The past year has been a bit of a strange one in the tech world. In many ways this should have been the year that web technology “broke”, this was true in more than one sense with Facebook becoming the subject of a Hollywood blockbuster and Apple – generally thought of as invincibly slick – managing to bodge the launch of iPhone4 so badly that #antenna trended for weeks on end. The crisis pitch got to such an incessant whine that Steve Jobs, a man not known for any prior acquaintance with penitence, was forced to offer people spending hundreds on Apple’s faulty product a quite frankly derisory phone case as compensation.
Given the race to grab early market share has hotted up to such an extent that companies are releasing products onto the market that clearly aren’t ready to go it does begin to call into question the advantage of being “bleeding edge”. Sure you look…..um…grrrrreat in the unboxing videos and all of your friends are jealous that you have the latest bit of tech fetish kit but spending all night queuing up has never been anything other then the behaviour of a fanatic – meant in the worst sense of the word – and the subsequent days spent in the stygian hinterlands of teething problem tech support are hardly worth the time spent. It’s never been truer than now that the only way to receive tech hot off the press is as a tech journalist, nothing incentivises good support like the possibility of a negative review.
In many ways 2010 should’ve been Apple’s year and with April’s release of the iPad it looked like it was going to be. There’s no getting past the fact that the iPad is an incredible little bit of kit and more than “just a big iPhone” as some people rather uncharitably called it on release. From my point of view the really interesting thing about it is the fact that it opens up a whole new market for games and apps that simply wasn’t there before.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about Apple’s new baby is the love affair between it and publishing, time will tell whether it’s entirely mutual or whether it’s more of an unrequited thing but the initial blossoming of the relationship certainly looks promising for both parties. The Times launched their paywall at more or less the same time as the Times iPad app was launched and the Guardian’s excellent iPhone app was also scaled up for the new technology. Time will tell whether this is an unlikely revival for the flagging newspaper industry but with developments like Murdoch announcing an “iPad only” newspaper it certainly looks more positive than it had before. If I had to make a call though I’d imagine that this new dawn is more of an opportunity for more niche publishers like Marvel, their excellent iPad app has brought many a lapsed nerd back to the comic book fold.
Sadly what should’ve been a stellar year for Apple was sullied by the launch of the iPhone4, which clearly wasn’t ready for market at the time of launch and was beset by all sorts of antenna and signal problems. It also didn’t help that the phone appeared to many to be uglier and more delicate than it’s predecessors. What could’ve been just a momentary slip from Apple was made all the more serious by the presence for the first time of high quality alternatives like HTC’s Desire and Google’s Nexus. And, with that, Apple’s domination of the “Smartphone” market was over.
Twenty Ten was also a bit of a big year for Facebook who are fast rivalling Google as the company looking to take over Microsoft’s trophy as the web’s bad guy, not only did they burst through the five and six hundred million user marks but they also launched Facebook Places, their take on location, in June. The take up of this has by all accounts been rather slow – especially given Facebook’s massive captive audience – leading some commentators to rethink their previous proclamations that “geo is the future”. My thoughts are that the whole geolocation issue is that it’s still a very nascent space with occasional early adopters continuing to check in via foursquare and gowalla. The mass market, perhaps a little worried about privacy given the amount of info attached to their Facebook account; have yet to really embrace the feature. One feature that Facebook did introduce that seems to be working is “Groups”. Not to be confused with the Fan Pages groups, though of course it will be in the nomenclature challenged world of Facebook, these allow you to manage and segment your friends down into contextual bunches. Very useful and, for those lucky people with enough friends, an important development I’m sure.
After a few stellar years of growth this was also the year Twitter’s trajectory began to slow. Although, for my money at least, still the best community on the net, we really started to see Twitter grow up with the introduction of lists at the back end of 2009. In this post I talked about the possibility that lists were the first strike against clients and throughout 2010 this started to look more and more likely. September finally saw the launch of “New Twitter”, as announced by their CEO Evan Williams, predictably in a tweet. New Twitter, coupled with the increasingly severe API throttling, did finally spell the death knell for the Twitter Client Eco-system which is a shame of quite epic proportions as, whilst clients are still out there providing a great user experience, the need to use them will tail off in favour of the web experience. Twenty ten also saw the introduction of the rather tawdry “Promoted Tweet” which looks like a good frontrunner for the Most Annoying Thing on the Web in 2011 Award. You cant, or at least shouldn’t, blame Twitter for this though. They need to start, just like Facebook has, identifying and safeguarding the revenue streams that are going to keep the company afloat when the next hot, new social thing comes along. I think it was Warren Buffett that said it best when he said “It’s not until the tide goes out that you know who is swimming without trunks” and, much like Fred Savage in The Wonder Years, child stars are more often than not much less cute when they grow up.
Perhaps one of the strangest stories from the web in 2010 was the demise of huge chunks of Yahoo who had previously employed a google-esque strategy of buying up every web property who took their fancy. Apart from the decidedly old school, almost portal like homepage and email service, Yahoo’s stars are undoubtedly the web’s premier photography site Flickr and their social bookmarking service, Delicious. For the moment at least it looks like the self-sufficient Flickr is staying within the Yahoo stable but Delicious looks to not have been as lucky and will possibly be either sold or cut-adrift completely despite their protestations to the contrary. To help save Delicious click here and if you haven’t already tried it please give it a whirl, I’m a big fan and it’d be a shame to see it go.
So who was the big winner in the web in 2010? You might expect that, given the stellar success of the iPad it’d be Apple or, with a 600m strong user base, it’d be Facebook but for me the real winner from this year is Android. It wasn’t just the iPhone4 antenna debacle which let them in to win it, just like Android wasn’t the only technology that could’ve prospered from it but this was the year that Android really came alive as a viable mass-market platform for Smartphones. Those with longer memories will have already recognised that this situation has more than a few parallels with the Mac vs. PC battle of the 80s where Apple made the technological early running before being overtaken by the cheaper and more generic PCs running a common OS most people would recognise is a poor relation to the original. Apple’s proprietary approach to their hardware and, in this case more importantly their apps, has again created a market gap for an entity which Android has ably filled and the lines in the Smartphone wars have been largely drawn along the lines of Apple vs. Everyone else.
I love Apple products but I don’t see it being a battle they can win and in 2010 it looks like Android has landed the first blow.