TechHive is 1 year old! Behold our favorite tech stories of the past 365 days
Saturday marks TechHive’s first anniversary, and it has been quite the year to say the least. From game-changing new products to cringeworthy press events to the resurgence of companies back from the brink of irrelevance, the past 365 days have taken the industry on a roller-coaster ride, and we’ve thoroughly enjoyed every twist, turn, and stomach-dropping plunge.
As we buckle up for another year, each TechHive staffer reflects on the most memorable products, events, and trends of the year gone by.
The amazingness that was Apple Maps
When TechHive was a mere five days old, Apple released iOS 6 to the masses, and with it came the panic-inducing Apple Maps. The platform’s marquee feature, the one with the most hype, was such a colossal failure at launch that I still can’t believe it was supposed to replace Google Maps.
It sucked at the key thing it was designed to do: give people correct directions. It got someone lost in the Australian Outback. And it even said that the TechHive office building was smack dab in the middle of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. It was so bad that Apple CEO Tim Cook put his tail between his legs and issued an apology, which to me signaled the turning of a new leaf in Apple’s book.—Leah Yamshon
Samsung made the horrible decision to ‘put on a show’
Samsung’s Galaxy S4 event in March was worse than the Spider-Man musical. Putting on a production filled with tap-dancing children, overt sexism, and over-the-top theatrics, Samsung made every effort to ensure that audience members would be offended one way or another. The most cringeworthy moment: the gaggle of women who “spontaneously” broke out dancing after one too many drinks.
Important tip for all tech companies: Leave Broadway to the professionals. And when in doubt: Don’t, just don’t.—Armando Rodriguez
Android phone ends a five-year nightmare of iPhone misery
This spring, Samsung’s Galaxy S4 and HTC’s One formed a tag team against Apple, showing the world a raft of features unavailable on the iPhone 5, along with generous, super-high-res displays that don’t make Web surfing and tweeting a painful chore. Because, seriously—4 inches? Apple finally increased its phone’s screen size, and all it could muster in the iPhone 5 was 4 inches? That’s fine for a Fisher-Price phone, but many of us at TechHive prefer adult display dimensions.
While the iPhone 5 sold remarkably well (and was good for a 38 percent year-over-year iPhone sales increase for Apple), the S4 and One captured the imaginations of smartphone nerds, and gave Android hardware a mindshare boost among civilians as well. HTC’s flagship phone even compelled me to end my own rocky five-year relationship with Apple smartphones. Now I can play Candy Crush Saga without needing one of those funky magnification screens from Brazil.—Jon Phillips
What is the deal with all the scumbag startup guys?
Titstare. Circle Shake. Ghetto Tracker. Bryan Goldberg’s Bustle. The Badabing bikini app.
Between Peter Shih doing for satire what Alanis Morissette did for irony, and Pax Dickinson living up to his name on his Twitter feed, startup douchebags emerged as a palpably loathsome presence this year. By the beginning of summer, it was almost impossible to follow industry news without continuously wearing this expression:
Now, not every startup CEO or programmer is an entitled, self-indulgent, thoughtless, malevolent, whiny man child, and some of these people have paid for their mistakes or lost their jobs as a result. But the vocal minority of jerks is doing a great job poisoning the well. Here’s hoping that next year won’t produce a long list of cringeworthy events, but until then: Don’t be a jackass. Don’t let your friends behave like troglodytes online. And if you think you’re in danger of becoming a deplorable tool, then let us echo Hellboy’s excellent advice below.—Amber Bouman
Aereo expands its fight against cable
Aereo has done something ingenious: let you enjoy the free, over-the-air TV broadcasts in your area without the need for an antenna. In the past six months, Aereo expanded coverage to Atlanta, Boston, Miami, and the whole of Utah (with Dallas and Houston launching in the coming days). You pay $8 or $12 a month to lease a tiny, remote antenna and get live TV over the Internet on your computer, iOS device, or set-top box, along with a cloud-based DVR to record shows to boot.
Perhaps the biggest problem for cord-cutters has been missing out on broadcast TV. Aereo solves that—and in the process has the industry scared out of its mind.—Jonathan Seff
Microsoft may have finally ended its ‘Lost Decade’
Nothing has been more interesting to watch this year than the complete shake-up of Microsoft. This is a company that has, over the past decade, lost nearly all cachet with anyone on the forward edge of tech (or anyone under 30). It’s also a company that saddles its hot new products with ancient and irrelevant brands like Windows, Office, Outlook, and for the love of God, Internet Explorer. To anyone born after 1980, the only worthwhile Microsoft brand is Xbox.
There was a time when people stood in huge lines to buy Windows 95, which even came with an awesome Weezer video on the disc.
Watching Microsoft fail and flounder its way to relevance over the past year has been like watching someone stumble around in a dark basement looking for the light switch. Redmond is shuffling executives and building whole new top-down org charts, and Ballmer is finally taking early retirement (no doubt spurred by several costly failed acquisitions and the disastrous sales of the company’s mediocre yet overpriced Surface tablets). Did we just hear the light click on?—Jason Cross
So your app is worth $1 billion—now what?
Facebook started the trend last spring, shelling out $1 billion for the beloved photo-sharing app Instagram. Since TechHive launched, several popular apps had huge paydays when tech titans came calling. Yahoo bought Tumblr for $1.1 billion, Google bought Waze for $1.3 billion, and several other apps went from struggling startups to card-carrying members of the Millionaires’ Club in an instant.
But when your app sells for $1 billion, you have to justify that price tag. Instagram, Tumblr, and Waze are not moneymaking ventures. But they will be. They have to be. These apps are the last remaining puzzle pieces that the dominant Internet companies need to transition from the desktop to the smartphone, and to capture the huge pot of money at the end of the mobile-ad rainbow.
Yes, there will be ads. Apps that began as underground sensations gathering cred by word of mouth will face the ultimate existential struggle: the necessity of becoming corporate shills without alienating all of the users that made them worth $1 billion in the first place.—Caitlin McGarry
John Legere and the rise of the profane CEO
One year ago, John Legere took the helm of the nation’s fourth largest national wireless carrier, T-Mobile. And much to TechHive’s approval, the oft-quotable and fantastically retweetable Legere has made the nationwide wireless-network wars about as entertaining as competition between national wireless networks can be.
Not only has Legere shaken up the traditional consumer-carrier relationship with the subsidy-free “Uncarrier” plans and the trade-up friendly Jump program, but he also did it while donning a magenta T-shirt and peppering his press appearances with just the right amount of profanity. How very #refreshing.—Evan Dashevsky
The ‘virtual cable company’ comes of age
The Emmy Awards began accepting nominations for shows produced by Web video companies in 2008, and five years later a streaming-only show is almost a shoo-in to win an award. Netflix shows got 14 Emmy nods this year, led by the political drama House of Cards (starring Kevin Spacey).
For years, services such as Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, and Hulu have been at the mercy of the video rights holders (think Disney, Viacom) for content. But now they’re buying their own shows from the same production companies that have traditionally sold shows to broadcast and cable networks.
As the bidding wars between the likes of Netflix and Amazon heated up this year, the price of content has gone up, putting the squeeze on cable and satellite companies to secure next year’s hot shows (without going bankrupt).
Original content has cost Netflix a lot—it paid a cool $100 million for House of Cards sight unseen—but that investment may pay off in the long run. The company said its streaming subscriber ranks swelled by 3 million to 36 million total, around the time House of Cards debuted in February (Comcast has no more than 22 million total subscribers).—Mark Sullivan
Six seconds of video is kind of a big deal
At first blush, 6 seconds’ worth of video doesn’t seem like a whole lot to work with, but as Vine’s users have shown, you can fit a lot into just a few seconds. Like a podcast. A comedy act. And more cat memes than you can handle.
Vine appeared to be a fad at first, but similar to its sibling social network Twitter, it seems like it will last. It also has company, now that Instagram does video too. What next? A social network that gives you 6 seconds to draw something? Stick figures ahoy!—Nick Mediati
Google fixes fragmentation—sort of
Google took a different approach to software updates in the past year—and Android may be better because of it. Instead of releasing an entirely new version of its mobile operating system, Google announced a number of new and updated features that would be pushed through to all Android phones, regardless of the make and model.
The idea is that by updating only apps and integral parts of the operating system that everyone uses, Google doesn’t have to seek approval from carriers and manufacturers. The tactic became Google’s answer to the fragmentation issues that have plagued the OS for ages now, and it meant that even your old phone would jibe with the new Google Hangouts, née Gtalk.
I’m just hoping that Google doesn’t veer off that path even after Kit Kat makes its big debut.—Florence Ion
Look, Ma, I made a car app
In early August, five adults crammed into a Ford Focus Electric. A Ford engineer held an Android tablet, connected to a doohickey with a digital readout that the driver had soldered into being that morning. When the driver turned the steering wheel, its angle appeared on the tablet, and then on the doohickey. Ooh. Ahh.
That was my first experience with programming an app to talk with your car. And I wanted more. As cars gain connectivity and communication tools, they’re mind-melding with smartphones, tablets, and the larger world. It’s a new age of car tech, and it’ll be fun to watch.—Melissa Riofrio
The news may come as a surprise to people who spent years writing off Flickr’s free photography services, not to mention its struggling parent company, Yahoo. But it’s true: Flickr has survived, and this year’s updates to its nearly moribund iPhone app and its photo-sharing website are vivid and slick. Surprisingly, despite the app’s lack of seriously innovative features, Flickr heard few complaints about either the updated iPhone version or the new Android app.
The website had no such luck, weathering a steaming heap of abuse from photographers who LIKED IT THE OLD WAY. That’s despite a sparkling new look that replaced the shopworn, counterintuitive old interface.
More baffling was the angry response to 1TB of free storage—that’s one terabyte, people. What’s wrong with that, even with the ads, especially considering that Pro users could retain their $25-a-year subscriptions with unlimited storage and more, for the same price, ad-free? It’s so easy to take yes for an answer.—Jackie Dove
iOS grows up and redecorates at last
I was lucky enough to be in the room on January 9, 2007, when Steve Jobs pulled the original iPhone out on the stage of the Moscone Convention Center and changed the mobile phone industry forever. In the six years between then and now, the phone hardware became more slick and sophisticated, while the OS barely changed its look and feel—until this year.
Apple unwrapped iOS 7—its redesigned, rebuilt, totally reimagined mobile OS—at the WWDC keynote in June, and will finally ship it next week. In fact, just a few days ago, Apple even dropped the bomb that iOS 7 is built on a 64-bit kernel, a fancy bit of future-proofing that takes advantage of the A7 processor in the new iPhone 5s, the first 64-bit smartphone on the market.
But even if you don’t care how many bits are under the hood, you can’t deny that the new eye-catching flat aesthetic, the slimmer typography, the nifty parallax effect, and the cornea-searing colors are new and different. Although Android still has the edge in a few areas—Google Now eats Siri’s lunch, for starters—I’m excited that Cupertino finally decided that iOS should look as fresh and bold as the iPhones themselves.—Susie Ochs
For comprehensive coverage of the Android ecosystem, visit Greenbot.com.