2010 In Review: The Fortunate Winners And The Pathetic Losers

Oh, 2010. It was glorious, but thank the almighty prancing unicorn in the sky that it’s over. It was the year of the iPad, really. Steve Jobs took to the stage of Moscone Center, sat down, and proceeded to show the world how he wanted us to interact with the Internet — several million consumers followed suit immediately. But there was so much more, too! Of course, not everyone had as good year as Apple. Or Roku. Or Amazon. Some companies and products didn’t fare so well and they’re probably looking to the riches that will (hopefully) be made in 2011.

Look at Android tablets, netbooks, cable companies and even Windows Home server, Google TV, and the TV show Lost. All losers in the game of Life, 2010 Edition. But no worries. 2011 is tomorrow and the Internet is a kind soul who’s quick to forget past blunders as long as future ventures result positively. It’s just too bad that what happened in 2010 will likely happen in 2011. It’s going to be more of the same. Sorry if I’m the one to tell you this; that’s the way it works ’round here.

Winners: Apple launched the iPad and weathered Antennagate while retooling nearly their entire line. Impressive. An updated MacBook Air that’s lighter, thin and cheaper? Alright, fine. A new Apple TV that brings content from iOS devices into the living room without centralized storage. Sounds good. 12-Core Mac Pros? 10 hour battery life on MacBook Pros? An iPod that can double as a wrist watch? Beatles in iTunes? Yeah, Apple had a good year and it’s just not the products that demonstrate that. The bean counters are mighty happy, too.

Apple retail is booming. Apple Stores worldwide saw 75 million visitors cross their thresholds in 2010. That’s more guests in a year than Disneyland gets in five. A table full of metallic objects is all it takes to lure people in. Free admission is nice as well.

Apple’s fourth quarter was a blockbuster of sorts for Steve Jobs and his company. New records all around: 14.1 million iPhones sold (Antennagate wha?), 4.19M iPads, 3.89M Macs — and Fabolous recorded the Steve Jobs single (NSFW). A rockstar year indeed.

Losers: While the iPad had a killer first year, that can’t be said about Android tablets. It wasn’t until the Samsung Galaxy Tab strolled into town that the platform even seemed viable on a slate device. Manufacturers and Google are both to blame here. Makers were out to make a quick buck so component prices were probably worked over more than feature lists. Then Google didn’t exactly make it easy for these companies by restricting access to the Android Marketplace and outing an SDK that’s like pig latin compared to the iOS SDK.

Follow this rabbit hole a bit deeper and we might see that consumers were the real loser here. But let’s not. Those consumers should have known better. We’re talking about first-gen tablets from companies that didn’t exist the week prior running an OS that was never designed for the form factor. Serves them right.

But 2011 might write a kinder story for Android tablets. Samsung supposedly sold 1 million Galaxy Tabs so far in 2010 and the other big CE players will likely out their offerings at CES 2011 (Motorola’s Xoom will likely be the one to beat). As long as Google can rework the user interface to make it a bit more tablet friendly and several high resolution apps designed just for larger screens become must-haves, Android tablets might find its footing. Well, that said, Android tablets will sell even if they’re repackaged hedgehog poo because clearly anything is better than a tablet with an Apple logo on the backside to some buyers.

Winners: There wasn’t anything more surprising to many of us around the office than the Windows Phone 7 launch. There wasn’t even a hiccup. The platform launched and the world kept spinning. iPhones continued to work and Droids didn’t notice. That’s a win. Really.

WP7 was Microsoft’s big thing this year and hopefully Christmas bonuses around the Redmond campus will reflect how smooth everything is going so far. Reviews were fair to the system, not finding anything of a truly deal-breaking nature. It just seems to work and yes, this is a Microsoft product. Feels awesome to say that.

Losers: There’s a battle raging right now between content producers and a few hardware companies. The winner? No one. We all lose in this one.

Big media embraced the World Wide Web a few clicks back, but so far, the industry as a whole is uncomfortable with the whole notion of Internet on TVs. Google TV is treading water because of this fight and Boxee Box would be cut off at the knees if the big media fat cats so decide.

It’s a shame, too. All we want as consumers is a legitimate alternative to cable and the Internet seems perfect for that role. In many ways it is, and these new media set top boxes skin the Internet so it’s a bit more friendly 10 feet away. But it doesn’t matter. You as the consumer might as well roll over and play dead. It’s the safest thing to do anyway. Committing to any of these boxes in 2010 sets your 2011 to be filled with agony and frustration as your living room turns into a scene from 300.

Winners:  Roku launched its first video product in the spring of 2008 and was known initially as a Netflix streaming box. But no one cared.

Then, slowly at first, different apps, or in Roku-speak, channels, made their way on to the platform. Now there are over 100 channels with most of the major streaming services present: Netflix, Hulu Plus, MLB.TV, Amazon Video On Demand, Pandora, and lots more. Indie producers can even make their own channel with the help of Ooyala.

Roku was in the right place and time this year though. The lucky ducks managed to have updated Roku models prepped and ready to launch this fall. It just so happens that Apple also introduced an updated Apple TV, which was special enough to get the Internet’s attention for few a minutes back in September. The new Roku boxes then launched just two weeks later and undercut the Apple TV on price while boasting a richer feature set. Since then, the little streamer is a fan favorite and is constantly recommended by pundits and every day consumers over the Apple TV and more recently, the Boxee Box.

Losers: You’ve heard the news, right? CDs are dead, murdered at the hands of Steve Jobs and his marauding geniuses. Or something like that. Well, if honesty is the goal here, CDs died for many consumers years ago, but 2010 happened to have lots of little events that, well, when combined, further signaled the end of CD.

Apple, for one, now bundles OS X on a flash drive for its latest MacBook Air. That’s the event that got the silly headline. Spotify didn’t make its way to US shores yet; Rdio did, though. New people are finding the fantastic Grooveshark service every day. Even the most basic passenger vehicles now have 3.5mm inputs and, in the case of the inexpensive Ford Fiesta, Bluetooth streaming local and internet content from services like Pandora is found its way downmarket to the sub-$20k car market.

It’s just not streaming services quickly toppling optical media. It’s now cheaper to buy a flash drive than a stack of CDs of equal storage capacity. It’s awesome, really. Storage anxiety should be a thing of the past. The fixed limit on a CD seems strange in today’s world where nearly every other week, flash drives double in size. 120GB on a stick? Yessir. CDs are sitting slightly higher than Iomega Zip discs in terms of usefulness right now.

Winners: It’s outright ignorant to think that electric cars are going to overtake conventional cars within the new decade, but 2010 was a big year for the EV. The Chevy Volt went on sale and the Nissan Leaf will soon follow. Great news for both GM and Nissan, but Tesla is the one that should be breaking out the 18-year old scotch and hookers.

The list of high points reads like a corporate fairy tale: Received significant financial investments from Toyota and Panasonic. The company introduced a new model for themselves and Toyota while managing to nearly doubled its stock value since going public almost six months ago. Tesla CEO, Elon Musk, even found time to talk to Steven Colbert. Companies always try to top their previous year and 2010 set 2011’s bar damn high for Tesla.

Losers: Contrary to everyone’s strong feelings otherwise, netbooks have been dead for years. At least that’s what all us journos want to think. Well, this year we might finally be right and the iPad is credited with the kill.

You should know where this is going. Netbooks are dead because no one wants them. This year, though, there was a legitimate alternative for couch surfing in both the iPad and ultra-portable notebooks with new, lower prices. Sales dropped to an all-time low even though the little notebooks keep getting more powerful.

Winners: The next generation of gamers are set to be thin, nimble and healthy. Console gamers, that is. PC gamers will still be sucking down caffeinated death drinks if something like the Move or Kinect doesn’t free them from their comfy office chairs.

The new take on gaming might not be the end-all solution.  In many ways, both the Kinect and Move do not satisfy the so-called hardcore gaming crowd. Everyone else though will enjoy the novelty for what it is while Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo toil away at the next generation when things will really get interesting.

For now though, at least some gamers will get off their mom’s couch and burn a few calories while gaming. Nintendo started the movement (you’re welcome) but, Microsoft and Sony rebooted the public’s interest in motion controls by showing in their own ways what could be done on a powerful system. Just watch out for grandpa.

Losers: Huzzah! Cable companies are losing more and more subs every month! Victory!

Well, sort of. Sure, pay TV companies are having a hard time holding on to subscribers, but that’s only going to mean prices will probably stagnate or worse, will be raised to compensate for the lose of income. Comcast has to pay the power bill on their massive video wall in their swanky new-ish skyscraper somehow.

But where are these people getting their content? Not one report surfaced that showed the cable cutting movement has any real traction, and big media basically controls the future of living room streaming devices anyway. Pay TV needs a savior or a disruptor. Someone will probably have to paint their face blue and white and stand in front of a horde of angry subscribers to really make a difference.

Winners: Mark one up for e-readers. Both Amazon and Barnes & Noble — the only two real contenders — dropped their respective model’s prices and introduced new models. Amazon went downmarket with a redesigned and cheaper Kindle, while B&N brought out what amounts to an iPad-lite. Not that this is a bad thing. The Nook Color is a fine device and at half the cost of the iPad, will probably make a lot of buyers very happy. A few though will probably crave more and ultimately move to something a bit more featured filled.

The redesigned Kindle Amazon announced in August went on to be the retailer’s turned out to be Amazon’s best-selling item of all time — a feat achieved in only five months. Amazon didn’t reveal the exact sales numbers but when something outsells Harry Potter and his band of ungodly brethren, it’s gotta be a lot.

Losers: There’s a saying at Google, “Launch early, launch often.” It often works for the cash-rich company. But the consumer electronics space is a tad different than the Internet as the search giant found out with Google TV this. Consumers and retailers don’t like products with promissory notes for major feature sets. A wide open market with strong manufacturer and carrier support pushed Android through its rough first months. Google TV didn’t have such luck.

The product seemed — at least to us tech-savvy know-it-alls — as the Wave of the future. It was going to be the product that finally brought Internet video to the living room in a proper and Google-ish manner. But that didn’t happen.

Big media immediately went on the defensive and blocked the Android system from accessing their online content. Then the units launched to strong negative criticism. I found it “half-baked” with major features not scheduled to launch until months later. Currently the system is stalled-out with even major CES announcements reportable shelved until Google can work out…something.

The philosophy is right and it never hurts to have Sony pimping your platform. But without the blessing of media networks and content providers, Google TV will never see Android-type success.

Winners: Me. I won this year as CrunchGear expanded our coverage of the automotive world. We quickly won over automakers thanks to our review style and formats, which allowed myself and our intern Kyle to drive some awesome vehicle this year. We drove the CTS-V Coupe, the Range Rover Supercharged, the 2011 Audi A8 (which we got a flat tire in), and were the second outlet in the country to have the Hyundai Equus.

But one dreary October afternoon, I made my way to Ford’s Dearborn test track to drive a 800HP, $475,000 Iconic AC Roadster. I didn’t get out of second gear and spun-out the half-million dollar supercar while simultaneously eating several traffic cones with the car in front of a group of journalists and Ford staffers, but it was still the highlight of my year.

Losers Remember the Kin? You must. The platform surely holds the title for fastest product from a major company to go from launch to cancellation — 48 days according to the Kin Wikipedia page.

Was it Microsoft’s fault? Perhaps, there was nasty rumors even prior to the platform’s launch. But Verizon needs to shoulder some of the blame too for requiring the phones to carry the same $30 data package as proper smartphones even though the Kins were nothing more next-gen feature phones. So the Kin One and Kin Two were shuttered and most of us thought for good.

But nope, they came back in November. Only this time they’re priced properly alongside other bargin phones and only require a feature phone data plan of $10 per month. Still, that 48 day period is awful funny.

Other Victories

The Walking Dead. Easily the best new show of the year but it could be even better.

Android fans finally have multiple quality handsets to choose from. The Droid X, Droid 2, Droid Pro…Well, they have multiple quality Motorola handsets to choose from at least. And the Samsung Galaxy S.

HP bought Palm and managed to stir up a fair amount of Internet buzz concerning both the HP Slate 500 and upcoming Palmpad. Now, if Internet buzz actually related to hard sales numbers HP could start popping corks.

Netflix kept their ball rolling, made it onto more hardware platforms and introduced a streaming-only plan. All that’s left is Android. Guess you have to save something to do in 2011.

Several states flexed their rights and decided that Four Loko was a bit too much for their citizens. John demonstrated live why the drink was hit by the banhammer.

Stargate Universe finally ditched the drama monkey and decided it was time to be a good show. Too bad this will be the last season.

Nintendo jumped aboard the 3D party train with the 3DS — at least, they announced it. We’ll see it in 2011.

Steam finally launched on OS X and introduced the proud race to Half-Life 2 and 2004.

The Engineer class in TF2 was converted into a defensive class to one of the strongest offensive options in the game.

3TB hard drives. [period] As in, 3TB hard drives are awesome.

Other Defeats:

RIM attempted an Apple maneuver with the upcoming Playbook but failed. It’s fine that the company wanted to steal a bit of the the iPad’s thunder and so they decided to reveal the Playbook slate before it was ready to ship. But a bit too early. Like six months early. The Blackberry Torch and OS 6 weren’t quite the game-changers RIM wanted them to be, either.

Well, who didn’t see this coming? Notion Ink still hasn’t shipped the Adam. Pre-ordering started but was marred by many troubling issues. Maybe they’ll get it out the door in 2011.

Microsoft decided that the most important feature of Windows Home Server wasn’t really the most important feature after all. Microsoft clearly knows best.

This year’s hot FPS games were just rehashes of last year’s piss-poor releases.

Lost. Just Lost. It lost.

No one is buying standalone GPS units anymore. I wonder why?

So what’s going to happen in 2011? The usual. Apple will announce the iPad 2, the iPhone 5, and some new product that will described as a “breakthrough,” “a real game-changer,” and MG will dredge out the always-popular headline, Apple Killed The [ubiquitous product] Today. Then Microsoft will putz around in the tablet space some more while Google rolls out a half-dozen or so major Android updates –from Gingerbread to Lollipop, of course. So yeah, more of the same. But man, I can’t wait. On to 2011!