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2014 Forecast: BlackBerry, Microsoft, Fortinet, Apple

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Don DouglasBy Don Douglas

My predictions for the tech world in 2013 were on the money. It almost scares me to pick any M&A or rebound targets this year with the market having run up to a high point, and with the Fed claiming that tightening is coming. Puts me in the nervous camp, but let's go ahead and get started on some predictions for 2014.

Nuance – Is clearly a leader in voice recognition. You would think with the explosion of Siri and other voice-related systems this stock would be on fire. Unfortunately, the company has made a number of blunders and is in the midst of changing their business to a recurring subscription model which will further impact earnings. With a number of activists pressuring the company to get their act together and Icahn buying more shares at depressed prices, I like the risk/reward that the company gets it together or gets taken out.

Rackspace – Is a leader in cloud computing. However, the company has been bashed due to reports of Amazon price cutting, execution errors, missing features, slower growth than many expected and their big bet on the OpenStack ecosystem. Rackspace also has one of the poorest partner programs in the industry which sends droves of opportunities to a number of their competitors. So what’s to like? Long-term, OpenStack has some prospects and the stock got a boost from the recent RedHat announcement of it being a big growth driver. With the stock down well over 50 percent from its high earlier this year, the valuation is much more appealing and there is pressure mounting on management to get it right. I see this company becoming part of a bigger organization in the long run.

Fortinet – Stays on this year’s list as I still think the installed base and valuation is appealing. There’s still too much overlap in this space which makes it ripe for consolidation.

Multi-Fineline Electronix – The company has an X in its name so you know I like it already.  MFLX is another one of these turnaround stocks as it trades below book and has been hammered due to bad news. With much of this linked to Apple and BlackBerry, the company has worked hard to reposition itself for a rebound or possible acquisition. One kicker with Apple poised to launch new products is that they could potentially benefit from any new announcements.

GameStop – Is one stock to sell. Of all stocks in the market today, I’m not sure any scare me as much as GameStop, though it has rebounded like crazy from the XBOX news that they would stop allowing games to be resold. Long-term, games will be distributed digitally. Software is where the margin is, so I just don't see how Game Stop will be able to reinvent itself. It seems they will suffer much the way Blockbuster did, yet the stock is near all-time highs. I hope they prove me wrong as I’ve enjoyed perusing their stores for many years.  

BlackBerry  – I still believe these guys may get taken out or that the company will be split into a couple of pieces. There are some great assets in the company but they need to move quickly.

In general I expect more consolidation in the cloud space.  I am also worried about social media stock valuations as they are once again beginning to concern me.  Twitter, Yelp, Facebook, LinkedIn and others are beginning to look quite expensive as we begin the new year.

Now on to the non-stock specific outlook.

Leather Wallet Goes Away, Almost – After years of battling technologies, it appears Bluetooth has begun to chip away at the payments space. If this happens, we could reach a point where we need to carry little more than a phone. There are a number of winners and losers if this comes to pass. 

Microsoft Mobility – As smart devices are linked to the cloud, they are one of the easiest devices to replace. This actually works to Microsoft's benefit as they eat into Samsung and Apple sales ever so slightly. The big question over the next couple of years is whether Microsoft's enterprise offerings are strong enough to drive sales of their mobility products that offer full integration. This will largely depend on the focus of Microsoft's new CEO.  

Amazon – Finally faces backlash as a number of companies finally wake up to the realization of the great threat Amazon poses to their ongoing survival. The list of companies at risk of extinction or severe retrenchment due to Amazon's competitive positioning is so large that Wall Street is putting up with Bezos' spending and results because the endgame is so huge. This is a fact that Rackspace and the OpenStack movement must capitalize on before it’s too late.

IoT – Becomes more seamless. Connecting all of the wearables and appliances in the world may be cool, but if they require separate apps, charging, maintenance, logins, portals — and the list goes on — they will be more cumbersome than they’re worth. Single collection and coordination of this information becomes critical for many of these technologies to achieve mass adoption. Manufacturers must get this right or risk burnout.

Breaches on Mobile Devices – Become more common, forcing companies into modifying BYOD requirements and enforcing MDM.

Outsourcers and Integrators Disappear – Most of this will be driven by two factors. Companies that haven’t invested enough to compete on their own will be acquired for their customer bases or will go out of business. Companies that are growing, offer unique value adds and are versed in new technologies and business models will be acquired by companies attempting to catch up or solidify their positions.

Encryption – Finally goes mainstream. Let me sum it up in two words: Snowden and China.

Google Glass – Was finally released to a lukewarm reception. I saw someone with a pair on the other day and I can't see someone wearing these on a daily basis. There just isn't a killer app today for the general population as there are too many flaws. Perhaps down the road this will change. Anyone remember the Newton? Sometimes you’re just a little too ahead of your time. I can see vertical usage with the device for mechanics, travelers and other specialized fields.

Smarter Software and Machines Everywhere – IBM now claims they can identify your personality by reading as few as 200 of your tweets. Technologies to analyze every bit of data created are exploding, and we are just seeing the tip of the iceberg.

3D Printing – Creates an entire new economy. Over time, the technology will decimate old business models while generating new ones. People are just figuring out how to use these tools, so ethical implications and the potential for infringement will be high. If you thought theft of online music and movies was a problem, wait ‘til you see how criminals leverage 3-D printing.

Apple – I’ve been wrong on Apple the past couple years so what do I know. I do think Apple still has some tricks up its sleeve. This has to be the year they come with a wearable and/or a TV (or should I say home entertainment system?). Expectations will be incredibly high due to the delayed shipment of these products. Apple has no margin for error—they will have to be measurably better than what is on the market today or they’ll have to define a new category. My guess is that they get at least one of these right.

Disclosure: I am currently long Rackspace.

President and CEO of Liquid Networx, Don Douglas has worked in the technology field for more than 30 years. During his time at the helm of Liquid Networx, the company has grown dramatically, developed channels, brought many new products and services to the market, gained brand recognition and garnered numerous accolades from clients and partners. Douglas is a member of the 2013-14 Channel Partners Advisory Board.

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