Each year technology gives us fresh opportunities to question, enquire, judge, reason and wonder upon. Why did the world’s largest electronics manufacturer resort to one of the biggest tech product recalls in the history of the world? Who changed the game in India’s telecom sector? When did we start chatting with robots? Or having conversations with our phones? How did a wildly popular video sharing service suddenly go out of business? Or a game become a movement? Is your favourite microblogging website up for sale? What happened to the legendary headphones jack? 2016 was a year that gave us answers to these and many such burning questions. It’s December and as this highly eventful year in technology comes to a close, we reflect back on the top tech newsmakers of 2016. Here’s a recap.
The Samsung Galaxy Note 7 explosion
You couldn’t have missed it! After this year, the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 will forever go down in the history books as the explosive smartphone that costed Samsung billions of dollars in financial losses, resulted in multiple class action lawsuits against the South Korean manufacturer, burnt a car, caused injuries to hundreds of people, got banned from airplanes worldwide, boosted profits for the competing iPhone 7 and then finally died an early death, thanks to one of the largest such recalls in all of tech history. Samsung’s hit and miss with the Galaxy Note 7 has to be the biggest newsmaker of 2016. Want to know all the details? Click here to read everything there is to know about the Galaxy Note 7 fiasco.
Reliance Jio & its free voice and data offers
“India’s digital mother tongue will be IP, Jio’s IP.” With that statement, RIL Chairman and MD, Mukesh Ambani made a spate of announcements that took not only India, but the world’s telecom industry by surprise. The firebrand telecom entrant announced free unlimited voice calls for life along with free 1GB data per day, and as the cliché goes, the rest is history! Giving incumbent telecom operators such as Airtel, Idea, Vodafone a run for their money, Jio fought a long drawn battle for fair competition, a war on mobile number portability and then some. The deal crazy Indian lined up outside Jio stores, resorting to bribing and blackmailing, just to get that coveted SIM card. Now, a few million call drops later, Jio continues its journey to the top thanks to a regulatory nod for its free-calling services and an extended free data offer. Will it be a Happy New Year for Jio? Let’s wait and watch.
The Pokemon Go fever
Back in the more innocent times when ‘Snake’ was the one and only mobile game with cult following, who would have thought that a single game could become a global phenomenon; surpassing the likes of Tinder and Twitter in popularity. Viral Pokemon chasing resulted in a player being robbed at gunpoint, a couple abandoning their child, a man falling down a cliff, an attempted murder, an actual murder, multiple thefts, car accidents and of course many craned necks. While the world enjoyed and suffered this sensational game, developer Niantic gained over $400 million in net revenue and more than $440 million in gross revenues from Google Play Store and App Store. Now though, the Pokemon craze seems to be subsiding. The game didn’t even launch here in India, and the trend is already dying. Are you still trying to catch that Pikachu?
Goodbye Nexus, Hello Pixel
A phone by Google, a Google phone, the first smartphone made by Google; call it what you will. 2016 will forever be known as the year when the much awaited Pixel and Pixel XL smartphones were introduced by search giant Google. The smartphones gave us an in-built artificial intelligence-powered assistant, one of the best cameras on a phone and a permanent break from the Nexus brand name. Many called this move Apple-esque, as the two phones compared both in specs and pricing with the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus. Nonetheless, Mountain View is plush with profits from the new devices. Google's Pixel and Pixel XL are reportedly enjoying better adoption than last year's Nexus 6P. Morgan Stanley projects that the phones will bring in revenues close to $4 billion for the company by 2017. Looks like a win-win for Google.
Apple Vs FBI
You couldn't have gone through 2016 without uttering the words ‘Apple’ and ‘FBI’ in the same sentence. The famous battle for user privacy is probably Apple’s boldest stand against a governmental agency. CEO Tim Cook stood by his word when he refused to let the Federal Bureau of Investigation hack into an a terrorist-owned iPhone. FBI fought the iPhone maker tooth and nail, accepting defeat in the end and resorting to another unofficial hack into the device.
The rise of mobile wallets
Mobile wallets for cashless transactions are nothing new, but they have recently gained a whole new fanbase here at home, thanks to the government's demonitisation drive. As the Rs. 500 and Rs. 1000 currency notes went out of circulation, mobile wallets in India came to the rescue. Services like Paytm allow users to do anything from paying utility bills to booking air tickets without the need of coughing up any cash. PayTM, Mobikwik and Freecharge, three of the best known mobile wallets in India, reported big growth in transactions and interest from consumers. According to Mobikwik, the company witnessed a 40% increase in app downloads, in less than 18 hours after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement. PayTM also reported a 200% hike in the number of app downloads, and 250% growth in overall transactions and transaction values. At least someone’s seeing green.
The death of Windows smartphones was inevitable given the declining popularity of the mobile platform. It finally happened in September 2016. According to a report by WinBeta, a Microsoft employee has said that the company is planning to "end sales" of Lumia phones in December 2016. The report is not clear on what the person meant by saying “end sales,” but it is being speculated that Microsoft will stop production of the range in December. Further, the report also notes that Microsoft has been cutting prices and offering discounts on its range of smartphones, possibly in an attempt to sell its remaining stock. All of Microsoft’s actions point towards a confirmation of this news since the Redmond based software company has not launched a new phone in the Lumia series since the Lumia 650. Furthermore, the company has also stopped selling its fitness bands. The Band 2 was abruptly taken off the Microsoft store, even though its listing page still exists.
Facebook Live videos open to all
What was once a feature only available to public personalities, celebrities and verified publications, Facebook Live finally opened its doors to all FB users in 2016. The giant shift from photo sharing to videos was always inevitable and Facebook Live took it to the next level, giving anyone and everyone the feeling of being a television personality. Content providers had a party with a new revenue stream and everyone from celebrities to political figures took to the platform for an undiscovered audience. We now hear that Facebook is also planning to work in artificial intelligence into FB Live to flag off offensive content. However, Facebook Live has only been one of the many big steps taken by the social media giant this year. The company’s Aquila drone also completed its first flight this year and bots took over Facebook Messenger. More on that in a bit.
Letting go of the headphones Jack
Buddy, you are terribly missed. Everything good must come to an end and with that, many smartphone makers sounded the death knell for the legendary 3.5mm headphones jack. The seeds of our dear friend’s extinction were sown by Apple way back in 2014, when the company hinted at the lightning earphones for the first time. In the market, Chinese mobile maker Le Eco was the first to introduce headphone jack-less smartphones, the Le Eco Le 2 and the Le Max 2, followed by the Moto Z and Z Play and then the iPhone 7. You have to admit it’s pretty frustrating when someone hands you an aux cable in a car and you don't have the appropriate adapter handy that very moment.
Deal with it!
It is true that a wireless carrier will now own the rights to your favourite DC superheroes. US telecom major AT&T bought Time Warner Inc for $85.4 billion. The deal has made the phone company, the biggest media and communications entity in the world! The deal buzz does not end here. Yahoo also found a buyer in telecom company Verizon. Looks like telecom companies are swallowing up tech & media entities in the US. Will the trend move east?
A year full of hacks
2016 was not such a bright spot as far as cyber security is concerned. The year saw multiple large-scale hacks come to light. Q2 2016 has seen a whopping 129% year-on-year increase in DDoS attacks and two of the biggest DDoS attacks in history have happened this year. In fact, in one of the largest DDoS attacks ever, cyber criminals bombarded renowned security blogger Brian Krebs’ website - Kerbsonsecurity.com, with a massive 665 gigabits per second of traffic! Even bigger was the October DDoS attack on Dyn, making important internet services unavailable to parts of Europe and North America. An army of Mirai Botnets have also been responsible for attacks that threaten the very foundation of the internet. All said and done, 2016 has been a pretty rough year for the cyber space. Will respite come in 2017? Hope remains dim.
Netflix offline playback
When we asked Netflix about their offline playback plans earlier this year, we heard an emphatic “No” from the streaming service that expanded base to 130 countries in 2016. Now, the company seems to have take a U turn for the best. Netflix now allows offline playback through downloads; something the world had been waiting for quite sometime. However, it should be noted that the feature is only available for the mobile platform. This is the first time the company is offering such services and should be a great help in a country like India where broadband and LTE speeds may not be fast enough to support high quality streaming.
iPhone 7 launch
Not a year goes by without sheer mania over a new iPhone. In 2016, the iPhone 7 made its way to consumers and they seem to be pretty happy with the device. However the debonaire iPhone failed to dazzle the tech world, with Apple’s very safe and risk-free approach to upgrades. The phone scores high on its camera skills, but lacks the innovation and feature additions that would warrant an immediate purchase. Not to mention the lack of a headphone jack and Apple’s inability to launch the much anticipated AirPods till now.
Who’s the best virtual assistant?
This year, the Google Assistant seems to have taken the cake (and eaten it too) when it comes to virtual assistants. The Google Assistant is probably the most intuitive of them all (considering Siri and Cortana) and aces at natural language processing. It comes built into the Google Pixel and Pixel XL smartphones, but if you want a taste of what Assistant can do for you, check out the Google Allo Messenger app which also integrates the AI helper. On the other hand, Siri added a few feathers to its hat. Apple’s AI assistant is now a tad more intelligent and has found a home in the company’s entire lineup of devices; including the MacBook, Apple TV and iMac. What’s more? Well, there’s a new assistant making its way to town. Called Viv, the virtual assistant has been designed by the creators of Siri. What makes Viv super intelligence is a dramatic new development in computer science called Dynamic Program Generation (DPG). This means that Viv can write complicated programs on the go, as compared to existing personal assistants which use specific formats built into them. Word is that Samsung has agreed to acquire Viv.
Twitter goes on sale
No, the microblogging giant isn’t selling sarcastic one-liners, the entire platform is up for sale. Twitter has been consistently losing its appeal, thanks to the ballooning popularity of competing social media platforms like Snapchat and Instagram. So yes, Twitter has been looking for buyers but apparently no one wants to make a bid. The likes of Google, Disney, Salesforce and Facebook have reportedly declined to bid for Twitter, which was expecting to close the acquisition by the end of October.
Bots are here to stay
'Bot' is a term that’s increasingly being used by tech giants like Microsoft and Facebook to advertise their recent foray into text-based virtual assistant. Microsoft kickstarted the bot frenzy this year at their annual Build conference where the company announced an entire bot framework. These conversational Bots are meant to help users interact with a service or a business through text based chats, diminishing the need for firing up an app and going through a lengthy procedure to place an order of service. Similar to Microsoft & Slack, Facebook also recently announced its own Bot venture at the company's annual F8 developer conference. Dropping the mic in the crowd of startups and other tech companies working with Bots, Facebook announced that developers will now be able to build and integrate Bots into Facebook’s hugely popular Messenger service.
Death of Vine
Twitter killed its hugely popular video loop service Vine in a shocking move that left users utterly disappointed. The plan was to shut down the website but keep user access open as a memorial to the platform, but looks like Twitter may be looking to sell Vine instead of shutting it down completely. TechCrunch reports that the company might be hunting for “multiple” bidders for Vine and rumour has it that messaging service Line might be interested. It is unlikely that the sale of Vine will save Twitter’s tumbling fortunes, but it may just be good news for users of the service.
Modular smartphones make a mark
2016 saw the launch of the much awaited modular smartphone. LG inaugurated the trend with the LG G5, launched at the Mobile World Congress 2016. The LG G5 was praised for being one of the most innovative smartphones of 2016, but it isn't the best. As per our review, the modular design needs more thought, and the battery life should have been better. Although it should be noted that the phone is amongst the fastest in the market, and can boast a great camera. The second batch of modular phones of 2016 came in the form of the Moto Z and the Moto Z Play with Moto Mods to sweeten the deal. With interchangeable backs that transform the phone in a snap, you can turn the Moto Z and Z Play into a movie projector, a boombox, a zoom camera and much more.
Android Nougat finally has a name
Unfortunately, Nankhatai and Neyappam were not Google’s choice for naming Android 7.0. After months of speculation, Google finally announced a name for Android N. Nougat was a crowdsourced name which was finally revealed by Google in July this year. Now, Android 7.1.1, the latest software from the search giant is finally being rolled out to other devices. The initial list of devices getting the update include the Nexus 6p, Nexus 5X, Nexus 6, Nexus 9, Nexus Player, Pixel C and Android One-based General Mobile 4G.
GTX 1080 and RX 480
PC graphics saw a big leap in performance this year, thanks to the ultra powerful NVIDIA Pascal architecture. Pascal enabled the GeForce GTX 1080 GPU to not only stomp on all previous fps records, but bring true capabilities of VR headsets like Oculus and Vive to life. Pascal was also a big step in how GPUs are made, as NVIDIA finally moved away from the 28nm architecture and with the 1080 the company announced its move to the 16nm architecture. Soon after, AMD launched its Polaris architecture based RX 480 GPU, which is a sub-$200 GPU promising VR capabilities.
2016 was a big year for driverless cars. The most recent development in the autonomous vehicle space is Apple’s admission of plans to enter the industry. Ride sharing giant Uber also took its self driving car for a test run in Pittsburgh. In fact, Google, Ford and Uber along with Volvo and Lyft have formed a coalition to help speed up the introduction of self-driving cars to the market by pushing for federal action. In addition, Elon Musk’s Tesla announced that it will be introducing self-driving autopilot in all of its models. Will 2017 finally see driverless cars on the roads? Let’s wait and find out.