Many of the biggest stories in the connected consumer space occurred mostly offstage in 2012.
Apple introduced the iPhone 5 and the iPad mini, but neither of those rollouts was particularly groundbreaking. The iPhone 5, while a huge hit, was basically more of the same. The iPad mini was essentially a defensive move to guard against being outflanked in the 7-inch tablet market.
The really hard work Apple was doing in 2012 was in the talks and negotiations the company conducted behind the scenes with other sectors of the media business about rolling out new services in 2013 and beyond.
Those included discussions with music rights owners about launching a music-streaming service within iTunes. Word of those talks caused Pandora’s shares to crater in anticipation of an imminent launch by Apple, though it is unlikely Apple really aims to compete directly with Pandora (which doesn’t make any money). Instead, Apple likely plans to create a fully integrated service that would allow users to purchase and download songs instantly while they’re playing on the internet radio service and to store those tracks in the cloud. That will require a log of different rights clearances from a lot of different rights holders, few of whom have shown much flexibility in their approach to licensing up to now. That sort of negotiating
Apple was also in talks in 2012 with pay-TV providers about incorporating some or all of their linear-TV services into the Apple ecosystem. The company also, presumably, was in talks with TV-rights owners about a similar integration. Given the wariness with which all parties regard one another, those negotiations will most likely be arduous.
Apple is almost certain to introduce some sort of music-streaming service in 2013, and it may finally make its move in TV. But in both cases the hard work will have been done in 2012.
Likewise, Google spent much of 2012 in difficult negotiations, primarily with policymakers and antitrust authorities in the U.S. and Europe. Hardest of those has been the (apparently successful) effort to stave off formal antitrust charges by the Federal Trade Commission concerning how Google displays search results. Google has faced similar antitrust scrutiny in Europe, and it still faces possible sanctions over its privacy policies unless it can negotiate its way around those as well.
Microsoft grabbed headlines in 2012 for the rollout of Windows 8 and the introduction of its first home-brewed tablet, the Surface RT. But as far as digital media is concerned, the biggest news from Microsoft this year passed with much less fanfare: the introduction of SmartGlass for the Xbox.
The technology, which allows an Xbox 360 to communicate and sync with any mobile device, regardless of operating system, makes SmartGlass a formidable addition to Microsoft’s already leading position in the digital living room, despite the relatively muted initial reaction it received in the press.
That doesn’t mean that nothing of significance happened in 2012. On the contrary, it was an eventful year. But many of the fruits of 2012 won’t fully be tasted until 2013 and beyond.