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.