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The five biggest tech stories of 2015

Looking back on 2015, there were equal parts hype and hope in an extremely busy and fiercely competitive tech sector.

Here’s what stood out in a year that laid the groundwork of breakthroughs still to come and the technologies that helped frame how the future is getting ever closer to the present.

Big-name bingo

Google decided to become Alphabet, so that each of its divisions gets a little more individuality, and a chance to break out and become their own thing — not to mention clarify financial reporting for investors. Apple launched Apple Music (through the hated iTunes), revamped Apple TV (but gave up on a web TV package), a larger iPad with a stylus (which Steve Jobs hated) and despite all that, became even more reliant on its biggest hit, the iPhone, (which still sold like gangbusters). Facebook expanded into Instant articles and hit more than 1 billion users, but most people were more interested in the tax implications of founder Mark Zuckerberg’s philanthropic announcement. And lastly, there was Twitter, which came under fire for a lack of growth and tools to deal with online harassment. It reinstated its founder, Jack Dorsey as CEO, but still looks like a media-filled echo chamber with stalled growth.

Streaming goes live

Sure, there were the early adopters like JustinTV who streamed their lives years ago, but 2015 was the year that live streaming became something that everyone could easily do. The first two players used Twitter followers to create the audience. Meerkat launched first, but that was quickly usurped by Periscope, which was bought by Twitter and was more fully featured. Yahoo’s LiveText counts as live streaming even though it doesn’t allow sounds. Now Facebook is also getting in on the action. It’s clearly an area where copyright fights are going to be waged: Periscope was barely launched when it got in trouble after people streamed the pay-per-view Pacquiao-Mayweather fight in May. Despite that, it’s clear that the revolution — and everything else — will be live streamed.

Virtual reality

This burgeoning technology has been talked about for the past three years, but it now appears ready to actually hit consumers’ heads and eyeballs. At $ 140, Samsung’s Gear VR is the first consumer product available for anybody to buy, but several other companies are also readying to launch their products. Besides games in development, there are several non-gaming industries looking at how it can enhance their customers’ experiences. Facebook’s Oculus Rift is the company that has been leading the pack, with their product expected soon. Sony’s PlayStation VR, Microsoft’s Hololens and HTC’s Vive have been making the rounds, giving people demos at tech shows. It hasn’t hit quite yet, but all the ducks are lining up for 2016 being the year this technology goes from hype and into our hands.

Hybrids are hot

Laptops might be on the way to becoming endangered species as this was the year the world’s biggest computer companies decided that new form factors are the hottest things in technology. Two-in-one computing devices are nothing new, but the rise of more powerful tablets, and the success of Microsoft’s Surface line of PCs has led others to join the fray. Microsoft’s Surfacebook elicited oohs and aahs at its launch event in October, and was then followed by Apple’s iPad Pro and Google’s Pixel-C. This is still a category that is shaking out, as the Apple and Google products are powered by mobile OS, while the Surfacebook is a powerful, but expensive, PC. These are also the first generations of all these products, so they will likely only get better and more affordable over time.

All-you-can-eat world

Last summer, Taylor Swift shamed Apple into paying artists during a free three-month trial for its new Apple Music streaming service. That was likely the biggest public display of power in the entertainment industry this year, and was a telling sign of how these streaming services are seen as the present and future delivery system for most entertainment.

In TV terms, Netflix accounts for 70 per cent of prime-time web traffic in Canada. Its Canadian competitors Shomi and CraveTV are now up and running, and as of January will both be available to all Canadians.

In music, Spotify remains the streaming leader, but the field expanded dramatically this year with Apple Music (which is now also on Android), and Google Play Music adding Songza as its free tier.

Books, magazines and comic books are also available via streaming services for a monthly subscription fee.

For years, there were questions about what a new business model for media was going to be. It now looks like the all-you-can-consume monthly model is the leader of the pack.


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