Every year brings unforeseen events, both good and bad, across all business sectors. As the rate of technology development becomes more rapid, so too do the events that come to define the year in review. Nowhere was this more apparent than in the case of AI poster child Sam Altman, co-founder of OpenAI, who was ousted from the company, only to be reinstated days later as the industry caught its breath amid the intrigue coming out of Silicon Valley.

Intrigue also extended to the year’s losers, not least collapsed crypto trading platform FTX’s founder Sam Bankman-Fried, who faces the prospect of at least 20 years in jail on charges of fraud. The subsequent arrest, in November, of Binance CEO Changpeng Zhao on criminal charges further eroded investor confidence in the crypto market – which many view as one of 2023’s biggest technology losers.

Other, ostensibly losers in 2023, were those technology themes and trends at the tail-end of a hype cycle. Among these were quantum computing and another year of 5G failing to deliver on its promises. While the promised business benefits of a metaverse strategy did not materialise for most businesses in 2023, some analysts still maintain the metaverse cannot be characterised as a failure in the context of a 30-year vision.

Despite the losers, 2023 was a year of exponentially increasing innovation, during which AI became the most talked about technology trend. A bifurcation of approaches between AI doomsters and optimists has created an uneasy outlook for the year ahead and set the scene for further skirmishes like the OpenAI drama between the two factions – all this while businesses evaluate how to integrate AI in 2024.

Verdict looked at some of the people, companies and technology themes that excelled in 2023.

Microsoft

The year 2023 will go down as a good one for the US software giant. Following the ousting and reinstatement of Altman by OpenAI’s board, Microsoft emerged with a board seat (albeit non-voting) and a mandate to oversee AI development at OpenAI. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella demonstrated a masterful feat of leadership in protecting Microsoft’s interests during the OpenAI coup and securing the company’s global position within AI development.

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By GlobalData

The move reinforced Microsoft’s role as a leader in the GenAI space for team collaboration/hybrid work and gives it a hand in the ground-up development of the technology. The company’s unified approach to its AI capabilities saw it rebrand key products under its new AI Copilot brand, including Copilot for Microsoft 365, which was launched on 1 November.

Microsoft also saw the end of a long-standing battle with regulators as its acquisition of gaming company Activision Blizzard finally crossed the line with both the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority and the US Department of Justice.

Sam Altman

ChatGPT became the fastest-growing app in history with more than 180 million subscribers by November 2023, just a year after its launch. OpenAI with Sam Altman at the helm had a good year. For the 48 hours or so that Altman was ousted from OpenAI, the company’s future looked uncertain as Microsoft’s loyalty clearly lay with Altman – demonstrating that the CEO/founder had become indispensable to the company he led and the true driving force for future AI development.

Generative AI

While the release of OpenAI’s ChatGPT in November 2022 arguably marked the starting blocks for the widespread adoption of GenAI, 2023 was truly the year of AI. According to GlobalData thematic intelligence’s TMT 2024 Predictions, the total AI market will be worth $908.7bn by 2030. In particular, the rapid adoption of GenAI throughout 2023 is set to continue and impact every industry sector. According to GlobalData forecasts, the GenAI market will grow from $1.8bn in 2022 to $33bn by 2027, implying a spectacular compound annual growth rate of 80% during this period. Of the five advanced AI technologies, GlobalData cites GenAI as the fastest growing, accounting for 10.2% of the overall AI market by 2027.

On-device AI

On-device AI is the ability of devices to perform tasks on a device without relying on cloud-based services. GenAI models draw on cloud-based data, which is costly and limited. As AI gets more popular in the mainstream, moving AI to edge devices will result in significant cost savings for companies developing GenAI products.

Samsung and the rise of the foldable phone

Samsung has captured the lead in the foldable phone market in 2023, but competition grew across regions. Phones with folding displays continue to whet consumer appetites in a stagnating smartphone market, according to GlobalData senior analyst Anisha Bhatia. In the US, Samsung was challenged by not only Motorola’s existing Razr series of foldables but also Google’s Pixel Fold and the OnePlus Open. Competition grew in Europe and Asia as well with OEMs like Xiaomi, Vivo and Oppo all launching their own folding phones.

Device repair – a win for ESG

In June, global non-profit telecom industry organisation, the GSMA, along with 12 leading global operators, agreed new device reuse and recycling goals aimed at creating a circular economy of mobile devices. Right-to-repair legislation was enacted in Minnesota in August, joining Colorado, Massachusetts and New York, with many more state capitols evaluating such legislation in a big win for ESG (environmental, social and governance). The legislation requires manufacturers to provide parts, tools and instructions on equipment repair to independent repair shops and consumers. Samsung and Apple expanded their self-repair programmes for smartphones and laptops to European countries as well as the US.

Companies need to be proactive in demonstrating sustainability, according to Bhatia. “They [companies] need to educate customers on the financial benefits of sustainable products. Companies also need to make phone repairs more affordable, which will bring in a higher repair volume and, subsequently, revenues,” she says.

Open sourcing telco APIs

As the telecom industry struggles to monetise its traditionally vertical business model and fully transform for the digital age, API (application programming interface)-driven operating and business models for more scalable, automated and flexible service provisioning are creating growth opportunities. Telco open APIs represent a milestone in monetising 5G by allowing network capability access to developers. By 2030, GlobalData predicts that the traditional telco model will be almost entirely dismantled, replaced by more horizontal business ecosystem communities.

The GSMA’s Open Gateway initiative involves 21 leading international operators signed up to work together alongside hyperscaler heavyweights Amazon and Microsoft to build a framework for universal open APIs into carrier networks, providing developers with access to network functions tied to location, identity verification, billing and edge computing resources, among other operations.

An open API framework will enable participating operators, developers, cloud providers and other players to work more effectively together in cooperative service development, deployment, management and support, according to GlobalData principal analyst Emma Mohr-McClune.