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From Zoom to Quibi, the tech winners and losers of 2020 – WHYY


We streamed, we Zoomed, we ordered groceries and houseplants online, we created virtual villages while navigating laptop shortages to work and learn from home. When it comes to technology, 2020 was a year like no other.

Here are the year’s tech winners and losers:

Losers

Virtual Reality

As the world adjusted to a new stuck-at-home reality, the pandemic could have been virtual reality’s chance to offer an escape. With the use of special headsets and accouterments like gloves, the technology lets people interact with a 360 degree view of a three-dimensional environment, seemingly a good fit for people stuck indoors.

But people turned to easier-to-use software and games that they already had. Few rushed to spend hundreds of dollars on a clunky new headset or tried to learn the ropes of virtual reality meeting software. And no VR games broke into the mainstream. So virtual reality, on the verge of success for decades, missed its moment, again.

Social media election labels

It was the year of labels on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and even TikTok. Ahead of the Nov. 3 U.S. presidential vote, the companies promised to clamp down on election misinformation, including baseless charges of fraud and candidates’ premature declarations of victory. And the most visible part of this was the bevy of labels applied to tweets, posts, photos and videos.

“Some or all of the content shared in this Tweet is disputed and might be misleading about an election or other civic process,” read one typical label applied to a tweet by President Donald Trump.

But many experts said that while the labels made it appear that the companies were taking action, ”at the end of the day it proved to be pretty ineffective,” as Jennifer Grygiel a professor at Syracuse University and social media expert, put it.

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Before users can retweet something labeled as misinformation, they will see an alert that the tweet is “disputed” and possible links to “reliable” information. (Twitter)

Quibi

Less than a year ago, Quibi launched a splashy Super Bowl ad that posed the question “What’s a Quibi?” People may still be scratching their heads.

Quibi, short for “quick bites,” raised $1.75 billion from investors including major Hollywood players Disney, NBCUniversal and Viacom.

But the service struggled to reach viewers, as short videos abound on the internet and the coronavirus pandemic kept many people at home. It announced it was shutting down in October, just months after its April launch.

Uber and Lyft

Fresh off of their initial public offerings the year before and still struggling to show they can be profitable, the ride-hailing services were clobbered by the pandemic in 2020, as people stopped taking cars and huddled down at home.

In May, Uber laid off 3,700 people, or about 14% of its workforce. Lyft also announced job cuts.

But there are some signs of hope. After significantly reducing costs by restructuring in the second quarter, Lyft said last month it expects to have its first profitable quarter at the end of 2021. And the companies scored a major victory in California, where voters passed Proposition 22, granting them an others an exception to a law that sought to classify their drivers as employees, an expense that analysts thought would have pummeled their business in the nation’s most populous state.

A Lyft logo is installed on a Lyft driver's car next to an Uber sticker
In this Jan. 31, 2018, file photo, a Lyft logo is installed on a Lyft driver’s car next to an Uber sticker. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo, file)

U.S. TikTok ban

While India outlawed the popular video-sharing app, in the U.S. TikTok appears close to riding out Donald Trump’s term without the president succeeding in his efforts to ban it.

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Earlier this month, a federal judge blocked a potential ban. It was the latest legal defeat for the administration in its efforts to wrest the app from its Chinese owners. In October, another federal judge postponed a shutdown scheduled for November.

TikTok and WeChat apps
Icons for the smartphone apps TikTok and WeChat are seen on a smartphone screen Aug. 7, 2020. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

Meanwhile, a government deadline for TikTok’s parent, ByteDance to complete a deal that would have Oracle and Walmart invest in TikTok has also passed, with the status of the deal unclear.

While President-elect Joe Biden has said TikTok is a concern, it’s not clear what his administration will carry on the Trump administration’s attempts at a ban.

Winners

Nintendo Switch

Even in a year heralding splashy new consoles from Xbox and PlayStation, the Nintendo Switch was the console that could. Launched in 2017, the Switch became a fast seller. That was helped by the launch of the handled Switch Lite in September 2019.

In March, it became hard to find a Switch as people searched for ways to be entertained inside their homes. Boosting its popularity was the release of island-simulation game “Animal Crossing: New Horizons,” which debuted March 20 and has now sold a cumulative 26 million units globally, according to Nintendo.

According to the NPD Group, during the first 11 months of 2020, Nintendo Switch sold 6.92 million units in the U.S. It has been the best-selling console in units sold for 24 consecutive months, a record.



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