2012: Tech Year in Review

Wow, that was some year. A scintillating presidential election, a exciting London Summer Olympics, literally shocking developments in the electric car business, the bloody problems in Iraq and Afghanistan, an astounding end to the Dark Knight trilogy and beginning of The Hobbit.

It was a weird year in tech, too, especially compared to the yawn-worthy 2011, which will be remembered more for the death of Steve Jobs than any particular technology or gadget.

With the improved economy, consumers were obviously willing to invest in new gear this year, and clearly unwilling to buy anything with even a hint of age. And that dissatisfaction with the old and unimaginative extended into several prominent high-tech boardrooms.

So here's a review of what happened in the coming year (and good luck untangling that twisted tense syntax).

January 2012

CES. Much ado about nothing and no indication of the wild year to come. It was Microsoft's last CES, but what the company was doing there to begin with was anyone's guess. All the real movers-and-shakers in the tech world took Apple's cue and created their own new product announcement release schedule to avoid the clutter of CES. Otherwise, TV makers unveiled more 3D HDTVs no one wanted, and lesser companies screamed for attention with lots of cool gizmos the mainstream media oooh'd and aaah'd over — and that no one remembered two months later.

February 2012

On what would have been Steve Jobs' birthday (February 24), Apple unveils the iPad 3. Thanks to IGZO (indium gallium zinc oxide) LCD technology, iPad 3 is even thinner and lasts longer on its battery than iPad 2, runs ridiculously lickety-split on the company's new quad core A6 processor, and includes Siri. But iPad 3's star is a high-resolution 1536 x 2048 pixel, 300-plus dpi Retina screen, which makes everything on it look nearly 3D. But what really gets buyers excited is the iPad Mini with a 7.85-inch display. Perhaps the best news for the iPad-less: iPad 2s go on sale for $250 and Apple runs out of inventory within two weeks.

Drowned in the iPad 3 hoopla, the long-awaited beta for Microsoft's Window 8 OS is less-noisily released.

March 2012

Nintendo starts selling its long-awaited Wii U gaming system, controlled by a tablet-like controller with a 6.2-inch screen to supplement game play, along with an accelerometer and a gyroscope, a rumble feature, an front-facing camera, a microphone and speakers.

April 2012

Publicity surrounding the April 6 3D re-release of Titanic and subsequent home video release sparks a spike in sales of 3D HDTVs. It doesn't last.

May 2012

With only a fraction of the games offered by Apple and Android, reports of hardware and screen problems (real or not — perception, as always, rules), consumer resistance to its proprietary memory and game cards, and a price nearly five times that of a smartphone, sales for Vita plummet, prompting Sony to severely cut its price before ending production completely at the end of the year.

June 2012

RIM suffers its longest BlackBerry blackout ever, which proves to be the last straw. It sells itself and its extensive patent portfolio to Google, which begins integrating BlackBerry's QNX OS into Android. Co-CEOs and co-founders Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis get a hefty payout with no continuing role.

Meanwhile, to get a jump on Apple's new iPhone 5, Jeff Bezos prematurely announces Amazon's first smartphone/e-reader, the Android Kindle Flame, which features a 5-inch screen — but it won't go on sale until the fall.

July 2012

Apple CEO Tim Cook unveils the iPhone 5, a true (finally!) next-generation handset with a 4.2-inch screen and 4G LTE connectivity with seven-hour battery life, nearly twice that of other 4G LTE handsets. With the extra power provided by its A6 chip, Siri can now handle local iPhone tasks (playing a song, dialing a number) without first connecting to the Internet, and can voice control AppleTV, which ignites further buzz about a Siri-controlled Apple iHDTV.

And one more thing: iPhone 5 is NFC-compatible. Retailers rush to install NFC countertop terminals. iPhone 4S's price also is slashed to $99, and Apple runs out of inventory in two weeks.

August 2012

After the failure of the Lumia 710 and otherwise slow consumer uptake of the Windows Phone OS, Microsoft announces its exit from the smartphone operating system market. Coupled with the giant yawn that greeted Windows 8, CEO Steve Ballmer is forced to resign. Soon after, Meg Whitman accepts the Republican Party nomination for VP and resigns as CEO of HP.

September 2012

Boingo announces its first Hotspot 2.0 Wi-Fi hotspots (aka Wi-Fi Certified Passpoint), which enables smartphones (with minor Android and iOS firmware/software/OS updates) to automatically and seamlessly connect to compatible hotspots as if roaming from cell-to-cell. Carriers offer their smartphone subscribers a free trial that leads to per usage or unlimited Hotspot 2.0 Wi-Fi connectivity plans.

October 2012

On the 23d, the 11th anniversary of the iPod unveiling, Apple announces its long-rumored LED LCD iHDTV in sizes from 32- to 55-inches. Among the expected hardware benefits are built-in Wi-Fi, built-in webcam and Facetime video telephony, powerful custom processor, ability to run all iPad and iPhone apps — especially games, which produces a bigger chill in the video game console business — with voice control via Siri and the iPhone. "Siri, I want to watch ESPN!"

One more thing: Apple offers channel cherry-picking iTunes content plans rather than bundles of (mostly unwatched) channels. At first, few content providers outside of Disney-owned networks are part of the plan, but other networks soon capitulate once consumers start clamoring for greater choice.

November 2012

Sharp finally announces the launch of its long-delayed 4G LTE network to supplement — for the time being — its WiMAX network.

December 2012

After a several years of billion dollar losses in its TV business and confronted by booming sales of Apple's iHDTV and its own poor holiday TV sales, Sony stuns the electronics world and exits the TV business it once dominated. Coupled with and the flop of the PlayStation Vita and PlayStation 3 itself lagging in third place behind Microsoft Xbox and the new Nintendo Wii U, the failure of its tablet efforts, and the continuing inability of the company's varying content divisions to integrate with its hardware divisions, Sir Howard Stringer resigns after failing to turn the company's fortunes around, the final in a series of big-name CEO exits in 2012 and ending an otherwise exciting tech year on a downer.

But CES 2013 is just around the corner. I can't wait to see what the new year brings!

Image credit: Sergey Mironov /Shutterstock

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