Technology has been a mixed bag in 2016, with some breakouts and some breakdowns. Here's a look back at some of the biggest technology events that shaped our year.
2016 has been pretty rough year for all types of technology. While, to be sure, there's been many examples of success in all walks of technology, from rocketships and wifi, to social media and medical devices, there's also been some real busts in it's development and application as well.
Possibly nowhere is it more noticeable than on the consumer technology side of things, which in 2016 left many customers feeling burned, quite literally. For starters, Samsung's flagship smartphone, the Galaxy Note 7 now holds a place in history as the first official phone to be banned by the FAA after their lithium-ion batteries began exploding in the hands, pockets and briefcases of their users. Following two massive recalls, the gold star Galaxy nameplate is likely DOA for Samsung going forward, which will cost the company billions.
Darling of tech design, Apple also had it's fair share of troubles making consumers happy in 2016. After "courageously" dropping the 3.5mm headphone jack from their new iPhone lineup, Applephiles around the world have been forced to use a dongle adaptor just to make their "classic" headphones work, as the company continues to push back delivery of their new $159 AirPods. Fail-worthy.
Pokemon Go made a comeback and got gamers off the couch, becoming the biggest app of the year and challenging players to scour the earth while attempting to "catch them all". Unfortunately, some of that well meaning exercise has caused some serious injuries to people, including a couple who fell right off a cliff.
While some apps might not be safe, we also found out that some doll babies may have ulterior motives of their own. It was recently revealed that the My Friend Cayla doll may be secretly selling data on children. The toys maker, Genesis Toys, who also makes the i-QUE Intelligent Robot, has come under fire from rights advocacy groups that conversations children are having with these smart toys are actually being collected and potentially exploited by voice recognition software provider, Nuance Communications, a company who also does business with military and law enforcement agencies.
On the plus side for toys, sales of the throwback NES Classic Classic have skyrocketed this year, which may be an indication that some think it's better to ditch the high tech toys for the safety and security of 8-bit retro gaming.
The blended green drink which was 2016 consumer tech continued this year by putting us in more interaction with AI, in the form of Google Home. Either reacting to, or building on Amazon's 2015 success with it's expanding line of Echo virtual assistants, Big G took the plunge itself by releasing a little countertop speaker with all the deep search capabilities of Google, directly baked in to a cute can-sized package. The big difference here versus the My Friend Cayla doll, is that both company are straightforward with their users that every sound you make is being recorded. Pretty creepy, but as more of these products make their way into our homes, people are getting more and more comfortable with the idea of speaking their deepest desires out loud so these little AI brains can assist in fulfilling the request.
Soon enough we'll all have a H.A.L. unit built into our living rooms. That worked out pretty well, didn't it?
Social services technology was also nothing to write home about this year, especially if you're still a user of Yahoo. The company did its customers a favor by announcing in September that they'd had a massive data breach which affected some 500 million people. Unfortunately for consumers though, that breach occurred in 2013! If that delayed notification wasn't bad enough, company CISO, Bob Lord just announced yesterday that user data from another 1 BILLION accounts had been stolen in 2013, by an entirely separate attacker. Thanks for the heads up Yahoo!
Speaking for hacking and the susceptibility of our networks and data, did you hear about the Dyn attack?
Services such as Facebook, Twitter and Google also drew heat in 2016 by peddling what is surely to become Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year, "fake news". In the build up to the presidential election, each service was criticized for allowing false and misleading news stories propagate on their platforms. It's the thought of many critics that these fake stories had an influence on the decisions of millions of voters.
In a somewhat related story, Twitter attempted to keep themselves relevant by signing agreements with the MLB, NFL, NHL and NFL to live-stream their games. However, while efforts to diversify the way users interact with the platform, it hasn't been enough to sway potential suitors such as Disney and Salesforce, who have backed away from bids to purchase the company. At this point it seems as though the President Elect is the only person who still finds use for the service.
Unfortunately, over on the commercial side of technology, things were pretty hit or miss as well in 2016, perhaps just at a more meaningful level. While the Medical and Sciences fields saw some breakthroughs from companies like Pacific Biosciences with their Sequel System which allows for quicker and more effective genetic sequencing, and ProteinSimple's Milo instrument which enables researchers to search for specific proteins accurately within a thousand cells at once. Both of these tech advancements should help the understanding and betterment of the humankind.
The past year wasn't so great for Theranos or it's wunderkind creator Elizabeth Holmes, however. In 2016 she saw her net worth tumble from an estimated $4.5 billion to $0 after it was exposed that studies proclaiming her technology's ability to achieve the same lab results from a finger prick of blood versus using a needle, was actually false. The company is now under investigation by federal prosecutors for misleading government officials and investors, including Walgreens who has filed their own $140 million lawsuit.
Rounding out some of the biggest technology events of the year, autonomous vehicle maker Otto and transportation disruptor Uber rolled out their first self-driving vehicles into the wild; with one being a bit more successful than the other at the moment. As other vehicle makers and non-vehicle makers alike rush to get their robocars onto a road near you, I'd suggest we all just strap on our seat belts a little tighter and keep an eye out for cars with an empty front seat.
And what better way to closeout the topsy-turvy world which was technology in 2016 than with serial disruptor Elon Musk. Perhaps no one on earth has experienced more ups and downs with globe-shaping technology in a single year other than him. 2016 started off great for Musk's SpaceX company, as we go to see the first successful landing of its Falcon 9 rocket, a feat which has proved reusable rockets can become a commodity. But the year took a left as we repeatedly got to witnessed the cost, and sometimes risk, of what all of these tech innovations often require, both with the explosion of one of SpaceX's payload packing Falcon 9s, and multiple road incidents with drivers using the Autopilot mode of Musk's automobile enterprise, Tesla.
Certainly, paving the way forward in technology takes some scrapes and bruises, along with the occasional explosion and potential for death, but 2016 has been a difficult one to balance on the right side of the ledger. I not sure about you, but I'm looking forward to putting a bow around this year and then re-gifting it to ol' Uncle Charlie. Hopefully we'll all collectively find some more successful technological advancements under the Christmas tree boughs of 2017.