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Business trends that could have an impact on life in 2023

December 29, 2022

Some important business stories went underreported in 2022 because of general turmoil, big elections, spiraling prices and pandemic fatigue. Here is a look at a few that you may have missed that could have big futures.

Different charging options for handheld devices: Micro-USB, USB-C und Apple Lightning
Same but different. A single USB-C charger should make things easier for consumersImage: Jens Büttner/dpa-Zentralbild/picture alliance

Going from one crisis to another has taken a toll on people over the past year. News comes so fast and furious that it is hard to keep track. Here are a few stories you might have missed that may have an outsize impact on how we dress, charge our phones, travel and trade goods in the future.

The European Union settles on USB-C charger

In October, the European Parliament passed a law demanding that all smartphones, tablets, e-readers, earbuds, headphones and cameras must be USB Type-C port compatible starting in 2024. For laptops the law comes into effect in 2026. That means one charger for all devices. The days of drawers full of different chargers and converters could be over.

After efforts failed to convince industry to come up with its own measures, the EU took things into their own hands. The European Commission says a single charger will save customers around €250 million ($265 million) by allowing consumers to reuse them. Buyers will be able to choose whether to buy a new device with or without a charger, cutting down on e-waste.

Apple has the most to do to achieve this standard — and has complained the loudest. But in the end, Apple customers will likely want to be up to date and could go on a buying spree. Others worry that wireless charging is taking over anyhow. Will the EU's 450 million consumers be enough to convince manufacturers to introduce USB-C in other places or will companies have different charging systems based on location? 

Airbus A380 heads for the exit … or not

Too big. Too hard to fill with passengers. Too expensive to fuel. The Airbus A380, the biggest passenger jet in service, was all those things. Certified to carry just over 850 passengers in an all-economy version, a typical layout including first and business class could carry 525 passengers. It overwhelmed airports and airlines.

An Airbus A380 flies past the San Francisco Bay Area October 2007
Bigger is not always better when it comes to flying, or is it?Image: John G. Mabanglo/epa/dpa/picture-alliance

Emirates was the biggest backer of the program and purchased nearly half the 251 jets ever sold. Other big airlines bought a few each. Sales were slow. Some airlines phased out the jets early. Then COVID-19 travel restrictions came and shut down global travel. Other airlines retired or phased out the jets. With a disaster on its hands, Airbus decided to stop A380 production at the end of 2021 and close the program.

A few months before that Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr swore that his A380s were grounded and never going to fly again, a point he drove home as recently as April. But how quickly things can change. Passenger numbers are up and Boeing is behind in delivering its important 777 jets.

To keep up with travel demand A380s are being revived. According to tracker Flightradar24, seven different airlines are currently flying their A380s. In total 129 are hitting the airways and more are coming. Lufthansa is in the process of bringing 4-5 of its superjumbos out of deep storage and making them airworthy. It is a rebirth that no one thought possible just a few months ago. Never say never.

Birkenstock in the starting gate to go luxury

The clunky cork and leather sandals made by Birkenstock are comfortable, but are they fashionable? Well, French conglomerate LVMH thought so and bought a controlling interest in the family-owned company in 2021. And LVMH should know luxury. They own Louis Vuitton, Bulgari and Dior.

A pair of Steve Jobs' Birkenstock sandals at Julien's Auctions
Shabby chic or the ultimate fashion accessory? Image: AP Photo/picture alliance

So far, no big changes have happened, and in many places you can still buy the mass-produced footwear at health food shops. A few TikTokers have pushed certain pairs, but the company has not appointed a star designer or started its usual glossy marketing campaigns to make the sandals a must-have item. 

If you still like the old worn-out brown leather sandals — with or without socks — then never fear. They are still available. In fact, an old pair worn by Apple founder Steve Jobs (see photo above) recently sold at auction for over $218,000 (€205,000). Expect price hikes for new models, but not that much. If you want to be at the forefront of fashion you may need to keep your eyes on the ground. 

The Theranos verdict is more than it seems

Elizabeth Holmes was a Silicon Valley superstar. Magazine covers, interviews, an invitation to the White House. And all because her company, Theranos, allegedly came up with technology and a small machine that could perform more than 1,000 different diagnostic tests using a single drop of blood, instead of the vials currently needed. It seemed like a miracle revolution. Investors poured in $945 million. At one point the company had a book value of $9 billion.

But no such device existed. The company was exposed and collapsed in 2018 taking all the money with it. In early 2022 Holmes was found guilty of four counts of fraud and later sentenced to 11 years in prison. In a separate trial, one-time company COO Ramesh Balwani was found guilty of 12 counts of fraud.

Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes in a courtroom sketch during her fraud trial
When it comes to Silicon Valley startups, not all publicity is necessarily good publicityImage: Vicki Behringer/REUTERS

So, what's the big deal? The big deal is how companies sell themselves. It was a rare case of a tech executive being found guilty of fraud — and it sent a clear message across the industry: Optimism, hype or exaggeration may be common for entrepreneurs, but be careful what you promise investors.

In October, Trevor Milton, the founder of the electric truck maker Nikola, was also convicted of fraud. And now FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried is under multiple investigations after the collapse of his cryptocurrency exchange. On December 12, he was arrested after the US Justice Department charged him with fraud, money-laundering and breaking campaign-finance laws. This increased focus on bosses may keep them more honest, investors' money safer and consumers a litter better protected. Don't promise the moon unless you have something that looks a lot like the moon. 

A major free trade breakthrough

After years of discussion, the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement is making steady progress toward ratification. Known simply as CETA, the free trade agreement between Canada and the EU removes nearly all trade tariffs. Proponents point to tax savings, stronger intellectual property rights, the recognition of professional skills and the ease of moving staff between Canada and the EU.

The Canadians signed on the dotted line in 2016. The European Parliament in 2017. Since then, many parts of the agreement have applied.

But for it to fully come into force, each EU member state needs to approve the measure individually. Germany, with its fear of poor-quality chlorinated food, was a major holdout. In December they put their stamp on it, bringing it one step closer to reality. Perhaps this will convince some neighbors to do the same and let goods and services flow more freely and bring prosperity to the region.

Edited by: Uwe Hessler

Timothy Rooks
Timothy Rooks One of DW's team of business reporters, Timothy Rooks is based in Berlin.