Say what: The top tech quotes of 2012

It was a year that brought us the futuristic Google Glass and an irate Ira Glass, messed-up maps and a picture-perfect Mars mission, Windows 8 and Apple-Samsung hate. Here's how we heard it.

Jon Skillings Editorial director
A born browser of dictionaries and a lifelong New Englander, Jon Skillings is director of copy editing at CNET. He honed his language skills as a US Army linguist (Polish and German) before diving into editing tech publications back when the web was just getting under way. He writes occasionally, on topics from GPS to James Bond.
Expertise language, grammar, usage Credentials
  • 30 years experience at tech and consumer publications, print and online. Five years in the US Army as a translator (German and Polish).
Jon Skillings
9 min read
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Sometimes it's what you say. Sometimes it's how you say it.

What really matters is that what you said captured a moment, crystallized a trend, got under the skin, or tickled a funny bone. For present purposes, it all adds up to the best quotes of the year, from across the tech sector.

The year 2012 brought us the futuristic Google Glass and an irate Ira Glass, messed-up maps and a picture-perfect Mars mission, Windows 8 and Apple-Samsung hate. All that and more are captured below in a few well-chosen words. You'll be pleased to note, we hope, that not a single quote is burdened with cliched claptrap like "double down."

Without wasting any more words, let us begin:

Smoking crack

Why save the very best for last? This gem came from an exasperated Judge Lucy Koh, presiding over the marquee legal battle of many, many legal battles going on between Apple and Samsung around the world. On August 16, she lost her temper (not for the first or last time, we might add) as Apple tried to book a few too many witnesses into precious little time. The outburst didn't seem to have hurt Apple's prospects, however; days later, the jury in the patent case found in favor of Apple, awarding the iPhone maker $1.05 billion in damages.

"We found for Apple because of the evidence they presented. It was clear there was infringement," Apple v. Samsung juror Manuel Ilagan told CNET.

Dueling designs: Apple v. Samsung (pictures)

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Really? Unless we're very much mistaken, Apple has had plenty of opportunities to settle in its various fights with Samsung and others. (OK, so Apple did reach a deal with HTC.) Apparently in some cases, bad blood just cannot be so easily quelled. And Cook's larger point is well taken; everybody wins when necessity mothers the next great innovation.

On the outs

Microsoft Surface

Microsoft's Surface tablet

Josh Miller/CNET

While Samsung and Apple duked it out in courtrooms over tablet and smartphone designs, as well as in the all-important court of consumer spending, Microsoft was taking a new crack at the tablet market with its Surface design and on the mobile phone front with Windows Phone 8. For its tablet efforts, software maker Microsoft earned a fair measure of grief from some of its hardware partners for treading on their turf, as conveyed above by Acer CEO JT Wang.

The pithier take on that came a few months later from Acer's manager of Greater China operations, who -- in a rough translation -- compared making hardware to a basic foodstuff, using the chewy analogy of "hard rice" that's "not so easy to eat."

It's still too early to know whether Windows Phone 8 will pull Microsoft out of the cellar of the mobile phone market, but if not, perhaps there's some consolation that Microsoft's mobile products never had much of a presence to start with. Not so with Research In Motion, maker of the now beleaguered BlackBerry. Once nearly synonymous with dominance in the mobile sector -- some years ago, what celeb didn't have a BlackBerry? -- RIM has been crowded out of the throne room by Apple and by Android's acolytes, most notably Samsung (see above).

RIM spent 2012 notably not launching BlackBerry 10, its next-generation operating system and its hope for a return to something resembling its former glory. But it has shared some details about the software ahead of the formal January 2013 introduction, and perhaps even more so, maintained its bravado. It may not suit everybody to be a third wheel, but perhaps in some circumstances that's the best that can be achieved. Viel Glueck, Thorsten Heins.

Bumps in the road

We bring back Apple CEO Tim Cook for another quote, this time in apology mode. The second half of the year brought forth a bonanza of new and updated Apple products: the iPhone 5, the fourth-generation iPad and the new iPad Mini ("Every inch an iPad," to quote Apple's marketing tagline), a new pair of iMacs, iTunes 11, and iOS 6. Usually those are moments for Apple to revel in the adulation, but the company came in for some rough handling once people got a good look at the Maps app in iOS 6 -- cities went missing, roads took wrong turns, stable bridges and dams got all wobbly.

Cook even went so far as to -- gasp! -- recommend the competition: "While we're improving Maps, you can try alternatives by downloading map apps from the App Store like Bing, MapQuest, and Waze, or use Google or Nokia maps..."

Maps woes in Apple iOS 6: How bad? (pictures)

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Mike Daisey

Mike Daisey.

Greg Sandoval/CNET

Apple took some heat in 2012 as well over the conditions for workers at the factories in China that crank out iPhones and other gear. (Other U.S.-based tech heavyweights also use these factories, we should point out.) Some of the most impassioned criticism came from Mike Daisey, the author and performer of the one-man play, "The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs." There was just one problem: Daisey made up some of what he presented as fact. That revelation led to the public radio program "This American Life" retracting the January episode it ran featuring a Daisey monologue on those Chinese factories.

Said Daisey in rebuttal: "I stand by my work. My show is a theatrical piece whose goal is to create a human connection between our gorgeous devices and the brutal circumstances from which they emerge." And that he was quoted "out of context."

Red Planet rover, come on over

Curiosity rover on Mars

Curiosity on Mars.


Some eight months and 350 million miles after departing Cape Canaveral, Fla., the one-ton Curiosity rover arrived on Mars in a high-stakes landing that made unprecedented use of a hovering sky crane.

Many things could have gone very badly wrong with the $2.5 billion mission, especially in those final minutes. But in the end, it was a picture-perfect landing -- as images sent home from Curiosity quickly confirmed.

Or as Curiosity itself tweeted:

Over time, the rover has proved itself as adept at tweeting as it is laser-focused on its science-geeky mission. It even has a sense of humor. As speculation heated up during the fall about potentially momentous discoveries on the Red Planet, Curiosity sought to dispel them with a twinkle in its eye:

Quite a spectacle

Google co-founder Sergey Brin touts the Project Glass computerized glasses at the Google I/O show.

Google co-founder Sergey Brin touts the Project Glass computerized glasses at the Google I/O show.

Stephen Shankland/CNET

One of the most intriguing pieces of technology introduced during 2012 was the eye wear known as Google Glass. These aren't your ordinary spectacles. In this debut version, known as the Explorer Edition, the lightweight frames sport a camera, radios for data communication, speaker, microphone, and gyroscope, the better to reckon your position and orientation. The first recipients, other than a handful of Google employees, should be getting them early in 2013.

And what a spectacular entrance: the glasses leaped into the public consciousness on the faces of two skydivers who plummeted and then bicycled, safely and securely, onto the stage at the Google I/O conference last June. "You've seen demos that were slick and robust. This will be nothing like that," Brin said. "This could go wrong in about 500 different ways."

Not so spectacular for Google: its third-quarter results, dragged down by the Motorola Mobility acquisition that it's still digesting. Or from which it's suffering indigestion. Google posted earnings of $9.03 a share on revenue of $11.5 billion, way below expectations for $10.65 a share on $11.86 billion in revenue, and its shares plunged on the news. Adding an insult or two to the injuries, the draft press release on the earnings inadvertently slipped out ahead of schedule -- Google blamed its financial printer, R.R. Donnelly -- with an all-caps placeholder for a statement from CEO Larry Page: PENDING LARRY QUOTE. It didn't take long at all before the world welcomed the @PendingLarry parody account on Twitter.

Windows, Windows, Windows

Steve Ballmer

Steve Ballmer at CES 2012

James Martin/CNET

It was a big year for Microsoft and its signature franchise, with the debuts of Windows 8, Windows RT, and Windows Phone 8. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer could help but chant "Windows, Windows, Windows" in his keynote at the Consumer Electronics Show in January, looking out at the year ahead. And he gave a similar peroration for the new tiled look that would be shared across both the desktop and the mobile operating systems. "Metro will drive the new magic across all of our user experiences," he said at the time.

But times change, don't they? Seven months later, Microsoft ditched the name Metro, reportedly acquiescing to trademark concerns raised by the German retailer (and Microsoft partner) Metro. The message from Redmond in August: It was just a code name! Please use the software product name!

How was Ballmer feeling about things as the year wound down? Against a backdrop of gripes that the Metro -- er, Windows 8 -- interface had consumers dazed and confused, and questions about how quickly people were adopting the newly released OS, he had this to say at Microsoft's shareholder meeting in late November: "Based on customer feedback, we know for sure people get it and like it."

Electoral politics

You may have noticed that 2012 was an election year. Perhaps it seemed as if the election year would never, ever end. One constant through the whole long slog -- the Republican front-runners du jour; the conventions; the debates; the now you see them, now you don't memes and Tumblrs and hashtags -- was the primacy of poll numbers and of number crunchers. As much as the daily poll results now seem like so much ephemera, in the end Big Data showed some real heft and substance, especially in the hands of a fellow like FiveThirtyEight.com's Nate Silver. When Election Day rolled around, Silver, the statistician par excellence, had called the results of the presidential race, state by state, with remarkable accuracy.

Victory speech? Or victory tweet? There's still a lot to be said for good old-fashioned rhetoric declaimed from the podium, but there's no denying that the world today thrives on the brevity, immediacy, and sheer reach of Twitter. With just three short words (and one photo), President Obama put the digital icing on his re-election and almost as quickly became the retweet champion of all time, beating out youthful phenom Justin Bieber.

Executive search

Not once, but twice this year, Yahoo proclaimed that it had found the "right leader" to take the helm as CEO and try to steer the ship back to its rightful place at the front of the Internet flotilla. First, in January, it was PayPal's Scott Thompson, a rather nondescript choice who rather quickly ran aground on the shoals of a doctored curriculum vitae that claimed a computer science degree where there really wasn't one.

Marissa Mayer

Marissa Mayer

James Martin/CNET

To wash away that unhappy episode, Yahoo in July brought in Google's Marissa Mayer, a more dazzling appointment with boatloads of tech cred (and an M.S. in computer science from Stanford, the press release made a point of saying). Five months later, Mayer's still going full steam ahead.

Oh, but did she make waves along the way. Not so much for her business decisions, at least not directly, but for her family status -- as in, being in the family way, a most uncommon condition in the corner office. Several hours after Yahoo announced her appointment as CEO, Mayer tweeted that she was pregnant: "Another piece of good news today - @zackbogue and I are expecting a new baby boy!" Equally startling for many was that she planned to take just a few weeks of maternity leave -- and would work throughout that short hiatus. The bundle of joy arrived as September turned into October.

The fugitives

We'll wind things down with tales of two men on the outs with authorities. The first is WikiLeaks founder and front man Julian Assange, who in mid-August took up residence in Ecuador's embassy in London after the Latin American country granted him asylum. Assange had faced possible extradition to Sweden for questioning over alleged sexual misconduct, though the underlying fear was that he would be transferred to the United States, where federal officials want to know more about WikiLeaks' publishing of thousands of sensitive military and diplomatic documents -- and where he could face prosecution under the Espionage Act, a statute that allows for a death penalty verdict.

From the safety of an embassy balcony, Assange cast himself as the hero of the tale, and urged the U.S. to "pledge before the world that it will not pursue journalists for shining a light on the secret crimes of the powerful."

Assange urges end to U.S. 'war on whistle-blowers' (pictures)

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But as the year wound down, it was hard to top the bizarre saga of John McAfee, the computer-security pioneer who had taken up an offbeat residence in Belize and, of late, had become a person of interest in a murder case there. He wasn't so keen on talking to the police in that Central American country: "You can say I'm paranoid about it, but they will kill me," he told Wired.

It's a tangled tale that winds together the gunshot death of Gregory Faull, allegations of the unlicensed manufacture of antibiotics, May-December dalliances, detention by Guatemalan authorities, and faked heart attacks. Of the latter, said McAfee, newly arrived in Miami this month, "It was a deception, but who did it hurt? I look pretty healthy, don't I?"