In Pictures: Top surprising moments in IT

We look back at the more unusual moves made by IT companies

  • 4. Google launches a social network Why it didn’t make sense: Ignoring the fact that Google is a software company known for its search engine and other practical online tools, it already took a shot at the social network phenomenon with its Orkut service back in 2004. Even though it had a short head start over Facebook and Twitter, Orkut was never able to gain any traction except for in Brazil. Realising this, Google eventually shifted the entire Orkut endeavour to Brazil in 2008, where it is managed since. The failure with Orkut did not seem to dent the software giant’s enthusiasm, as it would go ahead and launch its Google+ social network in 2011. Facebook, Twitter and MySpace had all sprung up from dedicated companies, yet the multitalented Google would now be taking them half a decade later with its Google+ service. The result: The one advantage Google had this time around as opposed to Orkut was the popularity of its Gmail service, which allowed for near instantaneous integration with Google+. Combined with word-of-mouth and media exposure, Google+ has grown to host 500 million registered users. While this is nothing like the one billion users Facebook has, it is the same amount as Twitter and significantly more than the 25 million MySpace has. To Google’s credit, its new social network managed to outperform its first attempt at building an online community, namely Orkut with its 33 million user base. While users have not abandoned Facebook en masse to jump aboard Google+, it still managed to do well for itself considering Google’s lack of heritage or experience in social networking.
  • 3. Apple releases a music player Why it didn’t make sense: Apple started out as a PC vendor that designed and marketed its own of Macintosh PCs. Thus, Computers and software have been the roots of the company for years since. That is, until Apple made the surprise announcement in 2001 that it would be releasing its own digital music player, the iPod. While Apple’s former CEO, Steve Jobs, was a known music aficionado, Apple had not dabbled with digital music technologies such as CD or MiniDisc. It did not need to, as it was a PC company after all. Even though other manufactures were already starting to release storage based music players at the time, Apple thought that it could do it better, and the way they would do it was with its proprietary iTunes software. The result: Apple’s experiment with digital music would not only sell more than 300 million units since its auspicious introduction, but would turn the company from a niche PC vendor into the largest and most profitable corporation in the world. While Apple has strengthened its PC offerings in recent years to make them just as appealing as its other non-PC products, the iPod was such a success for the company that it was its biggest product for more than half a decade. Its reign would only be interrupted by its follow-up products, which would replicate the success of the iPod and grow the company further. While the music industry is loath to admit it, the Apple’s decision to get involved in the music business also ended up saving an industry that was suffering from a shrinking market.
  • 2. Microsoft gets into video games Why it didn’t make sense: Microsoft has been and always will be a PC software company, known for its Windows and Office products, as well as its other consumer and business software. However, it has not stopped Microsoft from dabbling in various markets and businesses, some where it succeeded and others it failed. However, when Microsoft decided to release its Xbox video game console in 2001, it left more than one person scratching their head. After all, Microsoft had never shown any real interest in video gaming on PC, having only released a few forgettable titles (Monster Truck Madness, Fury 3, etc.) and Sidewinder branded control pads. The demise of Sega’s Dreamcast console in the same year did not seem to discourage the software giant, nor did the prospect of competing with industry giants Sony and Nintendo. The result: The Xbox was a moderate success for Microsoft, selling over 24 million units worldwide during its production run. While the console was unable to catch-up to the dominance the PlayStation 2 enjoyed that generation, it did surpass the 21 million units install base of the Nintendo Gamecube, putting it firmly in second place and kicking off Microsoft’s video game ambitions for the years to come. While the Xbox and its successor, the Xbox 360, continue to entertain audiences worldwide, the reality is that Microsoft is seeing very little spoils from the whole endeavour. The heavy investment by Microsoft to establish and maintain the Xbox 360 business meant that it was in the red for many years, and even though it went into the black in recent years, it only forms a small part of the company’s overall revenue.
  • 1. Apple releases a mobile phone Why it didn’t make sense: If Apple releasing the iPod music player in 2001 was not enough of a surprise, the computer vendor took the unprecedented step of releasing its own mobile phone, the iPhone, years later. Ignoring the fact that Apple was a PC company that had no past experience with telephony, the mobile market was already dominated by industry heavyweights such as Nokia, RIM, Motorola and others. These companies also had their entire operation dedicated to the development, manufacture, sale and marketing of phones. Even though Apple had shown some diversity by releasing a music player, the decision to release an Apple branded mobile phone came completely out of left field and did not make sense at the time. The result: Since its introduction in 2007 in the US and in 2008 in the rest of the world, the iPhone has gone on to sell 250 million units. It has also single-handedly kickstarted the “smartphone” revolution, a momement where users are able to do more on their phone than they could in the past, such as browsing the Internet and checking email. While Apple’s move to release a mobile phone was surprising when it was first announced, it was the result of remarkable foresight, as the company was expecting the music player business, where it already dominated with the iPod and iTunes, to eventually converge with the mobile phone business.
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