It’d be easy to think that this has been a slow year tech-wise, since we’re still decidedly lacking the toys that optimistic science-fiction writers promised like a drunk Santa in a shopping centre. But despite the absence of hoverboards and robot butlers, it’s been a busy year in the tech world. Here’s my rundown of the biggest tech stories to grace RSS feeds this year.
1. Apple vs. Samsung
This year saw the patent war between Apple and Samsung erupt into all-out conflict, with the US courts ordering Samsung to pay a staggering $1 billion in damages for infringing Apple’s patents in several of its products. However, things didn’t end quite so well for JobsCo in the UK, ultimately resulting in Apple being ordered to issue apologies to Samsung…twice.
2. Windows 8, Phone and Surface
Microsoft have also been hard at work this year to make their mark on smartphones, partnering with companies like Nokia to host Windows Phone 8 in their devices, as well as tablets with the release of the Microsoft Surface. Not to mention the radical redesign to its Windows operating system, with a greater focus on touch usability and apps that was lacking in its predecessor.
3. Apple without Jobs
All eyes were on the Cupertino-based company for its first full year without its charismatic founder Steve Jobs at the helm, since his return in 1997. New CEO Tim Cook promised that 2012 would “see a lot more of this kind of innovation” but Apple only updated existing product lines this year. A new version of OS X (Mountain Lion) along with new models of iPhone, iMac and iPad as well as the first 7-inch version, the iPad Mini, are nice but hardly innovative. Don’t worry, we’ll talk about the disastrous iOS 6 Maps debacle shortly.
4. SOPA and PIPA
Ostensibly as a way to fight online piracy, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA) sought power to force search engines and ad-agencies to cut all ties to websites accused of copyright infringement. Various Web 2.0 sites, seeing the threat to their (mostly ad-supported) livelihoods, conducted “blackouts” in protest, during which their services were unavailable. The Bill was ultimately scrapped.
5. Facebook’s IPO
Despite resisting going public for many years, the monolithic social network Facebook finally launched its IPO back in May. Though expectations were high, technical problems on the first day and criticism of over-valuation meant that, in the eight months since, ZuckerCo has failed to surpass its $38/share starting price and, back in September, fell as low as half its initial value, according to Nasdaq data.
6. Amazon Kindle Paperwhite and Fire HD
This year saw the release of Amazon’s first tablet computer, the Kindle Fire, in the UK along with its new HD counterpart. Sporting an Android OS skinned to drive users towards buying content, from which Amazon makes most of its money, its enticingly low-price has sparked the Fire’s hot sales. To advance the eReader lineage, the Paperwhite added a scarcely-needed light to the Kindle’s eInk display, just like a real book!
7. Instagram’s billion
Instagram turned photo-sharing into a social experience in a way that Flickr and Picasa had failed to do: by offering rudimentary filter features to awaken the show-off hipster in all of us. Despite relative infancy and strong ties with Twitter, the photo-focused social network was snapped up by Facebook for a crisp $1 billion back in April.
Labour controversy erupted this year at Foxconn, the Taiwanese company that manufactures many Apple devices as well as the Amazon Kindle and several well-known games consoles. A series of suicides by workers and reports of hazardous working conditions pressured Apple to request an audit by the Fair Labor Association, which found a number of compliance issues including uncompensated overtime and risks to employee health and safety.
9. Twitter Abuse
Between insults hurled at Tom Daley, libellous accusations about Lord McAlpine and offensive jokes on missing schoolgirls, this last year has shown off social media’s ugly side. How social media should be regulated, if it should at all, has been a much-debated issue with everyone from parents to free speech advocates to anti-bullying groups to bloggers weighing in.
10. Raspberry Pi
Amid growing calls to reform the teaching of ICT in UK schools with more technical content, the release of the long-awaited Raspberry Pi seemed like serendipitous timing. Developed by the Raspberry Pi Foundation, the eponymous device is a small computer sporting an ARM processor and running the open-source operating system Linux. Shipping at £22 a slice, the Pi was developed as a cheap and easy way to teach hardware and programming to children.
11. iOS 6 Maps
Apple’s attempt to oust Google Maps as the default maps application on iOS and replace it with their own backfired on them spectacularly. The September release of iOS 6 did away with several previously native Google apps in favour of Apple’s offering, most notably giving Apple Maps dominance. However, Maps came under so much criticism that Tim Cook posted an apology on the Apple website suggesting that people use third-party apps while they fix it.
12. AMD announced ARM chips
AMD announced this year that they would be releasing low-power server chips based on the ARM architecture in 2014. Having been one of the key drivers in the rise of x86 CISC processors, branching out with RISC-based ARM designs seems to be a bid to diversify and make up for ground lost to arch-rival Intel.