2013 was quite an interesting year in tech, whether you like it or not. Let’s take a look back, shall we?
Consoles officially entered the next generation, watches got smarter, phones got bigger and curvier, tech companies are rising/falling/getting bought, the US government’s digital spies got outed, iOS got a candy shell, and…well…let’s just break it down, shall we?
Here’s some of the biggest tech news (both the tops and the flops) from 2013, but not in any particular order, because choosing the best bit of tech news is like choosing your favorite child. Just because they’re your favorite kid doesn’t mean other people have to like ’em too, y’know?
Microsoft Buys Nokia’s Phone Division
In an acquisition that surprised few, Microsoft showered the Finnish company, making it rain to the tune of $7.2 billion. With Nokia being the biggest name in Windows Phones (they have over 80% of the WP market), and also recently releasing their own flavor of a Windows RT tablet in the Lumia 2520, it seems a natural move. It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out, not just in phones and tablets, but design and elsewhere. Here’s a thought: what if their next move is an Xbox portable? (If it’s not true, oh well, but if it is…you heard it here first, folks!)
Twitter Goes Public, Facebook Goes Home
In two generally unrelated pieces of news, the two social media giants made some big moves in 2013. Twitter’s IPO opened on the New York Stock Exchange at $45.10, nearly twice the $26 that the company had initially set as their opening price. The stock has been equalizing slowly, so many experts recommend investors wait until the beginning of the 2014 fiscal year before throwing your hard earned cash at the little blue bird.
As for Facebook, their big move was in ‘Facebook Home’, a user interface layer (aka ‘wrapper’) built for Android smartphones to make the phones geared more toward people than apps. As far as many of the tech pundits are concerned, Home is a big dud. They continue to make improvements to the Home UI, perhaps tuning things up so when the still rumored ‘Facebook Phone’ finally drops, it’ll be an experience worth writing home about.
It’s All On The Wrist… And Your Face
Wearable tech has been hot this year. From smartwatches to virtual and augmented reality glasses, it’s starting to look like the future that we’ve been imagining in comics, movies, and TV since the 60s is finally here.
The biggest of wearable trend of 2013 was the smartwatch: Samsung’s Galaxy Gear, Pebble Technology’s Pebble, and Sony’s SmartWatch are just some of the contenders this year, each taking a totally different shot at what makes a smartwatch a smartwatch. The general agreement seems to be that they should be an extension of our smartphones. While I think this is a great start, I can see smartwatches eventually being a replacement for the phones they’re assisting. With smartphones getting bigger, and tablets getting smaller, it’s only a matter of time before that crossover is complete, and we’ll all have our contact lists on our wrists.
But what about our faces? Depends on where you are. If you’re out and about, something like the Google Glass may be on the menu. If you’re out adventuring, vlogging your life with your Glass, you can be indoors, fragging fools while wearing your Oculus Rift. Well, technically not yet, unless you’ve gotten your paws on a development kit. The Rift is this generation’s virtual reality headset, but not [totally] as bulky and goofy looking. John Carmack, co-founder of Id Software was so impressed that it left Id to become Oculus’ Chief Technology Officer. If one of the guys who helped bring 3D FPS games to the forefront of gaming thinks it’s worthwhile, there may very well be something to it.
I Made This!
It’s been a year of DIY tech. 3D printing is working its way to the mainstream as companies try to make consumer friendly (read: cheaper) home 3D printers. Cheaper, sadly, doesn’t mean affordable. Most entry level 3D printers start at around $1,000, except for MakerBot’s low resolution Printrbot Simple, which goes for $300 (Toss an extra Benjamin into the pot if you want it shipped whole, instead of the ‘build it yourself’ kit). Admittedly, there’s a great temptation in being able to build your own thingiebobs from just a rendering program and a machine full of plastic goo, but you have to really want to get into it or have ideas that will turn a profit. Even though 3D printed objects are turning heads, the high entry fee will have a lot of them turning right back around.
Home DIYers aren’t the only ones who got to build stuff this year, though: Motorola started their Moto Maker program, which allows users to create customized Moto X phones. The selection available isn’t amazing, but there’s definitely something special about the fact that each Moto X built through the Maker website is hand assembled at a factory in Fort Worth, Texas. I think a precedent has been set: People love to customize their gear, and now that they can, they’ll want more.
More? Yes, more. Motorola doesn’t want you to just be able to choose the shell of your phone. Working in tandem with the team at Phonebloks, Motorola’s Project Ara will bring a fully customizable modular phone to fruition. Need a new camera? Pop the old one off, put on a new one. Need more battery power? Install a larger one. Don’t want GPS? Don’t put the GPS block on the phone. Conceptually, it’s an amazing idea. Besides, doesn’t the idea of having, basically, a LEGO phone sound fantastic?
Rise of the Phablets
You know what was really big this year? Phones. And by big, I mean really big. There are phones that are about an inch shy of being a tablet: The Samsung Galaxy Mega is available in two sizes: ‘whoa’ [5.8 inch screen] and ‘daaamn’ [6.3″ screen]. Sammy also has the Note 3 [5.7″ screen] and the Galaxy Round [South Korea only, also 5.7″ screen]. The Round is basically like a Note 3, but curved and has a less sensitive screen, and no pen. There’s also the Sony Xperia Z Ultra, the HTC One Max, and Nokia even got into the phablet game with the Lumia 1320 and 1520. As our consumption of mobile media grows, so do our phones.
I’ll be blunt: I hate this trend. I personally can’t understand why the phones are getting so large, because if you really want that big of a screen, why don’t you just get a tablet? At this point, you can’t even fit your phone in your pocket anymore. It just seems silly. However, ASUS made an interesting move in what seems more like the right direction with this: The PadFone. It’s a 4.3″ phone that can be inserted into the back of a 10.1″ tablet shell. The phone is the tablet. I’d actually love to try one of those out. But phablets? Eh, I’ll pass.
Amazon Brings the Fire Again
The Kindle made the eReader big. Now it’s bigger, better, and faster than ever. The Kindle Fire HDX was released to much fanfare, adding yet more features to an already hardy product. It’s still running on a heavily customized version of Android, but there’s very little left that notifies you of that fact. Amazon has made the device it’s own distinct creature, and does everything in its power to keep you shopping at Amazon, be it eBooks, music, video, or… pretty much anything that Amazon carries, which these days is nearly everything. What makes the HDX truly a stand out device is ‘Mayday’, which allows you to summon forth the powers of a live Amazon Customer Service rep to assist you with whatever you need. Think of it as a virtual concierge service, in a way. Amazon doesn’t want to give you any reason to shop elsewhere, and Kindle HDX is doing a bang up job of that.
Golden Candy Apples and Sour Blackberries
Apple was an interesting situation this year. They did a lot of things, but honestly few of them were all that innovative (in my personal opinion). They released two new iPhone series this year. The 5C, a candy shelled ‘budget’ version, and the 5S, a luxurious looking phone with a handful of pretty cool features. The most talked about feature of the 5S is the fingerprint reader built into the home button, used for locking the phone and secure password storage. Also introduced along with these new devices was iOS 7, which gave complete visual makeover to the whole interface. iOS 7 has a glossy, yet flat, candy look to it. Many are praising the minimalist look of it, but I see a curvier version of what I’ve been using on my Windows Phone since about two years ago. Also, the bright colours and soft edges make it look a lot like a toy, especially if you pair it with the 5C. I can’t but feel that since the passing of Steve Jobs, Apple has been spinning in a downward spiral, and are now failing to innovate.
Speaking of downward spirals…
I’m one of many who is flabbergasted that Blackberry still exists, both as a company, and as a product. It’s not to say that the company is in it’s death throes, but it’s not looking good for BlackBerry Limited [once known as Rhythm in Motion]. They’ve been trying to refresh the Blackberry to make it fresh and more current, yet that couldn’t prevent an over $60 billion loss this year, as well as a massive layoff of over 4,000 employees. The situation is so dire that in August that they’re accepting purchase offers… The trouble is, nobody’s buying. Perhaps this little berry has finally been juiced.
Spy vs. Spied and Healthcare for None
Of all the tech news of this year, the two most talked about have been Edward Snowden’s leak of NSAs PRISM network and the failure of Healthcare.org’s signups [aka the Obamacare website]. PRISM is, in short, the proof that the US government is heavily monitoring a large amount of activity on the Internet. In other words, Big Brother is watching. As the saying goes, “even the paranoid are sometimes right.” It is a bit disturbing that our own government thinks we need to be watched so closely. I’ll let you each draw your own conclusions on this one.
As for the Obamacare website, it was a full fledged debacle. When the website was opened to the public, a series of bugs and enormously high web traffic knocked the website offline, leaving hundreds of thousands of people unable to sign up for healthcare. Even though the screw up happened over a month ago, they’re still scrambling to make the site fully functional. Last time I tried to sign up, myself, I couldn’t complete a darn thing. Hopefully they can patch things up completely before the new year starts, and people start losing their current coverage.
Welcome to the Next Generation, Gamers [With apologies to the Wii U]
For me, the biggest tech news of all was our true move into the next generation of gaming. Yes, technically we entered into the next gen last year, when the Wii U came out but let’s be honest: Nintendo is catering to a different crowd than the high-end consoles that Sony and Microsoft released just last month. Graphically, both consoles are amazing: The in game graphics look better than even the pre-rendered cutscenes in any 360 or PS3 game. There’s also the other features: Kinect 2.0, video sharing, DualShock 4’s touchpad, and a ton of other amazing functions. This generation isn’t just about the beauty of high definition. It’s about sharing, community, and bringing everyone together, no matter where in the world they may be. As games go, I haven’t seen any titles that say I must own one of these two new consoles, at least not until next year. In time, I’m sure that one or both of them will likely grace my entertainment room!
But big consoles aren’t the only ones hitting living rooms this year. The new big little thing is microconsoles. OUYA, GameStick, and a number of other systems are appearing, basically built to bring Android gaming to the TV. It’s interesting, to be sure, but it’s a little hard to be excited about consoles that are basically made to play cell phone and tablet games on my television. I hope that changes, even though that is the story for the moment. OUYA has managed to swing some exclusives, but whether or not they’re worth buying the system to play remains to be seen. I was cautiously optimistic when microconsoles first started coming around, but now I’m just cautious. Maybe the tides will turn, but many think they’ll pull OUYA out to sea like a riptide.
All that said, the oddest video game unit I’ve seen all year is the Nintendo 2DS, a system that takes two of the biggest selling features of the 3DS (Stereoscopic 3D and a clamshell hinge) and removes them. I’m assuming they’re aiming for small children who don’t care about looks, and shouldn’t be viewing Stereoscopic 3D anyway… Because the 2DS is one ugly little portable. It doesn’t look as bad as, say, the N-Gage (Remember ‘Taco Talking’?)… nevertheless, it definitely won’t be winning any beauty contests. I understand some of the logic behind it, but it’s hands down the second strangest and probably unwarranted Nintendo portable ever, next to the Game Boy Micro.
I can’t choose a favorite when it comes to new tech this year, so I ask you, dear readers: What was your favorite new piece of tech this year?
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