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Best & Worst of Tech – 2011

By Brian | January 2, 2012 | Share on Facebook

‘Tis the season for “Best of” and “Worst of” lists, I guess, but I found these lists from CNET pretty thought provoking:

The Top 5 Tech Winners of 2011

5) The Amazon Kindle Fire
4) The MacBook Air
3) The iPad 2
2) The iPhone 4S
1) Motorola Droid Razr

The Top 5 Tech Disappointments of 2011

5) Electric Cars
4) iCloud
3) Chrome Books
2) 3D TV
1) Non-iPad tablets

Read beyond the break for my thoughts on these items, as well as the embedded CNET Videos…

My Top 5

My Top 5 list would have been similar to CNET’s, although I might quibble with the ordering. 2011 will likely be remembered as the year tablets took off, and since theĀ iPad 2 is by far the most popular tablet, I probably would have ranked it first on the list. I think it’s a little early to declare the Kindle Fire a “Tech Winner,” but it is fair to say that a big part of the reason that tablets took off in 2011 was that other companies filled in the lower-end of the market with affordable, functional devices. By this time next year, we’ll know if the dominant low-end tablet will be the Fire, the Nook, or something else that someone has in the works right now. Ironically, Apple doesn’t seem interested in playing in that market, likely because they’re worried about cannibalizing sales of their iPhones.

Which brings me to what I believe are #3 and #4 on the list – the iPhone 4S and the Droid Razr. Like the tablets above, I have to give the 4S the higher ranking, primarily because of the Siri functionality. Is it the best voice recognition out there? Maybe, maybe not. But, as Apple often does, it got the form factor just right, and successfully revolutionized the way I use my phone. When I’m holding my phone in my hand, I almost always put it to my ear to dictate a note or text message, set myself a reminder, ask for directions, play some music, etc.. The on-screen keyboard is relegated to correcting speech recognition errors or the hemming & hawing that comes with longer dictation. But more importantly, talking to Siri looks exactly like talking to someone on the phone, which means I can do it while walking down a hallway/street without worrying about background noise or getting strange looks for passersby. When the phone is in my pocket and I’m using earbuds and/or a Bluetooth connection, the effect is even more pronounced. Press a button, issue a command and Siri does your bidding. It’s hard not to think of the Star Trek characters and their “communicator” pins. In fact, Siri is so effective, that when it doesn’t do what I want it to do, I’m surprised and even slightly annoyed (that’s another blog post). So, kudos to Apple for making smart phones new again. And, just like the tablet discussion above, kudos to Motorola (and the other Tier 2 smart phone providers) for filling out the competition. They’re keeping Apple honest (especially in the app marketplace), and providing some lower cost alternatives that Apple has not (yet?) addressed.

That leaves the MacBook Air as my #5. A nod to “revolutionizing the laptop” is probably well-deserved, but 2011 wasn’t really about laptops. My guess is we’ll see most laptops move in this direction in future years, then settle down the way desktops did a few years back, and begin falling in price. Personally, I’m keeping an eye on the Bluetooth-enabled keyboards that pair with tablets. If those improve rapidly and become super-simple to use, they might mean the end of the laptop as a primary computing device for much of the market. Remember, you heard it here first…

My Bottom 5

On the “Disappointment” list, I think it’s a tad hypocritical to put a non-iPad tablet on your “best of” list and then call all non-iPad tablets the biggest disappointment of the year. If you watch the video (embedded below), thoughh, you’ll see that CNET is really giving that honor to all non-iPad high-end tablets (including the Xoom, the TouchPad and the Playbook). With that caveat, they have my agreement. Unless you’re a dyed-in-the-wool Android fan, I can’t see spending $800-$1,000 on a non-iPad tablet – at least for now.

That said, I think I’d have put 3D TV as my #1. The movie industry has made a big deal out of 3D lately, since 60+ Plasma screens, high-quality home theater systems, various streaming services, and the lack of teenagers texting & cellphone calling in your living room are starting to compete with the movie-going experience. The TV industry responded too quickly and put out a product that is high-cost and mediocre quality, resulting in a market dud. And, as Brian Cooley of CNET points out in the video, it’s affecting all TV buyers nowadays, since your new TV is likely to include 3D capability (and the added cost of 3D capability) whether you want it or not. At least I can still choose to watch a 2D movie if I want to save a few bucks…

As for the other three items on the list, I think the disappointment isn’t in the product, but in the speed to market. People have been talking seriously about electric cars for more than a decade now, and the fact that the first mass-market products weren’t smash hits is not surprising enough to be disappointing. If the majority of cars in 2016 aren’t electric, then I’ll be disappointed. Until then, I’m glad to see the progress. Same goes for Chrome Books. When Scott McNealy owned Sun (also more than a decade ago), he used to repeatedly say “the network is the computer.” Since then, consumers have clung to their local storage with surprising resiliency. I’m sure a portable “dumb terminal” will eventually succeed, but it’s been a long, uphill battle and pinning that disappointment on Google for its Chrome Book is a little unfair.

iCloud is more of a mixed bag. The concept, user interface, and functionality is decidedly “un-Apple” in its difficulty and degree of confusion. Once you get it working the way you want it, though, it can prove useful. It just takes some experimentation and some analysis of the pros and cons (also another blog post, I think…) In any case, like the electric car and the Chrome Book, I suspect we’ll see improvements in iCloud in the coming year(s), both from Apple and other vendors. But seeing as how iCloud is more software than hardware, and software is usually judged on its current release’s capabilities, I feel better about seeing it on the list than the other two. Call it my #3.

The CNET videos

Still reading? Wow…you are truly a tech-geek like I am. Here is Brian Cooley, Editor at Large for CNET, with the videos that spawned this lengthy diatribe:

Topics: Tech Talk | 3 Comments »

3 Responses to “Best & Worst of Tech – 2011”

  1. Joe Woods says at January 2nd, 2012 at 10:20 pm :
    iCloud is truly a mixed bag.
    For its complexity and heavy operating overhead, if should be on the bad list.
    For all the sync-ing and especially PhotoStream, it belongs on a good list.
    The author is correct. When the rough edges are fixed, it should be a real gem.

  2. Konstantin says at January 3rd, 2012 at 10:46 am :
    I would disagree on the point on the tablets. I’ve talked to a bunch of people who own either Xoom or Galaxy Tab are extremely happy with them, me including. Granted they are not mainstream, or don’t advertise themselves as mainstream and it affected their sales, but android tablets overall, even high ended ones are a pretty good deal.

  3. Brian says at January 3rd, 2012 at 2:45 pm :
    @Konstantin – I’m glad to hear you’re happy with your tablet, but that’s not the question. The question is, assuming you paid about the same money, are you happier than you’d have been with an iPad 2?

    Specifically, I think, I’d expect there to be new apps available on the iPad 2 before they are available elsewhere, leaving you feeling like you’re missing something or having to wait too long for something. Have you not exerienced this? If not, then maybe Apple’s dominance in that slice of the market is purely the reputation that the “first-in” player gets by default?

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