Dear Quartz, maybe it’s you that needs new glasses and a map. 2013 was not a lost year for tech

77 Comments

If anything, in 2013 it became even more fashionable for some of our fellow scribes and righteous founders to lament the lack of innovation in Silicon Valley. A lot of that has to do with the lack of a whiz-bang device, a new earthshaking iPhone (or Apple product) or a big new platform. This public handwringing is brought on by a myopic view of what counts as technology and is reflective of a somewhat limited idea of innovation. Many view the world from the lens of “consumer and web technologies” and thus are often overcome with dismay and disappointment when they fail to see anything new and shiny.

The latest such example is a piece in Quartz, a sister publication of The Atlantic. This article, under the headline 2013 was a lost year for tech bemoans Silicon Valley and all its failures, has turned intellectual trolling into high art. It is fairly easy to focus on the lack of whiz-bang technologies like the iPhone or the Kindle. It is pretty easy to focus on the tech-NSA nexus, which I agree is deplorable. And it is also very easy to focus on what some think of as pointless apps.

But to label 2013 a lost year for technology is hyperbolic, to put it generously. What’s more distressing to me is that other smart folks are simply echoing the headline. I look at the world around me, and I find a technology landscape that is blooming. How can you not be excited about the idea of sensors, apps and data turning our phones into a doctor’s virtual proxy. (I live with a disease and my phone is as much a part of it, as my meds.) Helium-filled disk drives that can store more and more data? Breakthrough or boring. Depends on how you look at the world — as someone who loves technology or someone who loves the shiny interpretation of technology.

Do you know your tech?

Even if you ignore the predetermined narrative of the Quartz piece, the article today and many such articles before this one simply reinforce the point that no one — and that includes bloggers like myself, high-brow/super-successful venture capitalists and writers for mainstream intellectual publications like the Atlantic — have little or no understanding of independent spirit of innovation and disruption. Innovation happens in different places, in different sectors and follows a different time scale that only a handful really comprehend.

Back in March 2006 when Amazon (s AMAZN) launched its s3 cloud storage service, there weren’t very many of us who had an idea that it would one day become the key component of an economic engine that would jump start entrepreneurial activity across the planet. No one thought that little storage service was sexy! Today, if you ask Dropbox CEO Drew Houston, he will have a few billion reasons to think of AWS as the greatest thing since sliced bread. Yeah, that joke of a service will soon be a multibillion dollar business that has put everyone from Oracle, Dell and HP on thin ice.

In 2006 when Twitter (s TWTR) launched, it was a joke and somewhat misunderstood (including by myself). Seven years later, it has turned into the digital heartbeat of our planet and now vies for attention with hundred-year-old media behemoths.

Both Amazon and Twitter are examples that show innovation and its impact are not bound by an investor or a publication’s sense of time, say, a year. Quartz bemoans Google Glass (s GOOG) and labels it the standard bearer of disappointment in tech in 2013. Google Glass might earn you the sobriquet “glasshole,” but the reality is that in the future we will have a much improved derivative of Google Glass in our lives. It might not even look like Google Glass, but the wearable computing and personal compute fabrics will be a reality in the not-too-distant future.

Innovation moves in mysterious ways

The Nest thermostat.

The Nest thermostat.

Not a single breakthrough product was unveiled. If it’s in the nature of progress to move in leaps, there are necessarily lulls in between… Here are all the reasons 2013 was a great big dud for technology as a whole. (QZ)

Quartz lamented that smartphones became commodities in 2013. To that I say, what’s wrong with that? Chris Anderson, the former editor of Wired, often talks about the peace dividend of the smartphone wars — cheap sensors, cheaper processors and other technologies that are becoming affordable because we are selling hundreds of millions of smartphones.

Those cheap components are the reason we have drones, robots, smart thermostats and intelligent irrigation systems. Maybe not today, but soon enough, these connected devices — many based on chips and sensors made cheaper by smartphone boom — will change how we live.

Remember Baxter, the robot from Rethink Robotics that was announced in 2013? Well, thank your Androids and iPhones for that. Quartz might not think of Baxter as a breakthrough, but I certainly do — it has a huge implication for society, both in a good and a bad way. And there were other breakthroughs with long term implications — such as Willow Garage/Unbounded Robotics’ $35,000 UBR-1. Those robots might not have gotten the screaming headlines of an iPhone, but who is to say that the technologies — mostly software — being used in these robots ends up in other devices.

Baxter (left) with Rethink Robotics CEO Rodney Brooks.

Baxter (left) with Rethink Robotics CEO Rodney Brooks.

Invisible, Incredible

Forget robotics, and let’s focus on the rise of contextual computing. Sure, not everyone was impressed by the new iPhone 5S, but to me the best part of the device was the M7 chip that is essentially a dedicated processor for all sensor inputs. That chip can make the software and apps smarter, and provide the necessary inputs for what we believe is the next evolution of computing: contextual computing. The M7 chip and Apple’s very much underhyped iBeacon technology together open up new opportunities for retail.

Based on low-power chips, the MotoX’s touchless controls are a breakthrough whose implications we will understand sometime in the future. There won’t be any big bang, but very quietly our applications that run on the commodity smartphones are going to become smarter and more adaptive to our needs.

Technology is best when it is invisible, and from our perspective many of the real technology breakthroughs of 2013 focused on that. Take for example the multicore fiber technologies that could result in a petabit network pipe. That’s a breakthrough that happened in 2013, and it will be a few years before it becomes an actual commercial product, but it is a technology that you can’t hold in your hand, put in a box or simply label it as the pinnacle of technology. Yes, we will experience it collectively; perhaps in a decade, or even less. It will allow millions of us to send big fat files from our phones back to Dropbox, and stream 3D video games and watch videos.

Today, we don’t think twice about launching our apps on Amazon Web Services and the cloud. How does Amazon make its infrastructure hacker-proof? How does it all work? All those silent releases that Amazon did during 2013, do they count as breakthroughs? Well, they might not be Kindle Paperwhites, but they sure makes Kindle Books, Dropbox and other cloud services work securely.

Data is a four letter word

data numbers carlos castilla shutterstock_114969346

Managing “big data” became the growth plan of companies like IBM, despite the fact that most companies aren’t handling data that’s anywhere close to “big.” (QZ)

I know it is fashionable to lament “data,” but such comments not only make no sense, they show compete lack of understanding about the role of data, which is caught between labels that range from big data to hyper data. Whatever way you label it, data — when put to work smartly — is going to shape most of our connected experiences in the near future, something we’ll talk about in great depth at our Structure Data conference this March in New York. The size of data, the type of data and what to do with data — those are nuances that are missed in the screaming “big data” headlines.

While I don’t expect to see an end of these type of articles, it would be good for folks to take a step back, think for a moment and stop looking at innovation from the singular lens of consumer apps and gadgets. Instead think about the fact that we have more bandwidth in more places, we have more apps that seem to read our mind and that we can quickly get restaurant recommendations from our phones without as much as thinking. A lot of that happened in 2013, just without fanfare.

So, next time when someone says, “2013 was an embarrassment for the entire tech industry and the engine that powers it: Silicon Valley,” remind them to actually do research before making that statement.

77 Comments

Om Malik

Hello everyone

I want to address all the comments, but most importantly, thank you for taking the time and responding. It is important to have such a lively debate in comments, especially if it is about something we deeply care about.

Best

BlueCheese

Dear Om,

Technology, for most people, is not what it is for engineers or other valley insiders.

It is not a large building hosting thousands of server racks – instead, it is Facebook. It is not a smart algorithm that implements the smartest semantic analysis – it a plain text box that answers all your questions. It is not about the science of sensors – instead, it is the simple thrills of playing Subway surfer on an iPad.

Given this standpoint, 2013 has been a less-than-remarkable year. Google Glass is a toy for the uber-geeks. Apple has done precious little than bringing in champagne colored back-covers. Dropbox (or any other cloud player) may be raking in the billions, but for most users, they are magically invisible (as they rightly should be!). There can be more such examples, 3D printing included.

There’s nothing wrong in claiming that 2013 was non-remarkable for tech, as long as the viewpoint is clear. And yes, there is nothing wrong in claiming that 2013 has been a great year for tech, from a different view-point.

My own view is 2013 has been the year of democratizing technology.

More than ever before, technology is not for the elitists alone. The real peace dividend of the smart phone wars (and several other such wars) has been democratization. Yes, the key word is “affordability”.

Affordable Smart phones, tablets, data networks, e-commerce, social networking and citizen journalism, on-demand education (and not just entertainment) and several others have positively affected lives of more people than ever.

As Om rightly points out, the innards of each of these (and their technological enablers) are only getting stronger as we roll in a new calendar- All this is for sure a big deal.

Cheers !

ktest098

I was thinking along the same lines, my major thought being that saying nothing big was launched in the year that iBeacons came out means you are really not paying attention (which goes right in line with your comments on sensors, them being the way you can detect where you are inside as well as out).

nikolaus heger

2013 is the year of the link-bait headline. This is when all news suddenly turned into link bait.

Declaring 2013 a lost year for tech is a great example. It’s divisive, it sums up the entire article in the headline, it’s outrageous, and now much time can be spent refuting it.

And thus, we’ve created lots of readership and potential ad clicks out of nothing. Tech press of 2013.

davekbh

You’re absolutely correct Om!

I would add two things. On the backend of technology transistors are getting ever closer to nanotechnology and we are seeing dividends from this such as quantum dots in light emitting diodes (Kindle Fire) and photovoltaics (research stage).

On the consumer facing side I will remember 2013 as being the year large screen OLEDs finally became commercial products. Sure they are expensive but prices will decline and eventually they’ll become far more ubiquitous than even LCD TVs are today. They’ll in every way including costs and energy use be superior to what we have available today. This will change how are homes, work and public spaces will look and feel. How can that not excite even those who couldn’t care less about the underlying technology if they were told about the possibilities from the likes of QZ?

George J Cook

Some peeps here type far too much without saying anything. you guys should leave the article writing to Om, and come here with comments, not blog posts.

steve crandall

I’m neither a technologist or a writer, but I’m excited by the continuing expansion of potential uses of technology. Some new kit is introduced, but then new unexpected use behaviors sprout up. 2013 was a great year!

Simon Anderson

Looking at 1 year spans in tech innovation misses the point as you say Om. All tech today is actually layers of innovation forming from years of pure research, applied physics, materials development, energy efficiency gains, leading to complex, integrated hardware, software, and ultimately consumer and web applications.

The deeper layers that I saw that “evolved fast” in 2013 were low power chips and servers (with ARM scaring innovation forward); networking hardware based on open Linux platforms (like Cumulus); software-defined networking from all the big and small vendors (offering unprecedented separation and control by the admin user); super-dense data center server options from HP, Dell, SuperMicro and the white box manufacturers; accessible, low cost, distributed, commodity hardware based computing and storage powered by Open Source platforms (OpenStack, Ceph); and intense software and application development (Open Source and proprietary) looking to leverage all the flexibility, security, control, and cost benefits of these more foundational layers of tech. And that’s just in my personal world of focus.

Now with all the Big Data power we have to hand, wouldn’t it be nice to create a 3D visualization of the “tech behind consumer tech”. And show how innovation at those deeper levels by super smart, passionate scientists, engineers and developers has thrust us into the future so fast!

All these innovation layers will benefit

rtlynn

The acceleration of technology has numbed us. It is now expected on a calendar cycle. Forget that fact that we’ve had major innovations in the past few decades – when you accelerate the delivery of it – it becomes the new norm. We expect it.

The problem with mass adoption is you have more critics also. Now the general population can get processor power in their phone that makes previous decades of computers laughable. You’ve changed the game. But – while this type of innovation was novel back when only a small percentage of the population had it, understood it and appreciated it – we’re filled with noise and complaints from everyone about how little we saw in 2013 because it’s so pervasive.

The truly innovative stuff – still largely remains confined to a select group of people who have the sense to see the future of what is possible. It often isn’t apparent nor twitterable. If you’re judging human innovation based on the consumer market – you’re already two years behind. If you want to see innovation look at non-mainstream places; academia, cramped laboratories, internationally and the guy who lives with his mom’s garage. It’s happening.

Frederick Tubiermont

Maybe the overall “creation / development / acquisition” pattern works against disruption.
I think that one of the biggest issues for young startups is actually their “early success”, i.e. that most of them get acquired by the industry behemoths far too soon to be able to deploy their vision to its full extent. Temptation kills long term vision. With their financial firepower, companies like Google & Facebook are in a way preventing newcomers to become meaningful competitors & true disruptors. I don’t even say that they do it “on purpose” (i.e. to kill competition) but the result is that many entrepreneurs (encouraged by their investors) tend to develop “sellable assets” rather than long term enterprises. When Zuckerberg started in his dormroom or when Larry & Sergey built their first servers cases using lego bricks, it was for the genuine purpose of entrepreneurship, not to chase the 18-month exit.

Om Malik

Frederick

I think that kind of pressure has been part of the SV cycle for a long time and we are seeing that at an accelerated pace and also there is the fact that the metabolism of startups has increased.

Thanks for sharing your comments.

Steven Varjabedian

I might have respected your argument a bit more had you not been so single-minded and bashful at times. It’s an opinion. You might say that tech is great because they had a linear improvement. Others say it was bad because it wasn’t exponential. Some look at it from the consumer point of view, some look at it from an under the hood perspective. There is no reason to say that if we don’t look at it from your view then we lack understanding of the topic. From a consumer perspective this year sucked. I’m typing this on a nexus 10 2012 because there wasn’t a new one in 2013. I’ve heard many bad reviews on the note 10.1 and the iPad wasn’t really much of a tech improvement more as a weight decrease.

Secondly you can look at all these spec improvements but what’s the point when apps aren’t pushing the specs too their limit? Secondly it was the release of the 5s, not the 6, so it was not anything I labeled as a must have. If you think that finger scanners that work with your nipples are great improvements then that is your opinion but certainly not mine. Look at iOS 7,it was mainly a cosmetic upgrade, not a tech one.

Then look at the wearables. The Google glasshas not taken off the ground just yet so that is disappointing and the watches haven’t been doing so great either. You still have to have a Samsung phone to actually use it which sucks.

I saw on the news that its very easy to scan credit cards off phones that have the wallet app. If tech has improved so much then I feel like there should be more security.

Sevenmack

I would disagree with you, Steven, that 2013 was disappointing from a consumer tech perspective. For one, you can’t speak for every consumer, especially since you (along with I) are power users and tech geeks who consume news on technology like it is air. The average consumer is more like my wife: Generally skeptical about technology, only interested in it once they can see from experience how a piece of tech can improve their lives and experiences. For many of these people, the 99 percent of consumers, whether consumer tech has been great this year depends on whether they have upgraded from an old device, or had a new one installed in their home.

To my wife, 2013 was a great year for consumer tech from her perspective, even if her own upgrades were not the latest or greatest. For her, iOS 7 greatly improved the battery life on her iPhone 4S (which she bought earlier this year). The Nook HD I got her for Christmas is faster tablet than the Nook Color she got two years ago. Her new Window 8 laptop brought new features that she enjoys. In short, as the average consumer, this was a good year for her. Doesn’t mean that it was a great year from the perspective of all tech consumers — especially those of us tech enthusiasts among the one percent. But it was great for her and many like her, and that perspective matters more, especially since consumers like her make up the vast majority of the marketplace.

Now, from my perspective, 2013 has been a great year for consumer tech. Right now, I’m watching a five-part series on YouTube on the Wehrmacht and the atrocities it helped Hitler perpetuate during World War II on my 60-in. TV thanks to Google’s Chromecast. I now have three Chromecast dongles with nearly-invisible physical footprints that turn all my Android, iOS, and Windows devices into integrated pieces of entertainment centers throughout my home. Best of all, the integration happens with little back-end integration on my part (especially compared to the work I had to do previously with my array of laptops and Roku boxes) and at low cost ($35 for each Chromecast). This is technology that the average consumer can appreciate, and one that will become even more appreciated in the coming years as Google opens Chromecast’s SDK to media app developers.

My brother, who is also a tech enthusiast, now has an XBox One that allows him to both game and integrate his media throughout his home. Best of all, it integrates well with his PC and other Windows devices. One can easily imagine how the move by Microsoft to fully integrate Windows across all mobile, traditional PC and gaming platforms will end up impacting how Google and Apple approach their own efforts with Android and iOS. For gamers, who have seen small scale improvements in tech for the past few years, the XBox One effort, along with that of Sony’s PS 4, are major improvements. And for casual tech consumers, the potential benefits that will come are ones that are major.

As for Google Glass and other wearables? The fact that four new smartwatches have been put on the market is an important step toward major innovations in that space that will come. Same with the addition of apps for Google Glass, especially for use on iPhones and iPads. Certainly for the one percent of us tech consumers, this is nothing. But our perspective tends to be biased because we don’t see the long view, and we are also easily bored.

And on the security front? The faster the pace of innovation, the more likely security is going to lag behind. That’s natural. It takes time for the flaws in technology to show up and be exploited by both the criminally-minded and authoritarian political regimes. Eventually, security measures catch up.

Marcos_El_Malo

You make some pretty good points.

I would say that the one percent you describe is actually a subset of tech enthusiasts that should be called “early adopters”. Or perhaps it’s better put that early adopters are a fraction of that one percent.

Early adapters crave novelty. To an early adopter that wasn’t given a compelling reason to upgrade his phone twice this year, it might have been disappointing.

mdelvecchio99

fingerprint scanning that does t suck is big in my book. not sure why you’re trying it on your nipples.

iOS 7 redesign aside, not sure how you missed desktop class 64-bit computing hardware….in a phone. that ain’t cosmetic, bud.

Hamranhansenhansen

Sure, capital-N Computer Nerds like you weren’t disappointed by 2013, because it’s 1 more than 2012! It’s newer! So you love it. Same way that people who watch soap operas are never disappointed with yet another season of their favorite soap opera.

The NSA leak confirmed OUR VERY WORST FEARS about the Internet. A lot of energy has been put into pretending that this is not so. The genie can’t go back in the bottle. The Internet as we knew it is done. The Cloud? OVER. You understand that my lawyer has advised me to pull everything out of the cloud, right? It’s not that the government has the ability to get all my in-progress unpublished work, it’s that the $14/hour contractors that the NSA hires have the ability to get all my in-progress unpublished work. The NSA scandal has shown us 2 things: the NSA are the biggest secret-stealers in the world and also the worst secret-keepers in the world. They have committed themselves to stealing all the secrets of every private individual and company AND THEN MAKING THEM PUBLIC THROUGH THEIR INEPTITUDE. Maybe for a blogger it is not obvious why this is bad because it takes you about 20 minutes to make and post a blog. My work takes many months to make 1 thing. There is a period of time during which my work must stay private while it is in-progress. The Internet has become considerably less useful for me now.

Same for the Web. I live in San Francisco, but I’m out of the country right now and I can’t get to most of the things I use on the Internet because those resources are detecting my location and feeding me an entirely different set of content or no content at all. When you also consider that my view of the Web changes arbitrarily depending on which device I’m using, the whole “worldwide” hardware-independent Web is definitely done. I’m actually writing this from my Mac because this bloated Web page crashed my iPhone browser, where I originally wanted to read this article. Somebody said “R.I.P. The Blog” recently and I thought, “R.I.P. World Wide Web.” It’s become unusable.

And 2013 was really the year that broke my heart in technology because it is the year when Apple devices stopped being for everyone and started being just for Computer Nerds. iOS 7 is a Vista-like disgrace — nothing fixed, nothing improved, but everything is moved around and painted so that you have to relearn it. So that my father-in-law has to relearn it. And it was not built for the user, it was built for the egos that are at the top of the Apple hierarchy, same as Vista was for Microsoft. And the notifications in Mac OS that I’m sure that you and other Computer Nerds just love to death just frightened my mother-in-law, and continue to frighten her multiple times per day while she tries to use her Mac to write emails and watch soap operas. Why does she need to know there was an update for Camera Raw released today? Can’t that wait for a monthly update? iCloud — it doesn’t work. Apple ID single sign-on? Everyone I know has at least 2 of them because they were asked at separate times to sign up for iTunes, iTools, MobileMe, iCloud, and others and didn’t understand those were all the same thing, just with lots of different names. Sure, the hardware is beautiful, but that doesn’t matter. Like many of us said when the Intel Mac first shipped, we would rather run Mac OS on a Dell than run Windows on a MacBook. It’s the software that matters, not the hardware. My Apple customer satisfaction on January 1, 2013 was 99%. After WWDC 2013 it was 50%. After I tried iOS 7, my Apple customer satisfaction was 1%. Now I’m not only disappointed in Apple, I’m disappointed in Google and Microsoft for not having alternatives ready because they were too busy building software licensing traps and advertising platforms and forgot to just make good products that people want to buy and use.

So if you think 2013 was a good year for tech — you may be a Computer Nerd. For the other 90% of us who have non-computer work to do but who have to use computers for that because computers have killed all the standalone devices we used to use — we are very, very disappointed in everything that happened in tech in 2013. It was a disaster.

But one of the biggest problems with Computer Nerds is they consider that everyone else is just a larval stage for Computer Nerds. So the Computer Nerd answer to shattered productivity in iOS 7 is to tell us to take a programming class so you can figure out what is a button and what is not. Take a design class so you can understand the many excuses that Apple made for why they ruined iOS in version 7. Take a computer security class so you can understand why you have no security and no privacy anymore. Anything to defend that next year of the tech soap opera that Computer Nerds want like another fix of smack. After all, what would tech be without some everyday people for Computer Nerds to prey on?

Charles Wagoner

If your lawyer has to tell you to take all your stuff off the internet, and if you’re just now finding out about the NSA’s data collection capabilities, then your perspective on technology is about as useful as a car with no wheels.

mdelvecchio99

the NSA’s data collection has never been confirmed until this year, conjecture or paranoia aside. now we know. we did not *know* until now.

I also agree on iOS 7 — it’s not the easy peasy OS that 6 and less were. my parents are confused by it. hell, it even gives me pause when fruit o identity safari UI icons.

danieldcgonsalves

If you believe the cloud is “OVER”, If you believe the WWW is becoming “Unusable” (you’re the first person I’ve heard say that… ever), If your entire complaint about Apple resolves around being frightened by notifications, if you’re upset because computers killed your standalone devices (you still have a fax machine and pay for a separate line right?) and if your definition of a “Computer Nerd” is someone who can understand how to navigate iOS7 (my nephew uses it just fine – he’s 10)… than
a) don’t worry about someone stealing your “in-progress unpublished work” i can tell – it’ll probably make the rest of the world want to slit their wrists – leave it unpublished.
b) take off the tin foil… or just disconnect, I hear the NSA can’t tap into a typewriter..
c) Buy a feature phone, since you believe io7 is for rocket scientists and every other manufacturer seems to disappoint you…

Or just chill out MR. MIMS! (dun dun daaah!) You’re doing it all wrong.

Joniver

I read and mostly enjoy Quartz but felt the piece you reference contributed to the hit-driven, consumer-focused nature of tech reporting. To the other commenter’s points, anyone expecting disruptive innovation within a 12-month span lacks both historical perspective and an appreciation for the difficulty of fomenting such disruption.

A quote comes to mind for this application, “If you don’t like the news go out and make some yourself.”

Otherwise, keep it real Om and I’ll keep reading your stuff.

Yasunari W.

I totally agree with you, Om. The part about the 5S in the Quartz article particularly made me wince. Sure, the latest iPhone didn’t have everyone jumping out of their seats with surprise, but the new features and implementations can’t simply be brushed off as useless, or unnecessary. I’d say the 64-bit processor probably won’t be taken full advantage of for a few years, but it’s a feat ahead of its time. It’s the kind of stuff you appreciate in the long run.

What I’m trying to say is that it seems as if the author wrote a headline, then tried to describe every tech product in a negative light to support her argument.

mdelvecchio99

actually, the iPhone 5S’ fingerprint sensor wasn’t a for-sure rumor until the day before announcement. no leaked parts unlike the gold case color, etc. that’s surprise.

Ucilia Wang

I really like your point about taking a long-term view on tech innovation, Om. The idea is true whether we have lots of new awe-inspiring gadgets in one single year or not. Innovation should have lasting impact, but pinpointing it can become a superficial exercise in trend-spotting.

Om Malik

I think that is the crucial point — time frame of tech and its impact can’t be pre-determined in what happened in 12 months. I think the world is finally getting to understand the impact of iPad, three years after it was introduced.

netgarden

I think that there are two factors going on here. One is the natural backlash associated with the socio-economic disconnect between Silicon Valley, Alley and Beach, and the rest of America.

Two is emblematic of the stage of the technology curve that we’re in. Along those lines, there is an axiom that technology segments move from “Vertically Integrated” to “Horizontally Integrated” to “Embedded.”

This is because the first wave requires integration of all of the system layers to deliver a compelling solution (think: iPhone). It requires true magic.

As the technology matures, various solution providers can provide the piece parts in a relatively interchangeable fashion (think: Android and the Microsoft PC).

Once ubiquity is achieved, the technology fades into the background, often to the point of invisibility, and the solution is just expected to work (Google Search, Amazon).

In other words, boring is somewhat emblematic of success. Then again, anyone who has taken an Uber, or pondered how AirBNB books more room nights than the entire Hilton Hotel chain, should think twice about dismissing what tech is doing.

If there is any sense of disappointment, it’s the lack of companies other than Amazon, Google, and Apple that are committed to building enduring, great, out of the box innovations.

Tom Foremski

Technology has become embedded into the fabric of our daily lives and that will continue to happen until we live in a blended reality where it’s our abilities to use the tools that technology represents, that determine the quality of our life. Tools are important but they don’t make the craftsman. Crafting a meaningful life is the challenge of our modern lives and technology is a tool to achieve that life. To talk about tech in and of itself, makes little sense for a general audience of users. That’s what the trade press is for.

Tom Foremski

Innovation is not a technology. Technology is not innovation. We’ve moved into a post-technology world and that’s what all these writers are trying to say but they only see part of what’s happening.

It no longer matters how many pixels your phone has or what type of ARM processor it runs yet the technology press runs product stories all day long. What matters is how people use the world around them.

realjjj

A picture for Nest an overpriced product ,that is not from 2013 and ,you know, most people on this planet have no clue what a thermostat is.
Then ,in your Apple fanboy ignorance you seem to believe that dedicated sensor hubs are something new from 2013. Well, they are not and you should know better.

Truth is there wasn’t anything big this year at least in consumer, nothing all that exciting and that doesn’t mean there was nothing at all.
The industry could have done much better, but they are rather slow and stuck in certain patterns.
In 2012 we had Nexus 7, Oculus Rift, Google Now , Google Glass ,it was quite a bit more exciting.
Right now phones got pretty boring, tablets are boring, 4k is not quite cheap yet ,glasses and watches(decent ones) have not arrived so maybe you should allow people to be disappointed , they aren’t all that wrong.

Om Malik

I think you are just making the point I was arguing against — disappointment is there if you look at everything from a consumer tech perspective. A lot of other things are happening, they just aren’t sexy enough for people to label as important, when they actually are more long term impactful. Again, different lens on the world.

Olivier R

Om, I have a lot of respect for how you handle such dismissive, or even insulting, comments. Thankfully most people writing here are much more respectful and insightful, for once I am actually enjoying the comments section of an article. That’s a great crowd of readers you have.
Re. the innovation story, what strikes me is that over the past few years, we (including the mainstream public) have grown accustomed to seeing tech advances happen right in front of our eyes. It feels like, if you have enough popcorn handy (a few truckloads I’d say), you could just sit and watch it unfold. This perception feeds a bias towards novelty and sensationalism among tech news writers and readers.

mdelvecchio99

nest isn’t overpriced – just because something costs more than you wish it did does not make it overpriced. nest retailed for much less than the established home automation thermostats. it has now driven new, cheaper competition. Nest’s commercial success confirms their price point.

Robert McLaws

Microsoft built a virtualization server for your living room that runs Windows and plays Xbox games *at the same time*, yet no one talks about the whiz-bang innovation to make that happen. In fact, there was not a single mention of Microsoft in this entire piece, Om. Not all innovation happens in Silicon Valley… it’s kind of weird how you try to refute the Quartz article’s premise while falling into the same trap.

aepxc

Innovation should not be confused with novelty. Revolutions influence the course of history decades into the future. The do not and should not happen very frequently.

NEdison

Your argument is semantic. Their definition of “tech” and their definition of “lost” are just different than yours.

Headlines are short. It seems to me that they meant, “2013 was a year in which tech changed our lives less than it has in many of the years immediately preceding it”.

Om Malik

I would like to learn more now tech changed your life more in 2012 vs 2013. It would allow me to understand where you are coming from, and give a better context to your comment. Thanks

His Shadow

Yes. Semantic. Let’s smear out the meanings of words til “Lost Year in Tech” doesn’t mean “Lost Year in Tech”. Perhaps when can then pretend Om’s article was about fungus or baseball.

“Headlines are short. It seems to me that they meant, “2013 was a year in which tech changed our lives less than it has in many of the years immediately preceding it”.”

Still wrong.

Jon Fingas

To me, the core issue is one of having unrealistic expectations.

Apple, Samsung and other companies now get criticism simply because they aren’t completely reinventing their products every year. That’s not how it happens — big steps forward tend to be spaced out every few years, if not longer. A reinvention should be a pleasant surprise, not mandatory.

Brian

Apple, yes. Samsung? Are you kidding me? They have yet to come up with anything useful that wasn’t just copied from Apple (with a lot of help from Google).

Unsolicited 6 cents

Om, I appreciate the relative balance you try to maintain in your post.

While its way to easy (and flat out incorrect) to label 2013 “a lost year for tech”, its also too easy to label such pronouncements as the province of those outside Silicon Valley.

Larger society’s view of innovation and technology through the myopic lens of “consumer and web technologies” is one that is promulgated by Valley insider mainstays like Techcrunch and Pando Daily in addition to rags like Valleywag and BI. For better or worse, outsiders’ views of the Valley are largely shaped by Valley ‘insider’ journalists and their prolific publishing schedule.

Talking about advances in med tech or networking infrastructure or processing or energy storage is not as sexy as talking about Snapchat and our desire for an erasable internet. However, its the ‘unsexy’ stuff that powers all the consumer facing innovation that Silicon Valley journalists most often write about.

If we want to change the current narrative, you and other insiders reporting on technology will have to publish more stories about all the ‘unsexy’ innovation. It may not be great linkbait but we’ll get out of this negative and unproductive technology spiral.

Om Malik

I think we do a fairly good job of covering the unconventional and the gnarly stuff. :-) But thanks for the reminder — we will do better.

hagrin

I’m with you netsnumbers. While I respect Om and find his articles well reasoned, this is a head in the sand article. You can’t just “gloss over” the fact that the NSA revelations have negatively impacted the same cloud infrastructure named in this article. There’s a picture of the Nest with no mention that adopters are finding the device completely non-fault tolerant and causing many issues in many HVAC setups. Apple has, in an overly simplistic view, done nothing but iterative design on the iPod Touch for several years now. Google has spent time creating, and pushing, a wearable technology for a part of the body that all studies have shown people the least likely to wear this technology.

Where is the transformative living room experience? Where is the single use CC number process Google demoed at Goolge I/O this year that would partly fix a broken payment processing industry? Companies like Tesla are still fighting archaic car selling laws and can’t open showrooms across the US. The internet is using a technology for security that is mostly broken. Battery life on mobile devices has basically seen only modest improvements while devices become less and less repairable.

Heck, the most exciting thing from 2013 isn’t even mentioned in this article – 3D printing. The advancements made in this area, specifically in 2013, are going to be revolutionary and not even a sentence in this article.

Om Malik

So basically you are saying 3d printing was huge in 2013 and that is what I missed. Ironic that argument doesn’t hold true for the other piece that is dismissive of everything positive that happened this year.

Shameer Mulji

I disagree. Gruber said best in his most recent post;

“The nature of progress is to move incrementally. The great leaps are exceedingly few and far between. One needs to pay attention, to learn to appreciate fine details, in order to appreciate progress as it churns. Compare today’s iPhone 5S to the original 2007 iPhone and the differences are glaringly obvious. But some petulant tech critics dismissed every single subsequent iPhone as disappointingly incremental, lacking “innovation”. ”

http://daringfireball.net/2013/12/the_year_in_apple_and_technology

mdelvecchio99

@hagrin – re Nest, please define “many” (are having problems with it). you provide no data. works flawlessly here…so my anecdotal evidence counters your non-cited opinion.

re Apple – guess you aren’t aware of it, but iterative improvement is how they work. that’s how we wind up with a phone that is this iteration 50x faster than the first iteration. that’s not accident, that’s innovation. these things don’t improve themselves.

Dane Tidwell

Not to mention, the original Nest Thermostat was released in 2011 and the current version in 2012.

Om Malik

Dane

Not to mention the fact that I was showing Nest as an example of benefitting from the “commoditization of smartphones” phenomenon and no where do I say in the piece that it was released in 2013.

Hopefully that helps you.

Deepak Gupta

I don’t understand why most tech writers lament “commodization of smartphones or any other technology”. Isn’t the whole point of a breakthrough in technology, service, medicine etc is to make it available for everyone. What’s the use of an innovation if it’s limited to only few elite insiders or only people with money to spare. Few years ago $500 smartphone was out of reach of most people on earth. Today smartphones are available to everyone at sub $100 price point & that’s a breakthrough to me.

Kamal Nayan

Kudos OM.

Only you can write such brave and informative pieces.

The piece not only represents the most sought answer from the entire tech community to that QZ post but also is a punch on faces of those who just sit and type vague commentaries without actually involving in it.

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