We streamed, we zoomed, we ordered groceries and potted plants online, we created virtual villages while navigating computer shortages to work and learn from home. In many ways, the pandemic-induced isolation of 2020 threw our addiction to technology into overdrive, and stumbled away from our real connections while bringing digital conditions.
But for every life-changing Zoom, there was at least one soon-to-be-forgotten Quibi. Here’s a look at this year’s technical winners and losers.
As the world adapted to a new fixed-home reality, the pandemic could have been the virtual reality’s chance to offer an escape. With the use of special headphones and accessories such as gloves, the technology allows people to interact with 360-degree views of a three-dimensional environment, apparently a good fit for people who are stuck indoors.
But people turned to user-friendly software and games that they already had. Get in a hurry to spend hundreds of dollars on a bulky new headset or try to learn the ropes of the virtual reality meeting software. And no VR games broke into the mainstream. So virtual reality, on the verge of success for decades, missed its moment, again.
– Social media election marks
It was the year with labels on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and even TikTok. Ahead of the November 3 US vote, companies promised to crack down on misinformation about the election, including baseless allegations of fraud and candidates’ early declarations of victory. And the most visible part of this was the amount of labels used on tweets, posts, photos and videos.
“Some or all of the content shared in this Tweet is controversial and may be misleading about an election or other societal process,” read a typical label used in a tweet by President Donald Trump.
But many experts said that while the labels made it look like the companies were taking action, “at the end of the day it turned out to be quite ineffective,” as Jennifer Grygiel, a professor at Syracuse University and a social media expert, put it.
Less than a year ago, Quibi launched a crazy Super Bowl ad that asked the question “What is a Quibi?” People can still scratch their heads.
Quibi, short for “quick bites” raised $ 1.75 billion from investors, including major Hollywood players Disney, NBCUniversal and Viacom.
But the service struggled to reach viewers, as short videos abound on the internet and the coronavirus pandemic kept many at home. It announced that it was shut down in October, just months after its launch in April.
– Uber and Lift
Fresh from their first public offering the year before, and still struggling to show that they can be profitable, the acclaimed services were ruined by the pandemic in 2020, when people stopped taking cars and curled up at home.
In May, Uber laid off 3700 people, or about 14% of the workforce. Lift also announced job cuts.
But there are some signs of hope. After significantly reducing the costs of restructuring in the second quarter, Lyft said last month it expects to have its first profitable quarter by the end of 2021. And the companies achieved a major victory in California, where voters passed Proposition 22, giving the others an exemption from a law that tried to classify their drivers as employees, an expense as analysts thought would have shut down its business in the country’s most populous state.
– US TikTok ban
While India banned the popular video-sharing app, TikTok in the United States appears to have extended Donald Trump’s term without the president succeeding in his attempt to ban it.
Earlier this month a federal judge blocked a potential ban. It was the latest legal defeat for the administration in the effort to remove the app from its Chinese owners. In October, another federal judge adjourned a closure scheduled for November.
In the meantime, a government deadline has also passed for TikTok’s parents, ByteDance, to complete an agreement that will get Oracle and Walmart to invest in TikTok, with the status of the agreement unclear.
While President-elect Joe Biden has said TikTok is a concern, it is not clear what his administration will continue with the Trump administration’s attempt to ban it.
– Nintendo Switch
Although a year that announced splashy new consoles from Xbox and PlayStation, the Nintendo Switch console was that could. Launched in 2017, Switch became a fast seller. It was helped by the launch of the managed Switch Lite in September 2019.
In March, it became difficult to find a switch as people looked for ways to be entertained inside their homes. Increasing popularity was the release of the island simulation game “Animal Crossing: New Horizons”, which debuted on March 20 and has now sold a total of 26 million devices globally, according to Nintendo.
According to the NPD Group, the Nintendo Switch sold 6.92 million units in the United States during the first 11 months of 2020. It has been the best-selling console in units sold for 24 consecutive months, a record.
All video conferencing software from Microsoft Teams to WebEx thrived during the abrupt shift of tens of millions of people to telecommuting and schooling during a pandemic. But only one became a verb.
Zoom video communications was a relatively non-acidic company before the pandemic hit, but the ease of use made it possible to use during the pandemic. There was some growing pains, including loose safety leading to “Zoom-bombing” breaches early. The company improved security and remains one of the popular platforms for hosting meetings and classes.
– Ransomware vendors
The ransomware scourge – where criminals hold data hostage by encrypting it until the victims pay – reached epic proportions in 2020, and coincides greatly with the COVID-19 plague. In Germany, a patient turned away from the emergency room to a hospital whose IT system was paralyzed by an attack, died on the way to another hospital.
In the United States, the number of attacks on health care was on its way to doubling from 50 in 2019. Attacks on state and local governments were up around 50% to more than 150. Even primary schools have been affected – closure of distance education for students from Baltimore to Las Vegas.
Cybersecurity firm Emsisoft estimates the cost of US ransomware attacks in the US alone this year at more than $ 9 billion between payroll solutions and downtime / recovery.
– PC manufacturers
After beginning the year struggling with terrible delays in their supply chains, the computer industry found itself keeping pace with the growing demand for machines that became indispensable during a pandemic that kept millions of workers and students at home.
The outbreak initially stalled production because PC manufacturers were unable to obtain the parts they needed from foreign factories that closed in the early stages of the health crisis.
These closures contributed to a sharp decline in sales during the first three months of the year. But there have been boom times since then.
The July-September period was particularly robust, with PC shipments in the US rising 11% from the same time in 2019 – the industry’s largest quarterly sales increase in a decade, according to research firm Gartner.
The largest of the gang, Amazon, is one of the few companies who have thrived during the coronavirus outbreak. People have turned to it to order groceries, supplies and other things online, and help the company get record revenues and profits between April and June. It came even though it had to spend $ 4 billion on cleaning supplies and paying workers overtime and bonuses.
But it’s not just Amazon. The pandemic is accelerating the transition to online shopping, a trend expert expects to say even after vaccines allow the world to resume normal life. And thanks in part to customers deliberately supporting small businesses, Adobe Analytics says online sales at smaller U.S. retailers increased 349% on Thanksgiving and Black Friday. In the more than 1 million companies that use Shopify to build their websites, sales increased 75% from a year ago to $ 2.4 billion on Black Friday, according to Shopify.
JURY IS OUT:
– Big Tech
Facebook, Amazon, Apple and Google did well financially, with each company’s stock price and earnings up significantly since the beginning of the year. They gained users, rolled out new products and features and continued to hire even when other companies and industries faced significant cuts.
But not everything is good in the Big Tech world. Regulators are breathing down each company’s necks, and that’s unlikely to make it any easier in 2021. Google faces antitrust lawsuit from the Ministry of Justice. And Facebook has been hit by one from the Federal Trade Commission along with almost all US states seeking to share it from WhatsApp and Instagram.
More cases may follow. Congressional investigators spent months digging into the actions of Apple and Amazon in addition to Facebook and Google, and called CEOs of all four companies to testify.
AP Technology Writers Frank Bajak and Michael Liedtke contributed to this story.