The year 2011 was one year that we will all never forget. Even though they were all in the beginning of the year, the floods in Queensland and Brazil, the earthquakes in Christchurch and the tsunami in the north of Japan are still present in all of our minds. We also saw the death of a tech luminary, Steve Jobs; and the powerful News Corporation losing its influence over politicians in the UK after the phone hacking scandal took a drastic turn from celebrities to victims of crime.
This year, we’ve decided to recap the top 11 tech stories of the year – from security problems to business failures, and even the growing popularity of Windows Phone 7.
You can explore the choices below.
- The Revolutions Heard Around The Globe
- The Catastrophic Disaster of the PSN
- Steve Jobs: 1955 – 2011
- The Phone Hacking that killed the News
- A Global War – Apple v Samsung
- A 50 Day Hacking Campaign, for the lulz
- The Rise of Windows Phone 7
- An annus horribilis for RIM and Netflix
- Palm is dead, WebOS lives on
- Social: Google enters, LinkedIn goes IPO and Timeline
- Gone Viral: Friday – an instant success amongst the haters
The Revolutions Heard Around The Globe
On December 17 2010, after having his small wheelbarrow confiscated and publicly humiliated, a street vendor from Sidi Bouzid went to his governor’s office and set himself on fire. His name was Mohamed Bouazizi. He was 26, had a computer science degree and was poor and unable to find work. His self-immolation, however, would soon be the starting point of something very big – the Arab Spring.
From Tunisia, it spread to neighboring Algeria. But when the Tunisians were able to, after days of protests despite a government crackdown, overthrow their government and force President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to flee to Saudi Arabia; it expanded to the entire region.
However, while Tunisia may be the birthplace, Egypt was when the world started to watch what was happening. The country was in a unique position – it was relatively close to Israel, where most of the western media have bureaus to cover the region. As such, once protests started in January 25, and the government’s violent crackdown, many scrambled quickly to Egypt to cover the news.
It was, like many of the protests in the Arab Spring, sparked by social media. The use of Twitter and Facebook to communicate and organise became the story. It showed the true power of the internet, and how quickly people can respond. From shocking images of brutality to supportive tweets from those outside, the Internet was united with the people. Twitter also proved to be as important for journalists for their job, as the need grew to disseminate information quickly – breaking the news immediately in 140 characters, rather than on radio and television.
And like many governments in the year, Egypt was quick to shut it down. Initially blocking Facebook and Twitter, the entire internet was then pulled in order to prevent people to communicate – protestors and journalists – domestically and abroad. The country had a total internet blackout, with all ISPs bar one (which was soon turned off later) forced to disconnect all their users. However, that did not stop them. Quickly, many used alternatives – even using Dial-up – to send their messages across Facebook, Twitter and around the web. Many ISPs even waived their fees in order to assist the Egyptians. As well, others used ham radio frequencies to relay messages.
Then, after days of struggle, Hosni Mubarak – President of Egypt for 30 years – finally resigned on February 11.
But, while the Arab Spring has only been limited to the Middle East, what the Egyptians, Tunisians and Libyans have done is being replicated in the West. The Occupy Movement is a somewhat equivalent to the Arab Spring. However, instead of protesting about government change because of corruption, it is instead protesting about corporate greed and corruption. They are upset about the growing wealth discrepancy – which is especially severe in the United States, where the richest 1% of people control 40 percent of wealth (according to Joseph Stiglitz in May).
Started in Canada, popularised in Wall Street and soon spread across the globe, the movement uses the same tactics as the Arab Spring protestors – The use of social media to organise and communicate their cause. And as such, like the Arab Spring, it is no wonder that the movement has spread across the West. There are Occupy movements in London, Melbourne and Sydney – just to name a few. You can understand why there will be one in London – they are also undergoing lack of economic growth and austerity measures – but Australia? But we didn’t experience an economic collapse during the Global Financial Crisis in 2008? There is still corporate greed in Australia, despite the discrepancy being not as large as what is seen in the United States. Though, the Occupy movement in Australia feels more of a sign of global support for the movement in Wall Street rather than protesting about issues in Australia.
However, it really doesn’t matter if you are against them or for them. You cannot deny the fact they have used the Internet in order to spread their message – successfully, just like the protestors in the Arab Spring.
In the past twelve months, we have seen what the social web is – a return to the power of the people.
The Catastrophic Disaster of the PSN
With a truck load of great exclusives and a much nicer price, 2011 was truly looking like the year of the PlayStation 3. For the first few months at least. 2011 was expected to be the year where Sony might finally start to win some battles in the next generation console war. Where they could actually start acting like they did in the PS1 and PS2 days.
But then something went horribly wrong.
On the afternoon of April 21st, a suite of multiplayer and other online features were turned off. Everyone, even here at techgeek.com.au, thought was just unexpected maintenance of the PlayStation Network. It soon, however, turned into a disaster (both security and PR-wise) as the whole system was taken offline globally.
Not only does Sony usually give players notice of disruptions like this, they also generally take place at less inconvenient times, not on the verge of a large break like the Easter long weekend. This, coupled with the fact that Sony was completely silent for around a day, made the whole outage suspicious. Because we had no official releases from Sony, and not even any firm rumours of what was going on at that stage, we decided to post a small article onto the site saying that something wasn’t right. Usually we have press releases or other sources, but this time the gut feeling said something truly was wrong in Sony HQ.
12 hours later, early the next morning, the PSN was still down and finally the official PlayStation Blog posted a less than helpful acknowledgement on the problem, stating that it might be “a full day or two before we’re able to get the service completely back up and running.”
The rumour mill was now in full swing on who crippled the service. Fingers were initially pointed at Anonymous for the shenanigans. This wasn’t entirely out of character, especially after many members didn’t like some of Sony’s recent behaviour and had started “Operation Sony” on April 3, the same month as the outage. The removal of the Other-OS feature, which allowed Linux to run on the console, in March 2010 and the legal action taken against George Hotz (aka Geohot), who had jailbroken the console in January 2011, added fuel to their anger. However, turns out, it wasn’t them.
Then finally, Sony confirmed the worst possible scenario. “An external intrusion on our system has affected our PlayStation Network and Qriocity services. In order to conduct a thorough investigation and to verify the smooth and secure operation of our network services going forward, we turned off PlayStation Network & Qriocity services on the evening of Wednesday, April 20th,” it said in a statement.
Not only did this mean the previous date for the return of the PSN was delayed, but that the service had been officially hacked and that users information had possibly been taken. It later turned out that it was, on a massive scale. As the bad news continued, including the announcement on April 24 that Sony was “re-building [their] system to further strengthen [their] network infrastructure”, they officially declared that users information had been taken and the hack was very severe and finally called for the help of the FBI on April 27.
On May 1 a “Welcome Back” program was announced as Sony executives apologised for the problems. The network was still offline, and this small package, while pretty good for free, could barely make up for the terrible events. The next day, however, it was revealed that Sony Online Entertainment had also been hacked and that over 12000 credit cards and 24.7 million accounts had been stolen, hurting more Sony customers.
Finally on May 16, the PlayStation Network gradually came back online (except for in Japan and East Asia) and PS3 firmware 3.61 was released to force password changes. PSN and Qriocity services, online game-play on PS3 and PSP, playback of rental video content, Music Unlimited service, access to third party services, friends list, chat functionality and PlayStation Home was now online, with the PlayStation Store (think Xbox Live Arcade) still offline.
In the end the entire outage restoration cost Sony US$171 million. 77 million PSN accounts were stolen, 25 million SOE users and 23,400 EU SOE credit cards were gone. And what did Sony customers get in return for waiting? A couple of old games. Stay classy, Sony.
Not only was Sony’s PR response to the hack dreadful, but the delay and leaking of tens of millions of customer’s information was unforgivable. It truly killed any chance of Sony winning 2011, along with other unfortunate problems, and truly made the PlayStation Network an embarrassment for any users of the network, especially to people with friends who own other consoles. It’s the biggest breach of data for any gaming network and possibly even any online service.
Here’s hoping Sony’s upcoming Australian PlayStation Vita launch in February 2012 will be the start to a better year for Sony customers.
Steve Jobs, 1955 – 2011
No doubt the biggest news in tech this year was the passing of Apple co-founder and tech visionary Steven Paul Jobs. Born in 1955, ‘Steve’ as he was known, went on to create some of the most loved, hated, admired and copied devices in the history of mankind. He was a man that was driven by a desire to be beautiful, perfect and… intuitive. Those who worked around him knew that Steve wanted the best in people and always pushed them to achieve it
Steve Jobs was known to be ‘tinkerer’ – a man that saw the potential in products and ideas. He often used to joke with Jonathan Ive (close and long-time friend and Senior Vice President of Industrial Design) about ideas that were ‘stupid’ and others that have earned millions for Apple Inc. Others say that Jobs ‘stole’ from others and made them his own. But regardless of what you think, one this is certain: you can’t ignore the impact that one man had on the world we know today.
Jobs had a considerable impact on many lives – maybe even everyone. He was a man who revolutioned technology not once or twice, but four times. He emphasised the personal in personal computer, pushed the music industry towards digital distribution with the iPod, popularised the smartphone with the iPhone and reinvented the dying tablet industry with the iPad. He also influenced so many people who also were instrumental to the level of technology today.
The Early Years
Steve Jobs was on 24 February 1955, to two university students, Joanne Carole Schieble and Syrian born Abdulfattah “John” Jandali who placed him up for adoption due to financial and cultural reasons. He was adopted to Paul Reinhold and Clara Jobs. His “adoptive parents” raised him in the Paolo Alto area of California which allowed him to attended HP after-school lectures where he met Steve Wozniak (the second co-founder of Apple). Whilst in his early 20s, Jobs decided to visit India in search of spiritual enlightenment. He ‘tripped’ on LSD (which he later stated was one of the most important things of his life) and became a serious practitioner Zen Bhuddhism.
Apple/YouTube (uploaded by seancollier)
In the 1970s and 1980s, Apple became Apple and entered into a turbulent time when stock prices fell and overall company outlook changed. In 1976, Jobs’ first product was the Apple II which created a path for personal computing into the future. Jobs became well-known after the launch of Apple II as it ignited the path for the personal computing revolution by introducing the graphical interface. In 1984, the world was introduced to the one product that propelled Apple – and Steve with it – into the history books: the Macintosh. It was made famous by the Superbowl XVIII advertisement “1948”.
Unfortunately for Jobs, this would also mark the beginning of the end for his time at Apple. In 1985, he was removed from all managerial aspects of Apple.
Jobs’ journey in the computing world continued despite his disassociation with Apple. Together with US$7 million, he created NeXT computer. The first computer was priced too high for education systems, so academic, scientific and financial industries became his selling focus. This was an important step for Jobs as NeXT would have an indirect effect of transforming the world: Tim Berners-Lee (the “Father of the Internet”) would create the World Wide Web on a NeXT computer and change communications forever.
1986 also saw Jobs acquire Pixar from Lucasfilm and this acquisition gave NeXT the industrial leverage to ‘show-off’ its skill. In 1996, ‘Toy Story’ was released and was the first fully-animated computer-made film and became a Disney classic. Disney and Pixar continued the partnership, giving Disney titles such as ‘Cars’, ‘Finding Nemo’ and the sequels to ‘Toy Story’. Disney then bought Pixar in 2006, making Steve Jobs the largest shareholder in Disney.
The Second Coming of Apple
In 2005, at his famous Stanford commencement speech, Jobs stated that his time away from Apple allowed to to refocus himself and his creative energies into the products we know today. In 1998, he terminated a lot of money-losing projects at Apple and focused the resources of Apple towards the ‘iMac’ and the best-selling version of Mac: OS X (which has roots from NeXT).
In 2001, he oversaw the design of the iPod and the beginning of the musical revolution. It was a tough battle to bring the music studios onboard with the iTunes Store but Steve understood how people perceived computers and by allowing US$0.99 songs, the digital age of music began. In 2007, after transforming TWO industries, Jobs turned mobile computing on its head with the introduction of the iPhone. Suddenly, people had a reason to be trendy and intuitive and Steve Jobs was the guy who could see all about it.
Finally, in 2010, the iPad was introduced to the world, creating an industry that we didn’t know even existed! These products allowed Steve Jobs to channel his inner artist and ship the end result to millions of people to the world. Whilst many thousands worked under him, Jobs would never want to place anyone done, but only push them to their best and give to the customer something the customer didn’t even know existed. Whilst on his last legs, Steve Jobs remarked to Walter Isaacson (author the official, authorised biography) that he had ‘cracked’ the TV and that he had left a path for Apple into the near future. The long term – like many things in life – is still unknown.
Cupertino City Council/YouTube
In Sickness and In Health
When he announced his medical leave in January, the stock fell. It was his third leave since 2000 – and a year and a half later after his second leave that saw a liver transplant, and there was some concern about his health. However, we did not know how severe it was – he still made his appearances, even announcing the iPad 2 and the presentation before the Cupertino City Council.
But the questions of severity were put to rest. Steve Jobs resigned as CEO of Apple on August 24.
“I have always said if there ever came a day when I could no longer meet my duties and expectations as Apple’s CEO, I would be the first to let you know,” he wrote in a letter to employees. “Unfortunately that day has come.”
It was the day everyone knew how ill he was. It was also the day when Apple finally had to implement their succession plan. Jobs’ presence hadn’t left altogether from Apple – he was made chairman of the board up until his death a few months later.
Love was Everything
Mona Simpson, the biological sister of Jobs, recounted in her eulogy that:
Steve was like a girl in the amount of time he spent talking about love. Love was his supreme virtue, his god of gods. He tracked and worried about the romantic lives of the people working with him.
Whenever he saw a man he thought a woman might find dashing, he called out, “Hey are you single? Do you wanna come to dinner with my sister?”
I remember when he phoned the day he met Laurene. “There’s this beautiful woman and she’s really smart and she has this dog and I’m going to marry her.”
When Reed was born, he began gushing and never stopped. He was a physical dad, with each of his children. He fretted over Lisa’s boyfriends and Erin’s travel and skirt lengths and Eve’s safety around the horses she adored”
To simply put it: Steve Jobs was both a pioneer and very well-known and authorative figure and a family man. He was a man who was passionate about all that he did and worked hard for his success. His never-ending care for his family can be found in the simpletons of his home (detailed in his biography) and by the simple fact that all his four children knew him as ‘Dad’ and grew up in a normal neighbourhood, in a normal suburb like normal kids – something which Steve was very much and very much not.
The Phone Hacking that killed the News
Australia-born, US-citizen Rupert Murdoch can view 2011 as a horrible year for his company. The power and influence of his media properties in the United Kingdom collapsed overnight on July 4 when rival newspaper The Guardian broke the news that the now-defunct paper, News of the World, hacked the phones of a teenage girl named Milly Dowler.
Dowler went missing in early 2002 and was later found dead a few months later. Her parents continued to send texts and voicemail messages, but the paper accessed those voicemail messages. Allegations, though not proven, have claimed that the journalists also deleted the voicemail messages – giving impressions that she was alive.
The frenzy in the UK and all over the world was enormous. They were shocked and disgusted by the immoral act. Soon, more and more revelations came with reports that the newspaper’s journalists hacked phones of relatives of British soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan; and even relatives and victims of the 2005 London Bombings.
Tom Watson, MP
And politicians, who long feared the power of Murdoch (who owns a large portion of the UK market, including owning the best-selling Tabloid The Sun), started growing a backbone. They publicly condemned Murdoch, and even the Prime Minister was brought into the scandal after hiring a former News of the World editor, Andy Coulson, as his communications director. The scandal also claimed the Metropolitan Police, who did not reopen the investigation after more evidence emerged in 2009. The two most senior officers, Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson and Assistant Commissioner John Yates, resigned from their posts in the aftermath.
The final blow was when a large exodus of advertisers started pulling their ads out of the paper. On July 7, News of the World was to publish its last edition.
ABC News 24/YouTube
So how did it all began? The entire saga started back in 2005 when the paper’s Royal correspondent, Clive Goodman, was arrested after getting information that only close aides to the Royal family knew. He and the private investigator hired, Glenn Mulcaire, were jailed and would soon be used as the “rouge reporter” for the celebrity phone hacking reports. Until July 4, no one seemed to care. There were lawsuits from many celebrities, but News Corporation simply offered a settlement and the case was settled.
The revelations have sparked the Leveson Inquiry into media ethics, in addition to a criminal investigation. The police have now filed charges on several former editors and journalists – including Coulson and the (now former) Chief Executive of News International and former editor of the paper Rebekah Brooks. Plus, News Corporation’s attempt to buy out the rest of satellite broadcaster BSkyB was withdrawn due to public disapproval. As well, the Murdochs have appeared in front of a Parliamentary Committee – twice for James Murdoch, his son and current Chief Executive of News Corporation Europe and Asia division.
The fallout has not been limited in the UK. It is affecting its entire global operation. The FBI is reported to be investigating if News Corporation broke any US laws and to make sure that no US phones were hacked, while the Australian Government is conducting its own media inquiry. Shareholders are also unhappy, with many criticising how the company handled the crisis.
Murdoch and News Corporation are hopefully praying for a better 2012.
A Global War – Apple v Samsung
All throughout this year, there has been a war going on. Yes, you could think I was talking about Iraq or something along those lines but no. I’m talking about something here, right in front of us (being the tech community we are). It is the Samsung versus Apple war.
One of the notable battles between Apple and Samsung was the ban of the Galaxy Tab 10.1 in Australia. It was claimed that Samsung copied “Apple’s innovative technology, distinctive user interfaces, and elegant and distinctive product and packaging design, in violation of Apple’s valuable intellectual property rights.” The court then proceeded to place a temporary ban on the sale of Galaxy Tab 10.1 in Australia. This ban was later lifted after Samsung appealed. Apple then headed to the High Court, trying to get this banned placed back on Galaxy Tab 10.1 sales, though that was denied.
BBC News/YouTube (uploaded by engishworldnews)
Apple and Samsung have been fighting over many other patent infringements other than the those relating to the Galaxy Tab 10.1. Apple have claimed that the Samsung Galaxy S (original) was a copy of the iPhone and many of its features, though it turns out Apple were using a doctored image as evidence of this claim. Apple also said that the Galaxy S was not the only of Samsung’s products to have infringed on Apple’s patents, but most of their phone line-up, including Nexus S, Epic 4G, Captivate, and Indulge (most of which are US phones).
Samsung have also had a go at claiming patent violations by saying Apple have infringed on many of its patents throughout many of its iPhone products, including the iPhone 4S. These were said to be infringing on Samsung’s patents related to wireless and mobile technology. Samsung is seeking a ban on 4S sales in Australia, France and Italy. The Australian law suit will be taken to court around March next year.
The fight is being fought all over the world – in Germany, the Netherlands, France, Korea, Japan, the United States and Italy (just to name a few). And both sides have claimed some victories. Apple was able to get an injunction to block the sales of Samsung’s tablets in Germany while a ban in the United States fell through.
The whole irony of this war, is that Samsung is a major supplier for Apple’s devices, producing the screens, and other parts for the pretty much every of Apple’s product lines. It is almost as if Apple feel they need to prove to themselves and others in the industry that they have power and ‘own’ the market, being phones and tablets, and have attempted this by taking on a company whose products can be found in any place from your pocket to your laundry.
A 50 Day Hacking Campaign, for the lulz
For 50 days, between May and June, one group managed to hack into News Corporation, Sony Pictures and the United States Senate and published the passwords and user details to publicly humiliate their lack of security. They also managed to embarrass the CIA by taking their website down. Yes, we are talking about the very one – Lulz Security.
The group came to prominence when they managed to successfully attack Fox.com, changed several LinkedIn profiles and even leaked a database of X Factor contestants with contact information of around 73,000 people. Why? Well, they didn’t like how Fox News called a rapper named Common as “vile” and sparked a controversy because of one misunderstood poem.
Their attacks were either to embarrass or to attack they don’t like politically. The latter was evident in its attack on PBS after it aired a negative documentary on WikiLeaks and supposed leaker Bradley Manning. That documentary was highly criticised by Wikileaks and Bradley Manning supporters as, to quote a commentator, “sensationalistic, biased and shallow”. LulzSec leaked passwords and defaced the website – even writing an article claiming Tupac was alive. They soon also attacked Sony, among the other hackers, and leaked the passwords of Sony Pictures users.
The Alyona Show (RT)/YouTube
But they became a target on the US Government and law enforcement when they started attacking them. They attacked a non-profit organisation linked to the FBI, InfraGuard, and leaked some emails and a user database; before attacking the US Senate and the CIA website in June. While they managed to take data from the US Senate website, including passwords and emails, they were only able to take down the site of the CIA – but still, its a big embarrassment when your security agency can’t defend themselves from a DDoS attack.
While the identity of the group members have been kept secret, law enforcement have arrested several people linked supposedly to LulzSec. The first was on June 21 when a man named Ryan Cleary from Essex in the UK was arrested. LulzSec claims he only hosted one IRC channel, and was not a member. In addition, a man from Shetland, Jake Davis, was arrested on July 27 on the basis that he was member Topiary. There have since been some more arrests in both the US and in the UK with claims they were part of LulzSec. Sabu, however, the reported leader is still out there – posting on Twitter, though attempts by other hackers (mostly pro-US) have tried to reveal his identity, though they are pretty conflicting.
So where is LulzSec now? Well after announcing the end of LulzSec on June 25, they came back for a one-time attack on British newspaper The Sun. It also appears that the members are now part of Anonymous as part of their AntiSec movement.
Security issues also emerged in Australia when customer databases for both Vodafone and Telstra were made available. For Vodafone, it was a massive PR disaster as it was coupled with the poor reception problems in metro cities. The main problem was that each store had a unique login – not each salesperson – and these were passed on to criminals and other people who wanted to look at their spouse, partner or friend’s account. Telstra’s problem was a bit more frightening when a simple Google search showed bundled customers’ information with no protection.
Then came the big story just in the last moments. Stratfor, the private US intelligence think tank known for its secrecy of its clients, had been hacked by someone from Anonymous and they took their client database and published it online. Those to have been revealed include the US Defence Department, Microsoft and Apple. In addition, credit card details of Malcolm Turnbull and billionaire David Smorgon were also published. But how did they get hacked? Well, turns out, they didn’t encrypt the data. Yes. You read that correctly. They did not ENCRYPT their data.
So hopefully, many companies learn from their lessons and maybe try protecting our data.
The Rise of Windows Phone 7
2011 saw the emerging popularity of Windows Phone 7. Even though it’s official launch was in 2010, we didn’t see a huge uptake at first. If you don’t know about Windows Phone 7, it was first launched in 2010, it was a major new release superseding Windows Phone 6.5. The first phone manufactures to release Windows Phone 7 phones where HTC, Samsung and LG. With phones including: HTC 7 Mozart, HTC 7 Trophy, HTC HD7, Samsung Omnia 7 and LG Optimus 7Q.
In Feburary, Microsoft had a big coup. They had signed a partnership with Nokia, a phone company who rejected Android in favour of Symbian, to start offering Windows Phone 7 as their primary phone operating system. However, we had to wait until November to get thee first WP7-powered Nokia phones – the Lumina 800 and Lumina 710. However, Nokia seemed to have special favour with Microsoft, as they have added some of their own exclusive apps. Along with Bing Maps, Nokia have released Nokia Maps which provides turn by turn navigation. As well, Nokia have introduced their own streaming music serviced dubbed, “Nokia Music” which is similar to Last.FM.
Two updates were released for the OS this year: NoDo and Mango. NoDo was the first minor update for Windows Phone 7. It’s release wasn’t feature packed but the main feature was the ability to Copy and Paste. Among numerous bug fixes, the update wasn’t very eventful.
Mango, however, was the first major update to Windows Phone 7. It was release 7.5 and it included a lot of new features. Mango was available to a small amount of customers on September 27 as Microsoft released the update in chunks, instead of allowing everyone to update at once. Major features of the update included Office SkyDrive integration, threaded conversations allowing you to switch between communication mediums (SMS, Facebook, Windows Live etc), Visual Voicemail (carrier dependent), Custom Ringtones, Speech to Text, Facebook Chat, Multitasking and Internet Sharing (carrier dependent).
Other features included the ability to edit playlists from Zune, SmartDJ, subscribe to podcasts from the phone, ability to group contacts, Office 365 integration and much more.
2011 also saw a huge uptake by app creators. Many popular apps on iOS and Android have been recreated (or ported) over to the WP7 platform. Such apps include, Angry Birds, Flight Control, Foursquare, Doodle Jump, TripView Sydney and much more. Many app creators are now releasing apps for all 3 platforms due to the increasing popularity of Windows Phone 7.
But where does its future lie? Well, it is said that the next major update to the platform will be called Apollo but has been rumored to be released as Windows Phone 8. No words on its features, but we’ll have to see next year.
An annus horribilis for RIM and Netflix
For those who don’t know what “annus horribilis” is, it means a “horrible year”. And for RIM and Netflix, a year they would like to bury. Both these companies committed massive flops, and were named by several analysts as the worst CEOs of the year – something that you don’t want to be part of. And surprisingly, they are still in their jobs – despite the massive failures this year.
For Netflix, it was their decision to essentially piss off their entire customer base. A company who essentially changed the video rental business with a new business model and the physical stores such as Blockbuster, it almost committed suicide when they decided to split the two core pieces – DVD and streaming – into separate companies. The streaming would stay “Netflix” while the DVD business would be named, in what may be the worst name in the world, “Qwikster”. It also appeared that Netflix didn’t research this and did this as a reaction to a consumer backlash to a recent price increase and a change in its plans. It also lost a major catalogue of movie streaming content after a deal with Starz ended.
Thankfully for many users, it was announced in October that it will not go ahead.
However, after the bad PR disaster, it managed to sign new deals with movie network Epix and several studios; and announced it will start producing its own content – including a new series of Arrested Development and a new drama based on the BBC’s House of Cards – outbidding HBO and AMC apparently for the rights to produce. So maybe that price increase came to some good use after all.
BBC News/YouTube (Uploaded by nsotd4)
RIM, however, was a major disaster in 2011. The company’s tablet – the Playbook – was lampooned by many since it was a tablet that relied heavily on the BlackBerry phone. The ecosystem was crap with a lack of applications. RIM was then forced to accept Android applications into the ecosystem since no one was developing for it. And it was poorly marketed – targeting corporations and not the consumer (reviews noted the excellent media support). It still targets businesses, ignorant to the idea that business people are also consumers.
The year got bad to worse. The company lost more than half of its market value, the share price is down 75 percent from last year and continues to haemorrhage money as it struggles to compete with the iPhone, Android and Windows Phone 7. Adding insult to injury, the company also experienced their biggest outage in October all over the world (except, for some unknown reason, Asia), and faces a ban in India (the second-largest country by population) due to a dispute over accessing encrypted communications.
BlackBerry/YouTube (Uploaded by nsotd4)
The company did announce their new BlackBerry 10 operating system (it was going to be called BBX, but then someone else had the name), but no smartphones running it. Everyone was expecting an announcement by Mobile World Congress next year, but then RIM decided their year of screwups needed, to quote Steve Jobs, “one more thing” – they will not be out until the latter part of 2012. For a company that is competing in a crowded market, a delay means death.
RIM’s shareholders are pretty much pissed. Some are calling for the two co-CEO’s heads, some are even asking for the entire board to be dumped and others are calling for RIM to break up and sell. Rumours of Amazon buying RIM have also emerged, but the likelihood of that deal going ahead is slim.
So congrats Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie for running an innovative company for so many years into the ground. It will be a surprise if they stay in their jobs in 2012.
Palm is dead, WebOS lives on
Palm/YouTube (Uploaded by nsotd4)
2011 was the year when the axe fell on Palm. HP bought it in 2010 and just 16 month later in that deal, it had enough of the money-losing division and decided to cut its losses and leave the market entirely. It dropped the price of the TouchPad to less than $100, which meant more losses, but ironically made the device popular to consumers.
And its understandable. The TouchPad was a tablet competitor to the first-generation iPad, rather than the latest. The phones also didn’t excite people – Android, Windows Phone 7 and Apple’s own iOS were chipping away from webOS. In all honesty, it was the reversal of the Nokia problem – the software was good, the hardware sucked badly.
However, then-CEO’s Leo Apotheker had also used the announcement to highlight a new direction for HP. He decided to announce HP’s intention to leave the consumer market altogether and focus on business – and his seriousness was exacerbated by the fact that he acquired British software company Autonomy for US$10.2 billion. While leaving the market is understandable because of slow growth, it stunned the market and its share price fell. And it continue to fall under his leadership.
Soon, HP’s own board had enough and sacked him. They replaced him with Meg Whitman – the former CEO of eBay – and she soon announced that HP was not leaving the consumer market. However, the fate of webOS was still left in the air – until December.
Whitman announced that webOS will be open sourced. It will continue to invest in the OS, but it won’t build any hardware to support the OS. It has made the OS a ‘lame duck’. However, with it being open sourced, it paves the way for Samsung, HTC and other mobile manufacturers to use the OS as their platform.
Social: Google enters, LinkedIn goes IPO and Timeline
After the failures of Orkut, Wave and Buzz, you would have thought Google would have just given up on attempting to compete against Twitter and Facebook. This year saw the quiet launch – and huge fanfare – of Google+. With privacy the main focus, it attracted those who were conscious about what they post on their Facebook wall. And it did succeed, initially.
However, for Google, it was too slow to compete. While it had “circles” which meant that you could publish stuff only to certain groups, it didn’t have the other features that Facebook had. There were no games to play for the users, no “pages” for businesses who wanted to set up a presence, and for some unknown reason, a full API wasn’t developed (their current offering of an API lets you read, not write). However, it had one thing that Facebook did not – the audience that Google has.
Google has pushed deep integration with Google+ in all of its services. You can send a little status on any Google service, share a link via Google Reader or even share a YouTube video with simple click. Even Android has seen a lot of integration with Google+ beyond the app with Ice Cream Sandwich. It was also no coincidence that the launch also saw a new design for Google, ditching the harsh blue links to something a bit more subdue and a design that did not scream like a dog’s breakfast (especially on Reader).
But while it has attracted many in the US, it has failed to make an impact in Australia. And it could be because we’re more interested in Facebook and Twitter and not Google+. It could also be the fact that Google+ hasn’t offered anything that wants to make us move to it, even as a side thing along Twitter and Facebook.
But Google is continuing with this, and hopefully 2012 sees some improvement and maybe some features that can compete with Facebook.
Meanwhile, three other companies launched their IPOs – LinkedIn, Groupon and Pandora. They all experienced massive gains initially – LinkedIn closing at $109.97 on July 15, its all-time high. The companies, however, lost their luster after the sovereign debt crisis plaguing Europe scared many shareholders, and for Groupon, its profitability. With Facebook expected to make its IPO sometime next year, these three results don’t look too good for its stock and could potentially hold off until it is forced by law to go public.
MySpace, on the other hand, was sold in June by News Corporation. The new owners – Specific Media and Justin Timberlake – are hoping to reinvigorate the brand, but what that entails is still up in the air. Many are pointing towards its more popular music section, as indie bands still continue to use MySpace to promote themselves.
Facebook and Twitter, on the other hand, launched their redesigns. Facebook’s new “Timeline” feature is a mixed bag as it does what Facebook wants you to do with it – place your memories, trips and life memories so it could sell ads based on that. However, people don’t like change – as seen with the controversial sidebar with the news ticker. Facebook also settled its dispute with the Federal Trade Commission over privacy concerns, and will now be subject to audits for 20 years. Twitter, however, relaunched with much hype – #newnewtwitter. The new design repositions Twitter to be more social, and now able to track the conversation more easily.
But for 2012, it’s open to anything.
Gone Viral: Friday – an instant success amongst the haters
In what can be called the worst song in the world, you cannot deny that this very song describes what a viral video is. Hilariously awful lyrics, annoying pop backing music and a crappy video (and yes, turns out 10 year old kids can drive in Los Angeles) – it can only describe one thing. Friday by Rebecca Black.
The video attracted everyone – lovers and haters alike. Those who liked the video bought the song and helped it to reach a top 20 placement in the iTunes Store’s chart, and also in the Billboard Hot 100 (peaking at 58). The haters, however, also managed to make her video that most disliked video ever on YouTube, beating Justin Bieber’s “Baby”. The song had over 3 million “dislikes” before being pulled down by record label Ark Music.
The popularity of the song – whether you hate it or love it – was also able to see the song covered twice. The television show Glee produced their own version, in addition to comedians Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Fallon. And like all good (though, that is highly questionable) things, it has had legal problems. More importantly, who owns the rights to the song. Both Black’s family and Ark Music claim ownership of the song. The dispute emerged after Ark Music was selling a ringtone and charging $2.99 to see the video. Rebecca Black then took down Ark Music’s video and then republished it under her own official channel.
Despite the issues and the negative criticism, she is still continuing her career in music. She has now started her own recording label and has released two more songs: “My Moment” and “Person of Interest” – both also getting negative reviews though not as viral as Friday. Telstra even brought her down to Australia, to a bunch of screaming fans singing along, to promote their 4G network in Sydney. Yes, apparently, she’s the face of the very fast internet speeds you can expect with 4G.
Executive Editor – Terence Huynh
Senior Editor – Stewart Wilson, Adrian Cajili
Senior Associate Editor – Tom Solari, James Wilson
Associate Editor – Chris Southcott, Gabriel Huynh
Contributing Editor – Nicholas Munro, Ashton Bernard
Plus, thanks to Mark Caetano, Harley McEvoy, Ticky, a bunch of Stewart’s friends, Liam Frappel, Dave Barranquero, Matt Rossi and Tom Wood who joined us on TECHGEEK Weekly this year. I also thank those who participated on our Steve Jobs’ tribute episode – Dan Ilic, Stilgherrian, Mark Pesce, Trever Long, Daniel Elias, Anthony Agius, Jason Cartwright and Aaron Holesgrove.
It is a little tidbit, but techgeek.com.au will be celebrating five years. Our history is a bit checkered. We started off hosting on a bit of space Stewart gave to us, before we moved to our current home. Soon after, we acquired the .com.au domain name – and now, we are working our butts off to continue to inform you of the latest gadgets, and how to use that gadget. Plus, we always love to hear what you readers have to say on a particular topic.
Stewart and I have been on the site for all these years, and on behalf of the team, I also say thanks to guest writers David Clarke, Chris Martin and Jeremy Liu for their contributions over the past few years. In addition, we also thank our past and present contributors to the site for getting us where we are today.
But most importantly, we say thanks to you, the readers. Without you, we wouldn’t have an audience to share our little rants about Optus.