5 Most Important Tech Stories of 2008
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5 Most Important Tech Stories of 2008

“Whenever people agree with me, I always feel I must be wrong.”
— Oscar Wilde

With that quote setting the proper frame of mind, I’ll dive right in to my list of the Top 5 mainstream tech stories of 2008:

#1: iPhone 3G + App Store

iPhone 3g + App Store
iPhone 3g + App Store

What other device knows where it is (gps), when it’s being touched (touch screen),  how it’s being held (accelerometer), can see (camera), can hear (mic), surfs the web with ease (Safari), plays music (iPod), and makes phone calls? Not many, and arguably, none quite as elegantly as the iPhone 3g.

With a little help from thousands of readily available apps, it plays games, identifies songs, can lull you to sleep with white noise, and will recommend good nearby restaurants.  The damn thing can even fart.

It’s insane (or perhaps perfectly sane) popularity means that millions of people are now walking with pretty hefty networked computer power in their pockets.  Power that gets used.  Over 300,000,000 apps have been downloaded, according to apple — a booming micro-economy within the framework of an overall recession makes the app store’s success even more impressive.

The app store provides developers with instant marketing, merchant services, and distribution.  The overall value of which more than compensates for some of Apple’s quirky, if not downright Draconian, rules and regulations — and their 30% cut.  The hardware + store concept can be seen in gaming consoles, the Kindle, and other devices — but the success of Apple’s implementation is clearly a game changer.  The iPhone app store is the most significant mainstream innovation of 2008.

In 2009, the iPhone looks poised to dominate the mobile gaming market.  Also, instead of a hundred variations of the flashlight app, I expect education and productivity apps to start maturing on the iPhone platform.

#2: Barack Obama

Obama at Google
Obama at Google

Does anyone doubt presidential campaigning has been changed forever?  Facebook, Twitter, SMS, candidate web sites, and YouTube have never before been leveraged like they have in 2008.  And, the candidate whose campaign “got it” technologically also got it in the end — as in got the White House.

Tech may not have been the only reason Barack Obama won, but think about what Tech did for Obama:

  • raised half of a billion dollars online
  • his “Yes We Can” speech has been viewed millions of times, as was the “Yes We Can” music video
  • communicated with a younger generation that couldn’t have been reached otherwise
  • more twitter followers than any other profile
  • and it collected more complete supporter profiles than any other campaign in history, even gaining permission to send them text message updates

Looking ahead, Obama has talked about appointing a Chief Technology Officer for the nation and he appears to be on the side of Net Neutrality. His talk at Google leads one to believe that he has a better understanding of technology than most other elected officials in D.C.

#3: YouTube Goes HD

HD Video on YouTube
HD Video on YouTube

YouTube held immense influence when its video resolution was cell phone quality.  But late in 2008, YouTube unleashed HD on the web masses.

So, now we can watch cats falling from bookshelves with clarity like never before, right?  Well, sure.  But it also means more people will start adding computers to their entertainment racks (Mac Minis work great, btw).  At 720p, YouTube videos now look nearly perfect on big LCD TVs.

It also means, businesses will start leveraging YouTube even more.  Recently, we at Axosoft started publishing our weekly video podcast (Fear the Bug) in HD on YouTube.  Now, we can do screen videos that actually have legible text!  Just one year ago, it was nearly impossible to find a web site that could host HD video for a reasonable fee.  Now it’s free, and it just so happens to be where everyone is already going to consume video.

In 2009 and beyond, I expect to see the quantity of high quality content increasing greatly on YouTube.  I’m not holding my breath, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see a movie with big names associated to it released straight to YouTube.

YouTube could also be poising itself for a micro-payment model, where users pay small amounts to consume specific chunks of video.  After all, we’re already getting used to that, being the iTunes veterans that hundreds of millions of us already are.

#4: Microsoft Can’t Find its Groove

For Microsoft, 2008 was the year of the low-light.  Think churro, here.  Let’s run down the list:

Jerry Seinfeld I actually enjoyed the Seinfeld ads.  It probably has something to do with being in my 30’s and suspecting the storyline was actually going somewhere.  The churro, the faux apple-store looking shoe store, the meaninglessness of it all — it was leading up to something, right?  The answer appears to be either “no” or “we’ll never know.”  Microsoft pulled the campaign, seemingly in response to all of the bashing the ads were receiving in the press.  Too bad they didn’t stick with it.

Seinfeld's Churro
Seinfeld's Churro

I’m a PCMicrosoft boldly decided to fight back against Apple’s “I’m a Mac” campaign with their own “I’m a PC” campaign.  No points for originality there.  The ads were kind of OK.  My boss thought they were good, in fact.  But, ultimately, they were uninspired — designed to steal a meme and not driven by its own passion.  The ads have fizzled, and other than the launch of the campaign, have not been worth talking about.

Surprise! Bill G's a PC.
Surprise! Bill G's a PC.

Project Mohave To me, this was a big joke and poorly executed.  In the tradition of the old Folgers commercials (we’ve secretly replaced “Fancy Restaurant’s” coffee with Folgers crystals — hey, I already said I was in my 30’s), Microsoft attempted to show us how they could fool people into thinking Vista was a great operating system.

Just check your Vista prejudice in at the door, step into a pristine Microsoft lab with Vista machines set up and monitored by Microsoft engineers and be amazed.  Yeah, ok.  By the way, after debuting as an Adobe Flash-based site, it’s now built on Microsoft Silverlight and has some TV commercials propping it up as well.

Would you believe it's Folgers?
Would you believe it's Folgers?

Microhoo Luckily for Microsoft, Jerry Yang and the folks in charge at Yahoo were way too greedy to let Microsoft ruin itself for a mere $45 Billion.  Today, Yahoo’s market cap is hovering around $17 Billion, and Microsoft isn’t burdened with merging two clashing corporate identities, overlapping products, and countless other distractions.

microhoo_logo

Z2K9 – In what appears to be a hat-tip to 1999, and with a day left in the year, first-gen Zune 30 gig models around the world choked.  At midnight on Dec 31, the Microsoft mp3 players rebooted and could not get beyond the start-up sequence, rendering them useless.  As if things weren’t already bad enough in the perception department for the capable, yet mostly undesirable, music player — Zune owners had to put up with jabs from their smug iPod-owning friends.  Not a great way to end the year.

zune_z2k9

Hopefully, Microsoft realizes Apple’s “I’m a Mac” ads haven’t hurt Microsoft nearly as badly as Microsoft have hurt themselves.  They were in full control of the Vista story from the beginning when they chose to release 10 different versions (Ultimate Super-Duper Vista or Mid-Level Media Home Vista or…?), chose to put everyone through the Vista-Ready-Capable fiasco, and chose to force customers through an awful user experience.  Nearly two years later and with a Service Pack under it’s belt, Vista might be the most solid Windows OS ever…but they burned a lot of bridges.

For 2009, I expect Microsoft to do things right with Windows 7 — great coordination with hardware vendors, a solid OS, a pre-holiday release, and strong sales.  However, Microsoft will continue to struggle with being perceived as non-innovative, and they will continue to lose  ground to Apple and Linux.

#5: The Economy Hits Tech … the Layoffs Begin

2008_dow_jones

Big companies are feeling it and laying off:

  • Sony – 16,000
  • Western Digital – 2,500
  • AT&T – 12,000
  • Yahoo – 1,500
  • Sun Microsystems – 6,000
  • Motorola – 3,000
  • Ebay – 1,000
  • Dell – 8,900
  • Nokia – 600

…and several smaller, Web 2.0-ish teams have been affected as well:

  • Gawker Media
  • Mahalo
  • Pandora
  • Zillow
  • Break.com
  • Revision3
  • and others…

Whether all of this is due to the housing market, the war, greedy bankers, normal business cycles, mismanagement of the government at nearly all levels, all of the above, or none of the above — times are rough for tech.

Within the space of a few months, we’ve watched the economy collapse, the U.S. congress claw their way to an $800 billion bailout, the fed chairman snap his fingers to print another $800 billion bailout on top of that, and pessimism about the economy grow to an all-time high.  Not even Christmas could bail out the retailers, and lots of folks are holding their breath to see what the post-holiday season holds.

The standard line is that “things will get worse before they get better.”  And, I am in agreement.  In ’09, I expect to see retail take a hard hit without any bail-out safety nets.  Nearly as soon as he takes office, there will be an Obama-flavored New Deal designed to get people back to work and staying in their homes.  The national debt will skyrocket.  But, with that said, I’m also optimistic about a turn-around in ’09.  Perhaps not a full recovery, but a reversal of the pendulum.

So, there ya go.

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