As 2011 draws to a close, it's time to take a look at the year that's been. In this, the first in a series of 'Year in review' posts, I'm going to take a tour of the top 10 tech hits and misses of 2011.
Over the course of a year we talk about and look at a lot of technology products. While some flourish and are successful, others wither and die on the vine. Let's take a trip down memory lane and sort out the 2011 wheat from the chaff.
Note: Have your say! You get to vote for each entry on the list - was it a hit or a miss? YOU DECIDE!
Motorola XoomFirst introduced at CES 2011 on January 5, 2011, the Motorola Xoom was considered by many to be the first tablet that would challenge Apple's iPad dominance. The Xoom was also the first tablet to run Android 3.1 Honeycomb tablet-only operating system.
The Xoom was a solid piece of hardware, but much of the software felt very beta and unfinished. Also, the $799 price tag for the GSM/CDMA model was tough sell for Motorola in light of the cheaper iPad.
Hit or miss?Miss. Motorola was estimated to have sold only 100,000 units in the first six weeks it was available. Later the company announced that 250,000 were 'shipped' (not sold) during the first quarter of 2011. A later price cut by Motorola resulted in only 440,000 shipped units during the second quarter.
Next - iPad 2 -->
iPad 2Apple's second-generation iPad. While physically almost identical to the first-generation iPad, the iPad 2 sported some key upgrades:
- Dual-core 1GHz A5 CPU
- RAM doubled to 512MB
- Front-facing VGA camera
- Rear-facing 720p camera
While it might have only been a minor upgrade, the iPad 2 was more than enough to toast the competition.
Hit or miss?Hit. Last quarter alone Apple sold over 11 million iPads. I think that classes it as a hit.
BlackBerry PlayBookThe PlayBook was BlackBerry's answer to the iPad. Based on the BlackBerry Tablet OS and designed to run apps developed using Adobe AIR, it was meant to appeal to consumers and organizations already committed to the BlackBerry smartphone.
The PlayBook's hardware was reasonably impressive:
- A 7-inch 1024 x 600 pixel touchscreen
- 1GHz dual-core processor and 1GB of RAM
- 3 megapixel forward-facing camera
- 5 megapixel rear-facing camera
- Support for H.264, MPEG4 and WMV high-definition video, along with Adobe Flash 10.1, Adobe Mobile AIR, Java, OpenGL and HTML5
Even the price seemed right:
- 16GB - $499
- 32GB - $599
- 64GB - $699
Software-wise however, the PlayBook was a mess - it didn't even have a native email client.
Hit or miss?Miss. Things went from bad to worse for the PlayBook during 2011. There was a recall, complaints of overheating, and problems with dead pixels. Soon RIM was forced to start slashing prices as sales failed to materialize. However, despite poor sales RIM remains 'absolutely confident' in the PlayBook.
Verizon/white iPhone 4While the iPhone 4 came out in 2010, there was still a great deal of interest in two variants - A Verizon CDMA-capable iPhone 4, and a white iPhone.
The Verizon iPhone was announced in January and made available in February. Externally the Verizon iPhone 4 looked almost identical to the existing model, but internally there had been a drastic redesign (more than between the iPhone 3 and 3GS).
The white iPhone 4 finally made its appearance in April, 10 months after the release of the black iPhone 4. Many theories were put forward as to why it was delayed, but my own personal theory is that Apple staggered the release knowing that there wouldn't be a new iPhone released until October.
Hit or miss?Hit. Not big hits like the iPhone 4, but for what were essentially variations on an existing theme, both handsets did extremely well and helped tide over sales until the new iPhone came out in October.
HP TouchPadAnother tablet that was going to give the iPad a run for its money, this time by HP.
The TouchPad is a solid bit of engineering, featuring a Qualcomm Snapdragon dual-CPU APQ8060 1.2GHz processor, 1GB of RAM and powered by HP's webOS. The tablet was so well put together that even I thought it stood a chance against the fiercely competitive Apple.
But I was wrong.
Hit or miss?Miss. The TouchPad was yet another victim of poor planning and managed to single-handedly destroy the non-iPad tablet market. Poor sales forced HP to slash the price by $100, but even that didn't help sales. There were rumors that Best Buy was left holding over 200,000 TouchPads that it couldn't sell.
In August HP announced that the TouchPad was no more.
The Elder Scrolls V: SkyrimFirst announced at the Los Angeles Convention Center on December 11, 2010, Bethesda Game Studios revealed that the next iteration of The Elder Scrolls series would be released on November 11, 2011 (11-11-11) and, quite surprisingly for a major game title, that date didn't slide.
The open world gameplay of the Skyrim means that it is way too big of a game for me to try to review or condense down into a few sentences. I can’t. I have tried. There’s just so much to the game, such a wide variety of missions, so much free will and choice and such a large map that it’s impossible to condense into words just how immersive and entertaining this game is.
The graphics are also awesome. OK not so much the character’s faces, but everything else - the landscape, weather, the night sky, the armor and weapons - are amazing. Everything is a huge leap forward from where it was when Oblivion was released.
Hit or miss?Hit. During the first week of release, Bethesda announced estimated sales of $450 million, with 7 million copies of the game shipped. By December 16, 2011, this number had risen to 10 million copies shipped and sales of $620 million. It also became the fastest selling game to date on the Steam platform.
Nintendo 3DSNintendo revamped its portable gaming console with the release of the eighth-generation Nintendo 3DS. The main selling point of the 3DS was that it featured 3D autostereoscopic gaming effects that didn't require the use of special 3D glasses.
The 3DS also features three cameras and support for augmented reality games. It was also backward compatible with Nintendo DS and DSi games.
Hit or miss?Hit and miss. Nintendo was a sell-out success in Japan, with the company selling all 400,000 3DS units it had made during the February 2011 release. The first day sales in the US were the largest of any Nintendo handheld device in history with some 440,000 units were sold in its first week of release.
By March Nintendo had sold 3.61 million units, short of the anticipated 4 million.
In July Nintendo announced both a price drop and offered free games to consumers who had bought the device at the higher price.
Some users also complained that the 3D system gave them headaches.
iPhone 5/4SWithout a doubt the most anticipated product release of 2011. Not only that, but I can't think of a single product that managed to generate more rumor and speculation than Apple's fifth-generation smartphone.
Initially expected to be called the iPhone 5, the iPhone 4S turned out to be physically almost identical to the iPhone 4, despite widespread rumors that the Apple had radically changed the design. Inside however, the handset had been radically upgraded:
- Dual-core A5 processor
- Improved antenna
- Updated 8 megapixel (3264×2448 resolution) rear camera featuring improved light sensitivity and featuring 5 lens elements and 33% faster capture (faster than the HTC Sensation, Galaxy S and Droid Bionic)
- Video recording up to 1080p (from 720p and 30fps) with image stabilization
- Siri voice control
- iOS 5.0
Hit or miss?Hit. There's little doubt that the iPhone 4S has been a huge hit for Apple, with 4 million sold on the first weekend. That said, it's not been all plain sailing for the iPhone 4S. Some users have been plagued by battery issues and the Siri voice control system has received quite a bit of bad press, not to mention been the focus of a conspiracy theory.
Amazon Kindle FireThe latest entrant into the tablet arena is Amazon with the 7-inch Kindle Fire. The Kindle Fire has two things going for it:
- It's $199
- It's sold by Amazon
The Kindle Fire is an Android-powered tablet, but to look at it you might not realize that as the OS has been heavily customized by Amazon. It's powered by an OMPA 4430 is a dual-core ARM A9 part clocked at 1GHz.
It also features at technology that Amazon calls Silk which is an implementation of Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) that allows the company’s vast cloud presence to act as an intelligent proxy server for the tablet, speeding up web surfing. This was initially seen as having privacy implications, but the EFF gave it the stamp of approval.
That $199 price tag is sweet. That’s the same price as a 4GB Xbox 360 on Amazon, $50 cheaper than the 160GB PS3, cheaper than any other tablet (unless they’re junk), and a whole lot cheaper than any PC or Mac. Under $250 would have been sweet, but being under $200 adds a cherry on top.
Hit or miss?Hit. We don't have any numbers yet, but it seems that the Kindle Fire has been a hit and seems likely to be a big holiday hit. It continues to be the most wished for, most gifted and the best seller in the electronics category at Amazon. It's not a perfect tablet, but for $199 it doesn't need to be.
Mac OS X 10.7 'Lion'There was no Windows release during 2011 (although Microsoft did give us a Developer Preview of Windows 8, which was very nice) but there was a new release of Mac OS X - 10.7 Lion.
We got a sneak preview of Lion back in October of last year, but the official unveiling came at this year's WWDC keynote. The OS came with a number of new and innovative features, but two of the most disruptive features was the price ($29.99, and it can be run on up to five machines as long as they share the same Apple ID) and that it was available as a download from the Mac App Store.
Hit or miss?Hit. Within two months the new OS was powering 1-in-6 Mac systems. But there were some glitches. Reverse scrolling was seen by many as a change too far, and there were a whole host of bugs, including two pretty serious security issues relating to passwords. My take on Lion was that is was far more painful than Vista was at its worst. There are also indications that uptake has almost flatlined. Despite these teething troubles, Lion has sold more than 6 million copies worldwide.