Here is a glimpse of hottest tech events of 2013….
The world goes FullHD
Almost everyone and their uncle was either launching or buying products with high-definition displays. In 2013, manufacturers managed to convince buyers that they weren’t seeing right if they weren’t seeing things in full HD.
Samsung, LG, Lenovo, Sony – all launched pixel-packing smartphones; tablets such as Nexus 7, Kindle Fire 8.9 and the new iPads also boasted of high-density screens. Indian brands Micromax and Spice jumped onto the bandwagon too.
On the TV side, high-def champions Samsung and LG pushed the envelope with 4K panels – double the resolution of Full HD. Videos and images looked crisper, or at least we convinced ourselves that they do. And ‘screen PPI’ finally found its place in tech lexicon among jargon like ‘processor cores’ and ‘camera megapixels’.
Wearing your tech
Geeks rejoiced. Google made wearing spectacles uber cool when they launched Google Glass – eyewear that lets you record videos, shoot photos, and even access the internet.
In Europe, an Italian company unveiled their version of a headmounted display called GlassUp. Gamers got their own with the Oculus Rift – a headset that melds virtual reality and immersive gaming, which began shipping to software developers.
Then, there were smart watches that connect to your smartphone; arm bands that measure heart rates, blood pressure, sleep cycles; and shoes that count every step you take.
The most ‘out there’ idea, however, came out of Durex’s research labs. The condom manufacturer unveiled Fundawear – a range of undergarments that vibrate whenever your partner runs his or her fingers on the Fundawear smartphone app – and the couple doesn’t even need to be in the same room for those… ahem… tender caresses..
Fight for survival
Till 2008, Nokia was a brand that could do no wrong. And BlackBerry made handsets that were preferred by the suits. Then Google’s Android happened, and within a couple of years, Samsung – earlier known for its refrigerators and air conditioners – slowly, but steadily became the numero uno brand for smartphones.
In 2013, after a few calamitous strategic decisions, Nokia was bought over by Microsoft for a pittance – and Blackberry, despite its BB10 OS and new touchscreen handsets, is still looking for a buyer.
But already, Nokia with Microsoft is gaining lost ground. Popular apps are finally making their way to the Windows Phone platform. And BlackBerry is all set to release a BB10 upgrade in the New Year that will let users directly install Android apps on their smartphone. There’s no telling where these erstwhile giants will go from here, but 2013 will always be remembered as the year when they fought for pure survival.
Mother of all leaks
It’s true. They’re after you! In June, The Guardian and The Washington Post made a series of shocking revelations that America’s National Security Agency (NSA) had been sniffing through e-mails , web browsing history, and online chats. If you were visiting porn sites, they probably saw it; and they probably know about your secret e-mail addresses and Facebook accounts too.
Some of the tools employed by the NSA, allegedly, were produced by companies like Microsoft, Yahoo!, Google and Apple.
Then in November, it was revealed that NSA had infected over 50,000 networks with malware to help with its espionage. Is there more? Apparently, yes. Ninety-nine per cent of the leaked documents are yet to be documented and exposed. Hah! So while you were cluelessly watching Bigg Brother on TV, you were also part of yet another Orwellian plot.
Bitcoin: Heads or tails?
Bitcoin was first mentioned in 2008 in a paper published under the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto. The following year, this digital currency became operational with the release of the first Bitcoin ‘mining’ client, and the first Bitcoins. The last one year, however, is when this digital currency made massive headlines.
Services such as OkCupid, Baidu, Reddit, Humble Bundle, Foodler, and even Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic began accepting it as payment. In August, Germany announced that Bitcoins can be used for the purpose of tax and trading in the country. Similarly, Finland issued a regulatory guide in September. In October, the FBI shut down the Silk Road online black market and seized $28.5 million worth of Bitcoins from the alleged mastermind. The Washington Post labelled it “the currency of choice for seedy online activities,” and CNN called it a “shady online currency” .
On December 5, China Central Bank barred financial institutions from handling Bitcoin transactions in the country. This was similar to the Bank of Thailand directive in July, which deemed all Bitcoin activities as illegal. But through all these ups and downs, the price of Bitcoin reached an all-time high of nearly $1,200 in November, up from $14 at the start of the year. At the time of going to press, the value of one unit of this volatile currency dropped to $601.
John Quiggin, a professor of Economics at the University of Queensland, Australia, noted that since Bitcoin has no intrinsic value, it is “perhaps the finest example of a pure bubble” . Whether it bursts or floats depends on how long it can defy pure economics.
Taking on the big boys… and winning
Hugh ‘Wolverine’ Jackman held his palms slightly apart in a Namaste, and in between those hands, television viewers saw the Micromax Canvas Turbo.
In the last year, home-grown smartphone brands took the fight to foreign manufacturers and beat them in marketing, price and feature wars. International brands were forced to rethink strategies; sometimes bending backwards with freebies on purchase, huge discounts and even buy-back schemes.
As things stand, Micromax is second only to Samsung in the country, while Karbonn and Lava have also clawed their way up into the list of top vendors. Budgetconscious youth gave the nod to local brands, and carrying indigenous handsets – or being seen with one – is no longer uncool, it seems.
Ransomware: Your money or your data
E-mails inviting you to claim your lottery are old school now. It has been the year of ransomware – an evolved form of malware that proliferated in the first half of 2013.
The modus operandi is simple: Systems get infected; lock users out of their computers, while hackers demand money in exchange for digital freedom. Why kidnap when you have the internet and netbanking?
At the moment, ransomware has appeared in the form of a web page masquerading as the local police site, threatening to take action against your ‘illegal’ online activities. Gullible folk take the bite and pay their bail – online. Another variant called CryptoLocker puts many a network admin in a pickle with its strong encryption. And only after an untraceable online payment, they receive the decryption key!
Who’s got game
This year, Microsoft and Sony unveiled their newest game consoles within a few months of each other. The new Xbox One – unveiled in May – is designed to be your go-to bum-chum for entertainment. It understands voice commands, lets you download and watch movies, listen to music, browse the web, install apps, make Skype calls – and of course, play games.
On the other hand, the new PS4 – unveiled in February – tends towards social gameplay: It lets you share game videos and screen grabs via the internet; record and upload videos to Facebook, and is even programmed to learn your likes and dislikes.
Both consoles recognize gestures, both support Blu-ray discs, and both have begun slugging it out to be the centre of your attention – only problem they haven’t worked out is how to wean you away from your Full HD smartphone.