The top tech news items of 2013

Top tech news items of 2013

As is tradition when any year draws to a close, people start making lists. The top 10 of this and the top 15 of that. There are primarily two reasons everyone does it each year – everyone likes lists (people’s brains just work that way) and it’s a good way to reminisce before the year officially ends. So we’re not going to shy away from it but embrace it with a list of our own – the top tech news items of 2013.

3D printing

The first 3D printer was already available in 1984 but was very expensive. Recently these
machines have become more and more popular which has caused prices to drop significantly. 3D printing made headlines in 2013 with the first working 3D printed gun to ever be made – which, of course, has caused a lot of controversy. Other bizarre 3D printed things have since emerged like a 3D printed pizza (yummy?).

The continued development of 3D printing means that it can potentially be used in many areas such as construction, architecture, aerospace technology, fashion and, dental and medical industries. Despite the costs of 3D printing machines still being quite high, people can easily justify spending the money on it since there is a reduced cost in purchasing common household goods that can now simply be made at home.

Xbox One vs PS4

November 2013 was an exciting month for gamers as both the Xbox One and the PS4 was announced for release in this time. There has been fierce rivalry between the two manufacturers (Microsoft and Sony) for the attention of console-lovers around the world. There has even been a South Park episode dedicated to finding out which one is better set against a Game of Thrones background (Xbox One beat PS4 in the episode, just for interest’s sake).

There have been many rumblings that the graphics are better than ever before on both consoles but the verdict is still out. Some say that there is not a significant difference to people with untrained eyes. In the end, it is all about personal preference and you’ll have to weigh up the pros and cons for yourself. They are both excellent so you can’t go wrong with having either (or both!) of these in your Christmas stocking.

Edward Snowden’s NSA leaks

Edward Snowden has been called a hero, whistleblower and traitor. Snowden is a computer specialist that used to work for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and was a contractor for the National Security Agency (NSA). He famously leaked over 200,000 classified documents to the press. These documents centered mainly around the NSA and its world counterparts’ mass surveillance programs. It made people realise (all over the world, not just the USA) that Big Brother truly is watching their every move online and in their real life activities.

Only 1% of the documents have been released by The Guardian (a newspaper) and employees there say “the worst is yet to come”. Snowden is currently a fugitive and has been charged with espionage and the theft of government property. He now lives in Russia under temporary asylum.

The budget iPhone and iOS 7

Apple products are well-known for being quite pricey, perhaps one of the reasons why it is seen as so exclusive to own. This year Apple released the iPhone 5C, a phone that is considered to be a cheaper version. At R8,779.00 for this smartphone it is slightly less expensive than other iPhones that go for about R10,000.00 and upwards.

Along with the iPhone 5C, these two phones were some of the first smartphones that were compatible with the latest update of Apple’s operating system, iOS 7. Some of the new features of iOS 7 include a flatter interface design (similar to Windows), a swipe-down notification bar and the introduction of Airdrop, an easier way to share with documents with others that also have Apple products.

Smart watches

We had the space race back in the mid-to-late 20th century but in 2013 we had the race to see who would bring the first fully functioning smart watch to the public. It seems that Samsung has won this race with the release of their Galaxy Gear smart watch in September of 2013 (even though many thought Apple would be first after many rumours).

Reviews for the Galaxy Gear have been less than positive since its release and even Samsung themselves admitted that their smart watch lacks that something special. Some of the complaints include that it only syncs with Samsung phones, it doesn’t have enough features to justify the $299.00 (about R3,100.00) price tag, there are not enough apps and those that are there aren’t good enough, and much more.

Some other smart watches that have already seen the light of day include Sony’s SmartWatch and the Pebble SmartWatch. The Pebble has gotten rave reviews and has proven that smart watches can be worthwhile. A developer even programmed the watch to propose to his girlfriend recently.

Winamp shuts down

Winamp is a beloved media player for Windows (and later Android) that most, if not all, of us have used to play MP3s and CDs on. It is also has endless customizable skins for you to add with every fandom and aesthetic catered for.

On 20 December 2013, however, Winamp will be no more. This shutdown was announced in November and thereafter no support will be given by the creators of Winamp nor will it be available for download. An unofficial report has since surfaced where it was revealed that Microsoft is in talks with AOL to acquire the intellectual property of Winamp and Shoutcast (software used to stream media over the Internet).

An online petition has been started to convince AOL to continue with Winamp development or at the very least to release it open source. Who knows, perhaps Winamp still has the chance to live on, just under a different guise.

Google Glass

This augmented reality device is still on everyone’s lips. Google opened up the Glass Explorer Program in February 2013 for developers and consumers to test the device. Google wanted “bold, creative individuals” to test the device in order for them to gauge how people would use Google Glass.

To become a part of it you had to use the tag #ifihadglass and tell Google what you would do with the device if you had it. A limited number of invites has gone out since then and it seems to be more aimed towards bloggers and Youtubers (great promotion for the device). The price tag to get your hands on this device (with an invite, of course) is around $1,500.00 (about R15,000.00)..

Google Glass is set to become available to the general public in 2014 at a significantly reduced price than it is in the Explorer Program.

4G technology

4G may sound like some foreign concept that we all may potentially use some day but we have no idea how to explain it. The “G” in “4G” stands for a generation of wireless technology. With every new generation that is brought out you get faster data speeds but they become incompatible with current technologies. For example, you cannot have a 3G phone to use 4G on.

4G can provide you with 5Mbps of data speed. Compared to 3G that only starts out at 384kbps and upwards, 4G is much faster. 4G networks also have more capacity so there will be less restrictions on bandwidth usage. There is still some debate as to whether 4G is really that much faster and it is well-known for being a sapper of batteries.

Bitcoin

The future of Bitcoin has been discussed in a previous Maxxor blog post but it is still worth a mention. Bitcoin is a digital currency that is independent of any government or bank. It has become the first decentralized digital currency in the world. The virtual coins (Bitcoins) are held in a virtual wallet and can be converted into actual cash via several online exchanges.

The reason it became a news-worthy tech story is the fact that an illegal online marketplace called Silk Road (used to sell contraband) was shut down by the FBI and they were using Bitcoins as their main currency. Now, it is not their fault that illegal activities took place but the fact that Bitcoin was used got its name in the news.

Since then it has grown in worth significantly (1 Bitcoin would have cost you nearly $1,000.00) but recently its value fell to almost $600.00 due to various governments now calling into question the legality of using Bitcoins for transactions. It still has a far way to grow before it becomes commonplace, considering that only about 927 people around the world own half of the Bitcoins that are in circulation.

Blackberry’s slow demise

Blackberry was once known as the go-to device for business people and many loved (and still continue to love) the phone’s built-in messenger service, BBM. The QWERTY keyboard was heralded as being easy to use for anyone and many Blackberry users scoffed at the fact that people were beginning to use touch screens.

Around August of 2013, it was announced that Blackberry will be cutting around 4,500 workers, that they had incurred a $965 million loss and that the company will be going private. Fairfax, the company that was to buy Blackberry, eventually could not gather up the financing for the sale. Blackberry got ex-Sybase CEO, John Chen, to take over as chairman and interim CEO while receiving a $1 billion loan to continue running the company.

The future does not seem too bright for Blackberry. There was a glimmer of hope in January 2013 with the release of the Blackberry Z10 and the Blackberry Q10, that boasts a physical keyboard. But recently BBM, their messaging service, was released for use on Android phones and iPhone. This is good and bad. Everyone now has access to the service which means more users and accessibility but this could also mean that it is a move to anticipate the shutdown of Blackberry.