The First Six Months Were Busy
The year is only a little more than half over, but a lot has happened in the technology world since January.
Much of it has been good: Apple in March launched the iPad 2, a successful follow-up to the company's original tablet device. Intel released Sandy Bridge, a powerful new generation of Core chips. Amazon came out with an online music player and storage service. And Google unleashed Google+, its new social network.
The rest of 2011 looks even more exciting with rumors of a new iPhone, more previews of Windows 8 expected, and Apple's OS X Lion just out.
But 2011 has had its share of lows, disappointments, and outright failures, too. An unreleased smartphone is on the fast track to nowhere, a PlayBook tablet came out missing a few pages, and a long-awaited video game finally arrived--to widespread derision. Here's a look back at the most dismal tech events of 2011 thus far.
Dell Streak 7 Tablet (January)
Dell's follow-up to the oddly diminutive 5-inch Streak was a step forward, but the 7-inch Dell Streak got dinged for buggy software, a poor interface, and a low-resolution screen. The main thing that this device has going for it is its price: You can get it for $199 with a two-year service contract or $350 for the Wi-Fi-only version.
Facebook Home Address (January)
On January 14, Facebook released a notice on its developer blog that Facebook apps would be able to request the home address and mobile phone number of users who included it in their profiles.
The news sparked criticism from security and privacy critics about rogue apps that might use this information to commit identity theft or engage in other malicious behavior. Several days later, Facebook reversed itself and halted the plan; however, the company says that it plans to reintroduce the feature at a later date.
Windows Phone 7 (January Through June)
Tech journalists have praised Microsoft's new Windows Phone 7 OS for its responsiveness, innovative Metro UI design, and Xbox integration, but so far the public isn't buying. Market analyst firm Gartner says that Microsoft sold 1.6 million Windows Phones in the first three months of 2011, and metrics firm ComScore recently reported that Microsoft mobile devices account for 5.8 percent of U.S. smartphone users--down from 13.2 percent the year previous.
Windows Phone 7 has also been plagued by update delays to improve its functionality. In May, Microsoft announced that the next major upgrade, code-named Mango, would arrive in the fall and feature multitasking, a new Web browser, and a unified email inbox.
The iPad Noncompetition (January Through June)
Despite a flood of iPad competitors such as the Samsung Galaxy Tab (right), the Motorola Xoom (top), and the LG Optimus Pad (left), Android tablets have yet to put much of a dent in the iPad's supremacy. Apple is selling its tablet to millions, while Android tablets have been selling to thousands.
In February, Google demonstrated Android 3.0 (Honeycomb), a tablet-specific mobile OS, on the Motorola Xoom, hoping to trigger a flood of capable iPad competitors. But so far, the new OS hasn't altered the market much. Android will keep trying, but the only tablet that most people are interested in at the moment is Apple's tablet.
Twitter's Quick Bar (March)
In Twitter's drive to generate more revenue, the company inserted an ill-conceived advertising bar called the Quickbar in its native iPhone app. Whenever users refreshed their Twitter stream, a bar (shown at left outlined in red) would appear across the screen, displaying a promoted trending topic from the microblogging service.
Users hated it, critics panned it, and things got worse when blogger John Gruber dubbed it the "Dickbar"--in honor, he said, of new Twitter CEO Dick Costolo. Eventually Twitter dropped some of the more annoying features of the original Quickbar in its updated iOS app.
RIM BlackBerry PlayBook Tablet (April)
Research in Motion's first tablet offering was one of the few bright spots in the company's recent earnings call. RIM shipped 500,000 PlayBooks during the first fiscal quarter the tablet was available.
Unfortunately, the tablet elicited yawns from critics for its unpolished, buggy software and for the number of software updates required out of the box. The tablet also lacks a native email client (it's due this summer) even though RIM's entire business was built on stellar email products.
Dropbox (April and June)
In 2010, tech users gave Dropbox a big thumbs-up because it provided an easy way to store documents online and to access them easily from a dedicated desktop folder. But that changed in 2011 following accusations that Dropbox wasn't living up to its promise to encrypt data and make it inaccessible even to Dropbox employees. A user later filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission arguing that Dropbox's claims were deliberately misleading.
Then in June, Dropbox accidentally turned off password protection for its users for about 4 hours. During that period, anyone could have logged in to any account with any made-up password. Dropbox blamed the flaw on a bug found in a recent system update.
Sony Security Issues (April, May, and June)
Sony website security became a running joke since April 20 when the company took down the PlayStation Network. The company's various sites around the world have been broken into more than 20 times since then, according to HasSonyBeenHackedThisWeek.com.
It all started in late April when an online intrusion brought down Sony's PlayStation Network and Qriocity music service for more than three weeks. Since then, hackers made incursions into Sony Online Entertainment, Sony Pictures, a Sony-owned ISP in Japan, and numerous Sony Music sites.
Duke Nukem Forever (June)
After 15 years of development, ownership changes, and false starts, Duke Nukem Forever, the highly anticipated follow-up to the 1996 game Duke Nukem 3D, launched in June. Critics immediately panned the game for being misogynistic, juvenile, and poorly designed.
PCWorld's sister site GamePro called it "a dud"; other reviewers were less charitable. Ars Technica, for instance, deemed Duke Nukem Forever "barely playable" and "rampantly offensive."
Nokia N9 Smartphone (June)
By all accounts the Nokia N9 is a fabulous smartphone. It has a beautiful industrial design; a slick, responsive interface; and great specs, including a 3.9-inch AMOLED display, an 8-megapixel camera, a 1GHz processor, and 1GB of RAM. The device isn't shipping yet, but its main problem is that it is based on MeeGo, an open-source platform partnership between Nokia and Intel.
The Finnish phone maker announced in February that it would not be producing any more MeeGo phones, opting instead for Windows Phone 7. This has prompted many critics, developers and Nokia fans to ask, what's the point in buying into a phone platform that has no future?
Final Cut Pro X Software (June)
Film-editing pros are up in arms over Apple's new video editing suite Final Cut Pro X, which many say no longer meets the needs of professionals. Apple faithful have adopted a "wait-and-see" approach, reasonably expecting Final Cut Pro X to improve over time as Apple adds new features. Others hope that Apple will put Final Cut Pro 7 back up for sale until the new program completes the transition into something more feature-complete.
So far, however, professional film editors are stuck with a tough choice: Keep Final Cut Pro 7, even though you can't legally buy more copies of the program; use a new app that doesn't meet your needs; or find an alternative from rival vendors such as Adobe.
New York Post Paywall (June)
If you've tried to visit the New York Post's website from an iPad recently, you were probably shocked to discover that the site was blocked for you. Not blocked for people browsing the Web; not blocked to nonsubscribers; just blocked for iPad owners. Instead of permitting you to read the New York rag's stories via Apple's Safari browser, the paper forces you to purchase its iPad app and subscribe.
The strategy appears to be part of News Corp. chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch's mission in life to reinvigorate the newspaper business model. The media baron has also put up paywalls for News Corp. properties such as The Wall Street Journal and The Sunday Times of London, and he has introduced a new iPad-only paid subscription newspaper called The Daily.