In some parts of the world, 2013 has actually started already. For the US, it won't begin for several hours. However, there is still time to reflect back on what happened in the last 12 months in the tech industry. It was a very busy 2012, with lots of major new product announcements along with some unexpected twists and turns along the way.
10. The muted launch of the Nintendo Wii U: Normally, the launch of a major "next generation" game console would be a much higher news item on this list. The fact is that the Wii U barely made it on our top 10 list this year, and not for the right reasons. While Nintendo bragged that it sold 400,000 units of the console for its launch week in the US in November, since then there hasn't been the major rush by gamers to buy the Wii U like there was in 2006 when the original Wii launched.
What happened? The game industry has changed a lot in the last several years as more people play games on their tablets and smartphones, and engage in "free-to-play" titles on their PC and other platforms. The tablet gamepad for the Wii U, while innovative in some ways, also seems to be a controller looking for an audience. It doesn't help that the graphics of the Wii U are about as good as the Xbox 360, which Microsoft launched in 2005. Add it all up and the "next generation" Wii U feels much like the current generation of gaming.
9. Nokia (and Microsoft) launching the Lumia 920: After teaming up with Microsoft to launch the first Lumia smartphones (with Windows Phone 7.5) in 2011, Nokia went all out with its Windows Phone 8-based launch of the Lumia 920. The device is a big gamble for both companies. Nokia needs the Lumia 920, and indeed the rest of the Lumia family, to help relaunch Nokia as a major smartphone manufacturer. Microsoft needs Windows Phone 8 to be a success and get its products in the game against iOS and Android smartphones.
So far, the jury is still out on if the Lumia products will be a hit. While the Lumia 920, and Windows Phone 8 as a whole, have received solid reviews, we may have to wait until 2013 to learn if the OS and the phone are a success or a failure.
8. Google charges headlong into the hardware market: Google went all out in 2012, launching new branded tablets, smartphones and Chromebooks in the past 12 months, including the Nexus 7 and 10 tablets and the Nexus 4 smartphone. It even introduced "Project Glass", an effort to combine a a smartphone with glasses, although the actual product won't go on sale to the general public for some time.
It's clear that Google wants to be more like Apple and offer up its own hardware, rather than rely on third parties such as Samsung and others, and 2013 should see even more of this kind of effort by Google.
7. SOPA/PIPA blows up in the face of the US Congress: The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA), the two bills that were this close to becoming laws of the land in the US, were cut off before they could come to a vote in January. This was mostly due to a grass roots Internet-based protest effort that included major websites going dark for a day. The people that were against the bills claimed they gave the US government too much power to go after websites that may, or may not, be offering copyrighted material illegally.
In the end, the two bills didn't come to a vote and were postponed indefinitely, and it looks like there's no plans to bring up any similar bills when the new US Congress comes into session in 2013. It showed that the Internet community can come together to create change and the SOPA/PIPA protest will likely not be the last time this happens.
6. The shut down of MegaUpload: Ironically, just as the SOPA and PIPA bills went up in flames, a popular file sharing website was taken down by the US government. MegaUpload's servers were closed and the founder of the site, Kim Dotcom (formerly Kim Schmitz) and other MegaUpload team members were arrested and charged with online content piracy. Law enforcement officials actually raided Dotcom's mansion in New Zealand in a way that's right out of a Michael Bay movie.
Dotcom has pleaded not guilty to the charges and is still awaiting a trial that could see him extradited to the US from New Zealand. Meanwhile, he says he will launch a new file sharing site, Mega, on January 20th.
5. Facebook's IPO: It was supposed to be the biggest tech IPO launch since Google. Facebook opened its stock to members of the general public to buy,sell and trade in May. However, technical issues at the NASDAQ market, thanks to tons of people wanting to trade its stock, caused problems early on.
The stock price was $38 a share to begin with but Facebook's value has dipped way down since then. Today, the stock price of this once highly anticipated public company is around $26 a share or so. It shows that even a company with a billion users can still be considered a poor financial pick.
4. Apple wins in Samsung US patent case: In August, Apple got what it waited for some time to receive; a big court win against rival Samsung. The company convinced a jury that Samsung had violated its design patents for the iPhone and iPad when Samsung made its own Galaxy family of smartphones and tablets. The jury said Samsung must pay just over $1 billion to Apple in damages.
Of course, the court victory is not totally over (Samsung is appealing the case) but it does show that even the basic design of a smartphone or tablet can be contested in a court of law and you can bet that other smartphone companies are taking heed of that decision.
3. Apple messes up big with iOS 6 Maps: Apple, understandably, wanted to have its own mapping application in its iOS 6 operating system instead of Google's. However, in September, the company released a mapping app that simply was not ready for prime time. With data errors and some wonky images, the app was well behind Google Maps in functionality.
Apple CEO Tim Cook made a rare public apology about the release of iOS 6 Maps, and in December, Google released its own mapping app for the operating system. You can bet that Apple has learned a big lesson about releasing software products way too early.
2. The launch of Windows 8: While it was officially introduced in preview form in 2011, Microsoft finally launched the shipping version of Windows 8 in October 2012. The
Metro Modern user interface design is the single biggest change for the PC OS since Windows first started and, as expected, it has polarized the PC industry. Some hate the changes with a passion while others believe Microsoft made the right move to switch to a touch screen optimized UI.
There is lots of debate on if Windows 8 will save the PC industry or contribute to its overall decline compared to tablets and smartphones. There's no question, however, that the radical changes that Windows 8 brings to the PC will be felt for years to come.
1. The reveal of the Surface: While Microsoft has released lots of hardware products in the past (the Xbox game consoles being the most successful) it had never wanted to enter the PC hardware market to compete directly against the OEMs that used Microsoft's Windows OS. That changed in 2012 with the reveal of the Surface tablet.
Introduced in June to a mostly shocked audience in a press event in Los Angeles, the Surface tablet represents perhaps the biggest gamble in Microsoft's history. At the moment, we don't know what the final outcome will be; the Windows RT version of the Surface has received mixed reviews, and the Windows 8 Pro version, which a lot of people are waiting on, won't be released until January. However, it looks like Microsoft is going to be making hardware products like the Surface from now on and that represents the biggest shift in the PC industry since Microsoft first launched MS-DOS to third party PC makers in the 1980s. It's for this reason why it's our number one tech story of 2012.
Images via their respective owners | 2013 image via Shutterstock