The Biggest Winners and Losers in Tech in 2020

2020, rightly or wrongly, will be one for the history books, but which tech brands came out of it on top, and which suffered?
Jack Turner

There’s no doubt that 2020 has been a tumultuous year for many of us, and you might think that it’s one that consists mainly of negative news at every turn. Well, yes, but for some tech brands, 2020 will prove to be a turning point that they won’t quickly forget.

The rise of home working has been a boon for video conferencing businesses, online retailers, and even hackers (we’re not so stoked about that last one). We've also seen social media stand up to false information perpetuated by governments, although for some, it's too little too late.

As for losers? Well, spare a thought for Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook, which looks to be in for a very rocky 2021, with calls from the FTC to break it up, as well as a much-hyped video game that couldn't stick the landing.

The Rise of Zoom

Chances are that pre-2020, you didn’t know what Zoom was, and if asked to name a video conferencing brand off the top of your head, you’d have gone for Microsoft’s Skype, Apple’s FaceTime, or Google Hangouts/Meet.

However, 2020 was undeniably Zoom’s breakout year, becoming its own verb and providing a backbone for many businesses, family gatherings, school classes, and news interviews.

Zoom’s initial popularity can be attributed to two main points. Firstly, it was free. Never underestimate how popular you can make any product if there's no price tag. Secondly, it was easy to use. This meant everyone from office workers to grandparents could hop on the app without too much complaint, and connect to others around the globe.

Thanks to this, app store recommendations and word of mouth carried the Zoom app quickly into the limelight, providing the perfect solution for an audience who weeks before didn’t even know they needed it.

The figures speak for themselves. In its Q1 sales call, the company revealed that it had more than doubled its revenue, from $328 million in the Q1 2020 quarter compared to $122 million in the same period the year before. It had comfortably smashed its own $200 million target.

Growing this quickly has its disadvantages. Early on Zoom was plagued with accusations of security risks, as well as ‘Zoom bombing’, and has scrambled to address these issues.

One of the positive aspects of Zoom’s dominance is that it has lit a fire under other video conferencing services. The likes of Microsoft Teams and Google Meet have been regularly adding features and improving their services, clearly alarmed at the disruption that the upstart Zoom has caused.

2020 status: Winner

Our guide to video conferencing services

Amazon On the Up

Despite the whole global pandemic business, or maybe because of it, retail continued to soar in 2020, but it wasn’t the high street retailers that reaped the benefits.

With many people working from home, and lockdown in some areas meaning that physical stores had to close, it was the internet that saved the day, allowing us to shop for anything from cat food to high-end electronics, and have them delivered straight to our doors.

One of the biggest winners here is undoubtedly Amazon. Bezos' empire was hardly struggling before, but this year, it’s trajectory has continued to skyrocket. The biggest indicator of this is Black Friday, the shopping event that falls just before Thanksgiving, when we worship everything that our forefathers dreamed America would stand for — consumerism on a monolithic scale.

Amazon always does well on Black Friday, but this year it smashed its own records, reporting to have had its most successful event yet, with some analysts suggesting that the company account for almost one if every five dollars spent in that period.

Amazon was quick to crow about its success but also wanted to point out its position as a platform for other businesses, stating that these had surpassed more than $4.8 billion in sales over the Black Friday weekend, up 60% from last year. As benevolent as Amazon may want to appear here, it is, of course, getting a nice wedge of all these sales, on top of the products it shifts itself.

In case you’re curious, Amazon’s top sellers for the period were Barack Obama’s ‘A Promised Land’ autobiography, the All New Amazon Echo Dot, and the REVLON One-Step Hair Dryer and Volumizer Hot Air Brush, for all those people who wanted to look good even if they weren’t allowed to go out.

2020 status: Winner

Twitter Takes on Trump

It’s fair to say that President Trump’s relationship with tech has been adversarial over the years. In 2018, Google found itself in front of a government committee asked why when you searched the word idiot, the first result was a picture of Trump himself. The President has also continued to rally against tech’s biggest names for their ‘fake news’ and ‘liberal bias’.

Ironic then, that one of the reasons for Trump’s popularity has been his online presence and ability to play the social media game, especially on his beloved Twitter account, which has generated more headlines in his presidency than any actual Republican policies or international affairs.

Critics have chastised Twitter for not taking Trump to task for some of his tweets when they were clearly false or harmful. Twitter responded by saying Trump was, essentially, too big to ban.

However, as the election ramped up in 2020, Twitter seemingly developed a backbone, and took action against some of Trump’s more outlandish accusations, labelling them as misleading or potentially false. Around election time, the President’s Twitter timeline was littered with these warning labels from Twitter, much to his chagrin.

Even at the time of writing, as we close out 2020, his continuous stream of tweets disputing Joe Biden’s election victory are being flagged almost as quickly as he can type them.

2020 status: Winner

Facebook on Verge of Being Broken Up

It’s hard to say just when Facebook’s last ‘good’ year was. Sure, it remains popular, but the platform has been plagued with issues for some time now, from the Cambridge Analytica scandal, to government accusations of spreading false information, and younger users turning their back on the site.

Arguably Facebook's last bit of positive PR was David Fincher’s sugar-coated 2010 ‘Social Network’ movie that made Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook seem ‘cool.' In reality, the company can be a toxic and oppressive platform that makes it easy to spread disinformation, and wants to know every facet of its users' lives.

One thing's for sure, 2020 won’t be classed as one of Facebook's greatest hits. As the year winds down, Facebook finds itself on the receiving end of a lawsuit from the FTC, with the Feds looking to break up the company and separate its WhatsApp and Instagram businesses from the main Facebook brand. Critics claim that the company's size means that competitors don’t stand a chance against it and that Facebook has developed its own monopoly.

For many years now, Facebook’s approach to competition has been ‘if you can’t beat them, buy them’, paying vast amounts of money to gobble up those who have stood in their way. Now it seems that enough really might be enough and, if the FTC gets its way, Facebook's dominance could well be jeopardized.

It’s not just the FTC that have been criticizing Facebook. Apple has recently taken aim at the social network for its sheer volume of data collection, after a new feature in iOS 14 shows users exactly how much information apps are gathering about them. Facebook has hit back at these claims, although with a rather tone-deaf approach.

2020 status: Loser

TikTok vs the US Government

TikTok started 2020 off the back of a meteoric rise, becoming Generation Z's social media platform of choice influencing fashion, music, comedy and even culinary trends.

Nobody could have predicted that by the end of the year it would be engaged in a savage battle for its survival with the US government, and yet, here we are.

According to some, TikTok’s problems started in June of this year, when President Trump held a rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The event was oversubscribed, with over 1 million requests for the free tickets. However, on the day, the numbers were far less impressive. Trump’s own people claim that attendance was around 12,000, while the Tulsa Fire Department put it at just 6,200.

The reason for the discrepancy between the number of tickets ordered and the number of people who turned up is believed to be due to a malicious grassroots campaign by TikTok users to claim tickets, therefore preventing genuine supporters from being able to attend.

It was shortly after this that Trump claimed that the Chinese owned TikTok was a threat to national security and that it would be banned from operating in the US unless an American-based buyer purchased the US arm.

It’s worth noting that before the Tulsa event, Trump had never mentioned TikTok, or even shown any indication he knew what it was.

Since then, there have been rumors of US buyouts, shifting deadlines, lawsuits and general confusion, with TikTok claiming that direction from the US government has been vague to non-existent.

As 2020 comes to close, it's looking like TikTok will actually outlive Trump’s government, although whether or not it will still be perceived as a security threat by the incoming Joe Biden in 2021, remains to be seen.

2020 status: Winner

CDPR Flubs CyberPunk 2077 Launch

Video games are big business. What was once an idle past time for bored children is now worth more than the music and movie industries combined, and projected to be worth $300 billion by 2025.

2020 has been a banner year for gaming, too. The release of a new generation of consoles, with Sony’s Playstation 5, and Microsoft’s Xbox Series X/S, as well as a captive audience caught in lockdown itching for a distraction, means that we’re playing more games than ever.

In this perfect storm, what better time to release a much-hyped game that has been in development for years and comes from the same studio whose previous title, The Witcher 3, was universally adored.

This dream soon turned into a nightmare as CyberPunk 2077, from CD Projekt Red (CDPR), proved to be a great allegory for 2020 — a huge letdown.

The problems with the game stem from its numerous bugs. Glitches are nothing unusual for modern games, whose scope and complexity mean that catching every single one before launch is a gargantuan task, and those that aren’t can be fixed with post-release patches.

The issue for CDPR is that the base versions of the game for older consoles are so bad they are practically unplayable. What’s more, the company appears to have known this, admitting in a press release that it focused on the more polished PC version ahead of release, and obscuring the console versions, not providing reviewers with codes or showing much footage.

The upshot is that while the game received 8 million pre-orders, both Sony and Microsoft are offering no-questions-asked refunds on their platforms. Sony has removed the game entirely from its online store.

There are also class action lawsuits underway, with even the company's own investors threatening to sue for misrepresentation.

Eventually, Cyberpunk 2077 will receive enough updates to make it a more enjoyable experience on consoles, but CDPR’s reputation will be much harder to fix.

2020 status: Loser

Ransomware, Everywhere

The rise of the home worker in 2020 caused many teething problems for businesses early on, but one of the largest of those was undoubtedly security. With staff now stationed in their own homes, and no longer contained within office spaces, it meant that there were a lot of potential weaknesses in security protocol.

It’s a lot easier to operate a security infrastructure in the confines of an office than it is across multiple households, all using different network providers, equipment, and the danger of non-company personnel having easy access to company systems.

A study from Malwarebytes in August showed the breadth of the problem. 20% of the companies surveyed said that they had faced a security breach due to a member of staff working from home, and 28% of staff admitted to using personal devices for work activity. 24% of companies also stated that they had had to pay unexpected expenses to address a security breach.

Of these breaches, one of the most serious is ransomware, a malicious software that effectively holds company data hostage until a ransom is paid. It’s a difficult issue to tackle – attempts to remove the software can result in all data being wiped, and paying the ransom is no guarantee that your data will be released.

According to a report from BitDefender, instances of ransomware are up 715% from last year, and that’s just the ones we know about.  Some companies don’t want customers and competitors knowing they’ve been hit, and discreetly pay the ransom.

Several high profile companies and organizations have been hit with ransomware attacks in 2020. These include Garmin, Canon, Blackbaud, Barnes and Noble, as well as education, healthcare, and local government institutions.

Ransomware shows no sign of slowing down, and with home working set to continue well into 2021, companies are looking to tighten up their home working policies to mitigate the chance of huge demands of money. Right now though, it looks like ransomware is winning.

2020 status: Winner (sadly)

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Jack is the Content Manager for Tech.co. He has been writing about a broad variety of technology subjects for over a decade, both in print and online, including laptops and tablets, gaming, and tech scams. As well as years of experience reviewing the latest tech devices, Jack has also conducted investigative research into a number of tech-related issues, including privacy and fraud.

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