2012 - the year we saw Windows 8 debut, with Microsoft making its very own Surface tablet. The year iTunes Music Store came to 12 Asian countries, a 41MP camera was crammed in a mobile phone, Apple Maps app took a wrong turn, Google introduced Project Glass and the Facebook IPO went supernova.
We take a look back at the year and analyze what went right and what went wrong in six major categories: Televisions, notebooks, tablets, cameras, mobile phones and gaming. Here's to another year of amazing tech ahead, assuming we all survive the apocalypse.
The year marked a transitory phase for the television landscape, judging by how display makers have hedged their bets on larger panel sizes and alternative panel technology.
Both OLED and 4K (Ultra High-Definition) prototypes were announced during CES 2012 in January. But despite the media hoopla generated, OLED screens have yet to arrive on shelves here. LG is reportedly stalled by unforeseen production delays. Samsung, however, is likely to sneak in a 55-inch model or two early next year. Theirs are powered by self-illuminating RGB sub-pixels, while LG uses a slightly different WRGB combo with an additional white sub-pixel.
Television resolutions are getting more expansive as well. Toshiba, Sony, and LG, have already forged ahead with their 4K pursuit, featuring panels with a whopping picture resolution of 3,840 by 2,160 pixels. Both 4K models from Sony and LG also tout a gigantic 84-inch screen.
In general TV manufacturers seem to be heading down the path of 4K TVs as the usable yields for large screen OLED panels are very poor at this point of time.
The introduction of Ivy Bridge processors early this year was a big step forward for Ultrabooks, not only because of more efficient power consumption (and thus battery life), but also thanks to Intel’s HD Graphics 4000 engine, which gave Ultrabooks a small boost in graphical processing power.
This allowed them to handle more multimedia tasks, and even some light DX11 gaming, and in fact, we’ve started to see Ultrabooks replace multimedia notebooks for the most part. We’ve also seen a few manufacturers offer high resolution displays (1600 x 900 pixels and higher) on their Ultrabooks and we expect to see that becoming the norm moving forward in 2013.
2012 is the year in which the tablet form factor has been embraced in full force. Skepticism towards its usage potential has all but been swept away by brisk iPad sales.
In this year we’ve also learnt quite a number of things about tablets. Apple showed that high-definition Retina displays are possible (desired even) on devices meant for casual media consumption.
Amazon’s Kindle Fire and Google’s Nexus 7 showed that the 7-inch form factor, along with an attractive price, were important factors when it came to selling tablets. This has prompted Apple to re-think its stance on tablets of this handy size and introduced the iPad Mini.
We’ve also learnt that the tablet space is so lucrative, that even Microsoft can’t afford to ignore it. Not only do they have their own tablet (Surface) hardware, they’ve even designed the new Windows 8 to work best on tablet-like devices. Perhaps it's a sign of the sliding market share of traditional desktop systems as mobile devices like notebooks and tablets become the predominant norm of the future.
Even Intel isn’t spared from the tablet frenzy. It's got virtually no presence in the mobile space now, but it introduced the new Atom processors for mobile devices, for the specific purpose of competing against ARM based chips. Early in the year, they've showcased a reference platform based on a smartphone with more on the way.
The camera market continued facing disruption at two ends, mirrorless system cameras continued to eat into the DSLR market, while smartphones chomped away at digital compacts. Witness how Canon, the biggest camera company in the world, finally produced their own mirrorless camera in 2012.
But while the big companies produced superb technological upgrades, like Olympus with the E-M5, the breakthroughs came out of unexpected places like Sony, with the RX1 full-frame compact camera, and Fujifilm, which made a more affordable version of its 'digital rangefinder', the XE-1, which is quite unlike its peers with its unique sensor and lack of an AA filter.
The most exciting upgrades from the big two, Canon and Nikon, came in the form of a price downgrade. Both companies released the cheapest full-frame DSLR cameras yet in the sub-$3000 range, the Canon 6D and Nikon D600. Not exactly small change, but we hope 2012 paves the way for even more affordable full-frame cameras in the years to come.
Research in Motion (RIM), the maker of BlackBerry smartphones and PlayBooks, pushed back the launch date of its next generation BlackBerry 10 (BB10) OS from this year to early 2013.
Saying that a 2012 schedule was "no longer realistic", RIM CEO Thorsten Heins reaffirmed the company’s commitment to BB10 and assured investors that the delay is not due "to the design or features of the software".
The battle between Apple and Google Android continued this year; Apple scored a proxy victory over Google when it won its case against Samsung in the U.S. War drums were heard beating again from Microsoft’s camp as it gunned for the number three spot with the official unveiling of Windows Phone 8 in October. With the smartphone wars already so far ahead that even Microsoft struggles to catch up, it remains to be seen if RIM will be able to stage any kind of significant comeback.
Last but not least, where Dell failed to move the market to adopt 'phablets' - a tech term for products that are a cross between phones and tablets - Samsung has made huge inroads with their Samsung Galaxy Note and the more recent Note II with the right set of software features and at a time when consumers are more accustomed to tablets as compared to a few years ago.
In 2012 we got a new portable console in the shape of the PS Vita, and Nintendo released the Wii U. But the PlayStation 3, besides its cosmetic revamp, and the Xbox 360 remain the same. This fact colored everything related to gaming throughout the year. So while E3 and PAX and all other gaming extravaganzas went ahead as per usual, people kept asking “when is the next console going to get here?”
While Microsoft and Sony dither, people have decided to take matters into their own hands. Popular crowd-sourcing site Kickstarter has reported that over US$50 million was provided to various gaming projects ranging from indie titles to the Ouya console. This was a significant jump from the paltry US$3 million raised by gaming projects in 2011. It seems like the people have decided, if the major players in the gaming industry will not deliver, they’ll just have to step up and undertake the task themselves.
That's not all we've for our year-in-review. There are thousands of tech products and innovations each year that help define the trends that come about. To find out the movers and shakers of the year, we trawled through the huge list and chose the top 100 items that helped distinguish and shape 2012. So check out our annual Top 100 Products of the year feature!