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2012: Games, gadgets and general geekdom

We saw lots of hopeful visions of the future, some practical and some a little crazy. In short, a great year for technology fans
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First Published: Fri, Dec 21 2012. 06 24 PM IST
Windows 8 hybrid computers such as these two by Samsung and Asus were late entries but are highly promising hardware
Windows 8 hybrid computers such as these two by Samsung and Asus were late entries but are highly promising hardware
The launch of the iPad in 2010 was a huge event—it instantly emerged as the most important gadget of the year. And 2011 continued the trend with the iPad 2 and countless Android tablets being the most exciting hardware you would see. Gaming too was dominated by countless sequels with not enough original content coming through.
In the last 12 months, tablets remained exciting; laptops made a comeback, thanks to Windows 8; indie gaming had a bumper crop; and 4K TVs are actually already on the market. The year started well for Apple with the launch of the “new iPad” with retina display. Matters got confusing later in the year when another new iPad was launched along with the iPad Mini, leaving third generation buyers feeling a little cheated.
Intel continued to develop the ultrabook category but it also made a push for smartphones. India was one of the early markets to see their Medfield chip, in the Lava Xolo X900—it was a good phone in terms of price and performance but not in build. It didn’t really set the market on fire and neither did other Intel-powered smartphones, but things could turn around for them next year.
The iPad Mini had Apple step out of its comfort zone and away from Steve Jobs’ vision for the tablet
The summer was a great time for indie games—it’s telling that some of the best video games, like Journey and Papo & Yo, were not huge blockbusters with giant publishers behind them but rather the small indie games.
Big banner productions also continued to shatter all sorts of records—Activision’s Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 crossed $1 billion (Rs.5,430 crore) in sales in just 15 days. It hit half-a-billion dollars in sales on the day it launched. That’s one day less than last year’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 and two days less than Avatar (2009), which earned a $1 billion faster than any other movie so far. Does that make Call of Duty one of the better games this year? Not really. While you can’t help but wish that the game did more with its apparently limitless production budget, you’d have to be dead inside not to get a thrill out of it.
Halo 4 launched in November and while it didn’t set as many sales records, fans of the franchise who were worried about the quality of the game (since it was being made by a new developer), probably breathed a sigh of relief. In terms of narrative, it was much more ambitious than the earlier games—made by Bungie—and in terms of gameplay, things were tweaked so carefully that an inattentive player would not even have realized that he was playing a completely new game.
The Wii U console is the first major game console and its unusual gamepad with a touch-screen design challenges the accepted notions of design
Another major FPS (first-person shooter) sequel was Borderlands 2 and it was arguably one of the triumphs of the genre—it retained the tone of the first game but expanded upon it in almost every way possible. This has been followed up with two largely successful downloadable expansion packs as well, and frankly, any game that lets you carry a shotgun that fires rockets which explode in a shower of acid, is on the right track.
Stealth games made a comeback of sorts with a new Hitman: Absolution game and Assassin’s Creed III with simplified stealth systems, along with the more immersive Dishonored . Kickstarter also proved that people want the classics again and many old school games got funded with millions of dollars on the crowd-funding website.
Meanwhile, Samsung followed up on the success of the Galaxy Note with the Note II, which was bigger but slimmer, and had a battery to put any of the competing smartphones to shame, while LG launched the 5-inch Optimus Vu. More recently, budget smartphones with the same form factor have also started to hit the Indian market, making Samsung’s vision of “phablets” a reality.
The 3rd generation iPad got Apple off to a great start—the iPad is still the most popular tablet despite some dissatisfaction over the quick launch of the next model
Apple, Google and Microsoft also had major announcements in the fall—Apple first made waves with the iPhone 5. What was most notable was how little remained a surprise. Just about every detail—from the larger screen size to the new lightning connector to details about where the CPU was being manufactured—had already been ferreted out by questioning Apple’s suppliers. When it was finally launched, critics felt let down that there was nothing special about it. Buyers in general didn’t seem to care though and the iPhone 5 set sales records.
Apple followed this up with the launch of the iPad Mini. It was a major change in Apple’s stance on tablet sizes, and met with early criticism because it was priced at a significant premium to other 7-inch tablets, though the eventual launch was highly successful. Google also announced the Nexus 4 and Nexus 10 phone and tablets, to complete their mobile offerings alongside the Nexus 7.
In the last week of October, Microsoft revealed the final version of Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8. Microsoft deserves credit for the large-scale change and innovation that they are trying to drive with Windows 8, and for trying to integrate an ecosystem across tablets (Windows RT), computers (Windows 8), hybrids, mobile phones (Windows Phone 8) and TV (through the Xbox).
Smart TVs are likely to become affordable
Unfortunately, the effort got a mixed reception with the new look of Windows leaving a lot of people cold, and usability issues getting in the way of, what has to be, one of the most exciting products from Microsoft in decades.
Still, devices like the Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga and the Dell XPS 12 Duo offered amazing experiences—Asus has also come up with some unique ideas such as the Taichi, which has two screens. The best thing about these hybrids though is that no one design is the “right” way to do it. Sliders, swivels, 360-degree hinges, two screens and detachable screens are all competing for our attention.
Watchlist: 2013
A guide to the most exciting new technology that’s expected next year.
While we’ll probably see a lot more of the same stuff, there are a few genuinely exciting areas of development where we might see major new products.
The Oculus Rift prototype headset
u Windows 8 hybrids: We’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg for Windows 8 hybrids and the OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) are going to keep trying to do new things to get customers, which means that there are a lot of exciting new designs still to come.
u Smart TVs: Android-powered set-top boxes are becoming more common while the Apple TV (an actual TV, not the set-top box they already sell) could well be announced in 2013. Samsung, has made this a focus area, with gesture and voice-control built into the television.
u The next Xbox and Playstation: Nintendo launched the Wii U in 2012 and it’s safe to assume that both Microsoft and Sony will have to follow suit next year, as ageing console hardware looks increasingly bad when compared to the same games on the PC.
u The Internet of things: Our gadgets are getting smarter, including thermostats and washing machines. “House of the future”, as imagined by Disney, still seems far-fetched, but home automation and tablet-controlled toasters are steadily moving closer to reality.
u Virtual reality: There are a lot of factors which are pushing high-quality virtual reality headsets closer to consumer space and 2013 could be the year where it becomes cheap enough to build a good headset such as the Oculus Rift.
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First Published: Fri, Dec 21 2012. 06 24 PM IST
More Topics: Appraisal 2012 | Gadgets | Technology | ipad | iphone |