What did you do in 2016? if you took an Uber, talked to Alexa, chatted to a bot and caught them all, then you are fully in line with Tim Green’s choice of top 16 stories for 2016. Yes, next year we will do 17…
2016 was the year mobile exploded. Literally, in the case of the Samsung Note7. There were some notable debuts – Pixel, AirPods, Oculus, Facebook Live. And some notable departures – Vine, Lumia.
The irresistible combo of smartphone, app and ubiquitous connectivity pushed Uber and Netflix to unimaginable heights, while multiple hacks reminded us of how vulnerable the ecosystem can be.
But MEF’s top story of the year has to be Pokemon Go. It dominated the summer and single-handedly took augmented reality into the mainstream. Here are our top 16 for 2016…
16. AirPods are ear
As a companion announcement to the audio jack controversy, Apple revealed its wireless AirPod earphones. The AirPods comprises two separate pieces (one for each ear) and cost about $160. They were not well-loved, and Apple received more criticism when it delayed launch till the very end of 2016.
One intriguing theory around the AirPods is that they are more than just fancy headphones. Instead, they are the start of Apple’s voice-centred future beyond the smartphone…
15. RIP Lumia, hello Nokia phone?
Nokia’s decision in 2011 to go with Windows Phone could have been a masterstroke. History shows it wasn’t. The Lumia devices were good; users liked them. But Android and iOS were just too far ahead to make an impression.
And so, in 2016, Microsoft finally pulled the plug on the Lumia brand. It looks like no more will be made. Will there be a Surface phone instead? Possibly. But there will certainly be a Nokia revival. HMD, the company that owns the Nokia rights, announced that it will launch Android handsets in Q1.
14. Snapchat Spectacles
In 2016, Snapchat couldn’t do anything wrong. In May it emerged that Snap had raised another $1.8 billion in funding to take its valuation to $20 billion. Reports suggested the company was aiming to break $1 billion in annual revenue by 2017.
Then it launched its own eyewear: Snapchat Spectacles. When Google did this with Glass, everyone laughed. But people loved Spectacles, which are just for filming video. Nothing more. And they look funky.
But the final masterstroke was the way Snap sold them. Instead of going for blanket retail distribution as expected, it launched them in pop-up kiosks which added to the elusive desirability.
13. Facebook wins short-form video
The year began with Meerkat and Periscope battling it out to prevail in the short video streaming space. It ended with Facebook flattening them both. Facebook Live became a huge deal very fast. It was so simple to add to news feeds, and was swiftly used for silliness and real-time reporting.
12. Vine is dead. Long live Vine.
It was hard to believe Twitter closed Vine in 2016. The six-second video format was so popular for a while it even had its own stars. However, it when the endorsements started to dry up, the stars defected. Mostly to Instagram.
The video service was a casualty of Twitter’s decision to streamline and to lay of off nine per cent of its workforce. But then the company revealed it would semi-revive the format as the pared down Vine Camera…
11. Apple ramps up carrier billing
In late 2015, Apple surprised everyone by launching carrier billing in Germany. Typically, it did so quietly and without revealing its partners. In 2016, Apple went for it. By the end of the year, it was offering charge to mobile in Germany, Japan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Switzerland, Taiwan, Belgium, Norway and the United Arab Emirates.
10. VR is here (for the second time)
Vistors to Mobile World Congress queued for miles to try out the new VR devices. Weeks later, the whole world got its chances as Facebook’s Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and Sony PlayStation VR all made their official debuts.
This was VR’s second coming (after its mid-90s debut). It was supposed to go mainstream, but didn’t. For the moment, it’s still a gaming thing. This may change as headsets get smaller and new use cases emerge.
9. The world gets an Uber
2016 was the year that Uber became a synonym for taxi. In most developed economies nearly everyone was ’getting an Uber’, as the convenience and affordability of its rides became known to the mass market.
The fact that Uber could become a kind of public transport provider for the whole world fuelled an unprecedented $3.5 billion funding round and valued the company at $60 billion. Self-driving cars next.
8. The world Netflix and chills
What an amazing year for Netflix. Like Uber with cabs, it became a kind of global TV station – proving what is possible when you combine smartphones, ubiquitous connectivity and a nice user interface. Netflix made a huge global push in January, launching in 130 new countries – in one go.
7. No way back for the headphone jack
Lots of things have changed at Apple since Steve Jobs died. One of the least remarked upon is how many leaks there are now. In the run-up to Apple’s big September showcase, the rumours said the new iPhone would come without an audio jack. The rumours were right.
Apple said its removal would keep the device slimmer, and that the lightning replacement would deliver better quality. It also said it was ‘courageous’. The move didn’t go down too well. Though Apple has a history of removing slots that eventually become redundant (floppy, CD etc), this was seen as premature.
6. Marai: hacked webcams take down the Internet
Hacks were a big feature of 2016 – not least in politics. But for tech types, the big one was the Mirai botnet, which brought down sites like Netflix and eBay. Mirai did its worst by breaking into insecure IoT devices like webcams and DVRs and using them for massive DDoS attacks. One overwhelmed the internet back end firm Dyn, which temporarily disabled all those big sites.
5. Google gets serious about hardware
Google has been making Nexus phones for years (outsourcing them to be precise). But these devices were always showcases for ‘pure’ Android, and never backed with a major push.
That changed with Pixel, the first smartphone made by Google. Pixel was a premium build top-of-the-range phone with a powerful camera and AI-powered assistant. Google is advertising the heck out of it.
It was unexpected. Google doesn’t do hardware. And why would it want to compete with the partners that have made Android such a smash? Well, Morgan Stanley says the phones could gross $4 billion for Google by 2017. Maybe that explains it.
4. The explosive Samsung Galaxy Note7
People laughed when Samsung made a ‘phablet’. Who needs a bizarre device that’s not a tablet or a phone? But the Note was a big success and was eventually even copied by Apple.
Then came the Note7. It got great reviews. Then disaster. The batteries began exploding – even the replacements issued by Samsung – until all products were recalled.
3. Virtual assistants – the post-smartphone future?
When Amazon first unveiled Echo in late 2014, tech types were confused. What was the point of this voice-controlled cylindrical speaker? Wouldn’t people be embarrassed to use it?
Well, it turns out people love it. Amazon has sold more that 5 million in two years. And what’s interesting thing is that while Amazon may have built Echo to get people to order more Amazon stuff, it may also have pointed the way to the post-phone future.
Echo is the only device to trump the phone (in the home at least), and its success has certainly inspired Google to up its commitment to voice assistance (it even launched a copycat device, Google Home). Apple and Microsoft have also ramped up activities around Siri and Cortana too.
2. Bots beckon
After DOS came the GUI. After GUI came the browser. After the browser came apps. After apps? Could it be bots? We’ll soon find out. 2016 saw bots move into the mainstream.
Facebook opened up Messenger to these text-based assistants, meaning that people could ‘talk’ to a brand bot as if it were a human. No need to open apps or web pages any more. The whole thing was a little overhyped (though 30,000 FM bots launched in two months). But that doesn’t mean bots can’t still make a big difference in the long term.
1. Pokemon Go catches them all
Augmented reality is a wondrous tech for anyone lucky enough to see it. Till 2016, it’s only real crossover use was in SnapChat’s filters. But then came Pokemon Go.
The mobile game from Niantic/Nintendo took over the world in the summer. 50 million played it, leading to headlines of people wandering into the sea and over cliffs as they searched out creatures to evolve. The game was said to have made over $600 million from in-app sales.