Remember Google's barges -- the mysterious vessels made of dozens of shipping containers? The first to be brought to light, by CNET, initially bobbed alongside Treasure Island in the middle of San Francisco Bay. A second was then discovered in the harbor in Portland, Maine. The crafts captivated the tech world, spurring speculation about their purpose. Were they futuristic data centers? Floating retail outlets?
Alas, despite Google's revelation that the barges were set to become mobile showcases for new technology, the San Francisco vessel was, early this year, moved without fanfare 80 miles east to Stockton, Calif. The Portland craft was dismantled and its shipping containers sent to the scrap heap. The reason: the Coast Guard determined the barges presented fire and other safety hazards.
An anticlimactic end to something that garnered so much interest, and to a project that was reportedly budgeted at tens of millions of dollars.
Let's be honest: Did any smartwatch live up to the hype this year? After a few intriguing early attempts in 2013, this year was supposed to be the one in which smartwatches took hold. Google got into it seriously with its Android Wear software, designed specifically for wearable devices.
Samsung, Motorola, LG and Sony, among others, released what felt like a constant barrage of smartwatches in the hope of wowing consumers.
But the same problems persisted: bulky watches, disappointing battery life and clunky software. Nothing out there really justifies a purchase.
It's telling that with all the moves Google made, CNET editor Scott Stein's favorite smartwatch remains the non-Google Pebble Steel, which debuted in January.
Maybe one of these companies will get it right in 2015. And there's always the Apple Watch, which comes out next year.
To be fair, Isis Mobile Wallet had its nationwide launch in November 2013. But it's a testament to the weak consumer awareness generated by the system that the other ISIS -- the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria -- became the ISIS.
Branding aside, the bigger threat may be Apple Pay. Since Apple's own mobile-payment system launched in October, people have been talking about using their smartphones to handle payment transactions -- something few people did with Isis/Softcard.
This year marked version 2.0 of Microsoft's campaign to sell its next-generation Xbox One game console. One of the key features of the system, the motion-sensor Kinect, was jettisoned to lower the price to $400. The Xbox One's price has more recently fallen even lower, to $350, with many retailers offering free games bundled with the system.
What was once positioned as critical to the Xbox experience suddenly became expendable. It's easy to see why consumers' response to the new Kinect (which can be purchased a la carte) has been, shall we say, lukewarm.
Now most of Microsoft's investment in Xbox One Kinect will likely be scrapped as consumers opt for the cheaper Kinect-less version of the Xbox One.
Aereo seems to have gone off the air.
The company used a network of mini-antennas to grab over-the-air TV signals (without paying broadcasters any fees) and let customers stream them to Net-connected devices for a low monthly price. But it ran into a buzz saw known as the Supreme Court, which deemed the service illegal. The decision was a win for the broadcasters, including CBS, the parent company of CNET, and rang Aereo's death knell.
The company took another hit in October when a US District court granted broadcasters' request for a preliminary injunction against the service. Then last week, after months of "not dead yet" declarations, Aereo filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, acknowledging that it had exhausted its viable routes to keep operating after the Supreme Court ruling.
There's competition, and then there are dirty tactics. Lyft in August claimed employees of rival ride-sharing service Uber booked and then canceled thousands of rides over the previous nine months, a move Lyft claimed was part of a ploy to hire away drivers. Uber called the allegations "patently false."
The trouble is, car app Gett made similar allegations against Uber, saying Uber used a "denial of service"-type attack to recruit drivers. In that instance, Uber said its tactics were "likely too aggressive."
Uber didn’t help its image when an executive in November said the company might spend $1 million on a plan to discredit journalists writing stories Uber didn't like. Uber CEO Travis Kalanick said remarks by executive Emil Michael "showed a lack of leadership, a lack of humanity and a departure from our values and ideals." Still, Michael continues to be an Uber employee because Kalanick feels "folks who make mistakes can learn from them."
Lesson learned: don’t talk about a plan to discredit journalists at a dinner-meeting with journalists.
Samsung and Intel's operating system, Tizen, was supposed to provide carriers with a smartphone they could customize and call their own. It was supposed to be a high-end operating system. And it was supposed to debut early this year.
None of that happened.
The only whiff we got of Tizen was in Samsung's smartwatches, which haven't exactly been hot sellers. At Mobile World Congress in March, the Tizen Association attempted to shift its strategy to capitalize on the notion that the software could power smart TVs, among other devices.
The long-delayed operating system could finally make its debut next month, but as a platform for low-end smartphones.
Facebook got into some hot water after disclosing a study that manipulated a select group of its users' emotions by tweaking the items in their newsfeed. The study affected 689,003 users and 3 million posts.
The disclosure reignited the ongoing debate about privacy and just what Facebook does with your data.
It was capped off by Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg's non-apology apology. "So we clearly communicated really badly about this, and that we really regret," Sandberg toldthe Indian television station NDTV while in New Delhi.
It's debatable what GamerGate really stands for. Opinions range from an effort to expose bias in gaming journalism to a pushback against critics who question the portrayal of women in video games. But what's clear-cut is the vile, ugly harassment that’s become a hallmark of the movement.
Feminist media critic Anita Sarkeesian (pictured above) pulled out of a speaking engagement at Utah State University because an anonymous email threatened "the deadliest school shooting in American history" if she didn't cancel her speech. Independent game developer Brianna Wu was driven from her home after receiving threats and having her address posted online. Zoe Quinn, the developer at the center of GamerGate, also had her information leaked and was forced to leave her home.
The gaming industry is starting to pay attention. Mike Morhaime, head of Activision's Blizzard Entertainment unit, said the harassment was "tarnishing our reputation as gamers." Adobe outright said it doesn’t stand with GamerGate.
We learned this year to be afraid, very afraid for our personal data. The numbers were staggering.
JPMorgan Chase revealed in October that 76 million households and 7 million small businesses had been compromised in a data breach, much larger than previously estimated.
Home Depot said in November that 53 million emails, in addition to 56 million credit card numbers, had been stolen by hackers.
And if you were one of the unfortunate people who used a third-party backup service for Snapchat photos and videos -- chances are your messages were exposed to the public. Snapchat was less than sympathetic, saying those users had no one to blame but themselves for relying on sketchy services.
It was another banner year for Apple, which continued to see its iPhone dominate the smartphone business even as rival Samsung stumbled. But the company wasn't without its own embarrassments.
Speaking of security issues, the most high-profile snafu was the theft of nude photos of celebrities, including actress Jennifer Lawrence and model Kate Upton, which were said to have been taken from the celebrities' private iCloud accounts. Apple denied that poor security architecture led to the image leak but conceded it could have done more to warn customers of the danger of hackers. It bolstered iCloud's security alerts toward that end.
Then there was the iOS 8.0.1 upgrade for the iPhone and iPad. Originally intended to fix errors in iOS 8, it presented its own, much larger problems, including kicking the iPhone off cellular networks and disabling the TouchID fingerprint sensor. To its credit, Apple had a relatively quick fix out with iOS 8.0.2. Then iOS 8.1 came out and brought back the beloved "Camera Roll" folder in the Photos app.
Other image blotches this year included a public spat between Apple sapphire-glass supplier GT Advanced, which blamed its bankruptcy on Apple's practices; the backlash from Apple forcing U2's latest album, "Songs of Innocence," onto your iTunes list whether you wanted it or not; and the quasicontroversy of "Bendgate" and the supposedly bendable iPhone 6 Plus. (Apple said only nine customers had complained about the issue.)
On the plus side, Apple CEO Tim Cook took a strong stand on diversity, revealing in public for the first time that he’s gay. “If hearing that the CEO of Apple is gay can help someone struggling to come to terms with who he or she is, or bring comfort to anyone who feels alone, or inspire people to insist on their equality, then it’s worth the trade-off with my own privacy."
For the most part, new Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has had a strong early run. The company seems to be moving briskly toward his new strategy of software and services, and even the Surface tablet is starting to pick up steam.
But Nadella walked into a minefield when he suggested that women in technology shouldn't ask for raises, but should instead trust in the system (which today underpays women relative to their male peers) to take care of them. "It's not really about asking for the raise but knowing and having faith that the system will actually give you the right raises as you go along," he said.
The worst part: He said it at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing.
Nadella soon backtracked on the remarks, saying he was inarticulate about his comments. A day later, he said he was flat-out wrong.
That didn't stop the criticism, and he spent a good chunk of October defending himself and his views on women and technology. The takeaway for women working at Microsoft: ask for a raise. The boss is listening.
Remember the Fire Phone? It's OK if you don't. You’re not alone.
Amazon's first smartphone debuted with a fair bit of buzz. It had a supportive carrier partner in AT&T, which promised a big marketing push. It also had two features that helped the Fire Phone stand out: four front-facing cameras to help display 3D images and a Firefly object recognition app to scan bar codes and other data from real-world items, making it easier for you to buy them from Amazon.com
But as Facebook discovered a year ago with its own failed phone, slapping a well-known brand on a device doesn't guarantee success. The Fire Phone runs an altered version of Android that doesn't support key Google apps like Google Maps or Gmail. AT&T's marketing push faded quickly, and the phone fell to 99 cents (with a contract) after two months.
Those standout features? Customers didn't seem to care.
Amazon has acknowledged it missed the mark with pricing. Where Amazon's Kindle Fire tablets won a following with their low price, consumers were less than wowed by the Fire Phone's $200 price tag with contract. Maybe Amazon will have better luck with the next version.
Correction, 1:20 p.m. PT: This story misstated the number of cameras the Fire Phone uses to display 3D images. Amazon's Fire Phone has four motion-tracking cameras to support Dynamic Perspective, as well as an additional front-facing camera and rear-facing camera for photos.
There are flameouts and then there’s former RadiumOne CEO Gurbaksh Chahal.
The little-known startup made headlines in the worst possible way when Chahal was arrested and convicted of battery and domestic violence after hitting his girlfriend 117 times in a 30-minute attack. He initially tweeted that he was innocent and blamed the media for its one-sided coverage, before deleting those tweets.
The drama didn't end there. CNET uncovered another RadiumOne employee who was living and working under a fake identity. You can't make this stuff up.
New RadiumOne CEO Bill Lonergan acknowledged the drama but said it was over by June. He added that the company didn't lose any major customers, and the second quarter was the best quarter in the company's history.