Hottest stories, craziest moments from summer 2011

From huge debuts to hacks everywhere, big deals and bigger exits, this summer was anything but a vacation. A look back at the stories that made this summer anything but relaxing.

Eric Mack Contributing Editor
Eric Mack has been a CNET contributor since 2011. Eric and his family live 100% energy and water independent on his off-grid compound in the New Mexico desert. Eric uses his passion for writing about energy, renewables, science and climate to bring educational content to life on topics around the solar panel and deregulated energy industries. Eric helps consumers by demystifying solar, battery, renewable energy, energy choice concepts, and also reviews solar installers. Previously, Eric covered space, science, climate change and all things futuristic. His encrypted email for tips is ericcmack@protonmail.com.
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  • Finalist for the Nesta Tipping Point prize and a degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia.
Eric Mack
5 min read

Officially, we still have three weeks of summer, but we all know that after the three-day Labor Day weekend it's all but over. And it's probably a good thing. After the blistering pace of big news and wild moments over the past three months, we could all use an autumn vacation. Here's a look back at the stories that made summer 2011 so memorable:

Jobs ushered in our summer, and now he (as CEO of Apple) and the season are exiting in tandem. CBS Interactive

iOS 5 and "one more thing" from WWDC: No blockbuster new device announcement came out of Apple's annual Worldwide Developers Conference in June. Instead we got updates to Mac OS X and iOS to anticipate, as well as one more very intriguing thing. Steve Jobs announced iCloud, which rehashes a lot of cloud concepts that are already old hat for Android users, but adds that special Apple polish and iTunes Match, which syncs up users' music and media collections across iOS devices. The service still hasn't debuted, but Spotify landed in the U.S. (see below) in the meantime, creating some serious competition.

Everything's coming up tablets: The great race to catch up to the iPad continued, but no one seemed to gain ground. RIM's PlayBook flopped and HP's TouchPad... well, more on that later. But the tech world is far from giving up. Microsoft started the summer by introducing Windows 8, which is basically built to be tablet-ready with a touch interface. Of course, who knows if we'll see it before 2014--by that time tablets will probably have been replaced by nanotech thought-controlled devices. Amazon also looks to be throwing its hat in the tablet ring, with a rumored iPad-killer coming soon, maybe?

Everyone hacks everything: What's summer without a fresh Mountain Dew and Low-Orbit Ion Cannon by the glow of a flat-screen monitor, DDoSing the lazy days away? You're not anyone in this world anymore until someone hacks you. By that measure, a whole lot of people, companies, and governments finally "arrived" this year. Tongue-in-cheek congratulations to the CIA, Sony (several times over), Citigroup, Electronic Arts, Turkey, and so many more for making the long list of targets.

CBS News

Weinergate: Even great summers have their low point. When oh-so-ironically-named Congressman Anthony Weiner tweeted a pic of his package, the power balance between Twitter and Congress seemed to flip--now the microblogging site seems more powerful than we ever imagined, while it turns out to be politicians who are clearly stupider than our wildest dreams.

Google+ launches: Leave it to Google to launch the most buzzed-about beta product of the year. The social network has seen impressive growth in its first two months, despite still being (kinda) closed to the public. It quickly became a top download in app markets, including the iOS App Store. It's also had the strange side effect of turning Robert Scoble into a sort of human meme. Oh darn, now he just ruined this blog post, too.

Screenshot by Eric Mack/CNET

It's all about the patents: When "This American Life" takes a week off from Sarah Vowell's road trips and David Sedaris' awkward youth to do an hour-long investigative piece on the patent wars, you know something must be up. 2011 was the summer everyone sued everyone over patents no one understands while scrambling to grab more of them. Google bid pi billion (yes, 3.14 billion) dollars on Nortel Networks' patents and lost to a consortium made up of Apple and other big names. But it turns out Google had other plans up its sleeve. (Read on.)


Spotify launches in the U.S.: The European music-streaming service of legend suddenly showed up on American shores this summer and became an overnight sensation, and the buzz has since died down. I suspect the jury will stay out on this one until iCloud debuts soon. Somebody should really call Rdio and MOG to see how they're taking all this...

Everybody hates Netflix: Netflix decided to up the price on its streaming/DVD-by-mail combo by 60 percent, prompting global social-network ire of a distinctly first-world variety. While users threatened to cancel and citizens fighting autocratic regimes in the Middle East wondered if we might redirect a little of our righteous indignation at something that actually matters, Netflix responded by having a major service outage. Sorry, Syrians, we'll get you next time.

Apple bigger than the Beatles: For at least a little while, Apple eclipsed ExxonMobil to become the most valuable company in the world this summer. Apple fans should remain diligent in ensuring that Yoko Ono stays far away from Cupertino.

Phone hacking: Turns out that newspaper journalists are not only still working, they're even hacking. The news that British tabloids had hacked into the voice mail of royals, politicians, and even a missing girl prompted a huge scandal and led to the shuttering of a popular U.K. paper. Funny how quickly the scandal of the scandalous tabloid quickly seemed to morph into scandalous tabloid material itself.

Devices go viral: Phone hacking wasn't the only example of devices making a splash in the mainstream. In case you hadn't noticed, they've also been fueling revolutions in the Middle East, rioting and looting in the U.K., and protests over Bay Area Rapid Transit shutting down cell networks to thwart protests. Maybe we need a backup smoke signal network...

Google to buy Motorola: Google may get its patents after all. It announced a deal to buy Motorola Mobility, but it plans to pay a lot more than pi billion. The $12.5 billion deal would put Google in the handset business (not to mention the set-top-box biz) and it comes with 17,000 patents to boot. That whirring sound is heads in Silicon Valley still spinning.

HP wins by quitting: The same week as the Google/Moto news, the world's biggest PC maker said it's looking to quit making PCs soon, and quitting the tablet and mobile-phone game immediately. Apparently the company wants to go the IBM route and move to enterprise software. But after its fire sale liquidation of TouchPads became a sensation, there may be life for WebOS after all, if HP hadn't just become the erratic crazy uncle of the tech world that nobody fully trusts anymore.

So long Steve Jobs: The man who built and then rebuilt Apple is stepping out of the CEO's office to become chairman of the board, handing the reins to Tim Cook. If you want to know more about Jobs or his retirement, you just might be able to find a few stories online here and there. Be prepared to feel very small if you dare to dive into the resume of a man for whom founding Pixar was just a relatively small accomplishment. It'll make you wonder where your summer went.