There are thousands of technology companies to watch, invest in and buy products and services from. Not all have stories. But some do, more than others.
Here are five to watch in 2013:
Lenovo Group Ltd. (PINK:LNVGY) of China.
Market capitalization: $9.68 billion
Reason: No. 1 PC maker
When you're No. 1, people have to pay attention, especially because Lenovo this year drove past Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE:HPQ), to seize the crown.
A diversified manufacturer with a base in China, Lenovo was greatly enlarged after acquiring the old IBM Personal Computer Co. from International Business Machines Corp. (NYSE:IBM) in two chunks. The deal left Lenovo with IBM trademarks like “ThinkPad,” as well as certain other relationships.
Now, among the first to market with a tablet that competes well with the iPad from Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), Lenovo has won kudos for it, as well as for its Ultrabook series of laptops with chips from Intel Corp. (NASDAQ:INTC).
Lenovo is expected to make an even bigger push into tablets, TVs and smartphones with the Snapdragon chip developed by Qualcomm Inc. (NASDAQ:QCOM), the most successful U.S. mobile chip designer. That could make it a major force against Apple and Samsung Electronics (KSX:005930).
As well, with IBM, Lenovo may well win huge contracts from Chinese enterprises interested in outfitting whole workforces with its consumer products, while IBM provides professional servers and services.
Qualcomm Inc. (NASDAQ:QCOM)
Market capitalization: $103.6 billion
Reason: challenger to Intel
The San Diego, Calif., semiconductor designer whose chips are in most mobile phones is about to unleash its Snapdragon chips in tablets, phones and TVs, mainly in Asia, as a means of seizing ground in the shift from fixed to mobile computing.
At next month's International Consumer Electronics Show, expect CEO Paul Jacobs to show off dozens of new products, with Lenovo Group as well as other companies. The question will be how Snapdragon does against Intel's Ultrabook, which so far has been far from the charge Intel needed.
Indeed, in the past two months, the market value of Qualcomm has moved to $104.5 billion, about $2 billion above that of Intel, of Santa Clara, Calif. Intel CEO Paul Otellini has decided to retire, leaving the company without a designated successor.
Research in Motion (NASDAQ:RIMM)
Market capitalization: $5.97 billion
The story is familiar: Can the developer of the BlackBerry make a killing with the much-delayed BlackBerry 10, regain profitability, grow its subscriber base above the current 79 million and become the leader in enterprise e-mail once again?
The answers to all these questions is mixed, because new smartphones developed by Samsung and Apple dominate the market and are likely to continue that. But if the BlackBerry 10 is innovative enough, RIM could generate sufficient cash and profit to grow, add more apps and keep business customers happy.
Prospects for RIM right now look a little brighter than for its Finnish rival, Nokia Oyj (NYSE:NOK), which used to dominate the consumer phone market and now has a minuscule share despite throwing a lifeline to Microsoft Corp. (NASDAQ:MSFT).
RIM, in its third quarter, spent heavily on marketing, devised some apps for business users and drummed up positive spin using social marketing by specialist advertising companies. CEO Thorsten Heins, 54, wants to be a success. He'll have about six months to prove it after the unit ships on Jan. 30.
AT&T Inc. (NYSE:T)
Market capitalization: $189.2 billion
Reason: Shift from fixed to mobile computing
The No. 1 U.S. telecommunications carrier may not be beloved, but the Dallas-based company may have the fuel and network to ride the trend from fixed computing to mobile, with big shifts in enterprise traffic.
AT&T is already the king in mobile telephony, with about 107 million subscribers. But it's also serving Fortune 500 companies with advanced data needs, has a network of data centers and fiber-based hubs, as well as international connections.
Significantly, AT&T also inked a deal with IBM in October in which both giants will jointly offer Fortune 1000 enterprises secure services in the cloud, where communications are mushrooming. This deal has enormous potential and has already triggered reactions such as the $2 billion combination of Lightower Fiber Networks and Sidera Networks to battle AT&T in the Northeast.
Market capitalization: $700 million (private)
Reason: The technology IPO of 2013
This startup, already the leader in the Big Data technology called Apache Hadoop, which deals with giant databases and how they are managed and deal with unstructured data, could likely be the technology initial public offering to watch in 2013.
The Palo Alto, Calif.-based company this month raised an additional $65 million in venture capital from top investors including Accel Partners, Greylock Partners, Ignition Partners, In-Q-Tel and Meritech Capital Partners.
That brings the cumulative amount raised to $140 million, with a $700 million valuation on the whole company.
The big players in Big Data such as IBM, AT&T and Oracle Corp. (NASDAQ:ORCL), already use Cloudera software, which is available free. But the question is making money off applications.
Cloudera CEO Mike Olsen sold his last company, Sleepycat Software, the developer of the Berkeley database software, to Oracle. New CFO Jim Frankola had been in the same post at Yodlee, another cloud service company, as well as with Ariba before it was acquired this year by Germany's SAP (NYSE:SAP).
Given the preoccupation with the cloud, Cloudera could be the hottest IPO of next year, provided management learns well from the Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) fiasco. Splunk Inc. (NASDAQ:SPLK), a cloud IPO of 2012, has seen its shares fall 21 percent since its April IPO.
David Zielenziger is a veteran editor and journalist who has written for newspapers including the Baltimore Sun, Asian Wall Street Journal and EETimes, as well as for...