Come back next week if you're looking for last-minute buying advice; today, your humble correspondent would like to recap some of the good and bad the soon-ending year has brought.
Some of the most good – and the most bad/confusing – came in the world of operating systems. The top "good" thing, in my opinion, is the continuing, successful, happy evolution of Apple Inc.'s Mac OS X, the latest version of which, "Mountain Lion," arrived on July 25. As I wrote shortly after launch, it's an incremental upgrade, with enough new features to justify the cost, but not enough to overwhelm most people.
By contrast, Microsoft Corp.'s Windows 8 remains puzzling, at least to me. It's good, but not perfect, and lots of reviewers and consumers have some serious gripes about it. The whole "tile" thing on the new start screen, discussed here a fortnight ago, will be grating to some. On the other hand, we don't have much in the way of an alternative – most new PCs are Win8 already, and good luck "downgrading" to Windows 7. How this pans out has yet to be determined in the marketplace.
Then, as noted last week, Google's Chrome operating system-cum-Web-browser, the "stuff" behind the much-sought-after Chromebooks, is an interesting proposition. Like Windows 8, its acceptance and sustainability are not yet known. But I am slowly learning not to sell Google short.
For my money, however, the most promising aspects of operating systems comes in the realm of mobile devices. Apple's iOS 6, for the iPhone/iPad family, and Google's Android OS, each offer great promise. I'm a big fan of iOS 6, because it offers more capability, more functionality and, in my experience, better battery life on the iPhone 5. There's also the security of having Apple prescreen iOS applications before they land in Apple's "App Store." In an age of malware, bots, viruses and other malicious bits of code, I'd rather have someone looking out for me, even if it puts a crimp in the development process.
Amazon.com's Kindle Fire HD, with its own tweaked-out Android-based OS, remains my favorite mini-tablet. It's compact, with a high quality display, and the OS works and doesn't break. I imagine that 2013 will see even more tablet innovations ahead.
Applications, ironically, haven't done all that much for me this year. There are some good new ones – Adobe's latest releases of Photoshop Elements and Premiere Elements will delight photographers and video-shooters of all stripes. But I haven't seen as much as I would like, though there are a couple of nice items you'll read about here in the coming weeks.
Then again, also as discussed last week, with so much application-like activity moving to the Internet, that might not be a bad thing, but rather another step in the changing nature of the tech industry.
On the peripheral front, perhaps the greatest news is that printers are getting smaller, more capable and less expensive, up front at least. There's still the old "razors-and-blades" bit of selling a printer at a low cost and then making money on ink or laser toner refills, but overall things are improving.
The display side of things continues to get better: More choices, better materials, higher pixel counts and so forth. Still, the all-around winner this year – and, sadly, suitable only for certain Mac models – is the Apple Thunderbolt display, quite possibly the most stunning consumer-level display of all time.
What's been the most confusing thing, tech-wise, of the year? The unevenness of broadband speed advances in the nation. It pains me that many users overseas – South Korea, France, elsewhere – can get faster Internet speeds at lower cost. So much could happen if we, as a society, did better on this: more innovation, less commuting and happier lives. Not that they're asking, but if the Obama administration wants a great thing to push in the months ahead, national, high-speed, high-capacity fiber optic Internet for all would be a great start.
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