Tech Hits & Misses of 2016 and What Lies Ahead in 2017: the TechPP Team Report
As 2016 draws to a close, we asked the team at TechPP to list out what in their opinions were the best products and the biggest disappointments of 2016. And what they were looking forward to in 2017. The result was quite a collection. Read on.
Best of 2016: Google Pixel
For me, the best of 2016 has to be the Google Pixel. And this may sound fanboyish and even typical but the truth is I have been waiting for a phone like this for years. I always considered iPhones to be the best smartphone lineup there is in the market, however, my deep hatred towards Apple’s constrained ecosystem never let me buy one. And its Android counterparts always seem to be lacking at least one major aspect – the Samsung S7 was too glassy for my usage, the Nexus 6P was huge, the Nexus 5X wasn’t powerful enough, the HTC M9 didn’t have the best in class camera… you get the idea. The Google Pixel showcases Android in its true glory while not compromising on the rest of the features. The smaller variant too packs the same punch and best of all, Google has taken control of both software and hardware leading to a significantly better experience.
Disappointment of 2016: Twitter
Unfortunately, there were a lot of gloomy periods of 2016. However, if I had to select just one product, it has to be Twitter (wearables too but I don’t really care that much about them). The social network couldn’t fix even a minuscule percentage of the issues haunting it and hence, its share has been gradually declining ever since the start of this year. The return of Jack Dorsey as the CEO back in October 2015 did not bring any substantial alteration and each and every shortcoming Twitter is facing has only worsened in the past year. Problems such as it being too intimidating for new users, its news and social dilemma, not allowing users to edit tweets, the algorithmic timeline change, and a whole lot more still persist. Numerous reports revealed the social network is looking for buyers and at this point, I am not particularly surprised by that.
What I am Looking Forward to in 2017: The PC scene
I’m looking forward to how personal computers shape up in 2017. As of now, the PC space is highly scattered throughout the industry and there are numerous manifestations of how they function and look. There are Chromebooks which are betting their entire future on the Web, Apple’s ambitious MacBook that bets on a wireless life, ultrabooks which attempt to encapsulate powerful hardware in a relatively portable aesthetic, tablets like the iPad Pro, two-in-ones such as the Surface Pro, and a couple more. Your phone is also playing a vital role here as companies continue to crown it with the ultimate mobile device, especially Microsoft which recently managed to implement its complete operating system on Qualcomm ARM processors. So, yes, personal computing currently is going through an experimental age and it’s a fascinating one as every technology’s fate depends on upon it. It may not reach a conclusive stage in 2017 but it will truly come out with something which will roughly give us a glimpse into the future of the computer.
Best of 2016: Microsoft and Amazon
I loved the kind of comeback Microsoft and Amazon made. Microsoft, in particular, has been more and more open to various competing platforms such as iOS and Android – perhaps the biggest shocker was Microsoft becoming a part of the Linux foundation which was once regarded as cancer by the Redmond company. I also loved the aggressiveness of Amazon. The company ventured into a brand new computing platform via Echo and found success. Apart from that, Amazon’s aggressiveness in India was stunning. The company unveiled its Prime membership program at rock bottom prices and quickly followed the same with the roll out of Amazon Prime Video which was again free with Prime and otherwise also available at a very low price.
Disappointment of 2016: Pebble and Cyanogen
There had been quite a few hiccups in products by big tech companies but I would not want to go into that – most of the big companies have enough resources to be able to make a solid comeback or improve their products down the line (just look at Microsoft Surface as an example). What kills me the most are the small companies that could not survive 2016. The two companies, in particular, are Pebble and Cyanogen. Pebble basically jumpstarted the whole smartwatch revolution and gave people reasons to believe and invest money in Kickstarter projects. Now that Pebble is dead, not only has the smartwatch industry lost a major player but this will significantly reduce the confidence of people in Kickstarter which will have effects on other companies. Next in line was Cyanogen, the company was a go-to alternative for many people who wanted to customize their smartphone, make it truly theirs. However, this too is dead now and with it a major way to circumvent the software that ships on Chinese smartphones.
What I am Looking Forward to in 2017: A New Computing Platform (and better bandwidth)
I look forward to 2017 where a new computing platform starts gaining a lot of traction. Let us admit it, smartphones are getting boring with every passing release. There are improvements with every new release but the “wow” factor simply is not there anymore. Most of us would do just fine with the smartphone we bought last year. There are new computing platforms like AR/VR/conversational computing platforms, etc. I want one of these emerging computing platforms to have their iPhone moment next year, that one moment where a new product would kick start the entire category and get the innovation wheel spinning again. I also look forward to better broadband connections. I know it sounds lame but so many activities in India like gaming and streaming have been held back because of the poor broadband connections that most of us are plagued with. Here’s hoping that initiatives like Airtel V-Fiber and the impending launch of Jio FTTH improve the situation in India.
Best of 2016: Dual Cameras
Last year we saw laser auto focus and PDAF becoming common in mid-range and flagship smartphones, and this year, it’s the dual camera setup! Apple implemented it for better zooming, LG did that for wide-angled shots and others like Huawei for sharper/detailed images. And each of these implementations has been good in its own right, in the price ranges they come in. And as we end the year, we already see signs of this making its way in more phones and will continue to get better in 2017.
Disappointment of 2016: Hacking galore
Fraudulent attacks on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Skype, Yahoo and so on have been truly alarming. It always existed but the scale at which it occurred in 2016 brings up hundreds of questions on the safety of user’s data. As companies and governments increase their spending, only time will tell how effective they’d all be.
What am I looking forward to in 2017: Better Smartphone OS
Smartphones are getting boring. The game of numbers (about specifications) is no more exciting. As we now have the midrange phones in the striking distance of matching the flagships, there needs to be something that will excite the buyers. Far away from being predictable. And this is where the software can make such a big difference. We look forward to operating systems that are far smarter, UI elements that will hold the intelligence to change shapes and forms based on the user’s need, preference and behavior. We have seen this in many apps but would be amazing to see these coming integrated into the software. But then, there’d be a right balance that needs to be achieved in keeping it light, at the same time make it feature rich – a challenge worth cherishing for the OEMs and an experience worth buying for the end users.
Best of 2016: Snapchat Spectacles and Amazon Go
Snapchat Spectacles was one of the most compelling releases in 2016. It was indeed impressive how Snapchat took something as rudimentary as a spectacle and turned it into a cool-looking toy. Snapchat fuelled the kindled the hype around the product by deciding to go with Snapchat vending machines, instead of online stores or retail stores. It is noteworthy how Snapchat built funky looking spectacles that would work in conjunction with their app – glasses could record videos for 10 seconds and this could be directly uploaded onto the Snapchat. Then there was Amazon Go. Amazon seems to have brought the future into the present with their Amazon Go. The Go is Amazon’s fully automated stores, with no cashiers, no queues, and with automated billing and seamless sync with your Amazon account. The customers can buy all that they want and simply walk out of the store and the bill will get generated automatically and will be charged to their Amazon account. A public opening is scheduled in early 2017. Exciting!
Disappointment of 2016: The Galaxy Note 7
What started out as an isolated event soon snowballed into one of the biggest recalls in the tech community. Yes, as you may have already guessed I am talking about the Samsung Galaxy Note 7. As per the last report from Samsung, it had already recovered a staggering 2.5 million Note 7 phones, a debacle that clearly overshadows Nokia’s recall of BL 5C, though the latter was not handled with the same gusto. That said, Samsung made no efforts to hide the anomaly and this is most likely to have softened the blow to a certain extent. I personally feel that it will not be an overkill or an exaggeration of any kind to label the Galaxy Note 7 debacle as one of the worst Tech mishaps in 2016.
What I am Looking Forward to in 2017: A new MacBook Air
The MacBook Air has been around for a while and despite receiving an upgrade last year the laptop has been given a step-motherly treatment as opposed to its Pro cousin. Well, the new MacBook Pros are great so are the 12-inch MacBooks, but they do not even come close to the Air when it comes to affordability. While the MacBook is currently selling with some discounts it certainly cannot match up to the $800-$950 price tag a MacBook Air with 8GB RAM and 128GB SSD commands. With this, Apple is inadvertently setting up a barrier for first-time users and folks who want to switch over to a Mac without the wallet troubling base price. Apple, please pump some life into the MacBook Air lineup, and yes please resurrect it. Uncannily this was one thing I expected from Apple this year!
Best of 2016: Lenovo Yoga Book
2016 witnessed various technological breakthroughs and many new concepts were highlighted in this year. But one thing which made my eyes literally pop was something which was launched in India just as the year was about to end. Lenovo’s Yoga Book has to be my favorite device of 2016. Although I have not used the device thoroughly but the company certainly has done a commendable job on its design. The Lenovo Yoga Book actually looks like a thin book (thanks to the metallic hinges on the side) and has introduced some really interesting features like the Halo Keyboard, the Stylus, the Book Pad and Real Pen Ink Refills with the device. With the Book Pad and the Real Ink Refills, you can write anything on the paper pad and it will appear on the Lenovo Yoga Book’s display. And all this for Rs. 49,990 which is actually lesser than the cost of the latest iPhone or Google Pixel for that matter. The device has some limitations but I have to hand it to Lenovo for trying out something completely different which came to me as a wave of fresh air.
Disappointment of 2016: iPhone 7
Call me crazy but I think iPhone 7 by the Cupertino giant was THE DISAPPOINTMENT of 2016 for me. Apart from the new color offered by Apple for the iPhone 7, I do not think there is anything exceptionally different in the new iPhone 7 as compared to its predecessor. I can still let the iPhone 7 Plus breathe because of the dual camera stacked on its back. But apart from the removal of the 3.5 mm jack, the displacement of the antenna bands from the back, the iPhone 7 and iPhone 6 look almost identical. And as for Tim Cook’s statement about the new iPhone 7 being the best iPhone created so far, wait till next year and you will see him saying the exact same thing for the next iPhone as well. The world was waiting to see something new and so was I but I think I would have to wait for another year or another year or another year to see something radically different from Apple on the iPhone front at least.
Expectations from 2017: More Moto Mods!
Had there been no Yoga Book, my favorite thing about 2016 had to be the Moto Mods. I loved how the Motorola made the complete concept of modularity so easy to use. One can just slap them on the back of the device, the Mods get magnetically attached and Voila! the Mods will start working. You do not need to pair the Mod, turn the device off and then turn it on or any other headache of that sort. But the one complaint I had was: THERE WERE NOT ENOUGH MODS!! I would love to see some new Mods from the company which will change the way we look at modularity. For example, I would love to see a new Polaroid Mod from the company which can be slapped on the back and can print pictures instantly. After all, a little greed never harmed anyone.
Best of 2016: Reliance Jio and others
Just like any other year, 2016 came with its fair share of good and bad. One of the most interesting announcements that took place this year was the launch of the long-awaited services of Reliance Jio. It not only became India’s first 4G only network provider but with its unique data-centric tariff plans and free calls, it gave the traditional network operators a run for their money. Besides that, Jio’s ‘freemium’ policy made people flock in to opt for their services. While critics may not be convinced by Jio’s current market policy, there is no doubting the fact that it has indeed shaken up the dormant telecom market from its slumber. Virtual Reality too took baby steps towards a promising future during the past few months. Going beyond entertainment, virtual reality based gadgets founds their way into healthcare, wherein they are now being used for a wide variety of processes, starting from hands-on surgical training to phobia rehabilitation by means of virtual therapies. Artificial Intelligence backed with machine learning and 3D printing technology too made huge advancements during the past year.
Disappointment of 2016: Samsung Galaxy Note 7, expensive Macs!
2016 was not a great year for a number of brands, and among them, the worst hit was Samsung. The Samsung Galaxy Note 7, one of the most anticipated phones from the Korean electronics giant turned out to be a major debacle for the company. Not only did the brand lose a huge amount of money, it lost some vital ground in terms of customer comfort due to the security threats posed by the exploding battery of their flagship smartphone. Another major happening was the death of Nexus range from Google, which was replaced by a new Pixel range. Apple too disappointed many of its hardcore fans this year, with their new range of MacBooks Pros, mainly due to the sky high price tag of the laptops.
What am I looking forward to in 2017: Curved displays, dual cameras on a budget!
Talking of the smartphone market, 2017 is expected to bring a number of key changes, especially in terms of specs. Expect dual curved displays becoming a mainstream component of mid-range smartphones, and not being restricted to the top of the line devices. Considering the current scenario of the smartphone market and the competition brands face from each other, we can expect to see smartphones with a sub Rs 20,000 ($300 approx.) price tag coming with such display technologies. Apart from that, dual rear camera setups too are expected to be found in a wide range of smartphones next year.
Best of 2016: AI
Personally, there were very few drool-worthy hardware products in 2016. Most of the things were on expected lines with little tweaks in terms of design or a bump in specifications. But it got crazy exciting on the software side, thanks to Artificial Intelligence (AI). Although we have been hearing about it for several years now, it’s accessible to end consumers more than ever, and it’s really making a difference. From Google Allo/Assistant to Amazon Alexa to Tesla’s autonomous cars to Netflix’s recommendation engine, AI has become a part of our lives.
Disappointment of 2016: Android Wear
When the year started, wearables promised a lot. Now, as we end the year, they are probably not even on most people’s holiday wish list. I would blame Google and Android Wear majorly for this. Although, it always had issues, the sheer reach and ‘openness’ of Android should have rubbed off on Android Wear as well, but it was not to be, at least not in 2016. The Android Wear 2.0 update was delayed to 2017 and most of the major players in the game like Moto and LG temporarily shelved their plans to release the upgrade. An absolutely forgettable year for Wearables in general and Android Wear in particular.
What I am Looking Forward to in 2017: No great expectations
I expect 2017 to be relatively dull for the most part. The smartphone market continues with iterative upgrades and is badly looking for some real inspiration. Apple is rumored to be betting big on Mixed Reality, but that’s expected to come in 2018. Till then, I expect the specs race to continue. I will be looking forward to advancements in AI with better functionality and cool (niche) gadgets coming to the market. All in all, I expect software to excite us more than the hardware in 2017.
The best of 2016: MacBook Pro with Touch Bar
It came in right at the end of the year and it proved my initial impressions about it to be totally wrong. When I had first heard of the Touch Bar on the new MacBook Pros, I had dismissed the whole notion as a bit of a stunt. Having used it for a couple of weeks, I have to confess that I have had to eat my words. The Touch Bar on the MacBook Pro is simply the best blend of touch and type I have seen on a notebook and while it is very pricey indeed at the time of writing, I really hope it will pay the way for a new UI in notebooks. God knows we need one beyond the routine touchscreen!
Disappointment of 2016: Apple Watch Series 2
The year 2016 was supposed to be the one in which wearables would really take off. They did not, and while part of the blame for this can be laid at the rather static Android Wear scene, I cannot help but feel that the Apple Watch could have done more. It was the flag bearer and benchmark of the smartwatch segment, and I honestly expected something much more radical from its second edition. Don’t get me wrong – I think the Apple Watch Series 2 is easily the best smartwatch out there, but my complaint is that I expected it to do far more for the category than the water resistance and the spec upgrade. The smartwatch is still something you can leave home without, and I had expected the Apple Watch Series 2 to change that. Alas, it did not.
Expectation from 2017: A REALLY new iPhone
Yes, yes, Apple again. Because truth be told, one does tend to expect radical innovation from the Cupertino giant. And that has been largely missing on the iPhone front for a few years with incremental changes being the rule. Yes, the iPhone remains the gold standard for most smartphones out there, but I really believe that it is due a radical overhaul, a bit like what Apple did with the MacBook Pro and the Touch Bar – could it add a “real” keyboard to the iPhone? Who knows. All I am asking for is something radically different in 2017, which makes the phone unlike any other. Come along, Tim, Cook us something.