In a tally of this year's biggest winners and losers, Apple was a clear consumer favorite with the continued dominance of the iPhone and the iPad. Google posted several wins, while BlackBerry and pay-TV providers suffered big losses. Here are the numbers to know and how they'll shape consumer electronics in 2012.
Known for its minimal interface, Google's Chrome web browser surpassed Mozilla's Firefox in global browser market share for the first time in November, according to StatCounter. Chrome's share during the month was 25.69 percent, up 4.66 percent from last November, while Firefox's lost less than 1 percent to dip to 25.33 percent. Microsoft's Internet Explorer maintained its lead with 40.63 percent.
In the U.S., Internet Explorer accounts for half the browser market, Firefox retained its second spot at 20 percent, followed by Chrome at 17 percent. However, Chrome was the only one of the top three browsers to gain users (up more than 7 points) compared to its rivals, who both lost users in 2011.
Expect Chrome to attract more users in 2012 as word spreads of its superior speed in loading pages compared to Firefox and IE. Google also launched the Chromebook, laptops manufactured by Samsung and Acer that run on Chrome. The new laptops are designed for cloud computing, so no software is stored on the machine. The Chromebook has been slow to catch on, but represents the future of lean, virus-free, speedy computing. The battery is said to last a full day. If you're buying a new laptop, a Chromebook is a consideration.
Apple now has the best-selling desktop (iMac) and laptop computer (MacBook Pro) in America, according to Tim Cook, the company's new CEO. Speaking at the iPhone 4S launch event in Cupertino, Calif., Cook said that nearly one in four computers sold in the United States is now a Mac, citing analyst NPD. Apple sales soared 23 percent in the third quarter of this year, while the overall PC market limped along at less than 5 percent growth.
Apple's computers seemed to be recession-proof. The $1,000 MacBook Air is the lowest priced PC from Apple. Expect sales to grow if the economy picks up in 2012, which would widen Apple's market.
In another win for Apple in 2011, the company's iPhone overtook RIM's BlackBerry as the choice for companies. iPhone's share of the business market rose from 31.1 percent in 2010 to 45 percent in 2011, overtaking RIM's BlackBerry phones that had long been the favorite among enterprise customers, reported iPass in its November 2011 report "Mobile Mania Sweeps the Enterprise." BlackBerry's share of business users dropped from 35 percent in 2010 to 32 percent in 2011. Android climbed from 11.3 percent to 21.3 percent, knocking Nokia out of its third-place slot.
RIM will continue to struggle next year, but it plans to introduce a new keyboard-less phone called the London. RIM's chief designer described the phone as "charming, whimsical, and fun," which would be a radical new direction for the company in 2012.
Viewers and pay-TV
Many new households are not signing up for cable or satellite. Out of the 1.8 million households formed in the U.S. during the first nine months of 2011, only 16.9 percent of them subscribed to pay-TV, according to a report released by Credit Suisse. Even though 83 percent of households currently have pay-TV, the "cable-nevers" pose a future threat to pay-TV providers.
"These are tomorrow's householders that are in their teens (and younger) today. They are growing up in an Internet-based video culture in which the mantra of 'Why pay for TV?' and 'Pay TV is a ripoff' develop," said Stefan Anniger, analyst for Credit Suisse. He recently adjusted the company's pay-TV forecast and estimated that subscribers will drop by about 200,000 -- instead of gain by 250,000 -- in 2012.
Cable and satellite companies and content providers could begin to feel the pinch in 2012, but dismiss cord-cutters as a short-term problem. HBO sees cord-cutting as a temporary phenomenon that will go away once the larger economy improves, the company's co-president Eric Kessler said at a recent industry event. And if cord-cutting persists, non-cable subscribers will "never see an HBO show," Kessler said.
Never is a long time. Many viewers are clamoring for A la carte cable service, and could opt to cut the cord rather than pay $70 or more a month for the handful of channels they actually watch. "How can I justify paying more for satellite TV than my electricity, gas and phone combined?" said Sam Plumb, a graduate student at the University of Utah. "I'm paying more to watch TV than I am for the things that I need to survive."
Plumb has cancelled pay-TV service.
Ogden-based TopTenREVIEWS.com guides consumers by comparing products in the world of technology, including electronics, software and Web services. Have a question for TopTenREVIEWS? Email Leslie Meredith at firstname.lastname@example.org.