TEHRAN (FNA)- With 2013 coming to a close, it's time to look back at some of the bigger stories in tech. What were people talking, tweeting, and writing about? What changed the industry? Let's dive in.
Certainly, there were a number of major smartphone and tablet releases this year. But they weren't necessarily all that surprising. We had a Galaxy S III and Galaxy Note 2 last year, so it was pretty clear we'd be seeing a Galaxy S4 and Galaxy Note 3 in 2013. And for all the Apple rumors, we ended 2013 with a new iPhone launch in September and a new iPad launch in October Â€“ just like last year. It was also time for a new Nexus 7 this summer, not to mention the latest versions of iOS and Android. So while those stories all certainly got their share of headlines, and contributed greatly to the year in tech (and our holiday wish lists), they weren't necessarily the ones that made you do a double take or say "whoa" when it showed up on your Twitter feed. Read on for our picks for the top 10 tech news stories of 2013. 1. CONSOLE WARS BEGIN ANEW: Waiting two years for a new smartphone can be so tortuous for some techies that carriers this year started offering early upgrade programs. But gamers have been much more patient, playing on systems that haven't seen a major refresh since the mid-2000s. That changed this year, however, with the November launch of the Microsoft Xbox One and Sony PlayStation 4. Both companies slowly leaked details about their new consoles throughout the year, and that slow burn seems to have done the trick. When the consoles hit store shelves, consumers snapped up millions of them in just a few days. It's still too close to tell who is winning the console wars, though the PS4 appears to have a small lead, according to NPD. For more, check out Why the Xbox One Is Better Than the PS4. 2. BALLMER RETIRES: In the face of lackluster response for Windows 8 and Windows Phone, there was talk about whether CEO Steve Ballmer should be held accountable. But after he outlined his "One Microsoft" strategy in July, many thought he would be given time to see it through. By August, however, Ballmer announced that he would retire within the year, clearly a tough decision for the Redmond veteran. But business is business. While Microsoft has slowly been making headway in mobile, and Windows 8.1 fixed some of the problems with the new operating system, it was not enough. The Microsoft board is currently in the process of finding a replacement for Ballmer - and rumors have focused on everyone from Ford's Alan Mulally to former Nokia CEO Stephen Elop - but an announcement is not expected until 2014. 3. MICROSOFT BUYS NOKIA: Speaking of Nokia, Ballmer's impending departure did not prevent Microsoft from putting in a $7.2 billion bid for Nokia's handset business. The move wasn't that shocking - Nokia committed to Windows Phone several years ago - which makes this the "slowest major merger in tech history," PCMag's Sascha Segan joked "Microsoft has a clearer path to success now, but it's far from guaranteed," he warned. Thus far, the deal has earned the go-ahead from a variety of regulatory agencies, but still has a few more hurdles until it closes next year. For more, check out With Nokia Buy, Microsoft Poised to Rule Enterprise Mobile. Honorable mention on the acquisition front: Yahoo's$1.1 billion Tumblr purchase and Google re-awakening our Terminator nightmares by purchasing Boston Dynamics. 4. GOOGLE BARGE: Perhaps Google will be housing its robot army on its mysterious barges? In October, reports emerged of a barge in the San Francisco Bay that apparently belonged to Google. Given that the search giant had secured a patent for water-powered data centers several years ago, that seemed like the logical conclusion. But Google later revealed that the barges would be an "interactive space" to showcase its new technology. "Google Barge Â€¦ A floating data center? A wild party boat? A barge housing the last remaining dinosaur? Sadly, none of the above," a spokesman said last month. "Although it's still early days and things may change, we're exploring using the barge as an interactive space where people can learn about new technology." That will likely include Google Glass, but hopefully not a self-driving car, unless it's James Bond's Lotus submarine. 5. BLACKBERRY'S CONTINUED DEMISE: Poor BlackBerry. It was once the smartphone to have, in large part because it was the only one that would support your work email. But with the enterprise embracing iOS and Android, and BlackBerry failing to wow consumers with BlackBerry 10, Thorsten Heins this year could not return the Canadian phone maker to its heyday. By August, it was exploring "strategic alternatives" and entertained a buyout deal from Fairfax Financial, which would have taken BlackBerry private. Ultimately, however, Fairfax decided to invest $1 billion in BlackBerry rather than purchase it. That deal meant that Heins was out and John Chen was in as CEO, but it remains to be seen if that will help the struggling company. The one bright light? BlackBerry Messenger (BBM), which was released on iOS and Android this year, and appears to be popular. BlackBerry also inked a deal with Foxconn for a smartphone deal in Indonesia, a BlackBerry stronghold. But it's far from catching up to Android or iOS, and even Windows Phone in some markets. 6. TWITTER IPO: Micro-blogging site Twitter had a much better year than BlackBerry, going public in early November after just seven years of 140-character status updates. After Facebook's troubled debut on the NASDAQ, all eyes were on Twitter and the New York Stock Exchange on Nov. 7, but the company had a strong opening at $26 per share, resulting in a new group of Internet startup millionaires. Around the same time, the origins of Twitter were chronicled in a juicy tell-all book from New York Times reporter Nick Bilton, Hatching Twitter, which was recently optioned by Lionsgate for a TV show. But gossip aside, Twitter continued to be a Silicon Valley powerhouse in 2013, which also saw the release of the company's six-second Vine video app - a move that prompted Facebook-owned Instagram to get on the horn and unveil its own 15-second video option. 7. T-MOBILE DITCHES CONTRACTS: The two-year wireless contract has become de rigeur for cell phone owners in the U.S. On the upside, you get a subsidized phone - so you'll pay $200 instead of $600 for that new iPhone. If you have a change of heart in the middle of those two years, however, tough luck unless you want to pay a hefty early termination fee (ETF). T-Mobile this year turned that idea on its head, eliminating contracts to become the "un-carrier." Customers on T-Mobile now pay a gadget down payment (usually around $99) and can then pay off the cost of their device in monthly payments or purchase it upfront. But there's no contract. Also this year, T-Mobile started offering free 2G Internet service to customers traveling abroad and 200MB of free monthly tablet data. This and other moves, according to PCMag's Sascha Segan, prompted other wireless carriers to rethink a few things, proving that "competition works," he said. One thing that won't work, Segan said, is the rumored acquisition of T-Mobile by Sprint. 8. NSA SPYING: In June, The Guardian published a story that said Verizon had been ordered to hand over three months worth of customer call records to the National Security Agency (NSA). Shortly thereafter, The Washington Post said the NSA was tapping directly into the servers of nine U.S. Internet firms for a program known as PRISM. The information was turned over to these and other publications by Edward Snowden, an NSA contractor who took off for Hong Kong before the information was made public. Since June, more and more data from Snowden has been published by papers around the globe. The feds argue that the release of this information is a threat to national security, while supporters say Snowden is a hero for bringing the NSA's practices to light. The tech community, meanwhile, is currently pushing the feds for permission to more widely disclose their national security-related dealings with the NSA or FBI, but has thus far not been successful. 9. ELECTRONICS ON PLANES: When Edward Snowden departed Hawaii for Hong Kong (and later Russia), he and his fellow passengers likely had to power down electronics upon take-off and landing. Travelers have long wondered why this was necessary, with many leaving gadgets powered on in their bags, to prove a point, if nothing else. Finally, after a lengthy review, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in October finally gave the OK for customers to continue reading their Kindles or watching a movie on the iPad from gate to gate, provided those devices are in airplane mode. Later, the Federal Communications Commission also voted to review the use of cell phones on planes, which caused an uproar among those who feared having to listen to their seatmates' inane cell phone banter on a cross-country flight. The FCC, however, said that it will be the discretion of the airline as to whether they allow voice calls. Delta has already said it will ban them. 10. WEARABLE TECH: Holding things in your hands is so 2012. This year was all about "wearable tech," from Google Glass to fitness gadgets to smartwatches. Here at PCMag, we were all eager to try on Google Glass, while many are wandering the halls with a Fitbit, Nike+ Fuelband, or Basis device clipped to our clothing. Others still secured a Pebble smartwatch, or gave the Galaxy Gear a go. For now, however, many of these devices are still novelties. The Galaxy Gear still needs some work, according to our review, and Glass is still very pricey at $1,500 (not to mention, only available to a select few). But even Tim Cook has deemed the wearables market "interesting," so keep an eye on the space. We may get that mythical iWatch yet. Â Â Â