2012: The Tech Year in Review

Posted by: Brett

The year 2012 has come to an end. Smartphones and tablets have never advanced more quickly than they have over the past year and companies have built the best products in their history. So what exactly made 2012 so special? Keep reading for a review of what went down in 2012.

Google

Starting off with Android, Google unveiled two new versions of their mobile OS this year; 4.1 and 4.2. Although not major, both updates, codenamed Jelly Bean, brought some much needed and welcomed improvements. To recap, Android 4.1, announced at Google I/O, brought Project Butter, which greatly improved OS performance, in addition to new features like automatic widget and icon reorganizing on the home screen, offline keyboard dictation, and Google Now, allowing for more advanced voice search capabilities and location-based services. The revolutionary new Google Glass was also previewed at Google I/O.

Despite cancelling their press event due to Hurricane Sandy, Google announced Android 4.2 in October. The update brought a quick settings panel, Daydream mode, Swype-like functionality for the keyboard, elaborate panorama camera features, and multi-user support on tablets. Android 4.1, which was announced in June, has only recently begun trickling out to users not on stock Android devices such as the HTC One X, Galaxy SIII, and Note II, while Android 4.2 is currently only available on devices running stock Android.

Google also had a big year when it came to hardware. At Google I/O in June, Google announced their first tablet of their own in the Nexus 7, built by ASUS. The Nexus 7 is Google’s 7-inch tablet with a quad-core Tegra 3 processor, 1GB of RAM, and Android 4.2 (originally launched / announced with 4.1). It launched at a very compelling pricepoint of 8GB for $199 and 16GB for $250, although in October, Google got rid of the 8GB model. The 16GB model was given the $199 pricepoint while a new 32GB model was put at the $250 pricepoint. You can also now get the Nexus 7 with 3G capabilities. In June, Google also announced the Nexus Q which was meant to stream media to your speakers or displays and can be controlled by your Android device. The spherical device was given to attendees of Google I/O, but Google later retracted from selling it so as to make it better.

In October, Google also announced the Nexus 10, a 10-inch tablet manufactured by Samsung. The tablet has a 10-inch display with a massive resolution of 2560 x 1600 and a ppi of around 300, giving it the highest resolution display on a tablet. It also has a dual-core ARM Cortex A15 processor, a 5 megapixel camera, and Android 4.2. Finally, they announced the successor to the Galaxy Nexus – the Nexus 4 by LG. The device was leaked in its entirety weeks prior to its announcement and a near-final hardware build was reviewed by a technology site. The device has a 4.7-inch display, an 8 megapixel camera, Android 4.2, and is power by the Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro quad-core processor. The lack of LTE left something to be desired. Both the Nexus 4 and Nexus 10 proved to be popular as they went out of stock almost immediately after each time Google got new stock in.

Finally, Google, earlier in the year, announced the rebranding of their services. “Google Play” replaced the Android Market and allowed users to rent and purchase books, TV shows, movies, magazines, music, and download apps as usual. The Nexus 7, Nexus 10, Nexus Q, and Nexus 4 were and are all centered around the cloud services offered by Google.

Apple

Apple’s year started with their education event where they announced iBooks 2 and iBooks Author which allowed publishers to create textbooks for the iPad, and an app for iTunes U, allowing access to iTunes U content. Apple later held an event in March where they announced the new iPad with Retina display, 4G LTE, the A5X processor with quad-core graphics, and a 5-megapixel camera. They also introduced a new Apple TV which plays back 1080p content and is run by the A5 chip, as well as iOS 5.1 which included support for Siri in Japanese.

Mac OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion was unveiled by Apple via their website in February and a preview for the update was released to developers. The update brought a whole slew of features to Mac which could be found on iOS, such as Notification Center, Game Center, Reminders, Twitter and Facebook integration, Messages, and more. iCloud is also deeply integrated into Mountain Lion. Apple held their WWDC 2012 event in June where they discussed Mountain Lion more deeply and showed off Power Nap, a new Safari browser, and Dictation. They priced the update at $20 and later released the update in late July following their earnings call.

Apple also previewed iOS 6 at WWDC 2012. iOS 6 is the sixth version of Apple’s mobile operating system which runs on iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. The update brought new features such as sports integration in Siri as well Siri on the iPad 3, Facebook integration throughout the OS, Photo Stream, the controversial new Maps application, and Passbook as a part of the over 200 new features. Following Apple releasing the update on September 19th, the new Maps application, which ousted Google as the data provider, was put under fire for its poor satellite imagery, landmark placing, and sub-par directions (depending on your location). The application even made headlines for leading users in the wrong direction, requiring the help of the police. CEO Tim Cook later released an apology to iOS users saying “we are extremely sorry for the frustration this has caused our customers and we are doing everything we can to make Maps better”. Following the apology, the App Store was updated with a new section devoted to highly-rated Maps apps which could be used as alternatives. Google released an official Google Maps application this month and it quickly rose to be the number one free app. WWDC also included announcements of new Macs, including a new MacBook Air, and Pro with Ivy Bridge, and a 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display that has a resolution of 2880 x 1800.

In the months leading up to WWDC and in the months after, rumors and leaks of a new iPhone were running rampant, despite Tim Cook saying the company would be “doubling down on secrecy”. The iPhone 5 was leaked in its entirety before its launch in September. The entire enclosure, display, logic board, camera module, Lightning connector cord and port, as well as the home button of the iPhone 5 leaked in images weeks and months before the launch. The device came as almost no surprise when Apple officially detailed it in September. The iPhone 5 featured a larger 4-inch Retina display, an all new A6 chip, 4G LTE connectivity, the new Lightning port, a refreshed enclosure measuring in at 7.6mm thin, and an 8 megapixel camera.

While Apple was announcing the iPhone 5, rumors of a smaller iPad with a sub-8-inch display gained more traction. In October, mockups were made based on information from reliable sources showing a smaller iPad with thin side bezels and a Lightning port. Apple eventually held an event in late October where they announced the iPad mini which has a 7.9 inch display with the same resolution as the iPad 2, an A5 chip, FaceTime HD camera, 5 megapixel back camera, and the Lightning port. Apple unexpectedly announced the fourth-generation iPad which has the Lightning port, FaceTime HD camera, improved LTE support, and the A6X chip.

In addition to the iPad, the rest of the Mac line, excluding the Mac Pro, was refreshed. Both new iMac models were slimmed down to a razor thin 5mm at their thinnest point, the latest Intel chips and NVIDIA graphics, and the new Fusion Drive, which combines an SSSD and an HDD, as an optional add-on. The 13-inch MacBook Pro also gained a Retina display, and the new Mac mini received the latest Intel chips and more storage options. When the new iMacs started shipping to consumers, some units we engraved with “Assembled in USA”, rather than in China. In an interview with Brian Williams on Rock Center earlier this month, Apple CEO Tim Cook stated Apple would be moving the manufacturing of an existing Mac line to the USA, but neglected to say which model. Once believed to be the Mac Pro, Digitimes reports the Mac mini will instead be manufactured in the States by Foxconn.

In Tim Cook’s first full year of being CEO, Apples stock rocketed to an all-time high of $700 just before the iPhone 5 launch, but has since dropped to around $500, supposedly because of analysts fearing Apple cannot continue their success, despite the refusal of customers to stop buying their new products. Apple was also able to settle two patent disputes; one with Samsung and one with HTC. Apple defeated Samsung in court, winning just over $1 billion and with HTC, they entered into a 10-year licensing deal. They also made some executive changes in which they ousted Scott Forstall and John Browett, in addition to the head of the iOS 6 Maps application. You read about those two shakeups here and here.

Microsoft

Microsoft had one of the biggest years in their history and it started with Windows 8. The 8th version of Windows PC operating system was all over the place this past year. Despite being officially announced at CES 2011, it was discussed most often in 2012 due to being released in October. Windows took over a whole new look by adopting the “Modern” user interface, previously known as Metro, first seen on the Windows Phone, and frustratingly did away of things like the Start button and Start menu we were all use to. While we don’t yet know exactly how good or bad the OS is doing sales- and adoption-wise, PC manufacturers don’t seem to optimistic about it.

In addition to Windows 8, Microsoft also unveiled their first tablet called the Microsoft Surface. Windows 8 seems to be geared more towards touch and that’s likely the reason why Microsoft opted to manufacture a tablet. Launched in late October, the Surface has a 10.6-inch display, an NVIDIA Tegra 3 chip which has a quad-core ARM Cortex A9 CPU, 2GB of RAM, two 720p cameras, and Windows RT. The tablet also has a kickstand built in to the back of it and you can purchase a Touch Cover or Type Cover, one being a touch keyboard and the other being physical buttons. Coming soon is a Surface with Windows 8 Pro which is going to be almost double the price of the Surface RT. It offers 64GB of storage and 128GB of storage, and Intel Core processor, and 4GB of RAM. Both tablets have USB and HDMI ports and microSD card slots. Some reviews show the Surface RT to have hit or miss performance with lag and stuttering at times despite Windows 8 being optimized for touch. The company itself even experienced a freeze-up on the Surface during its event for it, causing them to pull a back-up Surface out from behind a table to continue the demo. Microsoft hasn’t released any sales numbers yet, but early reports seem to foreshadow dismal sales and the fact that both the OS and its accompanying hardware are off to a slow start.

Microsoft also launched Windows Phone 8, codenamed Apollo, in late June. While Microsoft wasn’t able to update Windows Phone 7 devices to the new OS, they still released Windows Phone 7.8 bringing some features from Windows Phone 8, like the new Start screen, to older devices. The new OS finally includes support for multi-core processors, NFC, and better support for removable storage. New features include resizable Start screen tiles, a Wallet app for access to coupons and NFC functionality, OTA updates, Nokia Maps instead of Bing Maps, better enterprise support, and more Microsoft promises that Windows Phone 8 devices will receive software support for at least 18 months after they’re released. Windows Phone 8 brings greatly improved integration with Xbox Live and Windows 8, making it easier for developers to create application for both operating systems. HTC’s 8X Windows Phone 8 device is the lead device for the mobile OS, in addition to the 8S, a lower-end variant. The Nokia 920 is the successor to the 900 which was a popular Windows Phone 7 device and Samsung manufactured the ATIV S smartphone and ATIV Smart PC tablet. Great updates, new features, and solid hardware are the key to allowing Windows Phone 8 to be a real competitor in a market already controlled mostly by Android and iOS.

Microsoft also revamped their logo by squaring the Windows icon up and changing the font of the “Microsoft” text, making it more modern and clean. The Xbox 360 has had continued success with Microsoft selling three quarters of a million units just on Black Friday and 1.26 million sold during the entire month of November. Microsoft also experienced an executive change-up of their own when Steven Sinofsky, President of Windows, left the company.

Samsung

Samsung has never been in the tightest competition with its competitors than during this past year. They’ve crept up on Apple although some see them as having already passed Apple in terms of functionality and design.

Samsung announced in March that they sold 5 million Galaxy Note devices since its launch in October of 2011. This number later jumped to 10 million sold from October 2011 to August 2012. In February, Samsung unveiled the Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 and the 7.0 version bringing only a bumped up screen resolution on the 10.1-inch model, while the Tab 2 7.0 offers almost no spec upgrades from its predecessor, begging the question “why did Samsung even bother?”

The first half of the year for Samsung included a rather generous amount of leaks of what would be the Galaxy SIII. Due to the large amount of hype for a successor of the popular Galaxy SII, we saw plenty of leaked benchmarks, mockups, images, videos, you name it. Samsung later said they had numerous variants they were testing, and they even went as far as to enclose the test devices in shells so as to disguise them as the Galaxy SII. Samsung held a press event in London in May to announce the Galaxy SIII which has a 4.8-inch display, the Exynos 4 Quad chip (announced by Samsung in April) or a Snapdragon S4 processor in the US variant, an 8 megapixel camera, and the new TouchWiz Nature UX. The Galaxy SIII became available on all four major US carrier, in addition to some smaller ones like US Cellular and Cricket. Demand was high as Samsung sold 30 million units as of November 2012, making it one of the most popular devices of 2012.

Samsung did not stop at the Galaxy SIII as they announced the successor to the Galaxy Note in August at IFA. The device was upgraded with even larger screen, measuring in at 5.5 inches, a 1.6 GHz quad-core processor and 2GB of RAM, an 8 megapixel camera, 4G LTE, and was the first Samsung device to run Android 4.1 Jelly Bean. The Note II also offers upgraded S Pen features and allows for two apps to run simultaneously side-by-side. August also saw the launch of Samsung’s latest tablet, the Galaxy Note 10.1. The Note 10.1 was originally announced at MWC 2012 in Spain but wasn’t released until August due to Samsung deciding to upgrade it further. In the end, the tablet incorporates an Exynos quad-core processor, a 10.1-inch display, 2GB of RAM, a 5 megapixel camera, and employs the S Pen and all of the accompanying software also found on the Galaxy Note. Reviews of the tablet were mixed, with some finding the tablet was fast and lived up to the Note name, while others found the performance to be sluggish at times, despite being run by a quad-core processor.

Samsung went even further by releasing the Galaxy Camera, a high-specced camera with a 16 megapixel camera, a 4.8-inch display, a quad-core processor, 21x zoom, Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, and WiFi capabilities. Both Verizon and AT&T have jumped on board to offer the Galaxy Camera with 3G and 4G. As mentioned earlier, Samsung has also contributed to the Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 line of devices with the ATIV S and ATIV Smart PC. Finally, Samsung added to their plethora of non-flagship devices with the Galaxy SIII Mini, Galaxy Beam, Galaxy Rugby Pro, and more. Google also worked with Samsung in 2012 to manufacture Chromebooks which utilize Samsung’s Exynos processor to run Chrome OS for browsing the web. The world now waits for the Galaxy S IV.

HTC

2012 has been mixed for HTC. If you look at the devices they’ve released, you could say they’ve had a pretty impressive year. If you looked at their earnings, you’d find their year has been almost the complete opposite.

February was huge for HTC. At Mobile World Congress 2012, HTC announced a new line of smartphones, known as HTC One, hoping to simplify things and attempt to release fewer devices. The One X is the high-end of the family and has a 4.7-inch display, an NVIDIA Tegra 3 processor (Snapdragon S4 in North America), and an 8 megapixel camera. The One S is the mid-range device and has a 4.3-inch display, a Snapdragon S4 processor (S3 in Asia), and an 8 megapixel camera. The One V is the low-end device and has a 3.7-inch display, a Snapdragon S2 processor, and a 5 megapixel camera. All three devices have Beats Audio integration for enhanced audio performance.

Sprint has their own version of the One X known as the EVO 4G LTE (which launched in late May), the successor to both the Evo 4G and EVO 3D. AT&T also has a variant of the One X, with the only difference being that it uses a Snapdragon S4 processor which allows for LTE connectivity. Due to the patent dispute between Apple and HTC, shipments of the One X and Evo 4G LTE were delayed in late May by US Customs. The shipments were later cleared after HTC agreed to send out a software patch to comply with the ruling in the dispute. In July, HTC and Verizon launched the Droid Incredible 4G LTE. The device carries a 4-inch display, a Snapdragon S4 processor, 1GB of RAM, and an 8 megapixel camera.

In October, HTC announced the One X+ as a small refresh of the original One X. The One X+ differs from the original model in that it has 64GB of storage, a larger battery, an improved front-facing camera, and a higher clocked Tegra 3 processor. It’s also their first device to run Android 4.1 with Sense 4+. In mid-October, HTC made another big splash in the smartphone market by announcing the oddly named J Butterfly in Japan. Don’t let the name fool you as it has a 5-inch 1080p display with 440ppi, a quad-core Snapdragon S4 Pro processor, and an 8 megapixel camera. It is the second smartphone in the world to incorporate a full 1080p HD display. Verizon announced their own variant, known as the Droid DNA, in November with almost identical specs, but it has no SD card slot.

While 2012 may not seem as though it was dismal for HTC, it sort of was. HTC posted disappointing earnings and sales the entire year, each time missing expectations. Their profit plummeted each quarter, and while they may not be as bad as RIM, they certainly don’t look to promising. HTC has failed to market their devices to the mainstream consumer, or at all for that fact. Their slogan, “Quietly brilliant”, only goes so far when their earnings are not up to snuff.

Motorola

Motorola started off their year by announcing the Droid RAZR Maxx in January. It isn’t so much of a successor to the Droid RAZR, but more of a brother in that it features the same specs, but has a larger capacity allowing for exceptional battery life. Other specs include a 1.2 GHz dual-core processor, 1GB of RAM, and an 8 megapixel camera. January also brought the Droid 4, the fourth generation of the device that started the Droid campaign on Verizon. It didn’t have anything too spectacular in the spec department aside from the usual 1.2 GHz dual-core processor, 8 megapixel camera, and a 4-inch display.

In July, Motorola released the third-generation Atrix, the Atrix HD. The Atrix HD is the first Motorola device to feature on-screen navigation buttons (back, home, multitasking), like the Galaxy Nexus. It features a 4.5-inch 720p display, a 1.5 GHz dual-core processor Snapdragon S4 Plus processor, an 8 megapixel camera, and 4G LTE.

September was huge for Motorola due to the fact that they announced five new devices, most of which were HD versions of current devices. The first is the Droid RAZR M 4G LTE which features a 4.3-inch display, a Snapdragon S4 processor, and an 8 megapixel camera. The next device is the Droid RAZR Maxx HD which, when compared to the original Maxx, has a larger 4.7-inch 720p display, an improved battery, and a Snapdragon S4 processor. The third device is the RAZR HD which has the exact same specs as the RAZR Maxx HD minus the large battery. The final device is the RAZR i which is a device made by Motorola and Intel. The device uses Intel’s new mobile processor, a 2GHz Intel Atom Z2460, has a 4.3-inch display, and an 8 megapixel camera. All of the aforementioned devices were updated to Android 4.1 Jelly Bean relatively quickly which is a plus when compared to other manufacturers.

While there’s no denying Motorola produced some fantastic devices this year, it’s quite easy to see how Motorola has made it difficult and confusing for a consumer to choose which phone to get. For example, you’ve got the RAZR, then the RAZR Maxx, the RAZR Maxx HD, the RAZR HD, a RAZR M, and a RAZR i. How on earth are you supposed to choose from those six devices? The have virtually the same specs and differ only in processor clock speed and screen size. I feel this is a huge issue that plagues Android device manufacturers and by making things more simple for the consumer as Google has done with their Nexus line, consumers will be less confused and will have an easier time choosing a device.

Other News

Above is all the big news of the year. Now, let’s take a look at some other headlines which didn’t make as big of a splash.

Amazon

Amazon used 2011 to test the market with their Kindle fire and in 2012, they decided they were successful enough to create some new tablet sizes. On September 6th, Amazon announced six new Kindles.

The first new Kindle is the Kindle Fire 2. When compared to the original Kindle, the Fire 2 has a faster 1.2 GHz dual-core processor, 1GB of RAM, and a lighter chassis. The next Kindle is the Fire HD 8.9 which features an 8.9-inch 1080p display, a dual-core 1.5 GHz dual-core Texas Instruments OMAP 4470 processor, Dolby Digital Plus, and 32GB of storage. The third model is the same as the Fire HD 8.9 but it has 4G LTE connectivity in addition to WiFi. The fourth model is the Kindle Fire HD which has the same specs as the Fire 2, but it has a 720p HD display.

The fifth Kindle is the Paperwhite model which is a Kindle with a high-resolution, high contrast, 6-inch display and it has a battery life of 8 weeks. The final is the fifth-generation of the regular Kindle which loads pages 15% faster, has higher contrast, and weighs in at just under 6 ounces, making it the lightest Kindle thus far.

RIM

RIM was one of the biggest disappointments in tech during 2012. Not only did they not release any new products, aside from a 4G LTE version of the PlayBook, their profits and market share are the lowest they’ve ever been. BlackBerry 10 and its accompanying hardware were delayed, although they will be holding an event next month to formally announce the new OS and hardware. Hopefully whatever it is that RIM announces will garner some consumer interest and give RIM a fighting chance in the smartphone and tablet market.

Sony

Sony wasn’t a big player in the smartphone market in 2012. While they did announce some new Xperia devices, none of them have been good enough to capture the attention of consumers. They aren’t marketed at all thus consumers aren’t aware of their existence. Sony hasn’t made an attempt at a tablet since last year which didn’t help the cause. With the rumored 5-inch, 1080p Sony “Yuga” reportedly set to launch in the coming months, hopefully Sony will be able to get somewhat back into the game.

LG

LG had a fairly impressive 2012. They worked together with Google to produce the LG Nexus 4 which is a Nexus reincarnation of the Optimus G. The Optimus G sports a Snapdragon S4 Pro processor, 2GB of RAM, 32GB of storage, and a 4.7-inch display. 2012 also included the Spectrum and Spectrum 2 for Verizon which both have decent specs at a low price. LG seems to have the hardware down, but their software skin over Android isn’t the most attractive of the bunch. Still, their smartphones are viable competitors in the ever-changing phone market.

Huawei

Huawei has not done much of anything this year. At MWC in February, they announced that they made their own custom designed quad-core chip called the K3V2. They announced new Ascend devices in the Ascend P1, Ascend D quad, D quad XL, D1, and MediaPad. Details have also been leaked and confirmed by Huawei executives about a 6.1-inch phablet the company plans to launch in the coming months called the Ascend Mate and the Ascend D2 which is expected to have a 5-inch 1080p display. Huawei is more prevalent throughout international countries and their high-end models aren’t anywhere to be found in North America.

Nokia

Nokia has played a huge part in the development in Windows Phone, especially earlier this year when they showed off the Lumia 900 at CES, which went on to become one of the more popular Windows Phone 7 devices. At MWC 2012, Nokia unveiled the Pureview 808 which has the largest sensor of a mobile phone at 41 megapixels. It features PureView technology which is a pixel oversampling technique that reduces images to a lower resolution which allows for higher definition and higher light sensitivity. This year Nokia also released five Lumia devices this year running Windows Phone 8, with the Lumia 920, the successor of the 900, being the most popular thus far.

Conclusion

Well, what a year it’s been. Technology has transformed our lives as well as taken control of them. Everywhere you go, you see smartphones, tablets, and computers. What will we see next year? What will be the new tech craze? Guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

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#2012, #editorial, #technology, #year-in-review