Why 2015 Was a Disappointing Year for Technology

Source: iStock

Source: iStock

Each January, tech columnists and tech-loving consumers alike hope that the year ahead will bring compelling new devices, apps, and websites that will change the way we interact with technology and with the world — like Google’s search engine, Apple’s iPhone, or Facebook’s social network.

But as Walt Mossberg reports for The Verge, “nothing like that happened in 2015.” Tech companies large and small introduced new products, some of which sold remarkably well and some of which failed to catch on. Mossberg explains that “nothing newly minted in 2015 has captivated and remade the lives of the masses yet, though some technologies that I believe will eventually do so got better and more real this year.” So why wasn’t 2015 a particularly exciting year for technology?

For starters, the smartphone — both an exciting category and, for most people, the most important device they own — is maturing as a product and as a market. Mossberg notes that in 2015, the smartphone “seemed to lose the ability to surprise us with significant new features.” He is quick to add, “That doesn’t mean it’s done — not by a long shot. Lots of people globally still lack one. And there could be something very cool brewing in the labs in Cupertino, Mountain View, Seoul, and Shenzhen.”

Mossberg argues that in 2015, there was little news from Apple, Samsung, or Google that truly surprised. All introduced excellent phones, and many of the inexpensive phones introduced in 2015 demonstrated that even budget-friendly devices can offer superior build quality and an excellent user experience.

But new features, even those that promised to introduce new possibilities in user input and interaction with apps — such as 3D Touch on the iPhone 6s — have gotten off to a relatively slow smart. Mossberg characterizes it as the year’s “most disappointing new twist” since developers have been slow to implement anything but the most basic of 3D Touch gestures in their apps.

Mossberg explains that another factor that contributed to a less-than-exciting year for technology in 2015 is the ongoing struggle of the laptop. Microsoft has been working to combine the laptop and tablet with devices like the high-end Surface Book. But sales of Windows machines have declined (with Macs posting a small gain), and replacement cycles have extended now that there are few truly innovative designs for users to be enthusiastic about purchasing.

Even as Microsoft launched Windows 10, a new version of its operating system, refined its Surface Pro line of tablets,  launched its first laptop, and brought better versions of its flagship software to other platforms, it still has a lot of work to do, particularly to compensate for the fact that it lacks a successful mobile platform of its own. Apple, though it had a strong year, also has its work cut out for it. The Apple Watch is notable mainly because it’s a bestseller in a niche category of technology, even as iPad sales are dropping and it becomes more difficult for the iPhone to keep getting bigger.

Another segment of the technology industry that disappointed users in 2015 was the Internet of things. Tech companies continued to introduce gadgets and apps that offer a smarter way to control your lights, your door locks, your thermostat, and your appliances, in some cases even tying these devices together into more sophisticated systems.

But as Mossberg notes, all of this is “still too confusing and disjointed for typical consumers.” Even though Apple, Google, and other tech giants have introduced systems that would bring some order to the smart home, Internet of things manufacturers have been slow to adopt these systems. Which leaves consumers waiting for a solution that doesn’t require complex setup and constant troubleshooting.

But with the Internet of things and other areas, like artificial intelligence, 2015 saw tech companies putting into place the foundation for smarter technology. Apple’s Siri, Google Now, Amazon’s Alexa, and Microsoft Cortana have achieved impressive progress. Virtual and augmented reality made important strides with Oculus and Samsung; contactless payments began to draw attention with Apple Pay, Android Pay, and Samsung Pay; driverless cars made incremental progress toward the goal of mainstream use and regulation; and drones became common enough to inspire regulation.

In the end, 2015 wasn’t a particularly exciting year for technology — at least not in the sense of the technology that you would actually spend money to get your hands on. But the year brought gradual updates and incremental innovations that are paving the way for a smarter future — something we’ll undoubtedly see beginning to take shape in 2016.

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