The year of Angry Birds

by Fiona Rae / 30 November, 2011
2011 tech highlights include apps, Android, tablet computers and the cloud.

It’s been a year of contrasts in the tech space: ingenious innovations mixed with major stumbles from the tech giants. Nothing uniquely new hit the market in 2011, but gadgets and the services they connect to became much more user-friendly, and in a few cases at least, the reality began to live up to the hype.

The year of the app

The new shape of software came in the form of an addictive game where cartoon birds battled egg-stealing pigs. Angry Birds is the smash-hit app of the year, and inane as it is, it points the way forward for how to reach an audience in the digital world.

The number of apps – small pieces of software that run on smartphones, tablets and, increasingly, traditional computers – has exploded this year: over 500,000 are available from Apple’s App Store and a similar number on the rival Android platform. Apps exist for pretty much every­thing – from word processor Pages and music-making software GarageBand for the iPad to apps for internet telephony service Skype and social network Facebook.

No longer need you buy expensive and clunky pieces of software to be loaded onto your computer via a DVD. Apps are just a tap away, and most are given away or sold for just a few dollars. This is a massive industry, the potential of which we are only just beginning to see.

Android's march forward

No wonder Steve Jobs professed a desire to go “thermonuclear” on Google over its Android smartphone operating system. In Android, Google has taken the best of what the iPhone has to offer but eschewed Apple’s closed system, making it available to all takers.

The result is Android handsets priced from $99 and more than 200 million Android handsets activated. Android didn’t exist three years ago. The speed with which it has dominated the mobile market has to go down as one of the greatest consumer technology successes of all time.

Tablet wars rage

It seems as if it has been around for ever, but Apple’s second version of the iPad only arrived in March and set the bar even higher for what a tablet should be. A flood of rivals has followed this year but none have made serious inroads, and legal action over alleged patent infringement has seen Apple prevent arch-rival Samsung from selling its Galaxy tablet in some markets. But late arrival Amazon may be set to change the game with its low-cost tablet, the Android-based Kindle Fire. Released just in time for Christmas, it could be the most credible iPad rival so far.

The cloud takes shape

People have been talking about storing their digital content on the web rather than on a computer hard drive for at least a decade, but cloud-storage only really took shape this year, with the US tech titans rolling out services for online storage of music, videos, documents and emails.

Early out of the gates was Amazon, with Cloud Drive and Cloud Player, which let you back up your computer online and stream uploaded music to your computer or an Android phone or tablet. The Google Music store, launched this month in the US, syncs your tunes, bought and uploaded, across all your devices. Apple joined the party with its iCloud service and iTunes Match. Still, content-licensing limitations mean many of these services are not yet available in New Zealand, though web-streaming music e-tailer Spotify will arrive here in the New Year.

What's the deal?

2011 was marked by the rise – some would say scourge – of the daily deal websites. They invade your inbox every day with cut-price offers for everything from pizza dinners to teeth-whitening treatments. Local player Grabone, part-owned by Listen­er publisher APN News & Media, is the largest daily dealer, though the market is hugely crowded and global heavyweights Groupon and LivingSocial are already offering up New Zealand deals. That has led to fears about the sustainability of this fledgling market – there are too many players going after cash-strapped consumers, and some observers wonder whether it will ever make money. Still, with a multibillion-dollar stock market listing in the works for Group­on, there appears to be considerable life in the daily deal game yet.

Click here for more stories and columns by Peter Griffin.
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