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2013... in mobile

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Year in Review It was a year where Apple slurped down enormous profits but lost some of its bleeding-edge-tech street cred, while Samsung marched inexorably on. But behind the scenes there was much more going on. Here are the year's trends put through the blender.

Apple

Apple's strategy is quite simple: instead of making products the developing world can afford, it will wait until the developing world gets wealthy enough to afford Apple's prices. Two-thirds of smartphones sold in the world cost less than $150, and many cost less than $100: models we never see in Western Europe. Apple doesn't go there.

That's a quite rational decision - but while the upstart that threw the phone industry into the modern era six years ago piles up the cash, it has lost much of its lustre, and this is more keenly felt outside the tech blog bubble.

"Microsoft has gone nowhere since Bill Gates gave up operational responsibility, and is now in long-term decline," wrote the Telegraph's business guru Jeremy Warner this month. "Likewise with Apple… the company has never been stronger financially, but is plainly already living on past glories."

As your correspondent pointed out here recently: "Surely nobody – not even the most avid fanboi – now believes that Jobs left 'four years of new products' in the pipeline," as his biographer had promised in 2011. Where might this pipeline be found? It's beginning to look mythical.

2013 saw no integrated set-top box and TV product - and no Apple (i)Watch, either. Apple could have exploited its design expertise and amazing brand into making a few sexy peripherals - but it didn’t even do that.

Apple seems paralysed about what to do next. Its success came from three products and the attractive marketplace it has built around them - the device being the endpoint of a third-party delivery chain. Magazines, digital musical instruments, music… Apple didn't really care, and its devices were a means to an end. But today it seems too fearful to repeat the trick, and too afraid to try something else.

Designers poke fun at the new iOS 7 "palette". Credit: Johnny Waterman

Apple also took an unusual stumble. You'd never associate the word "amateurish" with Apple, even during its lowest ebb, before the return of Jobs. But the iOS7 makeover was babyish. Many people, offered the old look-and-feel with the new control panel and gestures, say they would gladly swap.

It's Amaaaa-zon

The biggest negative in 2013 was the bizarre decision from Judge Cote in the ebooks price-fixing case, which handed Amazon a retail monopoly: permitting it to sell books at below cost, while tying Apple's hands. Bizarre, because harm wasn't demonstrated - prices across the market continued to fall - and the long-term consequence is a less competitive book industry. Expect it to look much more like Hollywood each year. And not in a good way.

Still, network effect ensures that Apple remains in the catbird seat. With the best ecosystem, the best brand and the best design and engineering talent, it will surely continue to pile up the cash even without setting fanbois' hearts a flutter - and that's the trouble.

Look out for: Grumblings about Apple's strong-arm contracts as the massively promoted but overpriced 5C continues to clog up the channels.

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Next page: Paranoid Android

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