his continuous jumble of bizarre behavior, the soft-spoken SpaceX boss became the richest human being alive in January 2021 – and still retains the top spot today, according to Forbes’ real-time billionaire list. As if that's not enough, he also received the honor of being Time's Person of the Year for 2021.
Some think he’s a genius, whilst others cannot stand him. Most of us are still unsure of whether he’s actually for real, or whether his entire existence is a hyper-realist art piece illustrating how modern-day capitalism generates Iron Man-like plutocrats programmed with Black Mirror scripts that never made it to TV.
For many of us, that distinction matters – to the richest man on the planet, however, probably not so much. Tesla’s maverick-in-chief will continue to divide public opinion in 2022 – let’s just hope he doesn’t make us fight to the death for the last seats on his evacuation flight to Mars.
Launched in 2015, Ethereum is a software platform that supports the world’s second-largest cryptocurrency, Ether. But October 2021 saw its value increase to an all-time high after soaring more than 560% this year, outperforming rival cryptocurrency Bitcoin by some way.
The foundation for this meteoric rise is the incredibly positive investor sentiment towards Ethereum. This is due to the company’s pioneering work in the field of decentralized finance, as well as the fact that it can be used to generate NFTs to sell to people who don’t really know what they are (which is basically everyone bar Elon Musk and people in YouTube ads).
Ethereum/Ether is more than just a cryptocurrency (sorry Bitcoin) – it’s an open-source software platform based on blockchain technology. You can build decentralized applications on the Ethereum blockchain called ‘smart contracts’, but you need Ether (colloquially called ‘gas’) to run them. In other words, Ether is to fuel as cryptocurrency is to the US dollar.
Do you ever look at yourself in the mirror and think “I’d love to have no nose at all and much, much broader shoulders”?
If that sounds like you, then you’ll love to hear that Roblox is at the forefront of building an immersive virtual universe, or ‘metaverse’, full of stocky, lego-like animated characters to rival plans announced by Meta (Facebook) and Microsoft, and have had a great year all round.
Roblox has seen a steady increase in popularity over the past three or so years. It has invested sensibly as its player base has swelled, making headlines a lot more regularly in 2021 than it did in years prior. Roblox is set for a huge year in 2022 – its Q3 2021 saw a 100% growth in y/y revenue and, after going public in March, its stock price had increased by 35% by November.
Zoom went from relative obscurity to virtual ubiquity in early 2020, to becoming the go-to app for web conferencing for millions of families and businesses as countries across the globe grappled with remote working for the first time.
Zoom’s performance during 2021 shows it’s not just a fad. The company has built on the gains it made in the previous twelve months, despite Google, Microsoft, and various other platforms with similar products upping their game. Zoom shares have risen once again after the discovery of Omicron, the new Covid variant.
Zoom’s success has been so monumental that the brand has effectively become a synonym for the phrase ‘video call’ (as in, ‘I’ll Zoom you later’), and is now so deeply ingrained in our collective psyche it's difficult to imagine where we'd be without it.
Despite workers starting to move back into offices, Zoom's presence is still vital to the day-to-day running of thousands of companies – and anyone who still thinks the jury is out on whether a staff meeting is an appropriate time to take a bath.
Kape Technologies made headlines in the VPN industry with the acquisition of high-flying VPN company ExpressVPN, which it purchased for almost a billion dollars back in September 2021.
This means Kape now owns Private Internet Access, CyberGhost, and ExpressVPN, three of the largest and most well-known VPN providers in the world that preserve the privacy of millions of people. Pretty good work for a company that sounds like a Mario Kart track.
In a big win for this security company, the acquisition of a brand with such a sterling reputation will help Kape dispel the lingering worries about its sketchy security past, which still pop up from time to time.
Alongside this shrewd acquisition, Kape Technologies’ share price has increased at a healthy rate throughout the year and the company is looking like it’ll finish at more than twice the value it was in the beginning of 2021.
Tech's Biggest Losers of 2021
How do you make sure a company rebrand goes off without a hitch, and no one views it as a cynical attempt to disconnect your organization from an avalanche of bad press? Announce it amidst your company’s biggest ever crisis, of course (not).
Meta and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has had a torrid year that’s seen the world’s largest communal echo chamber for self-righteous soccer moms beset by scandal after scandal.
Meta’s last 12 months have been littered with damaging accusations from whistleblowers and evidence from leaked documents detailing the company’s unwillingness to fix the aspects of its platform that have harmful effects on users.
It would be gravely irresponsible to let a company like this take charge of building an entirely new, virtual reality that could soon compete with the real world for our undivided attention, but luckily, Meta isn’t very well versed in this.
Remember in 2020, when delivery drones were being touted by as the next big thing, and companies like Amazon were investing huge sums of money in developing delivery drone programs? Well, ironically, 2021 saw delivery drones fail to take off.
Delivery courier DHL actually canceled its Parcelcopter program – which was 8 years in the making – in 2021, whilst Amazon shut down its “Prime Air” operations in the UK.
One of the biggest obstacles drone delivery programs face is that most people who order items online live in the city, and most drone delivery bots require an area free from power cables, overhanging branches, trees, street lights and other obstacles – including passing humans – in order to land, or hyper-advanced technology to facilitate landing in areas full of said obstructions. Plus, there are these things called ‘cars’ and ‘bikes’ that look like they’ll remain popular in 2022, so it's arguably not worth the hassle.
Talking of cars, Uber had a number of crises this year. Most notable were the mass driver shortages in the United States and the UK, two of its most profitable markets, which caused prices to surge as supply dipped well below the demand.
The company was forced to hike fare prices in London by 10% in order to lure back drivers who quit during the pandemic. With both the driver shortages and the fare increases making headline news, stock prices have declined significantly this year.
On top of this, the United States Justice Department announced it was going to sue Uber in November as it claimed ‘wait time fees’ discriminate against disabled people.
The company also received a blow this month in the UK, where courts decided that its drivers must be classed as workers, necessitating employment contracts and an overhaul of its business model – and probably higher prices (again).
The Team Behind Amazon Astro
One thing almost everyone looks for in a companion is their ability to relay massive amounts of highly granular personal data about you to a mega-corporation for advertising purposes.
There’s no solid evidence that Amazon plans for its new sentry robot companion, ‘Astro’, to do this – but company staff already listen to your conversations with Alexa and keep the recordings, so it’s not exactly far-fetched. In fact, privacy and security experts are already raising the alarm about the little robot.
There’s another, bigger problem, however – it’s not all too clear how Amazon's Astro bot would really help you out around the house. Dubbed by Amazon employees themselves as a ‘toy for rich people’, it can’t traverse stairs so is permanently marooned on a single floor. All in all, it’s difficult to see it as anything more than an Echo mounted on wheels.
$1,000+ to own a weirdly intrusive robot that looks like the result of a passionate encounter between WALL-E and a Roomba roaming around your house? We'll pass.
Android users are the final entry in our losers category. It’s not because we think iPhones are superior bits of kit, either – it’s the sheer volume of cyber threats that Android users have faced this year via the Google Play store.
Just recently, it was revealed that 300,000 android users had downloaded Trojan malware banking apps from the play store. Other findings this year include 150 ‘fake’ apps being used for scams, a barcode scanning app that infected ten million users with a single update in February, and the return of ‘Joker’ malware that plagued users previously.
To make matters worse, Google’s malware flagger – ‘Play Protect’ – only spots a proportion of the malware on the store platform, with some research finding it only detected around a third of the malware it should have.
2022: What's Around the Corner?
The COVID-19 pandemic is still very much at the forefront of everyone's minds, in tech and beyond, and investment in virtual spaces – metaverse or otherwise – will continue to produce novel, interesting, and terrifyingly dystopian results. Some countries are banning cryptocurrencies, whilst others are building cities under volcanoes just to mine them.
Cyber threats skyrocketed this year once again, so protecting yourself and your business with a password manager and reputable antivirus software has never been more important. And, unless we invest in developing groundbreaking technology to aid with the fight against global warming, we're likely to experience another year of ominous warnings as we continue to ignore the inevitable.
The only truthful answer to the question of what's around the corner is… no one really knows. Only one thing is for sure though: it's likely to be just as weird, wonderful, and worry-inducing as 2021.