How many highlights of 2013 can you remember? The Guardian’s Technology team think 128 is a pretty good number, so we’ve picked the highs, lows and huhs of the entire year and distilled them into a handy list form.
It only took us three very intense weeks of negotiation and some minor fisticuffs, but we’ve managed to plot out everything we think 2013 will be remembered for, and we’ll be publishing them across eight lists every day until 1 January.
Fast becoming the default way to travel, Airbnb opened up a whole new holiday market for international hipsters — with only a small amount of controversy about encouraging sub-letters to escape tax. Also notorious for being the startup model every aspiring entrepreneurs wants to aim for: “We’re like Airbnb for the [insert name of industry here]”.
Amazon Prime Air
When Amazon announced that it was planning to deliver packages via drone by 2018, the press went wild. Even the airtime it was given for the announcement — a 15 minute slot on CBS’s 60 Minutes — would cost over $US3m if bought as advertising. So it’s not surprising they pre-announced it. The question is: will they be able to live up to their promise? The answer, probably, is no.
Rubin made his name as the head of Google’s Android division, but in March 2013 he stepped down from the role, having built the company up into the mobile behemoth it is today. His new job, quietly gathering steam over the year, is leading Google’s robotics initiative. Over 2013, Google acquired eight robotics companies, and Rubin says the company has a “10-year vision” for where the project will take it.
The Q&A site was little known outside teen circles at the start of the year, but faced intense scrutiny over its user policies after a spate of teenage suicides linked the site to cyberbullying.
When Queen Bey dropped her new self-titled album with no advance publicity, the internet went wild. Obviously not every artist can expect a surprise release to have quite the same effect; one particularly cruel joke went, “Beyoncé is so unoriginal, the other members of Destiny’s Child release albums no-one knows about all the time.”
But there’s no doubt that she single-handedly made the case that buying music isn’t dead yet, when in just three days her iTunes-exclusive album sold 829,000 copies worldwide.
The term “big data” might have been overcooked by the corporates and marketeers, but it’s still a powerful trend. Whether big business or the intelligence agencies, there has never been more usefulness, more value or more awareness about the data trails our digital lives create. Even the CIA’s own website states it loud and clear: “Big Data is a Big Deal at the CIA.”
The rise of streaming websites has created a new legal way of watching TV: watching entire series in one go. Netflix accelerated this new trend, famously releasing original series such as House of Cards and Orange is the New Black, in one go. Netflix recently studied viewers that watched an entire series in one month and found that 50% of them finished an entire season within a week.
At the beginning of 2013, one bitcoin could be bought for $US13. At its peak in November, that same bitcoin could have been sold for nearly a hundred times that, $US1,242. That astonishing increase in value isn’t the whole reason why the decentralised crypto-currency has made headlines across the world, but it doesn’t hurt.
A bitcoin has no physical counterpart. Instead, just like a £5-note is technically a “promise to pay the bearer the sum of five pounds”, a bitcoin is a digitally signed public contract asserting that one user is giving another bitcoins. That lets the currency operate without any central authority certifying transactions, which gave it credibility in the techno-libertarian circles it arose from.
Over the course of this year, bitcoin has been used to buy drugs on the Silk Road and evade currency controls in Cyprus and China. It has gone to space, and filled shipping containers in Hong Kong. One early adopter bought a house with bitcoin he’d paid $US27 for, while another lost a hard-drive with over £4m worth of it on. And at the end of it all, it’s on a downward streak that might just kill it any way.
The phone once beloved of the email-addicted and workaholics — including President Obama – couldn’t stem the decline as it failed to compete with touchscreen rivals. Blackberry‘s much hyped Z10 flopped, costing the company $US935m. The end of the fixed keyboard era is upon us.
Reportedly upping the pressure on Spotify, the music app Bloom.fm has exploited the demand for streamed music and Pandora’s failure to launch in the UK. Undercutting Spotify by charging just £1 per month for ad-free streamed music, Bloom.fm is rapidly building its userbase. One to watch.
Under the direction of Christopher Bailey, the British label led a new wave of tech-savvy fashionistas who finally showed the confidence and skill to make technology work for them. From London’s fashion startups cluster and the Decoded fashion tech events to 3D printed clothes, Apple’s iPhone 5S Burberry deal and Instagramming on the front row, tech is set to be a wardrobe staple.
In August the whistleblower was sentenced to 35 years for passing 700,000 military documents to Wikileaks. A hero to many for her courage in speaking out, her sentence was condemned by many civil rights groups including Ben Wizner, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Speech, Privacy & Technology Project.
“This is a sad day for Bradley Manning, but it’s also a sad day for all Americans who depend on brave whistleblowers and a free press for a fully informed public debate,” he said.
“When a soldier who shared information with the press and public is punished far more harshly than others who tortured prisoners and killed civilians, something is seriously wrong with our justice system … it will deprive the public of critical information that is necessary for democratic accountability.”
It’s like a navigation app — only far, far better. Citymapper’s evangelical fans rave about its features, which include live status information for public transport, bike routes and jet pack travel times, just for amusement. Only for London and New York, for now — but world domination is only a matter of time.
Clash of Clans
Finland’s uber-cool games company Supercell is small but took investment this year valuing it at $US3bn. Whatever its secrets (recruiting the industry’s best talent and rewarding them handsomely) the strategy worked for its standout game, Clash of Clans, which was the highest grossing game app of 2013.
Previewed during the iPhone 5 launch, the game app became the most addictive of the year and demonstrated some astonishing physics-based movements to boot.
From smartwatches to 3D printers and indie films, crowdfunding has cemented itself as a barometer of consumer appetite and interests, with Kickstarter, Indiegogo and others launching tens of thousands of creative, technological and humanitarian projects onto the world — and killing the dreams of millions more.
The next instalment of the 2013 Tech 128 review of the year is tomorrow…
This article originally appeared on guardian.co.uk