Investors will get a good sense of how the tech industry fared in the last quarter of 2011 this Thursday, when three of the industry's biggest names report quarterly results. Intel , Microsoft and Google all report on Thursday. (Online auction house eBay also reports earnings on Wednesday.) The companies tend to serve as fairly accurate bellwethers for three of the tech industry's biggest segments, all of which are currently experiencing cataclysmic change thanks to the meteoric rise of smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices.
With traditional personal computer sales in decline as consumers opt for portable computers, Intel has made a huge push into the mobile market. The company has been showing off new processors designed specifically for tablets, smartphones and ultra-thin notebooks. While Apple has long dominated the high end of the smartphone and tablet markets, a number of new phones powered by Google's Android operating system software have started to make waves. Intel investors will be looking closely to see whether the company is able to capitalize on this trend by getting its hardware inside those new devices.
Microsoft presents its latest quarterly earnings report at a time when the company is on the verge of launching one of the most important pieces of software in its history. Microsoft is expected to begin releasing versions of Windows 8 late this year. Unlike previous versions of the ubiquitous operating system, this one appears built from the ground up to take advantage of new mobile devices and touchscreens. The familiar “Start Button” layout, which dates back to Windows 95, will be relegated to the background, in favour of an app-friendly user interface that looks a lot more like Apple's iOS or Google's Android.
While investors wait for early signs of how well Windows 8 is likely to do, they'll be looking closely for any data on Windows Phone, Microsoft's software for smartphones, and a good indicator of whether the company, which showed up late to the smartphone market, will be able to catch up.
Google experienced perhaps the most significant user base growth in the smartphone market last year. That's in large part because Android, the operating system software Google has allowed just about any manufacturer to use, has been picked up for use in phones by everyone from Sony to HTC to Motorola. But investors are still waiting to see if Google will be able to monetize that rapid growth. For all the industries and market segments it dabbles in, Google still makes the majority of its revenue from search-based advertising. As such, investors will want to hear any details of what Google plans to do with Motorola Mobility, which the search giant plans to acquire for $12.5-billion (U.S.). Although it's widely believed Google bought the company for its patent portfolio, others have suggested Google could use Motorola to build lower-end smartphones, targeting a segment Apple iPhone doesn't currently dominate.