8 Tech Superstars You Couldn't Escape in 2014
By Stephanie Mlot, PC Magazine, 22 December 2014.
By Stephanie Mlot, PC Magazine, 22 December 2014.
Just because you're the talk of the tech town doesn't mean you've hit it big - just ask smart watches.
To paraphrase Thomas Edison, technology genius is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration. It takes patience and innovation - or a particularly niche market - to cross the threshold from just-another-standard-product to something special.
That process, however, is often a slow simmer. Some products that made headlines this year have actually been around for several years.
But while some tech stars work their whole lives to be recognized, others (i.e. Kim Kardashian) seem to come out of nowhere. The reality star's mobile game earned an estimated US$200 million-plus this year, and the animated Kim K. secured a place on Time's 15 Most Influential Fictional Characters of 2014 list.
PCMag has compiled a list of companies and products that captured the spotlight this year - for better or worse. Check them out below.
Tinder is the digital equivalent of passing someone a note to say, "Do you like me? Circle YES or NO." Mobile users looking for love can swipe through profiles and chat with potential life partners. Or just set up a booty call.
Tinder has been around since 2012, but really picked up steam this year after the app made a "next level" splash in the Olympic village at the Sochi games. Despite a location-exposing bug in February, the New York Times reported recently that people now check Tinder an average of 11 times a day, spending up to 90 minutes searching for matches - which is more than Facebook.
Google has managed to teach an old dog new tricks with its Chromebook PCs - light, affordable laptops that are now all the rage in offices and schools. Ditching traditional desktop applications for Web-based services, the computers run the Google Chrome OS, with limited offline capabilities and a fast boot time. Chromebooks, which have been on shelves since 2011, gained popularity this year as people realized that tablets don't quite do the trick for every school- or business-related task, while some traditional PCs are a bit too pricey. If you're still on the fence, check out our full line-up of The Best Chromebooks.
3. Oculus VR
Oculus VR found its wings in 2014, two years after launching the Rift virtual reality headset on Kickstarter. But while the company managed to unveil its next-gen head-mounted wearable, it wasn't the gadget that caught our attention: It was Facebook's US$2 billion acquisition of Oculus VR. The move infuriated a number of Kickstarter backers and game industry heavyweights, who thought Oculus VR had sold out. But Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg said he envisioned a future in which people would take virtual vacations, use VR to attend sporting events, and even go shopping. For now, we're waiting for a consumer version of the Rift, which CEO Brendan Iribe said in November is still "many months" away.
Not all news is good news, as Uber made painfully clear this year, stumbling through bust-ups with local and global governments, embarrassing executive foibles, and heated rivalries. Perhaps the adage that all publicity is good publicity rings truer for the ride-sharing service, which is still kicking (and picking up passengers).
5. Kim Kardashian: Hollywood game
If you've been keeping up with the Kardashians, you've probably played a few rounds of the Kim Kardashian: Hollywood mobile game. Focused on playing dress-up, earning loads of money, and crushing your rivals, the title lets everyday schlubs step into Kim's stilettos for a few hours. Recently updated to reflect the holiday season, the app has earned developer Glu Mobile US$43 million this year. There is no word on when North West will make her digital debut.
As drones trade their military fatigues for personal and business gigs, the airborne robots are becoming an asset to big businesses and families alike. Amazon is already testing drone-based deliveries, while Facebook is reportedly hiring experts to help build an army of Internet-connected unmanned aircraft. Martha Stewart even gave the devices the thumbs up, while Disney and Hollywood also eye their use in theme parks and filmmaking.
One major impediment to further success is current regulations, though that could change this year, In 2013, President Obama signed the FAA Air Transportation Modernization and Safety Improvement Act, which includes a mandate to loosen up the restrictions and integrate commercial drones into the National Airspace System. The FAA is working on that, but it won't happen until at least 2015.
7. 3D Printing
Whether creating tonight's dinner, cosplay costumes, or a custom doll, 3D printing has grown into a suitable alternative to other building material. Even President Obama has a 3D-printed bust of himself, probably propped on his desk in the Oval Office. And as the technology improves, so do 3D printer prices - dropping from the thousands it once cost to purchase and print your own products.
8. Flappy Birds
Dong Nguyen earned his 15 minutes of fame this year when his 8-bit mobile video game crashed into the public consciousness. The seemingly impossible mobile sensation launched in 2013, reached No. 1 on Apple and Google's free app lists in January, and was subsequently shuttered in February. The controversy was only mildly ameliorated in August, when those crazy flapping birds returned to handsets in a family-friendly version of the game. Flappy Birds Family, however, never managed to reach the same fever pitch as its predecessor - perhaps exactly what Nguyen was hoping for.
[Source: PC Magazine. Edited.]