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HolidayBuyer's Guide

A bunch of guys, and they're usually white

The year of hacking

Evolution or revolution?

Bigger is better

Silicon Valley for sale

Samsung stumbles

The world's biggest legal battles wind down

No third place

Sharing economy kicks into high gear

Many of the large tech companies began releasing demographic and diversity data about their employees. People concerned the tech industry was largely a bunch of white dudes were basically proven right: Every major company was overwhelmingly run without much diversity, in terms of gender or ethnicity. The issue hit a flashpoint in October, when Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella said at a conference that women shouldn’t demand higher pay, but instead trust the system -- which was paying them disproportionately lower salaries to begin with -- to do the right thing. He’s spent the ensuing months apologizing and attempting to take a leadership position on equal pay.

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If you thought 2011 was bad, with the attack on Sony’s PlayStation Network, and hacking attacks on all manner of government institutions by LulzSec and Anonymous, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Sony was attacked again this year, and a bunch of the information stolen was released online, including unreleased films. It may be one of the most damaging attacks ever. And there was also fallout from attacks at Target, Home Depot and others. Even CNET was hacked.

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Smartphones aren’t really changing much these days. Sure, the iPhone 6 is bigger than the iPhone 5S, and the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 has a sharper screen than the Galaxy Note 3, but the tectonic shifts that happened between smartphone iterations have largely vanished. It’s also unlikely large changes are on the horizon. Don’t believe us? Consider the iPad: Its frame didn’t even change much, and the battery life stayed roughly the same as well. Instead, this year’s biggest change was the addition of a fingerprint sensor to help unlock the device and use Apple Pay.

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OK, so there was one major shift in the smartphone industry: Apple finally joined the phablet trend when it released its 5.5-inch iPhone 6 Plus. Also worth noting: there are practically no major smartphone makers creating devices 4 inches or smaller anymore.

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During the financial crisis, the big trend in Silicon Valley was small acquisitions. This year was certainly the opposite: Between BranchOculus VR and WhatsApp, Facebook spent about $25 billion, and that’s just the ones we know about. Google kicked off 2014 with the $3.2 billion acquisition of home automation makers Nest, followed by another $555 million on the home camera maker Dropcam. Apple bought headphone and music maker Beats for $3 billion, its first multi-billion-dollar acquisition. And don’t forget the blockbuster tie-ups between AT&T and DirecTV or Comcast and Time Warner.

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Samsung was at the top of the world at the beginning of the year, but it hasn’t ended it that way. The South Korean tech firm and Apple were the dominant smartphone makers. But with smartphone sales slowing and profits crashing, the company is struggling to find its stride. The company released its premiere smartphone, the Galaxy S5, with bullish expectations in April. But, according to a recent Wall Street Journal article, the device has sold 40 percent fewer devices than its predecessor.

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Apple and Samsung’s retrial of the century happened in San Jose, Calif., where a jury had to rehear a portion of the case between the two tech titans following the 2012 decision telling Samsung it owed Apple $1 billion. The new jury heard many of the same arguments from two years earlier, but ultimately tossed out a significant portion of the decision. Of course, now that the jury trials are over, it’s time for the appeals.

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One of the biggest questions we had walking into 2014 was which company would ultimately take third place in the smartphone wars. Now that the year’s nearly over, we don’t really know. HTC’s One M8 was a great phone, but so was the Motorola Droid Turbo, the Moto X, the Sony Xperia Z3 and LG’s G3. Even BlackBerry’s boxy Passport phone garnered surprisingly good scores, although it remains a niche product. And don’t forget Xiaomi, the phone maker that really made a name for itself this year with its Apple-like style and design. So the market continues to be: Samsung, Apple, and the rest.

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Between Airbnb, Uber, Lyft, Sidecar, Flywheel and a host of others, the sharing economy has definitely entered the mainstream. But can it survive? Airbnb got a nod from San Francisco but the ride hasn’t been as smooth for Uber. The taxi-like service may be the most highly valued startup out there, at $40 billion it’s now valued higher than American Airlines, but it’s also faced criticism of its hard-charging culture and threats to dig up dirt on journalists.

Caption by / Photo by Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images
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