Update Mobility: The Year in Mobile

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

As the end of December approaches, it’s time to take a look at the year that was. In a lot of ways, 2013 was a status quo year for mobile, with nothing earthshaking to report, just a steady progression of what already is getting more, um, is-y?

We started the year with Apple on top in the tablet space, Android on top in the handset space, and that’s how we ended the year. Microsoft appears to have abandoned the handset space after a decade of attempts to take market-share, and made their move on the tablet space instead with the Surface. In spite of expensive choreographer board room commercials, the Surface didn’t make a huge dent in Apple’s iPad dominance. But Microsoft did better than Blackberry, whose frantic flailing in the market has come to represent nothing so much as a fish out of water.

Microsoft also bought Nokia, although it remains unclear what the end-game is there. The Lumia is, by all reports, a nice phone, but I have yet to see a non-Microsoft employee with a Windows phone in the wild. Of course, there are a ton of Android phones out there, but OS fragmentation continues to be a pressing concern for developers, along with the realization that an unpatrolled App Store can lead to all sorts of mischief.

Apple was not without their share of headaches, either. The minimalist iOS7 redesign was not as universally lauded as the lads from Cupertino might have liked, and it caused no end of headaches for their developer community. The fingerprint sensor on the 5S remains little more than a novelty at the moment due to a lack of API support, and the low-priced 5C appears to have been outsold by the 5S, which led to shortages. The most game-changing release from Apple this year is probably iBeacon support, but since many Android devices already support Bluetooth Low Energy, it’s more of an endorsement of a technology than a pioneering move.

The thing that never seems to change in Mobile is the continual patent cold-war. You needed a bingo card to keep track of who was in court against whom, and when the manufacturers weren’t suing each other, they were being sued by third-party trolls (and legitimate patent holds, to boot!) One wonder what a world will be like if significant patent reform is enacted, and the industry has to compete on features rather than injunctions.

Finally, this was the year that wearable computing took it’s first baby steps out of the land of MIT fashion shows and onto consumer’s bodies. There are now smart watches, glasses, and soon rings. The idea has finally sunk in that you don’t need a full 7″ display on your arm to be useful, you just need enough information for the things you check all the time. And with the Oculus Rift and Google Glass both pushing the AR/VR concept into consumer price ranges, we should start seeing more and more people walking around with an enhanced version of reality.

Next week, I’ll put on my special chronomagical heads-up display and try to look ahead into 2014.

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