In 2014, wireless plans got cheaper, the iPhone got better, and a few major tech companies finally found the intestinal fortitude to stand up to the NSA and its penchant for vacuuming up every byte of data it gets its gnarly hands on.
Other welcome trends also showed up on our consumer tech radar during the past year. For example, cord cutting — the ability to stream video content without paying a cable or satellite company — moved closer to becoming a reality. And we'll finally soon be able to say goodbye to Windows 8, the worst iteration of Windows since the ill-fated Windows Me.
There were certainly more trends a tech consumer could love this year — the explosion of fitness bands helped a lot of people get into the exercise habit — but the five mentioned above are my favorites. Here's a bit more detail on each of them.
Competition Explodes in the Wireless Market
T-Mobile CEO John Legere may be something of a blowhard, but his underdog "Uncarrier" campaign rewrote the rules this year. Doing away with the dreaded two-year contract forced other carriers to reassess their contract options. Unlimited talk and text became almost ubiquitous and data plans got more generous. That's not to say wireless service is wonderful today, but things definitely got better this year. Just think how much worse they would have been if AT&T had been allowed to buy T-Mobile.
Apple Quiets Doubters
Apple needed a hit to reassure its legions of fans that it hadn't lost its mojo, and it delivered with the iPhone 6. It's not too big, like the iPhone 6 Plus, and not too small, like the iPhone 5s. The new smartphone has a faster processor, an improved fingerprint reader and a spiffy new OS, iOS 8, though Apple's initial software was a bit buggy.
Time to Stream
In the past, complaining about your cable company was about as productive as complaining about the weather. Today it's easier to stream video to your TV and more companies offer streaming TV programs, so consumers are starting to say goodbye to the Comcasts and Time Warner Cables of the world. HBO, for instance, will start offering its premium HBO Go service in 2015 as a standalone subscription that can be accessed on any device — without a cable or satellite subscription. These are still the early days of cord cutting, but they represent the beginning of the end for the cable bundle.
Goodbye Windows 8; Hello Windows 10
Microsoft finally got the message. Consumers and businesses hated the weird new interface the giant software company tried to stuff down their throats with Windows 8. Windows 10, which is set to launch sometime in 2015, brings back the familiar Windows 7 look and feel, and it keeps a few of the better elements of Windows 8. What happened to Windows 9? Microsoft skipped that number to put even more distance between the new OS and its despised ancestor.
Tech Giants Finally Tell it Like it is
With the release of the secret Edward Snowden documents came the news that many of the largest U.S. tech companies cooperated with the NSA in its data collection efforts. Not only did those companies hand over customer data, they kept it secret. Prodded by the loss of sales to foreign companies perceived to be more secure, U.S. tech giants are finally digging in their heels. As a result, Google and other companies now publish transparency reports that tell consumers when the companies are asked for data, and by whom.
That's it for the trends. Happy New Year, and I'll see you in 2015!