2020 recap for tech: This year has been a roller coaster ride for everyone. The pandemic restricted everyone to the boundaries of their homes for a better part of the year, making economies and various industries to come to a staggering halt. However, soon after, technology overtook the world as work from home ensued for virtually every field, barring essential services. Thus, amid the pandemic, the tech industry soared. But it also struggled to get all the services across to billions of customers so quickly without any glitches. Another segment within the industry looked at providing entertainment to customers at their homes and on their TV as well as smartphone screens so that the stress of the situation could be relieved a little. If there is a year to look at the tech industry, it’s this one. So here are all major tech events that shaped 2020.
Work from home: The rise and rise of video conferencing
Soon after lockdowns started to begin in one country after another, Zoom entered like a knight in shining armor to provide a video conferencing solution that would make work from home much easier. Though it has existed since 2011, people seldom needed such a platform before on such a wide scale. As Zoom became a common official video meeting platform, people also started using it for personal communication, foregoing Google Duo and WhatsApp video. Soon, Microsoft and Google caught up, pitting their Teams and Meet, respectively, against Zoom making these services available for more people.
While Zoom gained a lot of popularity due to its virtually ‘free’ nature, soon, privacy concerns and instances of video calls being hacked and hijacked started doing rounds on Zoom, giving Teams and Meet a golden opportunity to take over while Zoom was down. While safety concerns pushed many away from Zoom, the stronghold of Google brought Meet to the centre-stage. Zoom soon addressed the privacy concerns and the users are now mainly divided among these three platforms, with all competing against each other by amping up security measures and bringing in innovative features like virtual backgrounds and noise cancellation. By the end of the year, Google made Meet its only platform for official as well as personal video communication.
Also read | Virtual meetings: Tech giants in a race to provide best video call experience
On the other hand, Facebook-owned WhatsApp and Messenger also brought changes to the video calling feature for personal communication. WhatsApp increased the limit on the number of participants, while Facebook launched Messenger Rooms to take on its competitors.
The mega Twitter hack
In July, Twitter saw an unprecedented attack that led to the accounts of several prominent and eminent personalities being hacked. These included former US President Barack Obama, now US President-elect Joe Biden, Tesla CEO Elon Musk and Microsoft Founder Bill Gates. The hack left everybody shocked since verified accounts of prominent and eminent personalities are usually made additionally safe due to the influence of these people.
Twitter identified that the hack took place after the hackers had been able to access the admin tool of the microblogging site, which meant that the attackers controlled everything on the website.
Also read | Twitter: Hack hit 130 accounts, company ’embarrassed’
Following this major hack, not just Twitter but other platforms like Facebook also spent the year enhancing the security features on their platforms, with Facebook recently having decided to allow all users access to the physical key authentication feature, while also expanding Facebook Protect to include more categories of people like journalists and politicians worldwide rather than limiting it to politicians in the US.
Move away from chipmakers
This year, tech enthusiasts finally got the confirmation from Apple that it would be moving away from Intel processors in favour of its own in-house chips. Not only that, by the end of the year, Cupertino also launched its line-up of new Macbooks which are fitted with its own chips. Apple was not quite happy with Intel processors, which it has been using since 2005, due to less significant performance gains over the years. Thus, it decided to go the iPhone and iPad way and started working on its own custom silicon that would enhance the performance of its flagship computers. It had been working on the chip – M1 – for years and finally launched it in November this year with the new Macbooks.
Still, Cupertino is at least two years away from complete transitioning from Intel.
Earlier this month, Apple announced that it would also be moving towards in-house modem chips for its iPhones instead of the currently used Qualcomm ones, and the development works for the modem chip have been kicked off by the iPhone maker. Since it is in the development stage, it could take years before the transition actually takes place, but the move is also significant since it shows Cupertino’s intention to possibly have only ‘Apple’ in its products.
However, it is not just the iPhone maker that is moving away from chipmakers.
Also read | After Apple, Amazon set to switch to in-house chips; Announces shift of Alexa work from Nvidia to Inferentia
Soon after Apple launched the new Macs, technology giant Amazon announced that it would be transitioning some of its processing work for Alexa away from chipmaker Nvidia’s processors to its own custom ones – Inferentia. So far, Amazon has only announced a part of the processes being moved, but the long-term plans, if any in this regard, are not known.
Facebook vs Apple: The tale of user privacy
Over the years, Apple has openly criticised Facebook for its policy of tracking user movement irrespective of whether they are on or off Facebook-owned products. Facebook said that this was to provide users with more targeted ads, which according to it helped numerous small businesses. However, it didn’t bode well with Apple that the onus of blocking apps from tracking user data fell on the users because many apps had default settings to track user movement and data. So, this year, it announced the launch of iOS 14, which would ban Facebook and all apps from tracking user data unless the user gives explicit permission to them. At the moment, several apps, including Facebook, have a nexus where they share user data among each other if they are partners.
Also read | Facebook is upset with Apple because new iOS update allows iPhone users to opt out of tracking
Apple decided to put a stop to it on its iPhones, and said that it believed the absolute right over user data belonged with the user, who should have the power whether they wish to authorise such intrusive form of tracking or not.
While Apple was in no way stopping Facebook from tracking users if the customers so desired, it was followed by a hue and cry from Facebook’s side, which indicated that Cupertino had struck a nerve. And that is true after all. A majority of Facebook’s revenue comes from the targeted ads segment and with Apple’s decision, Facebook would lose a hefty share. Therefore, Facebook took to full-page newspaper ads to criticise Apple, posing Cupertino as a company which stood against small businesses, while Facebook protected their interests. Not one to stay down, Apple hit back saying that it was a simple matter of protecting the interests of its customers, which Facebook was in violation of.
At the end, it is yet to be determined who is winning, but if reports are to be believed, even Facebook’s employees are siding with Cupertino.
India vs China, US vs China: The big bans
Amid tensions between India and China at the Ladakh border, India took an unprecedented decision and banned 59 apps with links to China for allegedly functioning against the nation’s interest earlier this year. This has been followed by the banning of several more apps owned by China-based companies, taking the total to well over 100 apps.
The major shocker, however, was that among those apps was ByteDance-owned TikTok, which gained rapid popularity among the people of India especially during the lockdown. The ban, then, led to some protest from users, as well as a huge gap for several others to try and fill. As a result, several local alternatives to TikTok like Mitron and Chingari cropped up. Moreover, giants like YouTube and Instagram also borrowed the idea.
Also read | India bans 118 more Chinese mobile apps including PUBG Mobile over privacy concerns
Another big move was that the government banned PUBG’s mobile version, which also had a China connection. This led to a louder outcry on social media, but when the government refused to budge, it ultimately died down, since at the end of the day, the desktop version of the game was available. Moreover, PUBG’s indigenous alternative FAU-G was also announced by a Bengaluru-based company. Apart from that, PUBG could also return after the game developed PUBG Corporation got the approval from Centre to set up a subsidiary registered in India, which was finalised in November. This has brought the return of PUBG to mobiles of Indian players closer.
Apart from India, the US also took action against China after their long-standing feud over trade tariffs and eventually, the coronavirus pandemic which the US blamed China for. Soon after the ban in India, the US also refused to allow ByteDance to operate TikTok there until ByteDance sold the operations to a US-based company. While a court favoured TikTok earlier this month, the administration led by outgoing President Donald Trump is still contesting the ruling.
Meanwhile, the US also sanctioned China’s Huawei, citing national interest, following which Huawei decided to sell its Honor smartphone brand to revive it.