In Memoriam: The Tech That Died in 2016
By Evan Dashevsky, PC Magazine, 17 December 2016.
By Evan Dashevsky, PC Magazine, 17 December 2016.
We lost a lot of cherished names in 2016: Prince, Muhammad Ali, John Glenn, just to name a notable few. This past year offered up a near-bottomless well of grief and longing. But it isn't only celebrities who won't be joining us in 2017 - we lost a lot of famous consumer technologies as well.
But let us not fall prey to simply mourning the loss of familiar faces/user interfaces - those were all transitory things to begin with. Let us remember all the notable things that these people/entities brought into our lives; things that we - the living! - will carry on for years to come.
As our various technologies fall by the wayside (as all technologies must eventually do), let us honor their memories and learn from their shortcomings so that the next generations of technology will be even better.
Read on to take a moment to reflect on the technologies that didn't survive 2016 (some of which have been around for decades). Note: There were an untold number of tech start-ups that died this year and probably never had much of a chance to begin with - we will allow them to die in the respectful obscurity in which they lived. This roundup focuses on the technologies that were (1) long lived, but finally reached the end of their life cycle; (2) made an initial big splash, but have since fallen from grace; or (3) had the financial and PR backing of one of the Big Tech players, but still found a way to fail all the same.
So, as we put the horrible year that was 2016 behind us, let us promise to live - truly live! - in the time we are privileged to have left. Our fallen tech would have wanted it that way.
1. The VCR (1975-2016)
Home TV recording devices have been around since the 1960s, however the modern "video cassette recorder" era didn't truly begin until the mid-1970s when various Japanese and American firms released a slew of affordable "VCRs." This was the dawn of the home video rental industry (remember that? they made a few movies about it!) as well as the VHS vs. Betamax wars that raged through the 1980s (spoiler alert: VHS eventually won).
Of course, that brief, bright period of cultural ubiquity wasn't destined to last. By the turn of the millennium, video cassette technology would be supplanted by DVDs and Blu-rays, which would themselves be supplanted by a bevy of cloud-based streaming services. Fast-forward to 2016 and the final manufacturer still manufacturing new VCRs announced it was finally ceasing operations. R.I.P. VCRs. You were once an important thing.
2. BlackBerry Phones (1999-2016)
Remember when "BlackBerry" was synonymous with "Professional"? The brand ruled business mobility throughout the aughts before undergoing a spectacular collapse. But before we move into the mourning phase, let us celebrate that device's innovations!
BlackBerry introduced the world to a truly revolutionary concept: Sending emails and surfing the Web...FROM YOUR POCKET! Whaaaa?! Unfortunately the revolution didn't last.
In 2007, Apple introduced the iPhone and mobile touch-screen UIs. The Berry's diminutive screen could no longer compete when it came to presenting content from the Web. Users even learned to accept the virtual keyboard concept in place of the physical one (AI-guided auto-fill tech helped speed things along).
In the last few years, BlackBerry suffered through a number of flops before finally calling it quits on its flagship design in July and exiting the hardware game altogether shortly thereafter. Even the company's most famous fan finally moved on this year.
You may still see the "BlackBerry" name around. The brand's parent company, BlackBerry Limited (formerly Research in Motion) will continue creating BlackBerry software and will license out hardware development to partners, like TCL, but let us make no bones about it: Goliath has fallen.
3. Google Nexus Brand (2010-2016)
Back in 2010, Google was all like "Oh yeah, manufacturers, you want to run Android but load it up with all your nonsense? We'll see about that!" And so was the birth of the Nexus line of phones that ran on stock Android - the way Google's Android developers intended it to be.
There were a few tablets and other form factors released under the Nexus brand (remember this crazy thing?), but it was mostly a phone thang. And while Nexus phones were pretty decent from a hardware point of view, they were also kind of a failure. Nexus phones' whole raison d'etre was to show consumers what the Android experience was supposed to be like. Ideally, they would then rise up against their cruel OEM masters and demand stock Android on all their devices, which would help solve Android's massive fragmentation problem, or something.
Google hasn't exactly given up on the stock Android phone dream, but it decided to scrap the Nexus brand this year and relaunch the effort under the new Pixel name.
Another phone line heading off into the sunset this year? Microsoft's troubled Lumia line.
4. Vine (2013-2016)
First, I'll attempt to find some positive things to say in this time of mourning: Vine gave the masses the power to create and broadcast video directly from their phones. But as we've seen many times before, when the digital floodgates are opened to ev-er-y-one, we can sometimes be left feeling nostalgic for the information gatekeepers of yore.
The vast majority of six-second video coughs were horrible. The platform - with its oddly truncated format - never seemed to evolve even as better, meatier mobile video options came along (the death knell was probably when the already popular Instagram added 15-second video functionality in the wake of Vine's meteoric rise). Anyways, Vine won't be joining us in 2017.
5. Meerkat (2015-2016)
MeerKat was a live-streaming app that was the darling of early-2015 tech, but was quickly eclipsed by the Twitter-owned Periscope app, which was itself put on the bench by Facebook Live. And now it is dead. Let us remember its various months as a thing that existed here on Earth.
6. Pebble (2012-2016)
For better or worse, Pebble created the mold for crowd-funded tech. There have been a few other crowd-funding successes (hey there, Oculus!) as well as several notable blunders and even a few outright scams. But Pebble was the poster child for independent crowd-funded tech done right - until a few weeks ago.
It could be said that Pebble created the modern smartwatch era, which eventually drew in competition from giants like Samsung and Apple. But it looks like that era may already be coming to a close. The market for expensive smartwatches just doesn't seem to be what many manufacturers had hoped (there's at least one other piece of wrist tech in this year's In Memoriam - and chances are that the 2017 edition will feature plenty more).
Pebble's demise earlier this month when the company was acquired by fitness tracker manufacturer, Fitbit. Shortly after the deal's ink was dry, Pebble announced that it would cease selling any more devices under the Pebble brand and the company's personnel and patents would be consumed by the greater Fitbitosphere.
7. Microsoft Band (2014-2016)
Microsoft's fitness tracker (the unimaginatively dubbed "Microsoft Band") was a genuinely stylish fitness device that got the kibosh this year. Now it will be just another stylish oval in the junkyard that future anthropologists will believe was part of our ancient belief system or something.
8. iPhone Headphone Jacks (2007-2016)
Apple perhaps oversold the notion of "courage" when it announced it would remove the audio jack from its latest generation of iPhones. Not to say that removing a long-standing accessory from your phone isn't "notable" or perhaps even "forward-looking," but personally, I reserve words like "courage" for things like standing up against the Taliban or spending a year orbiting the Earth in the name of science. But that's just me.
Anyways, iPhones don't have audio jacks anymore, so you'll have to stick with older models, buy yerself a Bluetooth headset, or just use the dongle they give you - really, this will be one of the least consequential decisions you make all year.
9. Project Ara (2013–2016)
While I couldn't exactly articulate the problems that Google's modular phone initiative, Project Ara was designed to solve, I found it to be an interesting concept nonetheless.
The system sought to allow users to pick and choose hardware features for their smartphones. For example, if you didn't need a front-facing camera, but wanted a really big battery, you could just swap them out from the phone's main skeleton all Lego style. You could even, in theory, keep your phone running continuously by swapping out components as they broke or became outmoded.
In theory, this would allow smaller third-party developers to create really good (or really specialized) components as opposed to designing a whole new phone - a sort of app store for hardware. But the project never seemed to get out of the planning stage and eventually it fell victim to a round of Google spring cleaning.
Those still longing for a modular phone, though, should check out Motorola's Moto Mods.
10. Thunderbolt Display (2011-2016)
Want to expand your Mac screen's real estate with an official Apple-branded display? Your best bet was the Thunderbolt external display, but then Apple killed the line back in the summer. But please don't cry too hard - rumor has it that the company may be prepping a new 4K or 5K display for the near future.
11. Galaxy Note 7 (August-October)
And the award for this year's HOTTEST phone goes to the Samsung Galaxy Note 7! Ha! Sick BURN! Now the only question is whether this will be the end of the Galaxy Note brand or will Samsung just introduce the "Galaxy S8 Plus" is 2017? Branding fans, stay tuned!
12. Google Picasa (2002-2016)
Picasa was an image library program that allowed users to organize all their locally stored images while also syncing with various cloud-storage options. But rather than update Picasa for the all mobile-to-cloud storage world, Google simply supplanted it with its (pretty decent) Google Photos app/platform. And now it is no more. Goodbye Picasa, some people will surely remember that you were a thing that actually existed.
13. TayTweets (4/23/16-4/24/16)
Earlier this year, Microsoft tried to show off its machine-learning chops with a Twitter-based chatbot named Tay (a.k.a. @TayAndYou). Tay was designed to approximate the social media profile of a real-life millennial by distilling its interactions with people on Twitter into a virtual personality. What could go wrong?! Answer: Everything!
Once trolls - both ironic and genuine - learned that their horribleness would be reflected in the innocent chatbot, they embarked on a mission to infect her with all matter of politically incorrect awfulness, which she then spit out back to the public.
Anyways, it was a noble but failed experiment and Tay was put on indefinite break several hours later. Recently, Microsoft tried again with a chatbot named Zo, which the company promises will avoid Tay's vulnerabilities.
14. Samsung NX Cameras (2010-2016)
Our resident camera expert, Jim Fisher, would like to say a few words about Samsung's NX line of cameras:
Despite packing some incredible technology, Samsung's mirrorless camera system never gained traction where it mattered - in the marketplace. Samsung quietly pulled the plug on the system in early 2016, letting the last generation of models, which included the NX500 and the NX1, sell through at the marketplace with no replacements in sight.
It's a damned shame, as the NX1 really was a class-leading camera. It sported the highest resolution APS-C image sensor, a 28MP BSI design, 4K video recording, and an autofocus system that could track subjects and fire off images at 15fps.
We have Samsung to thank for the ubiquity of Wi-Fi in today's models. It was the first company to put it in every camera, from entry-level to high-end, which urged others to do the same to keep up. But its forward-thinking approach also proved to be a hindrance. The NX500 and NX1 both compressed video using H.265 technology, which was not yet supported by most editing software when the cameras were released.
15. Gawker (2003-2016)
While Gawker was not a tech site, its rise and fall showcases the conflict of various technological trends. First, it was arguably the first truly independent digital-only media startup - Gawker created the template for that. Second, the dissemination of the Hulk Hogan sex tape that eventually spurred the lawsuit that brought Gawker down was only possible thanks to digital technology. And Peter Thiel - the billionaire behind the lawsuits - made his money as one of the creators of PayPal and as an early investor in Facebook. The whole thing happened without any analogue involved. That's truly something if you think about it.
[Source: PC Magazine.]