The last full week of December was short on earnings reports, but featured a slate of key, and at times surprising, announcements. Tech giants Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL), Samsung (NASDAQOTH:SSNLF), and Sony (NYSE:SNE) dominated the news.
Google finishes its first self-driving car
Google's interest in autonomous cars has attracted attention for years, but nothing substantive has emerged. Some have even begun to doubt whether the search giant's dreams of self-driving cars would ever come to fruition.
But on Monday, Google announced that it had finished its first prototype. The vehicle it unveiled looks similar to the one showcased in May, but is a fully functional car. Google plans to test drive the vehicle on the streets of Northern California sometime in 2015.
It's difficult to say whether Google's self-driving car technology will ever impact the search giant's bottom line, and even if it does, to what extent. Still, this is an exciting technology, one that holds almost incalculable potential. In the near term, Google investors will be affected more by cost-per click numbers than self-driving cars, but the long-term benefits could be incredible.
Sony releases The Interview online
Sony Pictures, the Japanese electronic giant's film studio, has faced a steady stream of bad publicity in the wake of a hacking scandal. Seemingly sparked by comedy film The Interview, hackers targeted the studio and leaked thousands of its internal documents earlier this month.
Initially scheduled to launch on Christmas Day in theaters nationwide, Sony pulled the movie following the attack, but changed its mind earlier this week. In addition to releasing the film to theaters that will accept it, Sony has gone to consumers directly, offering the film over the Internet via YouTube, Google Play, and Xbox Video.
While this is an extraordinary situation, the wave of coverage the attack generated could ultimately benefit the movie and Sony, though the leaked data -- including planned projects and emails full of insulting comments aimed at industry veterans -- could cause untold harm.
Samsung closes London store
Likely fueled by its efforts to better compete with Apple in the smartphone arena, Samsung had undertaken an aggressive retail push in recent years. In the U.S., this took the form of Samsung-branded Experience Shops within larger Best Buy outlets, but internationally it centered around stand-alone Samsung locations.
In the U.K., Samsung opened 10 shops, including a flagship store in London's Westfield Stratford City center. That location, however, has been closed, according to The Verge.
Although this is only one store, it was Samsung's largest in the U.K., and now it serves as a symbolic representation of the South Korean tech giant's declining fortunes. The company's smartphones sales have stalled as rising competition from Apple and Chinese smartphone manufacturers have eaten into Samsung's bottom line.
Apple gives up
In contrast, Apple continues to see record demand for its smartphones. Its latest flagship, the iPhone 6, has already set sales records. Perhaps given the continued success of its smartphone business, or because of a different management philosophy under CEO Tim Cook, Apple seems to have given up on its multiyear patent war against Android.
The Rockstar Consortium -- a group of tech companies led by Apple -- sold its patent portfolio for $900 million this week. The consortium was formed four years ago to purchase the patents of Nortel, a now-defunct Canadian telecom giant. With those patents as ammunition, Rockstar sued a number of Android handset manufacturers, notably Samsung.
But the lawsuits never produced much of significance, and with the sale of Nortel's patents, Steve Jobs' holy war appears to be over.