Boiling an entire year's worth of industry events into a single post doesn't do justice to the accomplishments contributed by all of the people involved, but there were five stories that stood above the rest in scale and importance to the industry. Here they are.
1. Android domination. Android's success is unparalleled. It had zero market presence three years ago, and has since ousted every major platform to become the number-one smartphone system sold. Android's ascent only recently curtailed a bit, but Google is still activating new Android devices at the rate of 550,000 per day with no signs of slowing down.
[ What will 2012 bring? See Gartner's 2012 Forecast: Cloudy, With Widespread Consumerization. ]
Beyond the raw numbers, Google revealed its best work yet in Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, the newest version of Android. Right now, Android 4.0 is available only in the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, but that is sure to change come 2012. Android has seeped into all sorts of devices beyond phones, including media players, tablets, watches, and more.
The year 2011 belonged to Android and 2012 probably will, too.
2. AT&T/T-Mobile merger. Whether you were for it or against it, AT&T failed to acquire T-Mobile USA. The acquisition plan was first revealed in March and played out all year long, step-by-step as the process unfolded.
The deal was an attempt to consolidate the second- and fourth-largest U.S. wireless carriers into a single behemoth that would have wielded enormous market power. The Department of Justice and Federal Communications Commissions, after reviewing the deal for months, decided it was a bad idea. AT&T gave up, $4 billion poorer thanks to its break-up fee with Deutsche Telekom.
3. Good tablets, bad tablets, ugly tablets. At CES 2011 way back in January, electronics companies introduced 50 new tablets. Fifty! Few of them were successful. The tablet field started the year crowded with hopefuls, but in the end, only a few struggled to remain. The stand-outs are the Motorola Xoom, Samsung Galaxy Tab, Apple iPad 2, Research In Motion PlayBook, and the HP TouchPad. Even this motley crew experienced turbulence.
The Apple iPad 2 is by far the dominant tablet player in the tablet space, selling in the tens of millions. Samsung's Galaxy Tab is a distant second. The bad news is that RIM has nearly sunk its own ship attempting to sell the bombed PlayBook. Worse, HP killed off its TouchPad tablet after it had been in the market for barely a month.
As much as we hate to say it, Steve Jobs was right about 2011: It's the year of the iPad 2--at least as far as tablets are concerned.
4. Four-G fight. Mobile and wireless technologies have come a long way. Right now, the wireless network operators are racing to build out their fourth-generation mobile broadband networks. AT&T is deploying HSPA+ and LTE; Sprint is working to switch from WiMax to LTE; T-Mobile is throttling up its HSPA+ network; and Verizon Wireless is well on its way to dominating the 4G field with its LTE network.
This strength of their respective 4G networks will play a major role in how each of the carriers moves through 2012. Verizon has the strongest foundation. Beyond the networks themselves, some of the year's most exciting and advanced devices included 4G in one form or another. 2011 was a banner year for the growth of 4G in the U.S.
5. iPhone 5. Yes, I know there is no iPhone 5. As Google noted in this year's Zeitgeist, the iPhone 5--something that doesn't exist--was the sixth-most searched item on Google this year.
"Consumers and analysts alike anticipated the release of Apple's newest smartphone many months prior to its arrival," said Google. "Rumored features included a larger screen, edge-to-edge glass, an 8-megapixel camera, and extensive voice controls. Many believed the phone would be called the iPhone 5."
And yet it didn't happen. Instead, we got the iPhone 4S, an iPhone 4 with a spec bump and a talking assistant.
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