Tech’s “Lost Year”

Christopher Mims,1 Quartz:

All in, 2013 was an embarrassment for the entire tech industry and the engine that powers it—Silicon Valley.

Oh, really? Sure, Silicon Valley has had more than its share of big dick moves this year, but an “embarrassment for the entire industry”? What justification is there for that?

2013 was the year smartphones became commodities, just like the PCs they supplanted.

That’s not an embarrassment — that’s enormous. Isn’t the commodification of a once-niche product a positive, rather than a negative?

Mims continues:

Even at the high end, Apple and Samsung’s newest flagship phones weren’t big leaps ahead from previous versions. The most that Apple could think to do with the new, faster processor in the iPhone 5S was animate 3D effects that make some users feel ill and a fingerprint sensor that solved a problem that wasn’t exactly pressing. Apple’s new iOS7 mobile operating system, which felt “more like a Microsoft release,” crippled many older iPhones and led to complaints of planned obsolescence.

In a series of complaints about Apple’s new iPhone, only one, the fingerprint sensor, is actually attributable to the iPhone itself; the others are software-related. Of course, it’s Mims’ prerogative to view a complete overhaul of an operating system as not a “big leap ahead”, and I disagree with that. But his citations are such weak sauce: the “planned obsolesce” story was incredibly dumb, while the fingerprint sensor complaint cites a Tumblr post which features this pullquote from a Fast Company article:

As far back as the early 2000s, fingerprint sensors were embedded in a slew of devices, from laptops produced by HP and Toshiba to phones made by Nokia and Motorola. But while Apple was able to make fingerprint sensors feel like a fresh idea, its competitors were only capable of making the technology feel superfluous, stale, and unready for market.

This quote doesn’t reinforce Mims’ statement that the problem “wasn’t exactly pressing”, nor does it even support the notion that it was a poor idea. In fact, the point of the article is simple:

…that’s the difference between Apple and its competitors. Where others saw an imperfect technology it could temporarily repurpose, Apple saw the long-term potential to perfect it. It was willing to gamble hundreds of millions of dollars on the idea. And while it’s far from a surefire bet, the risk it took on the technology is why the public and market still see Apple as an innovator.

Alright, back to Mims’ article. What else made 2013 “tech’s lost year”?

Wearables were a letdown

Thanks for harshing my mellow there, Mims.

Former giants continued their inglorious decline

The old dogs — Microsoft, Intel, and BlackBerry — aren’t looking so hot these days. But, again, doesn’t a shifting landscape demonstrate this wasn’t an embarrassing year, but rather a significant one? Sure, the writing has been on the wall for a while, but the fact that these changes persist speaks to a powerful technological shift.

M&A replaced innovation

Microsoft bought Nokia‘s devices business, which would have been an astonishing turn of events a few years ago, but now felt like a lurch into an unsure future in which Microsoft remains an also-ran in mobile devices.

The purchase felt inevitable, but it’s still pretty big news.

Most big news about Apple was about the company’s tax-avoidance techniques and general failure to deliver any new products of note. (It still isn’t making phablets, though they’ve been hugely successful for other manufacturers.)

Just because Mims says something, that doesn’t make it true. (Emphasis mine.)

It goes on and on like this, with complaint after complaint. You and I have heard these all before, but Mims combines them into a surprisingly dull list. In fact, the best part of the story comes in the final paragraph:

And as is the case every year, tech pundits made countless dubious calls for which they will never be held to account.

Those are four links to stories Mims wrote in 2013 for which he was either proved wrong or are too ridiculous to consider seriously. He should have linked to this article as well. Based on Mims’ criteria, 2012 and 2011 would also probably be write-off years.