We've already told you what to expect from 2011 and the imminent CES 2011 show next week, courtesy of Tim Bajarin's excellent editorial, but it wouldn't be fair to the departing twelve months to let them pass without a SlashGear wrap-up. 2010 has seen its share of highs along with a fair few worrying lows, with Apple extending its much-coveted brand to include a best-selling tablet, Android growth bursting through the roof, and privacy becoming the buzzword seldom from headlines.
We were calling 2010 the year of the tablet all the way back at CES in January, and there are two companies that have epitomized that theme in the intervening months. Apple's iPad put years of rumors to rest when Steve Jobs confirmed the tablet's existence in late January, and went on in April to do what Microsoft never quite managed: drive tablet computing into the mainstream. Decried and praised in almost equal measure for the structured nature of its software environment - labeled both as limiting and user-friendly - the iPad prompted dozens of knock-offs and even more analyst pondering on what exactly the Apple tablet was cannibalising.
The second company shaping tablet discussion this year could hardly be more different in scale, but still managed to muster a hugely loyal and forgiving fanbase. Notion Ink burst onto the Android tablet scene back when it was in its fledgling stages, and has punctuated the year with its own share of highs and lows. Branded vaporware and the "one true iPad killer" by those to whom extremes are everything, it's been a fascinating story of an ambitious start-up that promises to culminate in early January 2011 as the first units are finally delivered. Still, pushing out a product is almost the easy part - just ask the JooJoo team - and it remains to be seen how Adam will fare against the torrent of tablet alternatives expected next week.
A fair chunk of those alternatives are expected to run Android, and 2010 has seen Google's mobile OS bulldoze its way to a significant chunk of market share and an impressive amount of consumer brand recognition. Android smartphones have arguably been at the forefront of the year's key developments: WiMAX on the HTC EVO 4G, Google's attempt to usurp carrier dominance with direct sales of the Nexus One. In the course of twelve months, Android handsets have effectively replaced BlackBerry devices as Verizon customers' smartphones of choice, and turned the smartphone race into, for many, a two-horse battle between Google and Apple.
Apple's response was the iPhone 4, the company's fourth-generation smartphone and an advance in both performance and usability. The high-res Retina Display shook the WVGA handset world out of its complacency, while the A4 processor left the iPhone 4 as the smoothness benchmark against which other devices were measured. Almost as interesting, though, was the growing backlash among the industry toward the handset, a love/hate relationship that saw the smartphone's launch scooped with a controversial pay-for-play leaked prototype, vultures circulating as reception and durability concerns plagued the iPhone, and Apple's ecosystem control mentioned alongside such traditional bogeymen as Microsoft. The iPhone 4 ended up at the top of many 2010 retrospectives, but getting there was not the smooth ride Steve Jobs perhaps expected.
Manufacturers continued to push smartphone hardware, but chipsets and megapixels increasingly had to share space with software in 2010. Apple's App Store set the blueprint for mobile software downloads, the benchmark that joined device sales in judging the success of a platform. Ironically, in the race to secure the "most apps of any platform" title, how users would actually wade through that software and pick out the gems was left unexplored. Microsoft made a play to capitalize on that with the launch of Windows Phone 7, working with - and in some circumstances paying - developers to build them a best-of-breed grounding to get the Windows Phone Marketplace off to a solid start.
Apps are a trend that look set to jump to our larger electronics, too, with the growth in attention toward Smart TV offerings like Google TV and Apple TV. Netflix announced a shift in direction as it placed increasing emphasis on streaming content over DVD mail-outs, and the idea of cloud-based media being a solid alternative to downloads grew more acceptable as home broadband speeds increased. For all its subscribers and bandwidth, though, it's still a fledgling industry, and questions over DRM and content owners getting paid will carry on into 2011. When content can be blocked from Boxee, Google TV and others at the simple whim of the networks, companies can't expect user confidence that their new STB will continue to do what was promised on the box.
Seldom understood and bitterly contested, net neutrality has in many ways been the fight for the internet that many users haven't even realised was going on. At stake is the equality of our connectivity, and the rights that ISPs and others have to limit, block or otherwise control what we can connect and at what speed. Recent FCC rulings in the US have addressed some, though not all, concerns, and the arguments and legislation are no way near over yet.
Data leaks are a fact of life when we live digitally, but privacy stories clinched headlines repeatedly in 2010 as we generally failed to successfully walk the fine line between sharing everything or sharing nothing. Whether it was hacked, accidentally disclosed or simply misused, we've seen big companies, websites and more get their hands burnt with increasingly valuable personal information and location data. Over-arching all of that has been WikiLeaks, itself prompting arguments over the compromises we accept in the name of security, the rights of governments to their own kind of privacy, and journalistic integrity. Over-sharing isn't going away, and now the stakes are much higher. Facebook has overtaken Google as the most popular site, and there are rumors of Apple, Google and others planning social networks of their own.
Online publishing is always evolving, and the SlashGear team love being at the forefront of what's brightest and most exciting (and, yes, shiny) in this electronic world. We've had some exciting additions to our line-up, too, with both industry analysts helping us put today's tech into tomorrow's context, and columnists voicing at times challenging views on digital lifestyle. We also launched our own iPhone and iPad SlashGear apps. 2011 promises to be even bigger, and we'll continue to bring our independent voice to help you sift through the best and worst of consumer technology.
So, that's 2010 over and done; remember to check out Tim Bajarin's editorial on what to expect at CES, Ben Bajarin's 2011 tech predictions, and join us next week for all the SlashGear CES 2011 coverage! From all on the SlashGear team, we hope you have a very Happy New Year!
Agree with our wrap-up or think we've missed out something obvious? Let us know your high - and low - points of 2010 in the comments.