Review of technology in 2012: World wide web of trouble
'By July there were 50 lawsuits between Apple and Samsung'
Rhodri Marsden is the Technology Columnist for The Independent; he has also written about crumpets, Captain Beefheart, rude place names and string. He's also a musician who plays in the band Scritti Politti, and won the under-10 piano category at the 1980 Watford Music Festival by playing a piece called "Silver Trumpets" with verve and aplomb.
Saturday 22 December 2012
There were many technological triumphs to celebrate in 2012, from the geek chic of the £20 Raspberry Pi computer to the mini-tablet shoot-out between Google's Nexus 7 and Apple's iPad Mini.
But if there was one emotion that characterised the year in technology, it was 'being a bit cross'. We're used to seeing vituperative reactions on social media to everything from human rights abuses to ejections from Strictly Come Dancing, but 2012 had more than its fair share of technology-related fury, starting back in January with the outcry over proposed legislation to curb copyright violation.
The provisions contained within Sopa (Stop Online Privacy Act), Pipa (Protect Intellectual Property Act) and Acta (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement) came in for sustained criticism for their vague wording and potential threat to perfectly legal activity; one commentator warned of the internet being crippled "by greed and ignorance". A one-day blackout by some 7,000 websites, including English Wikipedia, helped to spread the word, and today Sopa and Pipa are sitting on ice, while Acta was rejected by an EU vote in July over its perceived threat to civil liberties.
Anonymous, the online group which is seen as either a bunch of righteous vigilantes or an "internet hate machine" spent much of the year fuming angrily, and bringing down websites of organisations they deemed to be bulldozing their internet playground. The shutdown by the US Department of Justice of Megaupload, a file-locker website used mainly – but not exclusively – for sharing pirated content, led to the "single largest internet attack" in Anonymous's history, with Universal, Warner Bros, the FBI and many others targeted.
Attempts by law enforcement agencies to shut down sites like Megaupload are usually characterised as pointless, never-ending games of Whack-A-Mole, but Megaupload's closure did prompt similar services to either shut down or change their business model. Last week the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) deemed the action to have been a great success.
Apple was furious with Samsung, and Samsung was furious with Apple. By July there were some 50 lawsuits between the two companies over alleged infringements of intellectual property, from the curve of gadgets' corners to the 'overscroll bounce' we see when we swipe our screens too quickly. Who won? Well, a South Korean court said Apple, the Japanese said Samsung; British judges found in favour of Samsung and demanded that Apple 'apologise' – although Judge Colin Birss's pronouncement that Samsung's products weren't "cool" enough to be mistaken for Apple's soured the victory somewhat.
But the big win for Apple came in the USA, with $1bn in damages awarded to the Cupertino giant by a jury who reached their decision with merciless speed. As the verdict was given, bigger arguments raged over the relentless amassing of patents by technology corporations, the stifling of innovation caused by patent wars and whether lay juries should even be used in patent trials – arguments that will rumble on for years to come.
Apple's customers were miffed when they upgraded their iPhone to a brand new operating system, iOS6, only to discover that the Maps application – previously a pretty reliable product made by Google – had been replaced with Apple's own effort, a risible piece of software that immediately came in for sustained ridicule. Whether multiple versions of the same landmark were situated in the wrong postcode, or defunct businesses were positioned 20 doors away from where they used to be, the errors within Maps represented a PR disaster for Apple.
It was far from being Apple's first turkey, but the replacement of something functioning with something malfunctioning was seen as insulting by many customers. CEO Tim Cook issued a public apology, while Scott Forstall, the head of the division responsible for the debacle, was removed from his post in October. iPhone users, meanwhile, are still wishing they could get their old Maps app back.
Facebook saw its billionth user sign up to the service in October, but this was scant consolation to the shareholders who'd invested in the company back in May and had watched the share price tumble – at one point to less than 50 per cent of its original level. Some filed lawsuits, complaining that weakened growth forecasts hadn't been disclosed, while pundits reminded us of the dotcom boom when people were throwing money at overvalued companies in the belief that it would all come good in the end.
But the power and value of social media couldn't be ignored in 2012. The Olympic Games became the 'Social Olympics' as the names of Bolt, Ennis, Daley and Wiggins reverberated across the internet. President Obama, meanwhile, triumphed in the 'Social Election' – a picture featuring him in a post-victory embrace with the First Lady becoming the most tweeted in history, and reminding us that there is a softer side to the internet. You just don't see it very often.
@Glinner You know what Spotify's always-on sharing option makes me feel like? One of the human batteries in The Matrix. Something being harvested
Graham Linehan, comedy writer
@SarahMillican75 Just witnessed one old lady show another old lady how to use a Dyson Airblade. Glorious. Much giggling
Sarah Millican, comedian
@Wintersonworld If thinking is movement confined to the brain then Facebook is the locked cell in the lunatic asylum where you pace in your straightjacket
Jeanette Winterson, author
@alaindebotton We always knew we lived among millions of others: only now are we realising what this means in terms of the number of opinions
Alain de Botton, writer and philosopher
@mrjohnofarrell If Waterstones are going to sell the kindle they should secretly programme them with subliminal messages saying 'Use your local bookshop'
John O'Farrell, writer
@Jerome Taylor Man who invented the TV remote has died. I'd go to his funeral but can't be bothered to get off the sofa
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