The 10 biggest tech stories of 2022

The 10 biggest tech stories of 2022

At the risk of sounding philosophical, 2022 was a year characterised by absence and chaos. In particular, the absence of confidence, as anxious consumers collectively tightened their own belts. Even the biggest tech companies were forced to trim ambitions (and spending) by increasingly skittish investors.

There was also a distinct lack of imaginative ideas, with precious few launches to excite gadget fans. Indeed, many of the standout stories of the year were all about the end of something (farewells to Google Stadia and Apple’s iPod) rather than the creation of shiny new toys or clever services.

Set against this darkening sky were intermittent flashes of chaos, that lit up the murkiness like bolts of lightning, powered by fear, amusement, or both. For instance, the crypto crashes or the moment San Francisco approved killer robots and Elon Musk’s volatile reign as new Twitter overlord.

And then, ironically, there is the surreal yet all-too-genuine threat of power cuts occurring in the UK.

This is the story of consumer tech in 2022…

Big tech begins to shrink

The Meta Quest Pro headset is a pricy way to enter the metaverse (Meta)
The Meta Quest Pro headset is a pricy way to enter the metaverse (Meta)

It turns out that even the biggest beasts of the technology world are not recession-proof. There were staff layoffs at Microsoft, Snap, Twitter and Meta. Even Amazon and Google put hiring freezes in place.

Of course, teachers, nurses, or anyone else who grafts hard to improve society in return for meagre wages, will struggle to summon sympathy for the plight of software developers. Yet it’s worth noting this news means the social tools that many people rely upon every day might well become less reliable.

The Meta cuts involved 11,000 people losing their jobs and led to a rare mea culpa from CEO, Mark Zuckerberg. Despite this, the firm doubled-down on a vision of the metaverse as a virtual space for work or play. It also launched the Meta Quest Pro in October priced at £1,500 which isn’t exactly mainstream.

Consumers get frugal

Fewer crowds on Black Friday were almost inevitable this year (Getty Images)
Fewer crowds on Black Friday were almost inevitable this year (Getty Images)

The cost-of-living crisis made it inevitable that people would curtail purchases of non-essential gizmos yet rocketing energy prices took this in a specific direction. Enthusiasm for energy-reduction ideas was rampant and the most talked-about consumer tech became smart plugs, cheap heaters and air fryers.

Against the increasingly bleak backdrop of experts warning Brits not to waste energy the National Grid drew up plans for the first UK power cuts since the 1970s – and its chief executive has warned that these might still occur this winter.

All things considered, it was no surprise to learn that Black Friday was a damp squib or at least not the cash cow that many brands have come to expect.

San Francisco (briefly) approves killer robots

The public backlash against killer robots was intense (Getty Images)
The public backlash against killer robots was intense (Getty Images)

For a fleeting but terrifying moment, Robocop was set to become a reality when the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted to allow the city’s police force to deploy robots that could kill suspects.

The backlash was, unsurprisingly, enormous and within a week this controversial policy was paused when the same board that had approved the killer robots voted unanimously to overturn its decision.

Given the poor track-record of human police administering lethal force in the US, few people are prepared to risk relying on a robot to do the job better. It’s back to the drawing board for this one.

Google Stadia goes belly up

Google confirmed the demise of Stadia in September 2022 (Google)
Google confirmed the demise of Stadia in September 2022 (Google)

Big G proudly introduced Stadia as the future of game streaming in 2019. By September of this year, Google announced it wanted to ice the whole project, which will now shut down on January 18, 2023.

While players will get (some) refunds on hardware or game purchases, most saved games will be lost forever. The demise of Stadia highlights the risks of being an early adopter — even when you’re dealing with a company of Google’s stature.

Despite this glitch, cloud gaming has a bright future, with Nvidia’s GeForce Now and Microsoft’s Xbox Cloud Gaming enabling players to stream games to a wide variety of devices. In that sense, it’s game on.

Steam Deck makes PC gaming portable

The Steam Deck unleashed proper PC gaming on the move (Steam Deck)
The Steam Deck unleashed proper PC gaming on the move (Steam Deck)

There were happier times for mobile gamers from Valve, the creators of the popular Steam platform.

Historically speaking, people who like to play games on a PC have always had two problems: the high price of hardware and a lack of portable options. The Steam Deck largely solved both of these issues.

This handheld PC is capable of running even demanding games such Cyberpunk 2077 and yet its price starts at £349 — which is only £40 more than a Nintendo Switch OLED.

Early adopters know the Steam Deck is not perfect, with some games still not working and a battery life that could definitely be improved. Even so, the ability to play premium PC games while on the move is entirely new territory and worth applauding.

Small smartphones wither on the vine

Apple no longer sells mini versions of its premium handsets (Apple)
Apple no longer sells mini versions of its premium handsets (Apple)

The number of companies offering dinky smartphones became vanishingly small in September once Apple abandoned its mini handsets as part of the launch of the new iPhone 14 range in September.

This year, Apple introduced the 6.7-inch iPhone 14 Plus in place of the 5.4-inch iPhone 13 mini. The latter and its predecessor, the iPhone 12 mini, had sold pretty poorly despite being the cheapest way of getting an iPhone that was not one the entry-level SE models.

If you are phone shopping in 2023, you will find that handsets with 6-inch screens or larger are now the norm, no matter which type of device you prefer.

EU confirms demise of Apple’s Lightning cable

The USB-C cable is the future for mobile phones (Mishaal Zahed / Unsplash)
The USB-C cable is the future for mobile phones (Mishaal Zahed / Unsplash)

Speaking of iPhones, future models will almost certainly have a USB-C socket (the little oval connector found on most portable electronics and some iPads) rather than Apple’s own Lightning cables.

After many years of wrangling about this idea, new EU legislation recently set a date for the end of 2024 in order to help reduce e-waste.

Put simply, Apple will no longer be able to sell devices that feature the Lightning port inside the EU and must either switch to USB-C or create phones with no sockets that rely entirely on wireless charging.

For most consumers, this is good news — albeit that iPhone owners will probably need new power leads and might also find that a few of their devices (e.g. Lighting microphones) no longer work.

Netflix embraces adverts

Netflix (Netflix)
Netflix (Netflix)

As recently as 2020, Netflix was dead against adverts, with CEO and co-founder Reed Hastings saying he wanted the streamer to be a “safe respite” with “none of the controversy around exploiting users with advertising.”

Fast forward to October of 2022 and Netflix did introduce a tier with adverts. For £4.99 a month, you can get basic Netflix — minus the ability to view offline and with a few catalogue omissions — but around five minutes of unskippable adverts per hour. Frankly, it’s a sign of the times.

Netflix grew tired of password sharing this year and began testing a plan to charge users a nominal fee for those who share an account between households. The extra levy is expected to come to the UK next year and there was even tough talk from the UK Government that password sharing could be illegal.

Apple finally retires the iPod

Apple kills the iPod (Christine Sandu / Unsplash)
Apple kills the iPod (Christine Sandu / Unsplash)

After nearly 21 years, the iPod died without much fanfare. Apple was happy to see this iconic product put out to pasture with a simple press release hailing “the spirit of iPod” still prevalent in Apple Music.

While it’s pretty clear the iPod was of limited use in a world where music streaming is now the everyday norm, its passing still marks the end of an era. The iPod was from a simpler time, when devices had a single purpose and the connection between you and your music was a personal one.

The rise of the so-called celestial jukeboxes provide a vast array of music at our fingertips but something has undoubtedly been lost in the process.

Elon Musk buys Twitter – and chaos reigns

King Elon of Twitter creates chaos (AFP via Getty Images)
King Elon of Twitter creates chaos (AFP via Getty Images)

The biggest tech event of the year was undoubtedly Elon Musk buying Twitter for $44 billion — a story that has run into dozens of mini-dramas as the billionaire’s unconventional leadership took hold.

After spending months trying to back out of the deal, Musk eventually went through with it and almost immediately laid off over half the global workforce and made verification — the blue tick that highlights notable accounts — a badge that anyone could buy. This perk was quickly paused after a bunch of people pretended to be others — including lots of fake Elon Musks.

After that, Musk reinstated former President Donald Trump based on the results of a Twitter poll, and gave amnesty to other previously banned accounts. As advertisers fled, he declared war on Apple, even suggesting he might make his own smartphone if Twitter’s new look moderation-light policies led to it being banned from the Android and iOS app stores.

Most recently, Musk went back on his free-speech absolutism by banning journalists accounts for reporting on the movements of his private jet, and then offered his resignation as CEO to Twitter via another poll.

The resignation was accepted, and he has vowed to step down as soon as he finds someone “foolish enough to take the job”. After that, he’s said he’ll “just run the software & server teams” — which means that little will mostly likely change, given that Twitter is largely about software and servers.

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If nothing else, it’s certainly not been dull.