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The Verge 2016 tech report card

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Another 12 months have flown by. As we look back at this year in tech, The Verge staff members are grading each major company and product category in the industry on how they fared in 2016.

  • Dec 31, 2016

    Adi Robertson, Chaim Gartenberg and 1 more

    The Verge 2016 tech report cards: Virtual reality, TV, and apps

    Oculus Rift
    Oculus Rift
    James Bareham

    Consumer VR has yet to establish itself as a viable commercial product or mass-market artistic medium, and it’s still possible that it never will. But there’s no denying that 2016 was a huge turning point, both socially and technologically. VR didn’t exactly soar this year — but it didn’t crash and burn, either.

    At the beginning of 2016, virtual reality was almost purely the province of developers, artists, and the lucky few who got to see their work. Concepts were usually more important than execution, and VR experiences didn’t have to be good, just novel. The only real options for most people to try it were the Samsung Gear VR, an interesting product with a lot of flaws, and the simple Google Cardboard.

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  • Dec 31, 2016

    Vlad Savov and Micah Singleton

    The Verge 2016 tech report cards: Headphones and streaming music

    focal headphones-news-Focal

    This has been a queer year for headphones. Two groundbreaking pairs of cans were introduced by an unlikely suspect, but with each of them commanding a four-figure price, those breakthroughs might as well not have happened for most people. Apple catalyzed the move toward wireless technology with its omission of a headphone jack in the iPhone 7, while a bunch of smaller players launched terrific wired options that fit into most people’s budgets. So just as it starts to seem like headphones are reaching a peak of consistently high quality, the tech industry is flipping everything on its head and giving us reason to consider buying yet more stuff.

    Firstly, we have to talk about the Focal Elear and Utopia. Yes, one of them costs $999 and the other one costs $3,999 (does it matter which is which?) but what they lack in affordability they make up for in having absolutely superb sound quality. French company Focal is much better known for making speakers than headphones, but their debut at the high end of the latter category has been nothing short of triumphant. Both headphones set new standards for what we can expect at their price points. And the reason mere mortals should care is that, beside the exotic materials, Focal has developed a lot of technological knowhow with these cans that the company’s designers say will inform their more affordable products in the future. Even if you never buy a pair, these headphones are a great harbinger of what’s to come.

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  • Dec 31, 2016

    Ashley Carman and Sean O'Kane

    The Verge 2016 tech report cards: Cameras and gadgets

    CB gadgets

    Two things immediately struck me when I walked onto the show floor at this year’s Photo Plus Expo. Nikon’s booth was all about the company’s new line of action cameras, including the one that shoots 360-degree photos and videos. Just across the way, Canon’s booth was covered in imagery of the M5, the company’s most serious attempt at making a mirrorless camera. These two companies put out fantastic flagship DSLRs in 2016 — Nikon with the D5, Canon with the 5D Mark IV — and yet here they were, showing off cameras that were decidedly not their moneymakers.

    2016 wasn’t a revolutionary year for cameras, but there were signs of big changes on the horizon. The Nikon D500 showed us that there’s a better way to mix Bluetooth and Wi-Fi with Snapbridge, setting a shining example of how cameras are going to connect to our smartphones in the near future. Sony released the A6500 and the RX100 Mark V, cameras that are capable of shooting at such ludicrous speeds that they have the potential to change the way we fundamentally approach photography. Snap pivoted to being a “camera company” and released Spectacles, compelling camera glasses that are easy to use even if you don’t use Snapchat.

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  • Ben Popper

    Dec 30, 2016

    Ben Popper

    The Verge 2016 tech report card: Drones

    2016 was a year of highs and lows for the drone industry. DJI led the way with Mavic Pro, a gadget that made huge improvements on the size and simplicity of a powerful camera drone. It fits into a jacket pocket while delivering four miles of range and advanced autonomous features.

    Unfortunately, while DJI was climbing to new heights, a lot of its competition stumbled badly. 3D Robotics, which last year seemed like the most promising competitor to the throne, more or less abandoned the consumer drone market after its Solo drone delivered disappointing sales. The heavy investment and manufacturing snafus that came with creating this product put 3D Robotics on the ropes.

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  • Jordan Golson

    Dec 30, 2016

    Jordan Golson

    The Verge 2016 tech report card: Tesla

    tesla (tesla facebook)

    In 2016, Tesla started to move into adulthood. Though the company hasn't been a startup for years (Tesla was founded in 2003), it's still a small fish in the world of car manufacturers. But it's getting bigger, and as it grows, Tesla is becoming a large company with consequential responsibilities.

    Grown-up companies can no longer blame problems on youth and inexperience. While Tesla has been experiencing some growing pains, especially around the rollout of the Model X, overall things seem to be going according to plan. Whether things will continue to go according to plan is the great question for 2017.

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  • Andrew J. Hawkins

    Dec 30, 2016

    Andrew J. Hawkins

    The Verge 2016 tech report card: Uber

    The Verge published an estimated 165 articles about Uber in 2016. To me, that seems low. So much Uber-related news happened this year, it boggles my mind: Lawsuits, self-driving cars, a new logo, new app, more lawsuits, new community guidelines, a murder spree, self-driving trucks, and finally, the first Uber gadget.  

    In many ways, the company strengthened its stranglehold on the ride-sharing industry by making deals and releasing products at a furious pace, all with the purpose of remaining the most widely used transportation service on the planet. Lyft and other competitors stayed in the game, and will remain a prominent thorn in Uber’s side, but there’s no question which company won the ride-sharing wars.

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  • Dan Seifert

    Dec 29, 2016

    Dan Seifert

    The Verge 2016 tech report card: Samsung

    Samsung Galaxy Note 7 pictures

    Samsung has always had a history of ups and downs, and that was none more evident than in 2016. The year started out remarkably strong for the company, and it put out impressive products that turned out to be huge hits with the buying public. But Samsung pushed its luck and got burned — literally.

    Samsung came out the gate running in 2016 with its Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge, launched in March. The pair proved to be the best smartphones Samsung had ever made, complete with great design, class-leading cameras, long battery life, and stunning displays. Samsung even brought back fan-favorite features that were dropped from prior phones, such as water resistance and expandable memory.

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  • Tom Warren

    Dec 29, 2016

    Tom Warren

    The Verge 2016 tech report card: Microsoft


    Microsoft used the past year to put some of its failures behind it, and paint a clearer picture of its future. That future looks a lot like artificial intelligence, augmented reality, and universal apps everywhere, and the software giant has been laying strong foundations towards it in 2016.

    While HoloLens was announced in 2015, Microsoft started shipping the head-mounted display to developers earlier this year. Microsoft is pushing its idea of mixed reality with devices like the HoloLens, but the company also revealed recently that it will support virtual reality headsets in Windows 10 in early 2017.

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  • Lauren Goode

    Dec 29, 2016

    Lauren Goode

    The Verge 2016 tech report card: Apple

    cook apple logo big

    For Apple, the year 2016 may be best remembered as the year the headphone jack was stripped away from the iPhone, without any real apology, by one of the few organizations that has the power and gall to kill popular consumer tech standards and call it “courage.” It was a year of awkward product launches, and it seemed that every new gadget was also coupled with disappointment.

    But 2016 was also the year that gadgets weren’t necessarily the most important thing at Apple. The company’s most critical moment actually had its roots in the end of 2015, and it’s something that may be of even more importance in 2017.

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  • Natt Garun

    Dec 28, 2016

    Natt Garun

    The Verge 2016 tech report card: Nintendo

    Nintendo stock

    From years of watching E3 and knowing deep down that every cool game being demoed from Nintendo won’t be released for at least another year (or two), the company was a refreshing surprise this year. By capitalizing on nostalgia, Nintendo made 2016 the year it truly got our inner kids excited again — even if the thrill was temporary.

    The Pokémon Go craze was cultural phenomenon despite the whole thing lasting about two months. Rarely do we see games that manage to get people outside and exploring the physical world with a sense of childlike discovery. With Niantic’s help, Pokémon Go turned augmented reality into something that finally felt accessible to the masses, applying technology in a way that made sense to just about everyone. Still, there were some frustrations with the game: the battle system is lackluster, you can’t trade pokémon with another player, and you can only catch so many Zubats in a day before fully quitting the journey to becoming a Pokémon Master.

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  • Nick Statt

    Dec 28, 2016

    Nick Statt

    The Verge 2016 tech report card: Twitter

    Twitter stock image

    It hasn’t been a stellar 12 months for Twitter. The company went public three years ago to a $25 billion valuation and the promise of growth that would launch it into the upper echelon of social networks. That vision hasn’t panned out, and 2016 furthered Twitter’s fate as a struggling Silicon Valley giant.

    Twitter has watched half of its market capitalization vanish. It’s also been plagued by leadership exits and reshuffles, which have only accelerated since original co-founder Jack Dorsey took the reins as the official CEO last fall. Twitter’s vice president of product position was filled and vacated numerous times, while two of the company’s most influential executives resigned back in January.

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  • Jacob Kastrenakes

    Dec 27, 2016

    Jacob Kastrenakes

    The Verge 2016 tech report card: Amazon

    Amazon stock image

    For a company best known for selling cheap books and home goods, Amazon's year has looked surprisingly futuristic. Its 2016 has been filled with drones, tiny home assistants, automatic ordering, and a concept store packed with body-tracking cameras. It has been, on the surface, a spectacle to watch.

    And some of it is even quite real. Amazon's Alexa assistant has been a runaway success in 2016, all thanks to regular updates providing new integrations. The debut of the Echo Dot has put Alexa's potential to even better use, making it far more affordable to have a digital assistant living throughout your house.

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  • Dieter Bohn

    Dec 27, 2016

    Dieter Bohn

    The Verge 2016 tech report card: Google

    In the back half of 2015, Google split itself up. There’s still the Google that makes the search engine, ads, and Android. But a bunch of “other stuff” got spun out into a new parent company, Alphabet. And it was very, very confusing.

    So 2016 was always going to be about a couple of core questions: would Alphabet make sense, and would Google get more “Googley” under its new CEO, Sundar Pichai? The answers to those questions turned out to not be a simple yes or no. Instead, we have had to rethink what these companies are, and where they’re going.

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  • Casey Newton

    Dec 26, 2016

    Casey Newton

    The Verge 2016 tech report card: Facebook


    Last year, with its profits surging and user base surpassing 1 billion, Facebook entered its imperial phase. The company launched, an ambitious effort to bring all of the world's people online, and built prototypes of a solar-powered drone that would help it do so. And growth continued into this year, with 1.18 billion daily users and profits that tripled in the most recent quarter.

    CEO Mark Zuckerberg, announced an even more ambitious goal for himself: curing all human disease. Meanwhile Aquila, its internet drone, got in the air for the first time. The company's subsidiaries all made progress, to varying degrees: Oculus, its virtual-reality arm, hit store shelves. Instagram doubled its user base over a two-year period, aided by its decision to strip-mine the most successful parts of Snapchat and insert them into the app. WhatsApp hit 1 billion users and outlined a plan to eventually make money by connecting users with businesses.

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  • Thomas Ricker

    Dec 26, 2016

    Thomas Ricker

    The Verge 2016 tech report card: Snap

    snap spectacles

    Snapchat's the cool kid in school. So on trend, that in 2016 it decided to go by its nickname "Snap" to disassociate itself from chat. It worked for Cher when she dropped the "Sonny &," and it worked for Apple when it dropped "Computer" to more closely align with its broader ambitions.

    Snap is already slinking its way into consumer electronics with the launch of the brilliantly marketed Spectacles in November. The colorful $130 sunglasses were initially only available from a single bright yellow vending machine in Venice Beach, California. Lines formed immediately, driving the price up to several hundred dollars on the grey market. Even now, more than a month later, supply is so constrained and demand so high that the specs still sell for nearly double the price on sites like eBay. Snap's not making iPhone money off the effort yet, but it sure is stoking desire. And its timing is impeccable.

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