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2015: Looking Back at an Amazing Year

By Rob Enderle TechNewsWorld ECT News Network
Dec 21, 2015 5:00 AM PT
amazon-echo

This year has offered some brilliant lessons from a variety of vendors. Among them were a lot of lasting lessons like we had with 3D TVs, which pretty much bit the dust, and 4K TVs, which are doing reasonably well in light of what people actually learned.

After reflecting on the lessons of 2015, I'll end with my product of the week: an offering I've been using all year to manage all my social media posts, which has been incredibly handy.

Amazon Echo: You Can iPod the Living Room

I'm kind of surprised it took us so long to figure out that an iPod-like product with a Siri-like voice interface would be a massive hit in the home. As I write this, the numbers suggest the breakout product this holiday is an offering that combines a bit more functionality of the iPod with Siri -- and it doesn't come from Apple.

The Amazon Echo (pictured above) once again showcases that if you create something that is plug-and-play easy and does at least one thing folks want to do well, it will be a hit -- particularly if it also looks more like something you'd classify as art than something that looks like it was built by Frankenstein.

So, the recurring lesson is to build something that looks good, does something people already want to do, and is plug-in easy to implement. Why do so few companies still not get this?

Microsoft Surface 4

One of the really funny lessons this year was that when the iPad came out, a whole lot of people wanted an iPad to replace their laptop. Now, if you watched how they used the iPads, they used them with keyboards and as if they were laptops. What they were not so subtly saying was that they wanted a laptop that had the same battery life and light carry weight as a tablet.

Microsoft Surface Pro 4
Microsoft Surface Pro 4

It is kind of amazing that it took so long to build one, and that the firm that did it first wasn't Apple -- it was Microsoft. With the fourth generation of the Surface, Microsoft got it pretty much right in that it created a laptop with iPad-like specs, while Apple concluded what folks wanted was a bigger iPad.

I'm not sure we've seen the truly ideal product yet, which actually might be a laptop with iPad weight and battery life at an even more aggressive price. I expect we'll see it in 2016.

4K TVs vs. 3D and VR/AR

The lesson we don't seem to get is that people don't like wearing prosthetics. The problem with 3D TV was -- and is -- the damn glasses. A huge number of us don't like wearing them, and those who do wear glasses don't want to wear two pairs at once. Yet the industry launched a billion dollar effort to get us all to buy and use 3D TVS, and it died because of the damn glasses.

4K TVs have done OK, though, for a couple of reasons: First, you can get to more programming; and second, you don't have to wear glasses. Of course, we already are talking about 8K TVs -- but fortunately, it will be a couple of years before they are out in volume.

This same issue likely will be a problem both for virtual reality and augmented reality, and it's one that we really need to think through. Right now, the only way to get to either of those technologies is with even more expensive glasses. That suggests VR and AR initially may be far more successful for industrial uses than home uses, because companies can afford to buy better gear and the related apps save or make money.

Electric Cars May Not Make Sense Yet - but So What?

I'm not saying electric cars don't make sense -- but depending on where you live, they may not.

There was a huge rush to electric cars this year, but a couple of factors may have slowed the trend: Gas prices dropped like a rock, and charging stations started to get lines. Areas that seemed to need electric cars the most -- like China, due to its smog problem and high gas prices -- likely needed them the least, because the electricity they generate often is from very dirty coal-fired plants.

Having said that, the Tesla showcased that in the Luxury segment the demand can be sustained, because luxury car buyers buy for reasons other than gas mileage. Porsche finally figured that out, and it is rushing to market a Tesla killer. However, I think Hyundai may steal the market from both vendors with a design that covers full electric and both flavors of hybrid in one hot design.

Folks Don't Get Self-Driving Cars

This year I was overwhelmed with hypothetical scenarios that aimed to sort out the ethics of self-driving cars. For example, a self-driving car is barreling toward a school bus, and it must choose between killing its passengers or killing the kids.

Frightening self-driving scenarios came nonstop, even though the only ticket known to be written for a self-driving car was for driving too slow.

What folks don't get is that these cars won't overdrive their sensors, so the only way a scenario like the car-bus threat would happen would be if the car failed to detect black ice on a hill and went ballistic -- or if it were hacked. Otherwise, it always would be able to stop safely in time.

However, Chrysler showcased the hacking fear when it issued a massive recall. The real risk for self-driving cars is that hackers could make them homicidal. That possibility hasn't been vetted fully yet.

Invasion of the Drones

There were a lot of close calls with drones this year -- but fortunately, few major injuries. We are likely to be up to our armpits in drones before the end of the decade, but few seem to realize that if we can manage thousands of drones in cities, we also could manage flying people carriers.

In fact, a few generations out, delivery drones could be delivering us -- hopefully, not while we are dangling underneath. I'm not sure the military would have an issue with that, though. I think I'll pass on watching The Terminator again over the holidays.

Embrace and Extend Still Works

Microsoft's "Embrace, Extend and Extinguish" was one of the most powerful strategies ever fielded. The company used it very effectively against Lotus in the 1980s. Google used it against Apple when it launched Android -- and this year, BlackBerry used it.

BlackBerry used it, without the "Extinguish" part, with the Blackberry Priv -- my favorite phone of the year. The Priv showcases that you can take a platform and make it better, with the result being a blend of what you have and what the platform provides. The Priv couples Android apps with the Blackberry keyboard and productivity tools. It's an amazing phone.

blackberry-priv

Wrapping Up: It Was a Very Good Year

2015 was an amazing year. We made solid progress in entertainment, transportation and delivery of goods. We made a huge step toward a self-driving flying car solution that most likely don't see coming.

Next week, I'll look ahead to the amazing things we are likely to see in 2016, assuming we survive the U.S. presidential election. Hope you have a wonderful Christmas!!!

Rob Enderle's Product of the Week

As the end of the year approaches, it is time to look back and think about some of the products I couldn't live without.

Hootsuite

Hootsuite is one of those products. It connects to every site where I actively post pointers to my stories -- except Google+ -- and with one post hits Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

It saves me time, lets me know if there is someone I need to respond to, and it generally reduces my aggravation a great deal. In short, I don't think I could do my job effectively without Hootsuite. It's fast, easy, and in its basic form also free, so Hootsuite is my product of the week.


Rob Enderle is a TechNewsWorld columnist and the principal analyst for the Enderle Group, a consultancy that focuses on personal technology products and trends. You can connect with him on Google+.


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