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The Verge 2017 tech report card: Gadgets

The Verge 2017 tech report card: Gadgets

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It’s been a pretty good year for gadgets. While the most popular gadget may have been the fidget spinner, there have been a number of devices released in 2017 that will make a lasting impact for years to come. From the Nintendo Switch, which turned out to be a major hit for the Japanese gaming company, to new smart home devices from companies like Nest and Arlo, to changes in policy around smart luggage that threaten industry leaders in the space, 2017 has been nothing if not exciting for gadget enthusiasts.

The biggest gadget win of the year is undoubtedly the Nintendo Switch. The portable gaming console landed in March and immediately made its mark as the best portable console in years. There have been very few gadgets that have launched with the impact of the Switch in recent memory; it’s easy to play (and keep charged) on the go, the controls are intuitive, and the flagship game for the console, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, may end up as the unanimous choice for game of the year.

Amazon released a smart speaker option for literally every part of your home

Outside of game play, Amazon released a huge hardware update for its Echo line this year, unveiling a smart speaker option for literally every part of your home. There’s the Echo Show for your kitchen, the Echo Spot for your bedroom, and Echo Look for your closet, and an Echo Plus that can operate as your smart home hub. It also updated the original Echo, giving it a smaller design with a fabric covering and improved speakers.

The new Echoes aren’t groundbreaking, but they don’t have to be, yet. Amazon is continuously iterating on its industry-leading smart speaker platform, and it’ll have to keep that up thanks to competition from the Google Home and Apple’s upcoming HomePod speaker.

While Nintendo and Amazon set the benchmarks this year, there were a bunch of smaller wins that made their imprint on 2017. In home security, Nest released its Cam IQ Outdoor camera which can use facial recognition to identify people on your property, as well as a full-fledged security system for your home. Netgear released the second generation of its Arlo Pro camera, the best wireless smart home camera option on the market. Amazon finally made a waterproof Kindle, 10 years after releasing the original ebook reader. Sonos released a speaker with Amazon’s Alexa built-in, while Google released its own high-end speaker to compete against it. And DJI released a tiny drone for $500 that anyone can fly.

RIP juicero

2017 could and should largely be considered a success in the gadget world, but as always there were a number of failures in the calendar year, including the massive implosion of Juicero. The company that raised nearly $100 million from venture capitalists to make a juicer was exposed after a Bloomberg report showed that the bags of fruits and vegetables it sold could just be squeezed by hand, rendering the $700 juicer obsolete. Then the CEO spewed things like, “The value of Juicero is more than a glass of cold-pressed juice,” the company cut prices on its machines, offered customers a refund, and then ultimately shut down five months later. It was a lesson to Silicon Valley (one they probably ignored but still) — just because it's “smart” doesn’t mean it's a good idea.

Juicero juicer

Last year, Snap Spectacles were considered a success; this year they crashed and burned to the tune of $40 million in losses for the company. Snap has hundreds of thousands of unused Spectacles sitting in warehouses that will seemingly go untouched, unless someone gets them to work with Instagram Stories.

Smart luggage took a major hit this year as well, with major airlines across the world banning luggage containing lithium-ion batteries from being checked or carried aboard. For some luggage makers like Away and Raden, it’s only a small hassle for owners, who can easily remove the battery and carry it on-board with them, which the airlines will allow. But for others like BlueSmart, it will be impossible for people who own their bags to check baggage, and will throw a major wrench into future sales, until they release new bags with removable batteries.

If 2016 was the resurrection of gadgets, 2017 was the refinement. Most gadgets got a little bit better, and the things we didn’t need were either removed by market forces or reined in by regulations. While there weren’t any groundbreaking technologies introduced in the gadget world this year, everything got a little bit better across the board. Hopefully next year we’ll be surprised with something unexpected and new.

Final grade: B+

B+ 2017 Grade

The Verge 2017 report card: Gadgets

Gold Stars

  • Iterative updates have been great
  • Big companies have invested in gadgets
  • Companies are being proactive with safety regulations for new gadgets
  • No major battery explosions!

Needs Improvement

  • Could always be more innovative
  • Startups like Juicero continue to be a scam
  • Niche areas like personal robot and weed gadgets still need work