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What's naughty and nice from the 2012 tech world

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During Christmas I like to think of things that I am grateful for, the real meaning of Christmas and how we share this joyous holiday with our family and friends. Of course, especially now that my oldest is in Kindergarten, we hear about the other side of things — what goes on at the North Pole, Santa’s workshop and what it means to be on the Nice or Naughty list. Naturally, that got me thinking. If I made a Tech Naughty and Nice list, who would be on which side this year? While I couldn’t possibly go through everything, here are a few of the things that stand out in my mind.

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Who’s On The Nice List?

Google

No, I’m not talking about just their search, which is still outstanding, I’m talking about all the things that you don’t know they do. Google has always been a HUGE supporter of the development community and open sourcing their projects for improvements. In a nutshell, what that means is that they can get user input from across the globe on how to improve their products. Not just in a sense of what looks nice to people, but I mean actual software developers who help them improve the functionality of their products.

Google Labs is something they have had for years now and you should really check that out. It’s a staging and testing ground for cool programs, apps and add ons that they are working on that you can test out. They have also spearheaded the ability for the Average Joe to develop on the Android OS starting with their App Developer. They have also branched out to try and include as many different facets to their business that they possibly can.

What does this mean for us? Some people worry that Google will take over the world and become our robot overlords. I say, if that’s the case, at least they will be equal opportunity! Sure they have a lot of irons in a lot of different fires but what it means to me is that they are continually adding to their knowledge base and that will give them better ability to provide better programs and options for the average user.

HTC and Motorola

For years Android has had a fragmentation problem. There were a million different phones on four or five Android OS versions and there was no end in sight. It was very difficult to keep everyone on the same page and there was much greater chance that some functionality would be incompatible across the Android universe because there were just so many different models that ran on Android.

Enter Motorola and HTC, two device companies that have been around for a long time. Motorola was bought out by Google this year, which is a contributing factor, but even before that Motorola and HTC both began releasing series of phones that allowed them to keep their users in a more consistent device pattern. What that means to us as average users is that we don’t have to worry quite so much about how advanced our device is. This strategy also allowed the device makers to create a line of phones that they could upgrade to newer OS without having their devices become completely obsolete. Motorola’s Razr series is worthy of mention here.

HTC has just released a game changer for their devices. They simultaneously released a Windows Phone, the 8x, which runs on the new Windows 8, and also the Droid DNA. Verizon Wireless was kind enough to send us each of these phones and we had the chance to use them in depth for the last week and a half. We will be releasing a full review in January, but to make the Nice List, HTC is branching out across platforms to add continuity from a hardware developer. The Droid DNA is also has a 1080p display and is the first quad-core processor offering an android line. In a nutshell what that means is that it can handle the Android OS extremely well and optimizes its performance to be the most efficient it can be. Keep your eyes peeled for our full reviews.

Social Media

This year was dubbed the year of social media. Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn lead the charge but there were plenty of start-ups in there as well.

Up to this point social media was always a mish mash of what you think you should be doing now and what you should be keeping track of so you can stay ahead of the curve. I think it’s safe to say that while that will never really change, the idea of social media and it’s capabilities is understood better now and is much less intimidating that it was even a year ago.

Social media makes the nice list because of what it means to us as regular people. I can connect with friends I haven’t seen since college, long-lost cousins find each other after 30 years and staying in touch with people long distance has never been easier. Think of the impact social video conference has had for grandparents who get to see their first grandchild, or the young daughter who can still say good night to their dad or mom who is bravely serving overseas, or even just the dad that gets to say good night to his kids while he’s traveling on business. Social media, and the devices they run on, are giving us the ability to connect like never before.

Who Made the Naughty List?

Just as there were some really awesome tech things that happened this year, there were also some that weren’t so awesome. In fact, some were outright duds. I wanted to take a look at some of those and then offer my thoughts on what means as cautionary tales for the future.

Apple Maps

Although it came later in the year the biggest blunder, arguably, was the departure by Apple from Google Maps in its iOS system. With the release of the iOS6, Apple announced that they would be integrating their own mapping system that would continue in Apple’s tradition of sleek UI, quality and all around good feelings. What ended up happening could not have been farther from that. Apple maps was released to an onslaught of backlash from a normally very supportive Apple fan base. Even worse, at a cursory glance, it seemed that Apple failed to deliver on all fronts in their mapping venture. There were cases of parks being mistaken for parking lots, residences in the middle of lakes and lack of navigation at any usable degree. To be fair, in our area there was not much out of place and the largest complaints for navigation came from those wanting to use public transportation, which isn’t as big an issue here.

However, in my opinion, Apple got a bit of a bum wrap. Don’t get me wrong, I think they made a terrible mistake in their departure but as I am not on Apple’s planning committees I can only speculate on their official reasons for that decision. Whatever their reasoning, what people need to keep in mind is that while Apple’s mapping foray was an unbelievable mess — you can’t really compare them to the Google Maps now — what Apple released was what Google Maps was five years ago. Of course, in that manner of thinking, it really only emphasizes the question of why would they depart from a tried and true system?

Lesson learned: Know what you’re getting into — Apple would have done a lot better to acknowledge from the start their mapping would have been grossly inferior and the fan base should stick with them until they got the bugs worked out. For many of the Apple crowd who are waiting for “the next best thing” that would have been more than enough to placate until Apple could get some kinks figured out.

Facebook IPO

Arguably the most popular social networking site on the planet, Facebook has been a juggernaut the last few years. Despite an update schedule that routinely confounds their users they have thwarted numerous threats of user abandonment. So it seemed to make perfect sense when they announced they would open the company’s stock up to the public. With such a powerful social network, who wouldn’t want to be a part of it? Financial wizards were rallying consumers to the cause and every TV pundit you saw was proclaiming how investing in social media was the way of the future. They were right. At least about investing in social media, although the investment shouldn’t have been in dollars but in building customer relationships through interaction. Almost immediately after the trading day opened, the stock plummeted. It has since been on a steady decline and is now something that everyone wishes they could forget.

In my opinion, this really showcases how the public views social media — as a non-commercial avenue — and it should stay that way. Social media has always been about networking, staying in touch and finding new connections. By making it a business model in that sense it brought to the public’s eye a shift in how they would be affected. It’s no secret, or surprise, that businesses have taken to social media to promote their brand, interact with their customers and help provide personalized service on a regular basis. But by shining the limelight on stock options for social media it makes it feel too “Wall Street” and people don’t want that in their social feeds.

Lesson learned: Keep social media social, not a conduit for pushing product. Don’t get me wrong, I think business definitely has a place in social media but I feel it should be used more to create better, personalized and consistent interactions with your customer base.

The iPhone 5 ... no, 4S, no it’s a 5.

Apple, in the Steve Jobs era, were masters of the unveiling. Their annual mass conferences were the highlight of the tech era, starting with the introduction of the first iPhone. From that point on, we were hooked. And it wasn’t just that the iPhone was unlike anything we’d had before, it was the whole package. The sleek packaging, the aesthetics of the phone, the simplicity and effectiveness of the OS, everything about it was presented perfectly. And one more thing, they were originally exclusive to carrier. That meant that you really felt like a member of a special club when you got one.

Fast forward to this past year. It was no secret that Steve Jobs was not in perfect health but it was a bit unexpected to the masses at his passing. In the aftermath there was concern over the future of Apple; stocks wavered, consumers waffled and the most prevalent question was whether Apple could continue its march of innovation without the visionary. All of these questions would be answered with the iPhone 5, we were told, but in the end the iPhone 5 ended up being the iPhone 4s. The 4s had moderate improvements over the 4 but it was not the flagship advancement that the world had anticipated. Make no mistake, it was the best iPhone yet but what did that really mean on the global scale? It turns out it meant that Android started stealing audience with banner products the like Motorola Razr series and the Samsung Galaxy S3, and it also allowed companies like Microsoft to continue to build as well. In retaliation Apple released the actual iPhone 5, again to much anticipation. Aside from some tweaks to the OS to improve performance, the main features, if you’ve seen their ads, were the beautiful bezel around the edge, the high quality ear buds that you have been waiting for and that it was taller. Call me stupid, but I don’t see how the main selling features that are the dominant majority of their marketing can have absolutely so little to do with the performance of the actual device. On the other hand, their competitors continued to integrate things that improved the functionality of their devices — NFC, quad-core processors and all that on top of OS upgrades. All of a sudden the degree of difference between the devices was widening.

Lesson Learned: It sounds like the lesson may not be fully understood yet as Apple seemed convince that the iPad Mini was a good idea and I’ve heard rumors that they are looking to launch a new iPhone as early as next June. But I think the danger they are running into here is they are in danger of the same fragmentation that Android has suffered from.

IMHO

Really this should be first on the list this week because if you are reading this, clearly the world has not ended. From a tech standpoint there is constant speculation that by enabling our devices and phones with new features, that our private lives are no longer private and that we have effectively broken down any safety walls that we had.

The term NSFW comes to mind. NSFW means “Not Safe For Work” and is commonly used when the content contained is inappropriate — profanity, nudity and off color remarks regularly make these lists. Directly tied to this can be the surge in the practice of “Sexting.” This alarming trend has been on the rise lately and is the act of a person sending another a picture or explicit text that usually tends to be sexual in nature. Celebrities have gotten into trouble for it, politicians, regular people; anyone is capable of doing this.

I have to shake my head and wonder what these people are thinking. I remember when Facebook first came out and people would share their rantings and ravings on their feeds with their friends. People questioned whether they should edit their feeds better. I used to tell people that my rule of thumb is that I didn’t post anything to a public network that I wouldn’t feel comfortable having my grandma know. I think that’s still pretty applicable today.

Everyone gets angry, everyone gets frustrated and worked up from time to time — I know I sure do. But it is important to consider how you will be seen as you post these NSFW things, and I encourage everyone to take a moment and just think.

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Phil Seibel
I've been in the Brainerd Lakes Area for the last 6 years, currently in Baxter with my wife and two little girls. We really enjoy all the activities and places to see in the Lakes area and particularly enjoy going to the beach and walking out at the Arboretum. I grew up in western MN and went to school at the University of MN, Crookston.
(218) 855-5862
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