2013: Six Tech/Media Stories to Watch

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Yuri Gripas / REUTERS

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (L).

In 2013, most tech consumers will be asking if it’s smart to buy a new computer, smartphone, or tablet device. As the structural shift from desktop to mobile computing races forward, hardware and software manufacturers are searching for an integrated solution. Apple and Google lead the pack on the software front — even as their surrogates engage in costly and time-consuming patent litigation around the world. Samsung (a key Google partner) is the global handset leader. Apple makes the best-designed consumer devices in the world.

Here are six tech/media predictions for 2013.

Google Will Settle Antitrust Probe With the Feds — It’s time for this nearly two-year investigation to end. As I wrote three months ago, the federal government’s probe of Internet search giant Google will most likely conclude with a settlement that averts a major lawsuit. The Federal Trade Commission has been exploring whether Google has used its search power — 70% market share — to harm rival companies unfairly.

Google has offered a set of voluntary concessions addressing complaints about its search practices. But after European officials said that they were preparing even harsher sanctions for Google, the FTC punted the probe into this year (2013). If Google and the feds reach a deal, it would represent a huge victory for Google, and a major defeat for the companies that have accused it of acting unfairly.

(MOREWill Google Escape a Federal Antitrust Lawsuit Over Web Search?)

Patent Progress Continues — Isn’t it just about time for the patent wars to end? Consumers want to see tech giants Apple, Google, and Samsung compete in the marketplace fair-and-square, not bicker in courtrooms around the world. The real winners of the patent wars are the $1,000-per-hour lawyers who represent these global behemoths around the world. For the first time, Apple and Google spent more last year on intellectual property than research and development. That’s not a good sign.

Apple’s $1 billion victory over Google’s key Android partner Samsung in August was the most decisive victory in Apple’s patent proxy war against Google. Is patent peace possible? It’s worth noting that neither Apple CEO Tim Cook nor Google CEO Larry Page was CEO when the original iPhone-Android patent war kicked-off. The late Apple co-founder and CEO Steve Jobs felt former Google CEO Eric Schmidt (currently Google’s executive chairman) stabbed him in the back. Now that Cook and Page — both of whom are known to posses cooler heads than Jobs — are in charge, perhaps a rapprochement is possible.

(MOREPatent Peace: Apple’s Tim Cook, Google’s Larry Page in CEO Talks)

Maker Movement Takes Flight — One of the most interesting stories from 2012 was the real emergence of the so-called “Maker” movement. The term “Maker” refers to a new category of builders who are using 3D printers and other tools to bring manufacturing out of the factory and onto home desktop computers worldwide. “Until recently, the ability to manufacture was reserved for those who owned factories,” 3D Robotics CEO and former Wired magazine editor-in-chief Chris Anderson told me in a recent interview. “What’s happened over the last five years is that we’ve brought the Web’s democratizing power to manufacturing. Today, you can manufacture with the push of a button.”

Anderson says this new technology has “democratized the means of production,” making it possible for anyone to be a “maker.” In the interview, he compared the current moment to the early 1980s, just before Apple released the Macintosh, which made desktop computing available beyond the early tech-geek community, to the regular consumer.

(MOREHow the ‘Maker’ Movement Plans to Transform the U.S. Economy)

Taxi-hailing Apps Hit the Accelerator — If you live in a big city like New York, you know it can be tough to find transportation, especially during peak times and in the outer boroughs of the city. A group of fiercely competitive startups including Uber and Hailo are currenty jockeying for position to make this market more efficient. New York City regulators have approved a pilot project to test the viability of smartphone-based taxi cab hailing

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg wants to cement his legacy as one of New York City’s greatest mayors and a tech champion of the city. The Taxi and Limousine Commission voted 7-0 in favor of the one-year pilot project, with two abstentions. The test-run begins on February 15.

(MOREHey New Yorkers, Are You Ready to Hail a Taxi With Your iPhone?)

Murdoch Gets Serious About Sports — When Rupert Murdoch, the octogenarian boss in charge of giant media conglomerate News Corp., decides that televised sports are important, guess what happens? News Corp. forges ahead into the lucrative television sports market.

In November, News Corp. announced a blockbuster deal to buy 49% of the Yankees Entertainment and Sports (YES) Network, the country’s most valuable regional sports network. That deal helps bolster News Corp.’s strategic position as it lays the groundwork for a new national Fox sports network to compete with cable sports leader ESPN.

(MOREWhat News Corp.’s Breakup Means for the Future of Murdoch’s Media Empire)

Bloomberg Goes Old-School, Buys FT — It’s pretty clear that the Financial Times, the salmon-hued print newspaper aimed at the C-suite set, is on the block. The FT, which is owned by London-based publishing and education giant Pearson, is a must-read on Wall Street and throughout the business world. Billionaire media mogul Murdoch coveted the FT for many years, but ultimately purchased the Wall Street Journal.

Last month, the New York Times reported that New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is “weighing the wisdom” of buying the Financial Times Group, which includes the newspaper, its website, a 50% stake in the Economist magazine and several high-end financial-information services. Mayor Bloomberg, founder of the giant media company that bears his name, is apparently a big fan of the Economist and reportedly reads the FT every day. According to reports, Bloomberg and his aides carry a thick stack of print newspapers throughout the day.

(MOREShould NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg Buy the Financial Times?)