2010 was, even more so than most, a rollercoaster year for tech. From the glossy newness of the iPad, to the frenzy surrounding Wikileaks, to the rise of Android, to the continuing explosion of Facebook and Twitter, it seemed the pace of change just kept on accelerating.
Still, like any year, not all of that change was good. From the entrenchment of big media to the ambivalence of ‘hacktivism’, 2010 had some disturbing trends for tech. Here are my picks for some of the worst.
Old Media, Clinging to the Past
While 2010 had some old media success stories – like the success of the The Atlantic or the unprecedented success of Avatar – 2010 continued the trend of ‘big, old media’ hampering progression.
Prime examples were moves like the big broadcasters blocking their content from Google TV, some networks’ refusal to allow 99 cents rentals on iTunes, the return of paywalls or the glossy but functionally lacking iPad Magazine apps.
And you can tell old media are worried. A perfect example is Time Warner CEO trying hard to make it sound like Netflix’s meteoric rise is no big deal, as if the growth of a wildly profitable media company in 2010 is insignificant.
We know why this is happening. Old Media is just protecting its business model and the financial structure that supports content creation. But what underpins that is that better ways of doing things – unlimited streaming, searchable TV, sharable magazine articles or innovative ways of accessing content – are being slowed and constrained by companies scrambling to preserve the past instead of inventing the future.
Look, I love Foursquare and will defend it to the end. But gamification – in which some aspects of gaming, like points or badges, are added to a service or media to make it more compelling – is getting a bit much.
Now, people are talking using gamification for the journalism, or applying to all aspects of business. A new iPad from Kobo lets you get badges for reading. Um, great? It makes my experience of that latest novel so much better. Or not.
It’s bad enough that these things have very little to do with games. What they do is basiscally take the reward system from games, but don’t do anything remotely interesting – if at all – with actual game play. It’s just points tacked on to what you would do anyway. Games are a revolutionary medium that don’t enough respect, and this is not helping.
But what’s worst about the trend is that it basically makes normal our worst psychological habits: addiction, greed, instant gratification and self-interest. Sure, all of those things are part of being human. But that doesn’t mean we should encourage it. Why aren’t people instead focused on making their content more compelling, instead of simply building addictive reward structures? Oh… right. It’s almost like they’re hiding something.
Tech Co’s Resort to Playing Catchup With Apple
Maybe it’s true that the combination of Steve Jobs, Johnathan Ives and the rest of Apple’s leadership are a historical anomaly: a combination of talent and smarts and know-how that other people simply cannot replicate.
But in 2010, every tech company around seems to essentially have ceded any thoughts of leadership or innovation to Apple and are happy playing catchup.
Was there any smartphone this year that had both its software and hardware as good as Apple? Any sign of the kind of thinking that led to a product as new as the iPad? Some kind of thought about how new hardware and new ways of delivering media can be combined for innovative new ways of consuming media?
Um, no. What we got was an array of copycat products: half-hearted all-in-ones, poorly implemented tablet competitors, an almost total lack of new digital media offerings and no-one really producing gamechangers in the same way Apple has recently.
It’s true that some companies are outclassing Apple in specific areas. Netflix seem to get that the cloud is the future of media, and Google Books looks like a step-up from iBooks. There were also a few brightspots in hardware: Kinect seems truly innovative (even if hardcore gamers mistakenly think it’s ruining everything) and the Samsung Galaxy Tab is pretty decent.
Still, it would be a stretch to argue that anyone other than Apple are truly leading, particularly in the realm of consumer electronics. Samsung may try, but they just can’t integrate vertically like Apple can. And Sony and Dell are, at this point, write-offs when it comes to innovation in the web world. Sharp, Acer, Toshiba – all of these companies make some attempt, but can’t really produce anything truly exciting.
So in 2010 – a year when so much was possible – we have one company leading and everyone else scrambling to simply keep up. And how depressing is that?
What tech trends in 2010 could you not stand? Hit the comments and let us know.