If 2012 will be memorable for any reason, it will be the fact that technology has at last entered the mainstream of everything. Part of the credit goes to Steve Jobs, who passed away at the end of 2011 after a series of battles with cancer. The amount of attention that Jobs' death received took a few people by surprise, and the way his life and achievements have been covered since then has never been seen before in the tech world. Instead of just a man who made technology, Jobs is remembered as a man who changed the world.
The result of all this new attention and higher profile is a wider acknowledgement that the realm of technology is the realm that many (or most) of us live in these days. It's not just a necessity for work anymore; technology has burrowed into every aspect of our lives from our relationships with each other to how we spend our free time.
It was Jobs who showed us that technology is more than the sum of our collective gadgets; technology is art, culture, lifestyle and economy, something that adds to life rather than distracts us from it. Tech stopped being fringe or an accessory, but has evolved with us to become a core part of who we are — and what we are to become in the future.
As this awareness has grown, so has the way that high-tech has been covered. Technology news regularly makes the front page these days, just as people in technology have been heralded as a new kind of celebrity. People once marginalized as geeks labouring in the dark have become fascinating and worthy of biographies and biopics, personality pieces and profiles. There isn't a gamer alive who doesn't know who "Gaben" or "Notch" are (Valve and Mojang respectively), while most of us could pick Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg out of a crowd.
Given that backdrop, any list of the top tech news of 2012 has to be about more than just the technology that was invented/released in the last year.
1. Facebook — The top technology story of 2012 has to be Facebook's initial public offering, which will serve as a cautionary tale for tech companies for a long time to come. Forced to go public to meet regulatory requirements that kick in when you have over 500 outside shareholders (the result of company founders selling off their internal shares to private investors on capital exchanges) they went to market with a paper value over $100 billion, which was probably overstated given the company's large-but-not-as-large-as-that revenues (about $3-$4 billion a year). Share prices have tumbled by almost 30 per cent since June, wiping out over $30 billion in theoretical wealth, while Mark Zuckerberg himself is being sued for insider training for selling roughly a billion dollars of his own stock before the stock market value dropped.
Facebook continues to be popular with close to a billion users, it continues to make money and the low share prices don't really affect them in any tangible way. But for a while, industry watchers wondered if companies that offer free services and don't produce anything tangible have any real value at all.
As Apple taught, Google learned and Microsoft just realized, the value of software has lessened and hardware is where the real money is these days. Even Valve, which runs the Steam store (www.steampowered.com) is getting into the game, announcing a new device last week that will bring your PC, and PC gaming, into the living room.
2. Windows 8 — With Apple and Google surging, it seemed like Microsoft had nowhere to go but down. The company was dismissed by many as a dinosaur that hasn't had any really great ideas since Windows 95. As an example, the same year Apple debuted the iPhone, Microsoft debuted their Surface coffee tables — think about that for a moment.
Windows 8 really is a last-ditch effort of sorts to remain relevant and to simultaneously compete on equal footing on the increasingly important mobile market. Yes, Microsoft would have still had a large marketshare in operating systems and enterprise software, and maybe a small lead in console gaming, but the world is changing and those things will matter less and less over time. The company really needed a whole new direction, and one that would unify all of their products through a similar, more user-friendly look and feel — including the Surface tablet that they would release in third quarter.
Although the tile-based start screen has offended a few power users, there's no denying Windows 8 is a success and some reviewers are going as far as to suggest that Microsoft has done the impossible and come from behind to take the lead. For the people willing to learn something new, it really does have a lot of advantages, while it's also changing the way people look at and design computers. A few years ago there were a handful of touch-screen monitors and touch-screen all-in-one computers out there, but already there's a huge number of choices (Sony, HP, Dell, Lenovo, Samsung, Toshiba) — and many more on the way.
Continued next week...