Why was 2021 a dud year for tech?
Where were the great new products?
The other day I was asked to predict what the hot new tech gift for the holidays would be, and I had to pause. Beyond the new iPhone 13 Pro and the ultra-fast Macs I couldn’t really name anything from 2021 new and hot. Period.
The hardest to get tech products of 2021 were introduced in 2020: sold out video game consoles from Microsoft and Sony. Nintendo did release a new edition of its Switch portable console in 2021, but just with a new, brighter OLED screen, and that too is hard to get, but not impossible like the XBox and PlayStation 5. Facebook’s Oculus 2 virtual reality headset was also hard to get in 2020, although now you could order it and have it delivered the next day.
Now go ahead, try and come up with any hot new tech gizmos from 2021. As you sit there stumped, I’ll jump in. Look at the Black Friday ads and most products being touted were actually first introduced years ago, with slight refreshes for 2021. The roster includes the usual suspects: streaming players, earbuds, portable speakers and TVs. Products first introduced years ago, and updated with slight improvements.
This year has been a bust for cool new technology. Remember 2020? It was all about adapting in the pandemic to meeting online, with the app that changed our lives: Zoom.
What product changed your life this year? (I can tell you my choice below.*)
Beyond updates to older products like iPhones, iPads and Macs, the only real new product line from Apple was “AirTags,” a rip-off of Tile in a bluetooth dongle to help you find lost keys and such. Facebook gave us lots of social media headaches, and on the other side, there are those creepy but cool video glasses. Google updated its Pixel phone with—you guessed it, an improved camera and Microsoft unleashed a new edition of Windows, the software we began using in 1985.
The chip shortage and supply chain slowdown created havoc for consumers, but there’s more to the story. Due to the pandemic, engineers lost valuable time being together to create, and thus, the research and development cycles got thrown off, says Tim Bajarin, a longtime analyst who runs the Creative Strategies firm.
The lost R&D time “shows,” says Bajarin. “Three or four months were just totally lost.”
He predicts we will see a turnaround in 2022, even though the chip shortages and supply issues are still raging. Meanwhile, there were two really exciting new products that were announced in 2021. But sadly, they’re not available to the general public.
Amazon’s Astro home robot, which acts as a sort of rolling Alexa companion to answer questions and help you do stuff sells for a cool $999, but reality check: you have to be invited to purchase it, which means you probably won’t really see it for sale until late 2022, if not later. (And whether anyone wants to spend $1K on a home robot is another story!)
Then there’s the Ring home security drone (Always Home Cam) which flies around the house automatically checking on things while you’re not there. Fun! This was actually first teased in 2020, re-introduced in 2021, and like Astro, only available if Amazon invites you to part with $249. It’s unlikely we’ll see it soon, but it does sound intriguing.
I did put in my order for the new Sony A7IV camera, which will be out later this year. Higher resolution images, a flip screen on the back, and once you start recording video, it won’t automatically stop at 30 minutes. These are all exciting additions for me. I can’t wait. But then, I’m a photographer. I like shiny new cameras.
I missed hearing much about the future this year beyond the nonsense from Facebook about the “Metaverse.” Does anybody have any idea what Zuck & Co. is talking about? Meanwhile, as I finished writing this, comes word that Apple will have a car ready for delivery in just three years. Now that’s exciting. And something to look forward to.
Onwards and upwards in 2022!
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So what to buy as a gift?
For $35, I’ve got something everyone you know can use. Finding an available electrical outlet can be tough sometimes, so how about this Anker charger with two USB slots? You can juice up two devices at once. Now there’s something we all need.
My favorite product of the year
You all know, right? The iPhone 13 Pro Max, the best iPhone ever released, with major camera upgrades, especially in video. The difference between the 13 and recent models is really substantial.
Tech Turkeys of 2021
I started this tradition in 2015 for USA TODAY and see no reason to stop now. I’ll announce my picks for the 2021 top 10 worst products, biggest fails and just overall lousy tech on Los Angeles radio station KNX Wednesday, where I’m a contributor to the “What the Tech?” segment.
But first, what makes your list? I’m all ears.
We had a great time Photowalking last week in Manhattan Beach and Palm Springs! From a killer beach sunset to mid-century hotels, the Marilyn statue and those desert windmills at magic hour, there was so much to work with.
And if you haven’t caught the second season of Photowalks yet, the holidays are a great time to catch up.
This edition is dedicated to my friend Tamah Kushner for her great questions!
Thanks as always for reading, watching and listening. Let me know what you thought of today’s edition with a HEART or a reply!