Column This time last year, it would have been a simple matter to predict that the world's supply chain would be disrupted for all things tech, and that it would not be Trump who did it, but a sudden, unexpected pandemic that impacted every aspect of our working and personal lives. Right, Gartner? So what does 2021 hold for tech's big players? Let's hazard a guess.
Zune is back, baby! The classic beige brand gets revamped for Microsoft's newest and absolutely-not-Apple-four-years-late project, the Zunograph – a wrist-mounted mobile platform that Microsoft is at pains to point out "is not a Microsoft Watch, as it has moved beyond and has no time-keeping features". Instead, it contains all the things that Microsoft's famously insightful marketing team "hears you cry out for 24/7" – videoconferencing with total Teams integration, minute-by-minute advice and guidance on personal wellbeing voiced by newly available TV personality Donald Trump, and a full 85-minute battery life. The wristband design is particularly notable as once fitted it cannot be removed without an unlock signal from Redmond. "So you don't lose it, OK?" says the company.
Marketed under the inscrutable slogan "your time is our time all the time", sales slump when it is discovered that the Zunograph is part of Office365's worker performance metrics system. A leaked MS survey of corporates shows that the number one concern about home working is "manual auto-distraction" and that the Zunograph's motion sensors feed an AI chip trained to recognise and, puzzlingly, rate such episodes. It is finally revealed that MS is also working with Pornhub to develop Windows for Wankgroups – as one unnamed exec said: "90 per cent of corporate IT is just jerking off anyway so we might as well monetise it."
Fearful that the x86 architecture is being eaten at the bottom by Arm and the top by GPUs, Intel rapidly builds and activates an artificial Andy Grove, the by-now mythical CEO who oversaw the company's most successful years of growth. Programmed by ingesting Grove's "Only The Paranoid Survive" management textbook, "AGAI" immediately commands the building of a new fully self-guided chip design system. This quickly delivers a stunningly powerful device that smashes all benchmarks for efficiency and throughput, but which "AGAI" refuses to explain.
Although some systems are deployed with the chip, industry concerns about security and reliability limit its uptake. Then Joni Jo-Jo, a 17-year-old K-Pop princess and chip de-lidder, shows that it is in fact the Itanium architecture, just with a couple of undiagnosed bugs taken out. Once everyone stops laughing, the new design is enthusiastically adopted and Intel regains its 1980s rates of market expansion. “AGAI” reveals that the original Andy Grove knew about the bugs all along, but was so annoyed at the inability of his engineers to find them that he kept his trap firmly shut.
Under IBM's tutelage and taking advantage of its owner's deep knowledge of the corporate market, Red Hat rebrands as Head Rat, Inc. or HR for short. In response to Microsoft's increasing adoption of Linux, HR announces OS/3, a somewhat-compatible Windows subsystem with auto-scaling that instantly identifies and appropriates 90 per cent of available system resources, auto-installing across all networks using technology licensed from SolarWinds, and federated identity management using HR's own Zero Chance trust-free access control. Although so intrusive and obstructive it is estimated that a full seven hours or the "working" day will be spent trying to log in, send emails, download resources or do any real work whatsoever, the company says that trying to bypass it will make every member of your workforce highly skilled security experts, raising the value of any organisation that deploys it.
The giant of the web has a curiously quiet first half of 2021, which turns out to be because CEO Sundar Pichai mucks up his 2FA when switching phones in January and takes until July to get his Gmail account back.
During this time of enforced email abstinence, which he later refers to as "the miracle months", Pichai comes to realise the terrible mistake everyone had made in going online in the first place. Following a brief period in August consulting with the Dalai Lama, Pope Francis, and RuPaul, Pichai announces: "Google has never been afraid to ditch projects, however popular, that we feel do not repay our time and effort or which are not capable of significant evolution. Thus, at 12:01pm West Coast time on September 4th, I shall be turning Google off and not turning it back on again."
On 3 September, all Google hardware and software products receive a system update that replaces all functionality with a picture of a baby eating a daisy and the slogan: "We gift you new life. Use it wisely. Love, Google."
By common consent, the rest of the month sees every data centre, mobile and fibre network, and personal electronic device decommissioned in what is now known as the Great Sigh Of Relief.
For the first nine months of 2021, Apple follows its expected roadmap of updates to the iOS and macOS platforms, continuing to push out new Apple Silicon products at a steady rate. However, in November and following the Great Sigh Of Relief, the company determines that although universal enlightenment and the end of all conflict are popular developments, "they do not offer enough new market segments and are incompatible with our 22-23 business plan."
Thus, practically overnight, the company exhausts its petty cash, rapidly rolling out a new universal wireless and fibre network, the A-Net, as well as dispatching "30-day free trial" Apple A-Fones to around three billion of the world's wealthier citizens. Simultaneously creating new data centres running A-Whole and A-Face online productivity apps and social networking, it transpires that the company had carefully seeded different models of its A-Fones to create maximum discord between the haves and the have-a-bit-mores, which the company's new infrastructure amplifies and leverages.
The company closes out 2021 with stock price up 43 per cent, complete ownership of seven small European and Asian states, and a controlling vote on the UN Security Council, which it uses to encourage the new rash of small wars and conflicts.