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From Smartwatches to Leaning In: The Year's Biggest Tech Headlines

Dec 31 2013 - 9:01am

Gadgets of all shapes and sizes defined 2013 — from wearable tech to next-generation consoles to ISS-bound private spacecraft, the technology that dominated this year's headlines proved that innovation knows no boundaries. Take a look at the biggest stories of 2013, and let us know which tech trend you think will carry on into the next year.

Wearables Take Over Tech

We're literally getting more attached to our gadgets. Smartwatches took center stage as tech giant Samsung introduced the watch-as-phone Galaxy Gear [1] in September. The Kickstarter born-and-bred Pebble smartwatch [2] also hit the big time, with units now sold at Best Buy to help meet demand. At IFA Berlin, Sony unveiled its second-generation "phone remote," the Smartwatch 2 [3], which the maker claims has the longest lasting battery at seven days of low usage and three to four days for normal usage.

This year also saw a myriad of updated fitness gadgets, including the Jawbone UP24 [4], Nike+ Fuelband SE [5], and the Fitbit Force [6] to name a few.

While there are many smartwatches competing in the space, a frontrunner is not yet clear. Perhaps next year will see the release of rumored wrist tech from Apple [7] and Google?

Hands weren't the only part of the body going high tech. Google Glass went live [8] at 2013's SXSW in April, and Glasswearers took the tech to new heights, like photojournalist Richard Koci Hernandez [9].

Source: Samsung Mobile Press [10]

Here Come the Consoles: Xbox and PlayStation Release Next-Generation Machines

Gamers anticipated the arrival PlayStation 4 [11] and Xbox One [12], both of which hit shelves in November. Both consoles sold out nearly as soon as they were in stock.

While both gaming machines boast very similar specs [13], they were positioned as two very different consoles. Sony focused on the new PlayStation's social features, including a share button on the Dual Shock 4 controller and a new dashboard for interaction among players. The ability to freely play used games was another selling point for the PS4. Microsoft's always-online Xbox One can't play used games, unlike the PS4.

The Xbox One was designed as not just a gaming platform, but as the "ultimate all-in-one entertainment system." The new Kinect now comes standard with the console and is a pivotal part of the Xbox One experience. The motion-sensing technology has been updated to work with more conversational speech and gestures, or scroll with the revamped controller to quickly move between game mode, Internet, music, Blu-ray DVDs, and live TV.

The Popularity of Press-and-Hold Video Sharing

When CEO Kevin Systrom announced that Instagram was branching out into video sharing [14] in June, many thought that the demise of competitor Vine [15] was inevitable. That turned out not to be true, with mobile users sharing more video than ever from both platforms.

We can't talk about mobile without mentioning the rise of Snapchat, the instant media-sharing platform that lured a large teen audience from Facebook this year. Snapchat's easy-to-use, instantaneous, and, most importantly, temporary video-creation tools had mobile users capturing live action like never before. Instagram even responded to Snapchat's growth by introducing direct message [16], which offers users a way to send media privately.

Smartphones For All: Affordable Phones Hit the Market

Apple, recognizing that its premium iPhone 5 was too expensive for many pocketbooks, unveiled the iPhone 5C [17], a polycarbonate-backed smartphone that's $100 less than the top-the-line iPhone. At $100 for 16GB (on contract, of course), Apple is hoping to attract a broader base of users.

The 5C also comes with more LTE bands than ever, which is evidence of another growing trend: global compatibility. The new phone can now use fast data speeds in more places around the world, a sign that Apple is looking to grab hold of an international market.

Motorola announced the Moto G [18], a modestly priced marvel that costs only $179 for an unlocked phone without a contract. It has competitive specs (4.5 display, 1280 x 720p, Snapdragon 400 quad core processor) and is available now in Brazil and select parts of Europe. The phone is set to arrive in the US, India, Middle East, and select Asian countries in early 2014.

Space Lands on the Big Screen and Social Media

This year was a landmark year for space exploration — fictionally and nonfictionally. Gravity [19], an Alfonso Cuarón-directed film starring George Clooney [20] and Sandra Bullock [21], is a thriller set in completely in space that broke box office records [22] and continues to rack up awards too.

It was a similarly momentous year for private spaceflight as well. SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft successfully docked with the International Space Station in March. Orbital Sciences, another commercial spaceflight company, was able to link its unmanned Cygnus spacecraft with the ISS in September. With NASA's shuttle program shut down indefinitely, development in the private sector is crucial to the future of space exploration.

Astronauts also landed on social media in a big way this year. Col. Chris Hadfield, a geek of the year nominee [23], took over Twitter, Tumblr, and YouTube, and many others followed in his wake, including Expedition 36 flight engineer Karen Nyberg [24].

Women in Tech Lean In

Sheryl Sandberg called upon women to take charge in her book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, which was the most searched title in 2013 [25]. The Facebook COO deserved many accolades for the publication and was named one of Time magazine's most influential people.

Another powerful woman in tech, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, also made waves for striking a sultry pose in Vogue [26]. We applauded Marissa's ownership of her own femininity, but others were not so pleased.

This year also marked two notable female firsts at major tech players. Apple appointed its first-ever female executive, Angela Ahrendts [27], to a newly created position, senior VP of retail, and Twitter finally appointed a woman to its board of directors [28].

The Girl Scouts of Greater Los Angeles also introduced a new video-game designer patch, which requires scouts to program their own games. Many all-female coding camps [29] are also hoping to change the abysmal female-to-male ratio in computer science.

Looking For Love? There's An App For That

Online dating went mobile [30] this year, with apps that promise to pair users with both the "forever" and "friends with benefits" kinds of love. Tinder, Grouper, and OKCupid were big favorites among daters looking for love online, which not surprisingly is much more prevalent in the digital age [31].

Online Security Hits a Tipping Point

Former NSA employee Edward Snowden came forward with information revealing that the National Security Agency was spying on US citizens [32] via data collection from companies such as Verizon and many other tech companies. Protests erupted as more information about the surveillance program [33] came to light. FISA, the secret court that presides over NSA cases, ruled that the agency overstepped its authorization many times in August.

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