Almost nothing that happened in 2011 in the tech world came as expected, perhaps more so than any other year your columnist can recall. As with so many people in so many spheres, I believe the tech community will not beg for a repeat of the year now ending.
Still, there were some wonderful advances, of which several deserve special recognition:
Hardware product of the year: Apple iPhone 4S. While the number "5" appears chiefly on the on-screen telephone dial pad, this addition to the iPhone family raises the bar for smartphones. Not only is Siri, the very good voice-response service, an innovation that others will try to duplicate, but also the vastly improved built-in camera, the addition of full HD video recording and the doubling of available memory to a whopping 64 GB - all these add up to the single most impressive smartphone on the market today. Also, unlike any competing Android-based model, you don't have to recharge an iPhone 4S every 30 minutes or so. (I exaggerate, but not greatly; Android phones are huge battery killers, in my experience.)
That Apple was able to bring the iPhone 4S to the Sprint network is another plus, giving users of almost every major mobile carrier (except T-Mobile) an iPhone of their very own, if they so desire.
Newcomer of the year, almost: Amazon.com's Kindle Fire tablet, which at $199 boasts a smaller price, and smaller screen size, than Apple's iPad 2, released earlier in the year. I was somewhat underwhelmed by the Kindle Fire when it first arrived: The interface is a bit clunky, in my opinion, and not all Android apps worked on the device. But Amazon says it has updated the Kindle Fire's operating system to handle some issues. I can't verify this because my review unit went home awhile ago.
Still, Amazon deserves plaudits for attempting something innovative in the tablet space. If enough people buy it to make a dent in the multiple millions of iPads sold (and used) out there, it could be something. Even Google is said to have its own "highest quality" tablet in the works for sometime in 2012. Of course, Hewlett Packard thought its TouchPad tablet would upset the, ahem, apple cart, but it turned out to be a $1 billion mistake.
But the fact remains: The aforementioned iPad dominates the tablet market. Now there is a chance that Microsoft's upcoming Windows 8 operating system, due in a super-tablet-friendly version, could take a swipe at the iPad; but then, some of us exhibited a similar kind of irrational exuberance after the first month of the 2011 Washington Redskins season.
Software of the year, Part 1: Glo Bible Premium (www.globible.com/), which truly brings the Scriptures alive for users of Microsoft Windows-running PCs, Apple Macintosh computers and iPhone and iPad devices. Some scholars might not gravitate toward this kind of software, but the program allows readers to experience one of the most important books of Western civilization, the Bible, in a comfortable way. The list price of $89.99 has been cut to $39.99, a 55 percent discount, but only, the publishers say, "while supplies last." If you're interested, you will want to order quickly.
Software of the year, Part 2: Adobe Photoshop Elements 10, for Mac and Windows users, available for $79.99 from www.adobe.com/products/photoshop-elements.html, and possibly less expensive elsewhere.
I don't know of a better, more comprehensive and more widely useful piece of software for the "active amateur" photographer who wants to organize, share and edit photos with more than the "standard" approaches available. Elements 10 is a great product at a very good price, and one that has stood the test of the marketplace over time.
Here's hoping that 2012 will bring some new and dynamic tech products and some good news on the economic front that will allow more consumers to participate in their use.
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