Tech experienced a wild year in 2016, full of unexpected turns—from Samsung’s exploding smartphones to the shock of Brexit and its effect on London’s once-powerful startup culture. The question is: What can we learn from 2016’s most shocking tech moments as we look forward to 2017?
It’s true that year-end lists abound on the internet, especially when it comes to the tech industry. What happened? Why did it matter? What was trending and what was irrelevant? What did we not see coming? However, even by modern standards, 2016 was a particularly wild twelve months. Even if we had tried our hardest to foretell what the year that just was had in store, we probably would’ve missed the mark completely.
So is there anything to be gleaned from 2016’s wildest moments? Or are they just pages in the history books of the internet. Here’s a look at the year’s most unexpected, shocking, and destabilizing moments–and what the tech community can learn from them as it faces another rocky year ahead.
Instagram Made A Power Play
When Instagram rolled out its stories feature in August, the headline heard round the internet was “Instagram basically just released a carbon copy of Snapchat.” As the features kept coming, that assessment appeared more and more true, as the recent release of private disappearing messaging (another hallmark feature of Snapchat).
While the release raised a lot of questions about the long term viability of social media darling Snapchat—because Instagram essentially ripped off all of its unique selling points—it appears Snapchat is doing just fine. Apple recently announced that the number one free download in the App store in 2016 was Snapchat (Instagram was number 4).
Lesson to be learned: Carbon copying is a risky, though not fatal power play–and it’s anyone’s guess who comes out on top.
The Pokemon Go Moment
There was a two-week period in 2016 when it seemed that any human being with a smart phone had reverted to the mindset of a teenage boy. Indeed, the release of Pokemon Go—which was the first mainstream game to experiment with augmented reality—was nothing short of a sensation in 2016, and few people were prepared for the cultural moment it would unleash.
However, as things tend to do with the internet sensations, the moment went as quickly as it came. Even though the app remains the third most downloaded in the App Store this year, the pandemonium and rush of users it suddenly unleashed in July seems to have died down considerably since then.
Lesson to be learned: Novelty will drive downloads, but in order for something to have staying power, it has to offer more than just a fleeting moment of fun and hype-fueled mania.
Samsung Took A Major Reputation Hit
There were several moments of 2016 when it seemed like things couldn’t get much worse for Samsung from a PR perspective—until things did. The company’s struggle with the exploding Galaxy Note 7 simply never seemed to end, as each time it appeared under control things got worse.
The saga reached its embarrassing apotheosis when airlines began banning passengers from bringing the device onboard. While the long-term effects of this incident on Samsung’s share price has yet to be seen, it was certainly an unexpected bump in the road for a company that was trying to take on the smartphone giant that is Apple.
Lesson to be learned: Certain things are hard to recover from and exploding hardware is definitely one of them.
It had been quite a while since the Blackberry phone had been relevant or had a large usership, but until this year the company was still releasing its QWERTY keyboard phones, which were much-loved by a small dedicated fan base (which reportedly included Kim Kardashian). But in September the company announced it was no longer viable to continue producing the phones, and put the device to bed for good. The surprising thing was how many people were upset by the move. Proving that some brands manage to hold onto their cache long after mass usership has subsided.
Lesson to be learned: Giant tech brands with large followings all have a life cycle; in order to stay relevant, a dedicated niche fan base is not enough. Innovation is vital.
Europe’s Tech Hub In Question
At the start of the year, few people predicted that the UK would vote to leave the European Union in its June referendum. But once it did, London’s status as Europe’s undisputed tech capital came promptly into question. It will take a while before legislation and a concrete Brexit deal mean startups have to face whether they will be leaving London en masse, but the idea that another European city could be in the running was certainly unexpected.
Lesson to be learned: When it comes to geopolitics and its effect on the tech/startup culture, don’t assume anything (or place) is a given.
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