The past 12 months have been a boon of technological innovation, particularly in the world of mobile devices, where top companies have been waging an arms race for the top of the smartphone and tablet hills. Not everything has been smooth sailing, however — 2011 has also been dotted by delays, false starts, security breeches and straight up technological turf outs. Check out some of the lowlights from the year that was after the break.
It was a troubled engagement from the get-go. The moment AT&T announced its plans to swallow up T-Mobile, the word "monopoly" was on the tip of everyone's tongues. After all, it would have effectively meant the loss of one of the top players in a market ruled by four companies. Much to AT&T's very vocal chagrin, The FCC and Department of Justice put the proposed marriage under the legal microscope, a fact that the telecom giant cited as chief amongst the catalysts for its decision to back out of the deal in December. AT&T exited with its tail between its legs and $ 4 billion poorer.
The mystery software, which was first spotted back in November, turned out to be surprisingly widespread, having been deployed on some 150 million mobile devices, according to the company. Carrier IQ has since repeatedly claimed that its software is simply installed for diagnostic purposes, but the secrecy with which it exists on devices has given the tech media and privacy advocates cause for concern, with a number of hardware manufacturers and carriers offering up conflicting answers as to whether or not they’ve utilized it for their own devices.
The company that became synonymous with pocket camcorders died an unexpected death this year, shut down by Cisco after being picked up by the IT giant for a cool $ 590 million in stock just two years earlier. Cisco announced its exit from consumer products back in April, a move that effectively shuttered the once booming Flip Video business, even as companies like Sony and Kodak have continued to duke it out for market share.
Okay, okay, we knew we were destined for disappointment after waiting roughly a decade and half for the latest installment in this FPS series, but even with all of the arguably unrealistic expectations that come with such delays, the title ultimately proved a major disappointment, with bad controls and, not surprisingly, extremely dated gameplay — all the more reason to look forward to Duke Nukem Forever II, which should arrive in the second half of 2030.
Fusion Garage company already delivered a major tech belly-flop in the form of the JooJoo, which was delivered late, underpowered and overpriced, belying its sub-$ 200 roots. When the company announced its triumphant return in the form of the Grid10, Grid4 and GridOS, we were excited at the prospect of a new take on the tablet market. Once again, however, the tiny company had taken on far more than it could manage, delivering buggy software and, in the case of the Grid4, nothing at all.
There’s certainly a lot to like about the Thunderbolt — namely, its 4.3-inch display and zippy data speeds, courtesy of Verizon LTE. The smartphone has one fatal flaw, however: truly awful battery life. Oh, the pitfalls of first-generation devices.
The iPhone 5 makes it onto our list for committing the unforgivable act of simply not existing. As ever, the rumor mill ran wild ahead of this year’s rather belated iPhone event, promising the delivery of yet another revolutionary device from Cupertino. Instead, we got the iPhone 4S. Sure, the handset offered up some improvements over its similarly named predecessor, most notably the introduction of Siri, but the added features were ultimately a disappointment in the face of ever increasing competition in the crowded smartphone race.
Products like the MotoACTV offered up a new spin on fitness gadgets in 2011. And then there’s the Up, Jawbone’s take. The wristband promised an innovative approach to workout gadgetry, but ultimately fell flat, with widespread reports of device bricking and skimpy battery life. Add a limited feature set and iOS-only compatibility, and you’ve got a straight up disappointment on your wrist.
We love rooting for the underdog, and Kobo has certainly given competitors like Amazon and Barnes & Noble a run for their money in the e-reader market, but the company's entry in the budget tablet category came up short compared to the likes of the Nook Tablet and Kindle Fire. The Vox delivered abysmal battery life, limited multimedia functionality, an uninspired take on Gingerbread and last-gen hardware specs.
Mark this one down as another hardware maker biting off more than it could chew. The Kno was a rather ambitious dual-screen take on the tablet world marketed toward students. After several delays, the company actually began shipping the devices only to pull the plug after fulfilling a few hundred pre-orders. In the end, Kno announced that it would be exiting the hardware business, licensing designs to Intel and focusing on the software side of things.
How did we know that Netflix’s Web-only initiative was in trouble from the outset? For starters, the company failed to secure the Qwikster Twitter handle, which remained in the possession of someone with a pot smoking Elmo icon. After large scale public outrage, the company backtracked on the initiative less than a month after first announcing it. If nothing else, you’ve got to give Reed Hastings and Co. a little credit for responding to investor public demand in record time.
The 3DS wasn’t even the first product that Nintendo unleashed on the world without being fully-baked. To the company’s credit, however, it did address the situation, offering up a major price drop, some apologies and tossing some free games at early adopters who paid full price. Nintendo’s hardware fix, on the other hand, wasn’t quite so graceful. The portable console will be getting a right circle pad in February, courtesy of the Circle Pad Pro, a massive, $ 20 piece of plastic that cradles the rear of the device.
It’s not every day that “broken promises” and “unrealized dreams” make it onto the cons list of one of our reviews, but the Notion Ink Adam was a special product indeed. Like the Grid10, the Adam was the story of a startup taking on behemoths, ultimately over-promising innovation and under-delivering with aplomb. The Froyo-packing tablet was a massive disappointment on both the hardware and software fronts — facts that its innovative design couldn’t disguise.
A network outage is bad; a breach that potentially exposes personal user information for tens of millions of users is tough to walk away from. The PlayStation Network nightmare seemingly took forever to unfold, and things just kept getting worst for Sony. The network finally started going back up in mid-May, nearly a month after it first went offline. A month later, Sony launched its “Welcome Back” campaign, offering up free games for affected users — for some subscribers, however, the olive branch was hardly enough to rejoin team PSN.
Surely, few companies are looking forward to the end of 2011 quite so eagerly as RIM. This year was a rough one for the Canadian handset maker, with its market share further eroded by the likes of iOS and Android. The PlayBook fell flat, as did its BBX operating system, which was re-branded BlackBerry 10, due to trademark disputes. The long-awaited next-gen OS was also put on hold in a big way, and is now expected to drop toward the end of next year. And outages? RIM had those too, going offline globally with the largest blackout in the company’s history.
BlackBerry 10 may have been a non-starter, but in the world of mobile OSes, 2011 may well go down as the year that HP effectively killed webOS. After the TouchPad launch was met with disappointing reviews and lackluster sales, the company announced that it was pulling the plug on its line of hardware running the beloved, but troubled mobile operating system. The Touchpad did see a temporary resurgence, however, thanks to a $ 99 fire sale, briefly becoming the second best selling tablet, according to some studies. webOS may have seen a reprieve as well, when new CEO Meg Whitman told her staff that webOS may, in fact, be getting a second life in the wonderful world of open-sourcing.