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Here are the five biggest tech surprises of 2020

2020 is almost done and dusted which means that now's a good time to take a look back at some of this year's highlights. In this week, we have already looked at some of the coolest tech innovations and disappointments of 2020. Today, we are going to revisit some of the biggest surprises that were delivered to us in the tech landscape this year.

These surprises refer to products, services, or events that landed upon us without any prior warning and caught us off-guard, fortunately or unfortunately. Needless to say, this is a list based on personal preferences, so maybe some of the items mentioned here won't be as surprising or momentous for you as they were for us. With that out of the way, let's begin!

1 - Microsoft buys ZeniMax Media

Without a doubt, one of the biggest gaming-related news that graced us this year, and it's equally surprising that Microsoft managed to keep it a secret until it was made official. The company, which has faced a lot of criticism in the past few years for its lackluster Xbox exclusives, finally decided to remedy the situation starting this year. The secret ingredient? Buying ZeniMax Media for a whopping $7.5 billion on September 21.

If you're unfamiliar with the name, it's the firm that owns high profile game development studios such as Bethesda Softworks, Bethesda Game Studios, id Software, ZeniMax Online Studios, Arkane, MachineGames, Tango Gameworks, Alpha Dog, and Roundhouse Studios. This essentially brings numerous popular franchises under Microsoft's first-party umbrella, including Fallout, The Elder Scrolls, Wolfenstein, DOOM, Dishonored, Prey, Quake, and Starfield. It also means that the Xbox Game Studios family has now grown from 15 to 23.

This was a major power move from Microsoft which had been struggling against high-quality PlayStation exclusives as well as the exclusivity deals that Sony has been striking with third-party developers.

While Microsoft stated that it would honor existing agreements of bringing games from these studios like Deathloop and Ghostwire: Tokyo to the PlayStation 5, Xbox head Phil Spencer said that the company does not need to put games on PlayStation to recoup its $7.5 billion purchase. He had previously also confirmed that the release of titles from these studios on other platforms would be decided on a case by case basis.

While this has caused some worry in the PlayStation camp, this is good news for Xbox players, as this acquisition means that they will be able to enjoy upcoming games from ZeniMax Media like the highly anticipated The Elder Scrolls VI on Game Pass on day one without paying an additional cent.

2 - Carl Pei leaves OnePlus

From left to right: Akis Evangelidis, Pete Lau, Carl Pei

This is yet another piece of news that caught everyone by surprise back in October when the public face and co-founder of OnePlus Carl Pei suddenly left the company after seven years at the helm. In fact, it is still very much unclear why Pei made this decision, but some reports have indicated that it was likely due to an internal power struggle with the other co-founder Pete Lau.

Carl Pei is best known for being the co-founder of OnePlus alongside Pete Lau back in 2013. The company's first product, the OnePlus One, was highly anticipated for its flagship specifications at a price point that was roughly half that of the competition. The device went on sale at online storefronts in April 2014 and managed to sell over one million units before the end of the year, surpassing its 50,000 units sold target with aplomb.

A recent report has indicated that the executive has now raised $7 million in a seed funding round in his latest hardware-related venture. Not much about this endeavor is known yet, but rumors hint that it is an audio-related endeavor that will see Pei set up an office in London. We'll likely learn more on this front in 2021.

3 - Google getting rid of free unlimited Photos backup

File this under disappointing, but Google announced in November that it is making major changes to storage policies tied to Photos. Primarily, it is doing away with the free unlimited high-quality backups for Photos users, which means that once users hit the 15GB Drive cap, they will need to purchase a storage plan to backup more photos.

While the change in policy will be in effect from June 1, 2021, its sudden announcement last month earns it a spot on this list. After June of next year, users will have a total of 15GB of free storage for data from Drive, Gmail, and Photos.

The change has likely been introduced to encourage more users to upgrade to Google One plans and monetize the Photos backup feature. The entry-level tier starts at $1.99 per month for 100GB of storage. Users that rely heavily on free Photos backups have little more than six months before the policies change, so make sure to check out our handy guide here about how to optimize your storage strategy.

4 - Microsoft quietly cancels its 95% revenue sharing program

Amidst much fanfare and appreciation, Microsoft announced at Build 2018 that it is introducing a new revenue split program under which developers can earn as much as 95% of the revenue from sales from the Store, as long as customers discovered the app through the developer's own promotion. At that time, both Google and Apple provided 60% of revenues to developers, which made Microsoft's offer all the more enticing.

However, it wasn't until March 2019 that Microsoft finally added this change to its developer agreement. This proved to be a very short-lived modification as numerous developers discovered in January 2020 that the company had quietly updated the document again to revoke this offer, and was now offering the standard 85%, also announced at Build 2018 for apps which are discovered using promotion offered by the Redmond tech giant.

To Microsoft's credit, it only canceled the offer due to lack of participation from developers. In a statement to Neowin, the company told us that "due to the small number of developers that took advantage of the 95% revenue share, we’ve made changes to streamline the experience for developers and offer a consistent 85% model". The attractive but apparently not-enough-used program died a quiet death nine months after formal initiation.

5 - Google's massive global outage

Most of you - especially those who rely heavily on Google services - will be able to vividly recall the day when Google faced a global outage earlier in December. The issue affected numerous services including Gmail, YouTube, Drive, News, Translate, Ads, Domain, and Google Cloud Platform (GCP) among others.

Millions of people around the globe were unable to access the aforementioned services properly, with no indication from the company as to what was causing the problem, other than Google saying that it was looking into it.

After roughly one hour of the outage - in which people vented about centralized services in meltdown on social media platforms or asking if Google has been hacked - the firm finally managed to fix the issue, and services were slowly restored for users. Google later issued an apology stating that the mishap was due to an "internal storage quota issue" and that it will ensure that it doesn't occur again in the future.

The specific incident is significant because it showed how heavily people are invested in Google services, where a one-hour downtime halted their daily routines and usual activities. This was also the first outage of this extent for Google services, and here's to hoping it doesn't happen again in 2021.

Those were our top picks for tech incidents that caught us off-guard. Are there any others that you think deserve to be on this list and we may have missed? Let us know in the comments section below!

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