The first four months of the year were somewhat ‘business as usual’, with a typical mix of technology companies punching each other in the face and clever people inventing clever new things. (Seriously: a 3D printer than can output something like synthetic tissue. That is _amazing_.)
Summer expectations centred on announcements about yet more shiny objects from industry giants, but it was a story about surveillance that grabbed hold of column inches and never really let go — even as 2014 loomed into view.
MAY - One Microsoft debacle
We’d suggest May was the calm before the storm in the tech world, but that wouldn’t be at all true. If anything, it was a month of angry fist-smashing. In the UK, Google exec Matt Brittin was hauled before MPs to explain quite how ‘Don’t be evil’ equated to ‘and also, don’t pay corporation tax’. Online, Adobe managed to attract the ire of creative industries by scrapping boxed products and moving its high-end Creative Suite software entirely to the cloud and ‘forcing’ subscription payments. And Facebook continued on its oblivious path regarding appropriate content for social networking; it blocked an admin for posting an image that claimed the network banned breastfeeding pictures, but was happy to let rape jokes and faked images of beaten women stay online.
Even in the field of gaming, teeth were gnashing as Microsoft unveiled the Xbox One, seemingly pissing off the entire world. Much of the anger centred on the console requiring an always-on web connection — which Microsoft later said wouldn’t be the case — and restrictions regarding game activation and resale — which Microsoft later U-turned on. Inevitably, pundits then started whining about Microsoft’s now-scrapped DRM system actually being beneficial and gamers no longer getting those benefits. Microsoft Xbox execs, we assume, then spent the summer doing synchronised headdesks.
Still, May wasn’t all bad news: Commander Chris Hadfield recorded a video of Space Oddity while on board the International Space Station. Fortunately, he didn’t then enact a literal take on The Man Who Fell To Earth.
JUNE - Farewell, privacy
Traditionally a big month for tech announcements, June was no exception in 2013. However, everything was overshadowed by a series of stunning revelations surrounding surveillance. Leaked documents exposed the USA’s National Security Agency (NSA) as having collected phone records, and the existence of Prism, a program collecting stored internet communications based on demands made to the biggest tech players in the industry. Accusations flew back and forth while source of the leak Edward Snowden simply flew, trying to find sanctuary in a country that wouldn’t bounce him right back to the USA to face charges.
Fallout continued during subsequent months as the UK’s GCHQ was accused of tapping undersea cables, and that the USA was bugging European allies. In the UK, GCHQ watched as the Guardian took an angle grinder to the drives that had housed copies of leaked files, while politicians worldwide took sides, backing the need for covert ops and slamming media leaks, or supporting those aiming to protect people’s privacy.
Fortunately, distractions were on hand from the industry’s big guns, to ensure not all tech news was NSA-flavoured (although, judging by the Prism slides, it could have been NSA-tainted). Microsoft unleashed a public preview of Windows 8.1, now with added Start Button and a direct-to-Desktop boot option, Google bought Waze, Instagram added video, and Android games system Ouya launched. Finally, Apple at WWDC 2013 announced iOS 7, OS X Mavericks (the first free OS X), and a dramatically redesigned Mac Pro, which managed to make every tech-head want one despite it resembling Darth Vader’s waste bin.
More after the break...
JULY - Google's smart TV play
For the most part, July was a month of exciting new things, dead things, and dead things brought temporarily back to life. In terms of the shiny and new, TV was where it was at: Google made public the diminutive Chromecast, an HDMI dongle for streaming content from a supported app to a TV via Wi-Fi. Apple TVs the world over presumably fumed at Apple allowing the competition to build rather than securing a market it could so easily have grabbed for itself.
In terms of dead things, Google put down Reader, seemingly fatally wounding RSS in the process. Surface RT wasn’t quite dead in July, but it might as well have been, with Microsoft slashing prices and taking a $900 million loss due to “inventory adjustments”.
AUGUST - Hyperloops and test tube burgers
The month began with Caitlin Moran’s Twitter boycott, #trolliday. Designed to coincide with International Friendship Day, the well-meaning idea was to draw attention to how many women were getting harassed on the social network, which itself didn’t seem to be doing a great deal to help. In the event, some people stayed away, some didn’t, and many more than those combined complained about people silencing themselves on a social network where people were trying to silence them.
Fortunately, the very next day scientists distracted everyone with a burger made from lab-grown fibres that was fried, served and eaten. It was reportedly rather dry and lacking in favour, but on the plus side the lab experiment didn’t suddenly gain sentience and start eating the diners. Also in the world of glimpsing technology’s future, August saw Elon Musk unveil his Hyperloop — a supersonic transport concept for the USA’s west coast — and goal-line technology arrive in British football. Rather more pointing to the past, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer announced he would leave the company within 12 months, and Nintendo seemingly admitted no-one liked the 3D bit of the 3DS that much, and announced ugly sibling console the 2DS.
In a minor triumph for humanity, Brit Lee Beaumont converted his landline into a premium number, turning the table on cold callers by making money off of them. Unfortunately, karma decided to kick humanity in the teeth, first by injuring 20 in a crazy LG promotional stunt where people armed with guns and knives raced for smartphone vouchers hanging from balloons (Seriously — who thought that was a good idea?), and then in Chelsea Manning (born Bradley Manning) getting a 35-year sentence for handing over a huge number of government documents to Wikileaks.