Tech Milestones: 2010

From the former adult film star who brought down HP's CEO to Android's successful colonization of our planet, it's been an eventful year in technology.

Tech Milestones

The past year was a big one in tech. New, revolutionary products emerged, lawsuits were won and lost, and--despite its privacy problems--Facebook hit 500 million users. Here are some of the tech milestones of 2010.

Image: Flickr user neilalderney123

4G Comes to Town

Sprint zoomed to the front of the 4G pack when it announced its first WiMax phone, the HTC EVO 4G. Sprint's bet on WiMax for its 4G network may have been a mistake, though, as many vendors around the world, including the largest U.S. wireless carrier, Verizon, are throwing their support behind a competing technology, LTE.

HP Buys Palm

Palm, which has seen a lot of ups and downs over the years, gained a new lease on life when HP bought the smartphone maker for $1.2 billion in the spring. The union hasn't yet produced much to cheer about, though. Palm's first new product under the HP umbrella was a disappointing rehash of its previous Palm Pre models.

Street View Invades Privacy

Google Street View wound up in the doghouse after German authorities discovered that the service was collecting personal data from unprotected Wi-Fi networks. After Germany opened the can of worms, South Korea, France, Spain, Italy, the UK, Ireland, Norway, South Africa, Sweden, and Canada all launched investigations of the service.

Mark Hurd Steps Down

The biggest CEO flameout during the year was the resignation of HP's Mark Hurd. Forced to give up his lofty post for conduct deemed inappropriate by his board of directors, Hurd collected a fat severance of $12 million, plus some stock perks. Hurd's sins included hiding from the board a personal relationship with a consultant, whose résumé included acting credits in some adult flicks.

Search Goes Instant

Google set the Internet buzzing when it added Instant Search to its repertoire. The move initially sparked howls from some marketers who believed that the new feature would interfere with their search optimization techniques, but their concerns dissipated as Google users across cyberspace began to enjoy seeing search results change before their eyes as they added letters to their search terms.

Everybody Sues...Everybody

While our national pastime is baseball, the tech industry's seems to be litigation. Oracle sued Google over Android. Apple sued HTC over a slew of patents. Image previews on BlackBerrys prompted Kodak to sue Research In Motion. Not wanting to miss out on any of the gavel action, Microsoft cofounder and investor nonpareil Paul Allen took a "Kill them all, let God sort them out" approach to litigation and filed a patent-infringement lawsuit (which a federal judge eventually dismissed) against AOL, Apple, eBay, Facebook, Google, Netflix, Yahoo, and YouTube.

Image: Flickr user Joe Gratz

BlackBerrys Get Banned

Research In Motion found itself in hot water in the Middle East when Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates threatened to ban BlackBerrys from their borders because the devices' strong encryption kept government snoops from peeking at communications made with the smartphones. The controversy eventually fizzled, and RIM was able to iron out agreements with the Arab nations without doing serious harm to its security structure.

Once You Go E-Book...

Electronic books reached an important milestone in 2010 when Amazon revealed this summer that, during the second quarter of the year, it sold more e-books than hardcover books. For every 100 hardcovers sold, the company said, it was selling 143 books for its Kindle platform. Further evidence of the e-book's growing popularity can be seen at market-newbie Apple's iBookstore, which sold 1.5 million volumes in its first month of operation.

Image: Flickr user Paul Watson

Facebook Hits 500 Million

Facebook reached 500 million users during the summer, which is just a little under the population of North America. Put another way: If Facebook were a country, it would be the third largest in the world (behind China and India). Of those half billion users, gained in a mere six years, half of them use the service every day for an average of 34 minutes.

Android Wins

Smartphones based on Google's Android operating system sold like gangbusters in the United States in 2010, eclipsing market leaders Apple and Research In Motion on two occasions. In the first three months of the year, Android smartphones outsold the iPhone for the first time, garnering 28 percent of the market versus 21 percent for Apple's mobile phone. In the next quarter, Android passed RIM's BlackBerry, 33 percent to 28 percent.

Viruses Go Nuclear

One of the most potent malware programs in recent times emerged during the year. Stuxnet rose to prominence when the worm disrupted Iran's nuclear development program. The unique characteristics of the malware have security experts very worried. Declared one Homeland Security official at a congressional hearing: "We have not seen this coordinated effort of information technology vulnerabilities and industrial control exploitation completely wrapped up in one unique package."

Microsoft Goes Mobile

Microsoft once again tried to become a mover and shaker in the mobile market with its release of Windows Phone 7. With WP7 the company broke from its business-oriented approach of the past and made a play for the consumer market that has fired rapid growth for Apple and Google. According to some observers, the key to success for WP7 will be how fast it can sell 1 million units. Once it reaches that milestone, though, it will still have a tough time catching up to the market leaders--a reality that even Microsoft is acknowledging.

Google Steps Into Operating Systems

Google couldn't meet the enthusiastic prediction it made last year that its partners would be selling netbooks based on its Chrome operating system for the 2010 holiday season, but it still managed to tantalize tech enthusiasts by unveiling a test unit labeled the CR-48. The machines are being distributed to consumers who agree to participate in a pilot program that Google is running to collect feedback about the new device. Ready-for-prime-time models aren't expected from the likes of Acer and Samsung until the middle of 2011.

Image: GottaBeMobile


Before this year, WikiLeaks grabbed a few headlines by releasing shocking video of air strikes and publishing Sarah Palin's e-mail, but in 2010 the whistleblowing Website vaulted to a new level of notoriety. During the summer, it released 90,000 classified documents about the Afghanistan war to three newspapers. The fury over that move had barely died down when the gadfly struck again, releasing 250,000 confidential U.S. diplomatic cables chock-full of embarrassing nuggets. Following the release of the cables, WikiLeaks came under hacker attack; but it managed to reconfigure its Internet presence, and now some experts consider it impossible to take down.

Segway Owner Dies

The tech world grieved when the owner of the company that makes Segways, James W. Heselden, died in an accident while testing an all-terrain version of the two-wheeled vehicle. Heselden, whose worth was estimated at $263 million, had owned Segway for just nine months when he met his untimely death.

Year of the Tablet

To say that tablet computing came of age in 2010 is a complete understatement. The phenomenal success of Apple's iPad--it sold more than 3 million units during its first quarter on the shelves--left the rest of the electronics industry scrambling to catch up. By year's end a viable competitor emerged in the form of the Samsung Galaxy Tab, a 7-inch tablet based on Google's Android operating system. The Tab appears on target to crack the 1 million mark by the end of the year.

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