Technology has advanced so far so quickly that we’ve effectively entered a second wave of advancement. Our economy has been irrevocably altered by the ease and speed of decisions, connections, and deliveries made through a relatively new cyber universe of savvy vendors. Did anyone 10 years ago think that “uber” would be used as a verb (it wasn’t even a noun until the ride-sharing app became a household name)?
The Nasdaq-100 index boasts some of the most technologically innovative companies in the world. Among our index members are some of the companies that have changed the way we look at the world. And they’re not slowing down.
A Look Deeper: Tech Conglomerates
Apple (AAPL) is the most heavily weighted stock in the Nasdaq-100 and with a market value of more than $750 billion it’s not hard to see why. The Cupertino, California-based company revolutionized the way consumers use technology. With its popularization of the iPhone, it made the smart phone an indispensable item for millions of people. And it has also set the template for consumer-facing electronics companies, in that it is always working on the next version.
Two years from now, there will be an iPhone that has features you may only talk about. Its constant reinvention has Apple listed on one of the most innovative companies by numerous publications. Indicative of the company’s ability to dominate an industry is its recent release of the AirPods, wireless ear buds that cost much more than many products on the market. In less than one month after being launched, AirPods accounted for a quarter of all online wireless headphone revenue. Apple’s cycle of reinvention goes back to its origins, when it began making commercially-available computers to compete with existing computers from Altair and later IBM.
The company has no fewer than eight new products slated to become available in 2017. Its offerings include a new version of the Apple Watch as well as new versions of the iPad Pro, the MacBook Pro and an Apple Car (or possible self-driving auto software).
Alphabet (GOOG, GOOGL), the parent company of ubiquitous search engine Google, is a firebrand of innovation. While it could contently sit back and continue to dominate the search engine world and the email (mostly personal, not corporate) world, it has proven to be a giant of innovation in ways that continue to expand.
It released the Pixel smart phone as well as the Duo video chat app along with a voice-activated Google Home product and its messaging app Allo. Allo is the first product to feature Google’s Artificial Intelligence (AI) assistant technology. One of the additional applications of AI involves photo storage. Google developed Rapid and Accurate Image Super Resolution (RAISR) technology that forecasts how a photo can be magnified based on a history of other photos. It is working to bring Internet connectivity to remote parts of the globe with its Project Loon.
This has extended with a foray into space exploration with its Titan, an Internet drone project that has since been folded into Project Loon. Google’s innovation has expanded to the medical field as well. It announced earlier this year that it had partnered with the Gates Foundation and the Gavi Matching Fund to assist startup Nexleaf Analytics strengthen vaccine cold chain equipment for developing countries.
Cisco (CSCO) has experienced tremendous change over the course of its life. It has maneuvered through the changing eras of technology and reinvented itself several times in the process, being one of the first to offer the kind of networking equipment needed to power much of the Internet. It has not stopped its innovative ways and put itself on the forefront of security technology by incorporating security functionality into its branch office routing products.
Cisco took a great step towards integration in the release in 2016 of its Cisco Digital Network Architecture (DNA). The Cisco DNA product enables the deployment and managing of an entire network through a software-based architecture that drives analytics, automation, and security. It also developed a Cloud Defense Orchestrator to manage security via the cloud. This lead on security is very forward-thinking in that it is focused on making security policy management much easier. Ease of use and integrated approach are two of the hallmarks of what security experts cite in what makes for effective policy.
Facebook (FB) came to dominate social media and helped launch a new era of technology-based interaction. As other social media platforms sought to duplicate its success, it hasn’t sat still. Not only does the company constantly update its own flagship platform, it has sought to explore new technologies and remain an innovative power. It recently announced that it would open its first startup incubator in Paris, working on between 10 and 15 new projects every six months. The facility, located in an abandoned train station and named Station X, will help the company make contact with potential acquisitions early on in their life cycle.
Late last year the company began bringing on the first wave of universities as part of a series of innovation partnerships called Sponsored Academic Research Agreements (SARA) to support Facebook’s Building 8 hardware product development group. A total of 17 universities have signed SARA agreements with Facebook: Arizona State University, Caltech, Georgia Tech, Harvard, Johns Hopkins University, Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, MIT, Northeastern, Rice, Stanford, Texas A&M, University of California – Berkeley, University of California - San Francisco, University Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Waterloo (Canada), and Virginia Tech. Facebook’s projects include the development of a solar-powered drone and its own connectivity satellite. It is also working on back-end open rack network infrastructure switch, mobile virtual reality headsets, and a 360-degree camera.
Software designer Intuit (INTU) has products that have come to dominate their fields and are household names for managing complex finances with ease. It has kept in motion and continued to tap technology to make development easier.
The company follows a “Design for Delight” philosophy and embraced broad development and vast experimentation.
It launched an open platform in December 2016 to enable developers work with the nearly 30 million users of its flagship TurboTax Online product, with the aim of driving innovation in financial services. Refusing to stand still despite having dominance in the tax software sector, it announced a host of platform integrations and partnerships that would enable continued growth within its industry. Its software can integrate with Apple Pay, PayPal and Google and automated billing companies such as Bill.com.
Open source is also the way of Micron (MU). Late in 2016 it launched its Xccela Consortium to help advance high- speed, low signal count octal interface bus and ecosystem. The consortium is aimed at semiconductor and electronics companies and it will promote the Xccela Bus interface as an open standard for a new type of digital interconnect and data bus viable for volatile and non-volatile memories as well as other integrated circuits.
It was following up a move earlier in the year when it introduced its Micron Accelerated Solutions product that simplified the path to next-generation all-flash data centers. It was launched along with its Austin, Texas-based Micron Storage Solutions Center (MSSC), a hub for Micron storage innovation. It also announced a new portfolio of solid state drives that leveraged its high-performance NVMe protocol.
Microsoft (MSFT) created an operating system that continues to define personal computer use for most of the world. It is one of the leading companies that helped create our current technological age. It has continued to dominate the world of tech innovation and work to ascertain how people will use technology in the future. The Redmond, Washington-based company recently delved into the 3D space by acquiring Swedish company Simplygon to further accelerate its “3D For Everyone” strategy that it initially introduced with Windows 10 Creators Update.
It made an investment in AI with its purchase of Toronto-based Maluuba, a language comprehension startup that developed a system that comprehends at levels approaching human intelligence. The company’s venture arm, Microsoft Ventures, recently agreed to back Illusive Networks, a cybersecurity firm that uses a deceptive framework to identify and trap hackers. Starting from the proposition that some hackers will find their way through traditional firewalls and other security obstacles, Illusive uses virtual and augmented reality technology to create a decoy version of a company’s network to trap hackers.
And Microsoft announced that in 2017 and 2018 it would be opening three new locations of Microsoft Garage, an internal group of employees dedicated to creating innovative software. The Garage began with a few hundred dedicated employees in 2013 and counts thousands among its ranks today.
Nvidia (NVDA) is among the vanguard of technology companies that lives in the space most frequented by young, tech-savvy users: gaming and mobile devices. It set the standard for computer gaming in 1999 with the release of its Graphics Processing Unit (GPU). It is also a leading pioneer in Artificial Intelligence, making it one of the most forward-thinking companies in the computer space today. It released its DGX-1 Deep Learning System, a piece of hardware known as a “supercomputer in a box” that aims to make AI data more accessible.
It is the latest in the company’s investment in AI and the company’s philosophy is that AI is for everyone. The company has been working to harness AI through an end-to-end AI platform, an AI car platform, and GPUs specifically designed for the “deep learning” that computers must do to use AI effectively. And its dedication to AI hasn’t stopped the company from continuing to improve and innovate on its legacy entertainment systems. The company released a new 2017 version of its 4K HDR Shield TV platform with Google Assistant.
Logic device supplier Xilinx (XLNX) is the first semiconductor company to boast a fabless manufacturing model and powered such industry advancements as cloud computing, 5G wireless, embedded vision and industrial IoT. This past November it launched its Embedded Vision Developer Zone for software, hardware and system developers to ramp up productivity and build all programmable, differentiated Embedded Vision applications. The Zone will be a one-stop shop to help jump start the development of next-generation vision systems.
The company also recently won a deployment with Amazon for FPGA clusters to be made available as pooled resources on cloud-based servers. Also, Xilinx announced that hundreds of its Space Grade FPGAs have been deployed in the launch of the Iridum NEXT satellites. These devices provide scalability and flexibility for new applications and innovations through the satellites’ lifespan.
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