2013 started with a possible donkey hit-and-run courtesy of Google, and ended with the internet raising money so a blind man could keep the ageing guide dog that saved him from being struck by a train.
In-between animal-related antics, we got new devices aplenty, companies throwing money about like confetti, Apple being doomed at least a dozen times daily, and the all-too-brief return of Knightmare. Join us now for the first of our three-part review of what we reckon was a cracking year in tech!
The year kicked off with Qualcomm staking an early claim for the most cringeworthy tech event of 2013 via its CES keynote. After a painfully long intro of toe-curling hipster and gangster stereotyping (“And by hot, I mean ‘fuego’!” *pin drop*), special guests arrived and just wouldn’t stop coming. But even Steve Ballmer getting into a lather about Qualcomm chips, Big Bird and an embarrassed ‘birdketeer’ chum discussing augmented reality, Guillermo del Toro, Alice Eve and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, weren’t enough to save the car-crash event from its dire script, with jokes so flat they’d seemingly been repeatedly steamrollered.
All is forgiven, though, for the Snapdragon 800 chip that was unveiled, which went on to power a number of the best smartphones of the year.
Elsewhere, RIM became BlackBerry in products and name, with a new brand, new software (BlackBerry 10!) and new hardware (Z10! They like the number 10!), but despite us and others rather liking its innovative new direction, the world had long since stopped caring – and would continue to not care right up until the end of the year. Amazon released auto-rip, enabling Americans (and, by June, Brits) to sneakily get digital copies of albums they’d actually bought as gifts for their gran.
Twitter did for video what it did for long-form writing, unveiling Vine, a sharing service for six-second videos. And Google simultaneously expanded mapping coverage of isolationist North Korea while responding to accusations a Street View car had murdered a donkey in Botswana. In a blog post, ‘Never ass-ume’, Kei Kawai, Group Product Manager, Google Maps, pointed out the donkey was fine; presumably as punishment for the terrible pun in the blog post’s title, The Register then helpfully noted a Street View car had instead killed Bambi (or possibly some random deer), as evidenced by (since deleted) images from back in 2009.
The most important story of the month for us, though, was Aaron Swartz. The programmer had worked on RSS and Reddit, but was arrested in 2011 by MIT police, on breaking and entering charges, having downloaded a slew of academic journal articles. Faced with the prospect of a staggering 35 years in jail and US$1 million in fines, and denied a plea bargain, he was found dead in his apartment. It was a shameful episode for many of those involved, not least the prosecutors and MIT.
Despite only arriving the previous month, Vine started to make waves in February. Journalist Dawn Siff was particularly creative, using the service to fashion the first Vine resumé. “Idea machine Dawn Siff. Journalist. Strategist. Manager. Deadline Jedi,” she said enthusiastically, clutching props such as a Rubik’s Cube and a lightsaber. Two months later, she was gainfully employed, albeit “through old fashioned networking,” – but her new employer was reportedly “impressed” by the Vine.
In the play for hearts and minds of next-gen (or should that be next-next-next-gen?) gaming, Sony was first out of the blocks, with its imaginatively named PlayStation 4. The new console would arrive by the holiday season, and boasted PC-like innards, a revamped controller with a touchpad, and a light bar on the back so you can pretend you’re in Tron. Sony didn’t reveal how many software updates would be required before you could actually play a game on your newly unwrapped console.
The future – or at least possible futures – of mobile were also on show in February, via Google Glass ending up in the hands of developers and US researchers announcing a stretchable battery that could power flexible electronic kit. The campaign for iSlippers starts here.