As 2011 ticks that last digit over, it's natural to take a moment and reflect. It's perhaps the only time when being a bit sentimental isn't corny or cheesy, but expected, especially after a year that made us laugh, scream, cry or cheer. At various times, we've had our worlds rocked, our breath taken away, our hearts wrenched and our minds expanded. And when we could, we took stock of the innovations and inspirations as if looking into a crystal ball, wondering where it could all lead.
Movements within the mobile industry seemed to have fingers that reached into and touched all the other verticals. Consider the touchscreen gaming console, like the upcoming Wii U, the emphasis on app-equipped smart televisions, desktop operating systems sporting smartphonesque finishing touches… All of these things are informed by the mobile industry for one simple reason — we are obsessed with our mobile gadgets. And, if you ask me, we should be. For many of us, these devices are more than mere toys or tools — we carry them with us everywhere we are, making them extensions of our very selves. What would it mean for us then if they continue to get more powerful? No wonder we're obsessed. And, it seems, we want to infuse this familiar technology into every other aspect of our lives.
A quick look at some highlights from the mobile scene over the last few years tells the tale. It's hard to believe that just four years ago, Android as we know it didn't exist and the iPhone was a toddler in the still-untapped smartphone realm. Three years ago, the notion of a tablet was usually a punchline to a joke. Two years ago, the mere idea of dual-core processors made phone geeks across the globe salivate. And last year, well, that was a turning point for many in the tech industry. As 2010 kicked off, bloggers were still calling Apple's un-released tablet the iSlate, Windows Mobile bowed out of the scene in favor of Windows Phone, and everyone thought HP buying Palm would save the WebOS platform. It was also the year that Android transformed its rep from a primarily geek platform with some interesting offerings to an army of droids that captured the mainstream's imagination (and wallets) like never before.
But all that was prelude to 2011. This year, HP set WebOS afloat on the river of open source. BlackBerry, for its part, somehow managed to stay above water (though barely). Microsoft finally started moving forward with buzz over some spectacular upcoming devices (via Windows Phone and Windows 8). iOS gave the masses something they didn't even realize they wanted from their tech — a more humanlike interaction via Siri. And Android — well, it reached new highs with features like LTE, 3D and ever-burgeoning processing power (not to mention ICS).
You can't talk about 2011 without also noting one very important event this year: We lost a visionary when Steve Jobs passed away. Whether you loved him or hated him, it's undeniable that he left an indelible mark on our industry. As we sail into 2012, there's a buoyant hope that his legacy will be punctuated by one final showstopper of a "one more thing": Some sort of innovative, Applesque approach to television. Always the showman, Jobs even managed to depart this world leaving people wanting more.
And it's with that, I'm left pondering the big topics: Life. Death. Technology. I wonder what it all means in the grand scheme of things. Maybe it's that, to be a tech enthusiast these days is equivalent to being a dreamer and an optimist. We hang on every advancement, not necessarily for the sheer geekery of it (though for some of us, that's true), but more because of what it allows us to do now and for what it may empower us to do tomorrow. We presume without question that there will be a tomorrow, and that when it arrives, we'll be able to do the things that matter to us without limitations or glitches.
Some of us live for these things and watch in awe as newer, greater innovations become possible, because it means we can be newer and greater as well. There's magic in those upcoming devices and all their blurry snapshots, press releases and reviews. They are previews of our collective future, a window into what our lives could be like tomorrow. There's a poetry in that, I think.