Best and Worst of 2011: A Landmark Year in Computing
12/30/2011 by: Theo Valich
Welcome to our annual roundup of what happened in 2011. What we can say is that we have never seen so many twists and turns and from the looks of it, 2012 might even best it.
Our list of the best and brightest stars of the IT industry goes from actual products to events, and we did not forget the fails that have happened over the course of the year. We start our list with the very basic component, the central microprocessor:
Best Microprocessor: Qualcomm Snapdragon
When it comes to microprocessors, 2011 was marked by the mighty roar of the Snapdragon. Qualcomm's SoC package was used in a dominating number of mobile phones, powering the vast majority of Google Android and all Windows Phone 7 phones. The same chip was also used for development of Windows 8 on ARM (WoA), which should to play a major role in 2012.
Runner up: Intel Sandy Bridge
Performance-wise, this is the best semiconductor industry can offer. However, Intel tends to forget that it needs a stable platform in order for processor to work the best and this is where the company failed big time: from the chipset recall and a billion dollar write-off to recently discovered instabilities over the latest sexa-core Core i7-3000 series and the way it draws power. Still it's the best performing microchip of the bunch. Until you need graphics horsepower.
Runner up: AMD Fusion "Llano"
Llano is the very first APU that combines a decently priced product with high-performance graphics. AMD paired four K10.5 processor cores with 400 Radeon GPU cores (Evergreen, DX11) and came out with a great price. No doubt about it, the best all-around product on the market.
Graphics Processor: Imagination Technologies PowerVR SGX
Regardless of liking it or not, Imagination Technologies shipped more graphics chips than AMD or NVIDIA. PowerVR SGX500 Series can be found from Intel microprocessors, Sony mobile consoles to Apple's A5: netbook, notebook, gaming console, tablet or a smartphone - PowerVR SGX53x and SGX54x will do the job. If you wonder what kind of graphics PowerVR can deliver on a tablet or a phone, watch this video from Epic Games.
Runner up: AMD Fusion E-Series
AMD Brazos platform, i.e. processors based on codenames Desna, Ontario and Zacate launched in January and quickly changed the perception of light notebooks as "graphically castrated ones". To pack 80 DirectX 11 cores and monthly updated, full driver stack is something that we haven't seen in netbooks and light notebooks. For people entering the world of computing, the performance bar for raised by a mile.
Runner up: NVIDIA GF114 (GeForce GTX 560)
We end the year with a record percentage of BSN* readers using Full HD resolution displays (38%), and over the past couple of years, playing games in 1080p resolution always required high end hardware - not anymore. GeForce GTX 560 and 560 Ti offer excellent performance for the price point.
Best Mobile Device: Samsung Galaxy S II i9100
In the country with iPhones popping up everywhere, Amazon's best selling smartphone is Galaxy S II coming in several different names to satisfy American carriers. In the rest of the world, the Galaxy series is a shining series of phones which serve as a cornerstone to leapfrog both Nokia and Apple in a single year. We haven't seen that kind of an upset in the history of the mobile industry and Samsung's decision to use Super AMOLED screens paid off big time, as consumers want the phone "with that brilliant looking display".
Runner up: Apple iPad 2
Apple iPhone may get the limelight, but the biggest money earner turned out to be the reinvention of "tablet PC" concept from early 2000s. iPad 2 dominates the competition with seamless graphics performance and smooth UI. The smart cover for the iPad 2 alone achieved higher revenue than majority of competing Android tablets, and that is something the world took notice.
Runner up: HTC Rezound
The world's first smartphone with HD Ready resolution and LTE support rose up through the sales charts in supported countries (this is not a GSM phone) in the U.S. Rezound is a follow-up to Sensation and Amaze 4G, with a changed radio and the 342ppi display (higher than iPhone's Retina Display). To boot, the acquisition of Beats Audio means this phone comes with the best headphones (among phones) as well.
Best Video Camera: RED Epic
Even though it sold in very limited quantities, the fact that James Cameron and Peter Jackson alone ordered over 100 cameras speaks of a growing shift in the movie industry. Stuck in 24 frames per second (24p) since its very beginnings, RED's philosophy of moving to 48p and natively supporting recording in 60 and even 100 frames per second in insane 4K and 5K resolutions will change the way we look at movies forever. It took us a more than century, but 2011 laid groundwork for a thorough shift in the way how the film industry creates digital content. Expect these framerates to come to a regular digital camera within a year or two.
Runner up: Mobile Phone
This spot is not given to a particular device, but rather to a concept of using a mobile phone as a still and video camera that captured key moments without using dedicated equipment. Thanks to mobile phones, everyone can turn into a video star, if even for a moment. Wherever we like it or not, the world also saw things official video cameras would never record, such as drastic executions of Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi.
Runner up: Nikon D5100
The world of digital single-lens-reflective (DSLR) cameras is continuously evolving and from a humble beginning in 2003 to a Full HD Camera which is now being used to shoot not just still images, but music videos, TV commercials and even movies. Nikon D5100 boasts compatibility with a wide range of lenses, including those which are older as majority of readers of BSN (35-49y is our biggest demographic, followed by 18-34 and 50+), but at a price point we haven't seen before. If you want a professional grade camera for consumer price, look no further.
The Multiplayer Game: Battlefield 3
Without any doubt, Battlefield 3 would have won "Game of The Year" award for both categories, if there wasn't for one small thing: In a bid to win over CoD fans, the single-player campaign took a big step back from phenomenal Battlefield: Bad Company 2. True, we also got the best multiplayer the world of shooters has even seen. Massive 64 player maps, and even more important, stunts even James Bond or Ethan Hunt wouldn't dare to pull off (fly in a fighter jet, shoot an enemy plane down, exit the plane, shoot the pilot which is taking a 'chute down, and jump back into the plane and start the engines again). Advice for DICE: best multiplayer ever, how about hiring a screenwriter for single-player one?
Runner up: Star Wars: The Old Republic
After years in development, the world finally saw the first MMORPG title that could kick World of Warcraft from its throne. Thanks to an army of tens of millions of fans (did you that there are more Jedies in UK than Jews or Buddhists?) and the golden touch of Bioware, SWTOR actually has a chance of becoming a successful MMO - fate not shared by similar Star Trek MMO title earlier this year. This point of contention may likely come up when Star Wars and Star Trek fanboys start to argue about which is best.
Runner up: Portal 2
Portal and Portal 2 are without any doubt, some of most innovative games of our time. The concept of using a tool to jump from one room to another, from one dimension to another - and having fun while doing it is a sheer testament of what masters of gameplay reside in Valve. Its a first person three multi-dimensional puzzle which can make even the sharpest of minds hesitate.
The Singleplayer Game: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Whenever an Elder Scrolls title shows up, you know that you are in for complete immersion in the never-ending realm of Tamriel. This is a typical sandbox game which offers you unlimited freedom to go about in the Kingdom of Skyrim, offering anywhere between 200 and 400 hours of gametime. We're not sure what your stand on gay marriage is, but Skyrim has that component as well - and your wife or husband brings you 100 gold per day, and in case you selected the best one, you might even get skill training at a reduced price. Given that the game has already passed the $1 billion mark, it is also the most successful single-player RPG game of all times. Just remember, if your boyfriend/girlfriend/husband/wife complains about Skyrim, just tell them "why you don't bring me 100 gold per day like him/her". Or just buy him/her the game too. :)
Runner up: The Witcher 2
The Witcher franchise is shaping up to be one of the best examples of how exciting series of books can become a fantastic game experience as well. Based on cult series written by Andrzej Sapkowski, CD Projekt developed a title which bundles excellent graphics with quality gameplay and immerse you in a world which binds fantasy with sarcasm. Wizards and Ecology and so on, and so forth. In any case, play it if you haven't already done so.
Runner up: Batman: Arkham City
The Dark Knight Rises is coming to movie theaters from July 2012 and what better preparation for yet another Chris Nolan's masterpiece than an adventurous masterpiece by Rocksteady Studios. Based on the plot by Paul Dini, "Batman: Arkham City" puts you in driving seat as Bruce Wayne ends jailed inside the walls of Arkham City Jail filled with his greatest foes. Not to mention the fact that this game builds on its predecessors amazing sound and 3D gaming integration in ways that put you inside the game like never before.
Best Mobile App: M-PESA
While there were many apps that attracted our attention, M-PESA (Pesa is money in Swahili) technology is the future of money for you, for us - for pretty much everyone. 2011 was the year when we saw the birth of completely digital money in the form of bitCoin, the arrival of DWOLLA and first service in which money is completely replaced with a cellphone. M-Pesa created virtual wallets hooked directly to your bank account and you use your phone as a wallet, never using cash or credit cards. This service is now handled by IBM who is taking it globally. Your wallet may turn digital in 2012, but the service was originally called - M-Pesa.
Runner up: Words with Friends
The latest creation from Zynga spread like wildfire among Android users. Social cardboard games are increasingly moving to digital and enjoying the same, or even better rate of success than they had in the past. Words with Friends or "Scrabble goes Social" is one of the finest examples and doesn't require you to take care of crops.
Runner up: Apple Siri
Given the amount of media coverage, we have to include Apple's Siri as one of mobile apps of the year. Siri is an advanced version of what almost every Android owner has (voice assistant), but Apple is trying to take it to the next level. Without this feature, iPhone 4S would have quite the poor spec sheet when compared to its predecessor. It's fun and you'll either like voice assistant functions or you will stop using them - like the majority of Android users did already.
Best Company: Apple
One company that is constantly in the news is Apple. The company exploded in 2011, with their product portfolio consisting out of as simplest product strategy winning hearts and minds of hundreds of million consumers, breaking the annual revenue in excess of $100 billion. Secondly, the acquisition of Bruce Sewell from Intel proved fruitful, since Apple is suing left'n'right on their mission "to destroy Android".
Runner up: Intel
Rising from the embarrassment of Sandy Bridge platform recall and a billion dollar write-off, Intel saw the sales of their products going through the roof, with the strong demand for datacenters resulting in selling over a hundred million of Xeon processors. Consumers thoroughly enjoy in hundreds of millions Core-series processors, while Atom had a rough year, getting its market share destroyed by ARM chips from Qualcomm, Samsung, Texas Instruments and NVIDIA.
Runner up: Qualcomm
If you ask Intel insiders 20 years ago who their biggest competitor was, the answer was IBM. If you ask those insiders 10 years ago, the answer was AMD. Today, the company publicly admitted their "#1 Enemy" is a company out of San Diego, the mobile giant Qualcomm. The company saw record shipments of their SoCs, and we have never seen more mobile design wins by any other company: majority of smartphones and tablets have at least one Qualcom chip inside. Like it or not, that list includes iPhones and iPads.
Best Mobile Carrier: Telia
The award for mobile carrier of the year goes without any doubt to Telia. If you want to know how the future of mobile communication is going to look like in your country, then look at what is happening in Sweden. Telia deployed 4G LTE network offering full speed of up to 80Mbps, easily beating majority of line broadband speeds available worldwide. Those speeds also come at a very affordable price ($72 for unlimited). Telia today - your carrier tomorrow (if you're that lucky).
Runner up: Verizon Wireless
Battling with the infrastructure, Verizon Wireless raised up the number of users and successfully deployed a LTE network using 700MHz band, formerly the old analogue TV signal. Coping with significant number of users, Verizon delivered excellent service and a line of exciting smartphones (except for this week's outage).
Runner up: Safaricom (Vodafone)
Choosing an African telecom operator as one of world's finest isn't something you'd expect from majority of mainstream and tech media. Yet, we view Safaricom as a prototype of what the telecom of tomorrow is going to be. Safaricom deployed M-PESA service in three countries and is now looking dead set on replacing the wallet with a phone, regardless of name and type. This way, Africa is going to skip the period of cash and credit cards and go directly to an era of digital money.
Person of the Year: Sir Jonathan Ive
Since we gave out recognition to Apple as the company of the year, we decided to give proper credit to the creator of the success. Without this person, you would not talk about miraculous Jobs or ruthless lawsuit loving Sewell - since Apple would not create the IP other companies try to emulate. Jonathan Ive is finally receiving the proper credit for all the hard work he and his team put into creating near-perfect products which enjoy leading market share in nearly all the product categories Apple currently competes in.
Runner up: Andy Rubin
Without any doubt, 2011 was the year of Android. The operating system which enables seamless customizations from companies like Motorola, Samsung, HTC as well as modding scene gathered around CyanogenMod. Today, over 750,000 Android devices get activated daily, passing into the million mark on Christmas day.
Runner up: Choi Gee-sung
Samsung Electronics. The world's largest electronics producer came on top of every fight they've entered through relentless innovation and continuous leadership mentaility. You won't hear emotional responses. Secondly, unlike the majority of their competitors, Samsung is not the "Design in one place, Manufacture in Cheape... China". The company builds its products worldwide. All of this came as a direct leadership of Choi Gee-sung, CEO of Samsung Electronics. The company has fought Consumer Electronics wars against Sony, and is now waging a battle against Nokia and Apple.
Biggest Fail: AT&T and T-Mobile USA Merger
It is not often that we hear that a merger fails to meet regulatory approval and even rarer, ends up in lawsuits brought by regulatory bodies after some nasty documents leak out, showing that a $39 billion takeover was "consumer choice reducing" rather than "network building". This is one of largest merger fallouts of all times, and you'll have to wait for the epilogue during 2012. Who will get fired, who will stay - remains to be seen.
Runner up: Nokia Announces Microsoft linkup
When Apple announced that the company is would be moving to Intel processors, the sales of Apple products did not suffer, since the company management executed it nicely, bringing in binary compatibility. In the case of charisma-less Stephen Elop, his announcement destroyed the company momentum and by-that-point excellent sales of the Nokia N9, causing the market leader to drop from first to third spot in the smartphone ranking. This time last year, Nokia was shipping more phones than #2, #3 and #4 together. While a Microsoft future may be a sound business plan, the way it was executed reflected poorly on the stock and company sales. Nokia might end 2012 with the new CEO, since this one obviously hasn't got a clue.
Runner up: HP Spins off PC Business
In a move that got Leo Apotheker fired, HP thoroughly shook its own ecosystem to the core, announcing that the company might spin off the Personal Systems Group, keeping printers and servers in the "old company". Given that the "new company" would probably come back and compete against HP in the "printers" and "servers", no wonder that the idea ultimately faltered.
Worst Executive: Stephen Elop, Nokia
While the move to Windows Phone might have been a logical choice for a company that spent more money on developing Symbian than Apple spends on iOS, Google on Android, RIM on BlackBerry OS and Microsoft on Windows Phone TOGETHER, the way how poorly the translation was handled showed clear disrespect to hundreds of millions of Nokia consumers, who all went to "award" the company by moving to competing devices. His lack of leadership and clear communication caused Nokia to drop into the red for the first time in almost two decades, as well as removing more revenue from the company than Google achieves in a year.
Runner up: Leo Apotheker, HP
Leo Apotheker was last in the long line of mistakes HP Board of Directors have made while running the company. Some of board members had not even met Mr. Apotheker, who escaped SAP just before they lost the verdict against ORACLE (read: using pirated Oracle software). Leo never showed interest in the way how the company worked and wanted to turn HP into Oracle (SAP with a hardware division). Ultimately, his $11 billion buyout of Autonomy might be a good move, but shaking up the world's largest PC maker was something that didn't do any good to HP's stockholders.
Runner up: Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis, Research In Motion
Respect. This is one of cornerstones of any business. You have to respect your customers and you have to respect people that don't share your view. In the case of RIM, walkout from an interview with the BBC was a clear case of disrespect for journalist integrity, while not all BlackBerry Playbook customers were treated the same - you had to already have a BlackBerry phone in order to use all the capabilities of the platform. If RIM wants to stay in business, the company will have to significantly change its behavior.
Worst Event: Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami
There isn't much to be said about March 11 earthquake and the catastrophic tsunami wave that ensued afterwards. Numerous cameras showed the world that we're only guests on this planet that can very easily get rid of us all, with about 19,000 people perishing in the process. As Japan affects the complete global IT chain, the disruptions of Tohoku Eartquake on the supply chain started to really affect the IT world by the time second worst event happened, and that's a runner up.
Runner up: Thailand Floods
The world woke up to Thailand floods in October, but in reality, Thailand was hit by two waves of floods, with the first one not affecting the heavy industrial areas. The world's auto and IT makers were hit the hardest, with Honda destroying over 8,000 vehicles in the aftermath. The IT sector was hit the hardest, through, as 60% of Western Digital's capacity (25% WW) stopped overnight. Suppliers of majority of hard drive motors were was hit hard, causing a heavy spike in prices. Unfortunately, floods also meant the end of life for over 500 people.
Runner up: Security Breaches
2011 will also be remembered for the largest reported number of security breaches, with several hundred million credit card numbers being stolen. Special note goes to PlayStation Network which was unavailable for over a month - and 70 million people having their financials stolen in the process. A recent break in Valve's Steam also took details of well over 40 million people, but the company claimed that financial details were not affected. Overall a bad year for your personal data.
The Biggest Baloon: Zynga IPO
Special notion in this years' overview goes to Zynga for their IPO, which gathered less money than the company expected. When launching yourself on stock market, timing is everything and Zynga seemed to miss it. Instead of riding the wave of "higher market value than EA", Zynga today actually has lower value and the stock hasn't passed its initial IPO value of $9.50 per share.
This was 2011... what did we miss, where we were right, where we were off the mark? Comment below.
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