Looking Back At 2011

Looking Back At 2011

2011 is about to come to an end, and it’s been an impressive year for us. We’ve grown more than 50% year-over-year, while the adoption of smartphones is also growing like crazy, with Android coming out on top in terms of marketshare, Windows Phone going from very small to very small, and Windows Mobile finally fading into irrelevance. And that August 2011 was probably the most eventful month in tech history…

So, let’s take a look at what happened this year, from a smartphone enthusiast’s standpoint. Make yourself comfortable, for it’s a long read.

HTC HD2 still popular

Surprisingly, despite a slew of new Android devices released this year, none of them managed to surpass a now two-year old device, one that originally shipped with Windows Mobile, in terms of popularity and development activity here on xda-developers. It’s the HTC HD2.

This was in no doubt helped by some big breakthroughs that happened just around the beginning of 2011: MAGLDR was released, allowing you to boot directly into Android and thus completely bypass Windows Mobile; a few weeks later, Windows Phone 7 was ported. But I won’t go into too much detail here – I’ve previously written a 2,000-word essay about the story of the HTC HD2, in case you’re interested.

The patent wars…

Google has certainly earned a lot of goodwill from enthusiasts by keeping Android open source. However, not only has a study found that Android is, by far, the least open among seven other open source projects including Linux, Mozilla and Symbian, but it also seems to infringe lots of patents.

The Android patent saga didn’t begin this year: Apple sued HTC back in March 2010, and Oracle filed its lawsuit against Google five months later, in August. However, it was only with the aggressive suing and counter-suing between Apple and Samsung, started by the former in April 2011, that the whole thing really blew up. Dubbed as the “patent wars”, they are currently being fought out in nearly two dozen lawsuits in at least ten countries all over the world, with the outcome still very much open.

…make Google buy Motorola

In August, presumably to protect Android and its hardware partners, Google surprisingly bought Motorola Mobility, which owns over 17,000 patents and has several thousand more pending, compared to the less than 1,000 patents Google holds. This led to speculation that Google might either kill off Motorola’s unprofitable hardware business in order to focus on its patents, or utilize its hardware business to manufacture its own Android devices.

So far, neither has happened. In fact, it’s both unclear whether Motorola’s patents are really strong enough to fend off Apple, Oracle and Microsoft, and Motorola still makes its own devices, with the newest Google Nexus device actually coming from Samsung.

Android grows up…

Yes, again. Last year’s Nexus S introduced us to Android 2.3 Gingerbread, originally rumored to be the major overhaul that Android 3.0 Honeycomb partially turned out to be. But Honeycomb was designed exclusively for tablets, and never gained much traction with developers or consumers – Android 4.0, also known as Ice Cream Sandwich and launched on the Galaxy Nexus, set out to change this.

It not only unified smartphone and tablet versions, but finally managed to overcome Android’s biggest weakness to date: its UI, which was overly complex, inconsistent, and laggy. Ice Cream Sandwich still may not be as polished as iOS or as beautiful as Windows Phone 7, but with all of Android’s other strengths, it has in many ways surpassed the competition.

…while HTC struggles

Ah, HTC, that obscure Taiwanese OEM turned billion-dollar smartphone behemoth. Its brand name is now more valuable than that of Acer, and it has had record quarter after record quarter. But not anymore – its projection for the fourth quarter is negative.

Of course, that’s due in part to the highly anticipated launch of the iPhone 4S, but Samsung is still doing fine; since they introduced the Galaxy S and were chosen as the second manufacturer for a Nexus device, they’ve surpassed HTC both in marketshare and popularity in our forums. That’s because HTC is lacking in innovation: it can neither compete with Apple in terms of industrial design, nor with Samsung in terms of specifications. Just look at the Rezound, which has similar specs to the Galaxy Nexus, but is about ten times as thick.

With smartphones going mainstream, HTC has gone mainstream. Unfortunately, without other businesses besides smartphones to bring in money, it doesn’t seem too competitive right now. Hopefully, their strategy for the new year of bringing fewer, but better phones will turn them around.

Nokia goes Windows Phone…

In February, a rallying memo by Nokia CEO Stephen Elop, who previously worked for Microsoft, leaked. In the memo, he compared Nokia to a man standing on a burning platform, who had no choice but to jump into the ice-cold water to be rescued. It was a brutally honest comparison, acknowledging that Symbian simply had no chance in the smartphone market – it was the burning platform. And, a few days later at Nokia World, it turned out that Windows Phone would be the ice-cold water.

Meanwhile, Windows Phone 7 got off to a rocky start. Praised for its Metro design language, but hampered by a lack of basic features, it launched with little fanfare, and reports further indicated that retail sales persons actively pushed people away from Windows Phone to Android, telling potential customers that it was laggy and had viruses. There was a big perception problem, and sales were abysmal. Furthermore, the first update, NoDo, which, among others, brought copy-and-paste, was heavily delayed by carriers, despite the initial promise of unified and timely updates.

Things started to get better with the first big update called Mango, which bumped the version number to Windows Phone 7.5. It generally received critical acclaim, and rolled out within a few weeks in late September and early October to all devices, adding lots of improvements and new features such as multitasking. Starting in October, the second wave of Windows Phones was introduced. The spec bumps were only minor, but the devices were still big improvements over the first generation; standing out, of course, was Nokia’s new Lumia 800, with its universally praised industrial design.

…and Windows 8 too

In September, at its first BUILD conference, Microsoft showed off Windows 8. It’s still going to be Windows, but with a Metro-layer underneath that looks and feels very similar to Metro on Windows Phone, and will run on both x86 and ARM processors. The traditional desktop is still there, at least on x86-based machines, but relegated to the same status as other Metro apps. With further decreased system requirements, Microsoft hopes that Windows 8 can be successful on both tablets and traditional PCs, though there are doubts whether the Metro interface is really suited for regular desktops.

Whether you like it or not, you’ll probably have to get accustomed to Metro, as Microsoft is fully embracing it. Even the Xbox got a Metro-style overhaul this year. Heck, we even added Windows 8 subforums.

HP kills and unkills webOS

HP stumbled big in August. Then-CEO Leo Apotheker wanted to turn HP into a enterprise software company, similar to the German SAP, which he just left. To that effect, he announced that HP would be selling off its Personal Systems Group – that is, its PC division, the biggest in the world, and the recently purchased Palm assets, including webOS. As an immediate result, the TouchPad tablets were sold off at $99, a ridiculously low price. Eventually, HP cleared all of its inventory, catapulting webOS just behind iOS in terms of tablet marketshare, easily surpassing Android. How ironic.

Ultimately, Apotheker’s plan didn’t work out, damaged HP, stock prices fell, and he was fired. Former eBay CEO Meg Whitman was appointed as his successor and quickly stopped the spin-off of the PSG. The decision about webOS, however, wasn’t completely reversed; instead, HP decided to contribute webOS to open source, with the future remaining a very uncertain one, as I previously wrote.

Steve Jobs (1955-2011)

Besides Google’s purchase of Motorola and HP’s stumbling, the third big thing that happened in August was Steve Jobs resigning as CEO of Apple. Sadly, he later died in October, just before the unveiling of the iPhone 4S.

Even though we’re definitely not an iPhone site, the impact Apple has made on the smartphone – and computer and music – industry is huge and, mostly, for the better. With Pixar, Steve Jobs is also resonsible for the first entirely CGI-made movie, Toy Story, which went on to revolutionize its respective industry. His genius, vision and management skills are undisputed, and we say: rest in peace, Steve Jobs.

AT&T doesn’t get T-Mobile

Well, AT&T tried to buy T-Mobile, but due to strong opposition by consumer groups and antitrust regulators, eventually backed off. This may sound like good news, but since T-Mobile is still struggling financially, its parent company, Deutsche Telekom, is still looking for ways to consolidate its US business. With the purchase by AT&T failed, we’ll have to wait and see what they’ll do in the future.

Carrier IQ

By now, you have probably heard about Carrier IQ, a story which we helped break. A YouTube video by Trevor Eckhart, known as TrevE in the forums, showed Carrier IQ logging keystrokes, text messages, applications and basically just everything that can be logged on an HTC Android device. It was not known whether any of this data was actually sent to Carrier IQ or just stored on the phone, but considering how private that data was, you could definitely expect some transparency and clarification from Carrier IQ. However, instead of cooperating, Carrier IQ sent Eckhardt a cease-and-desist letter, which was later redacted thanks to the involvement of the EFF.

But at that point, the story had already blown up and out of control. In the end, it’s perfectly legit and certainly understandable that carriers need to track their network performance, which definitely is in the interest of consumers; however, the lack of transparency and communication was pretty damning.

To give you an overview of the whole saga, I’ve collected and listed all articles on our portals concerning Carrier IQ, in chronological order.

New portal, new admin

Finally, xda-developers has undergone some changes too. You’ve most definitely noticed the new look of our portal, and, if you’ve missed it, we also have a new portal admin since this week, Russell Holly.

So, yeah, thanks for reading this article, thanks for reading xda-developers, thanks for doing awesome stuff in the forums.

And… a happy new year from the news writer team!

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