I’ve been writing about technology for a long time and, as I look back over the years, I can’t think of any that have been more momentous than 2016 when it comes to tech news. Not all the news was good, but it sure was significant.
On the plus side, virtual reality started becoming real this year with the release of VR products like the Oculus Rift from Facebook and the Vive from HTC. These pricey headsets, starting around $600, immerse users into a 360-degree world that is rendered on the fly by an even more expensive high-end PC, required to use these devices. They are impressive, but because of the high price point, complicated setup and the need for a dedicated space to use them, they’re far from mass-market items.
Both Samsung and Google introduced new models of far less expensive VR headsets that work with their smartphones. I tried both — as well as the Vive and Oculus Rift. Though impressed, I personally don’t find the experience all that compelling.
I’m more enthusiastic about augmented reality (AR), which got a boost this year with the debut of the Microsoft HoloLens. AR is kind of a cousin to VR in that it, too, immerses you into an artificially created world, but it’s not necessarily full immersion. Unlike VR, AR goggles are transparent, so they can superimpose computer-generated images over your actual surroundings.
VR is great for gaming, but AR has a wide range of applications. These include education and training as well as enabling people to enhance their real-world surroundings, such as being able to “see inside” buildings and other nearby physical objects.
Larry speaks with CBS News National Correspondent Dan Raviv about 2016 in tech
Autonomous car technology got several boosts in 2016. Tesla rolled out its semi-autonomous autopilot software, making it possible for the car to practically drive itself in some instances. Drivers can pretty much take their hands off the wheel and feet off the pedals under certain conditions, such as when driving on a freeway.
Late this year, Tesla announced that all of the cars it’s now building have the hardware to become fully self-driving cars, even though the software isn’t quite ready. The company also started taking orders for its $35,000 Model 3 that should start coming out late in 2017.
Uber launched its fleet of autonomous vehicles (with human drivers as a backup) in 2016 in San Francisco and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, but not without push back from those who feel that the technology is not yet ready for prime time.
Unfortunately, 2016 also some saw bad news from the tech world, including those Samsung Galaxy Note 7 phones that caught fire and, in some cases, exploded. Samsung recalled the first batch of potentially overheating phones and replaced them with phones that had the same problems, including one that famously violated Southwest Airlines’ no-smoking rule by catching fire aboard a plane before take-off, causing the carpet to ignite and forcing the passengers to evacuate.
Chinese phone maker LeEco also ditched the headphone jack on its newest phone.
Apple also refreshed its MacBook Pro laptops with new models containing a Touch Bar, which replaces the function keys with electronic keys that adapt themselves to the task at hand. Those new models met with mixed reviews, including some that say the Touch Bar is not all that useful and several that complain about the price – $1,800 for the least expensive Touch Bar-equipped model.
Microsoft had a good year. Even though the Apple iPad and other tablets declined in sales, we’ve seen an uptake in Windows 10 machines that can convert between a full-featured laptop and a tablet. Some, like the Microsoft Surface Pro, have removable keyboards. Others, like the HP 360 Spectre and the Lenovo Yoga, have screens that can bend all the way around so that the laptop can be used like a tablet.
Presidential elections aren’t usually big tech stories, but 2016 was an exception. Donald Trump famously used Twitter during the campaign and as president-elect to connect directly with his millions of followers. Some of his tweets came in the middle of the night, sometimes with spelling errors and often with controversial or nasty comments aimed at his opponents and others, including a Gold Star family and a former Miss Universe.
But there’s hope. First Lady-elect Melania Trump has pledged to fight against cyberbullying.
The campaign also brought the news that the Russian government was likely behind the hacking of the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign officials, including campaign chairman John Podesta, whose hacked Gmail account spewed forth a trove of embarrassing emails.
Clinton’s use of a private server for emails while she had served as secretary of state also was a major issue that likely contributed to her loss.
And then there was “fake news,” which some say helped influence the election. It came in the form of stories – some critical of Hillary Clinton, but occasionally against Trump. These were published not just for political purposes, but because it can be profitable for those who publish the fake news articles and sell ads around them.
Facebook has said it will enable users to report fake news and will warn people who are about to share “disputed” stories, but it will neither delete them nor prevent people from sharing them.
As always, malware made the news. But this year, we had the Mirai IoT Botnet, which is the first massive attack on devices connected via the “internet of things,” where devices like security cameras were used to stage a major attack on high-profile websites.
The year 2016 also saw a rise in online trolling and nastiness, which brings to mind some good advice from the chorus of that popular New Year’s Eve song. “We’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet, for auld lang syne.”