We streamed, we Zoomed, we ordered groceries and houseplants online, we created
virtual villages while navigating laptop shortages to work and learn from home.
In many ways, 2020’s pandemic-induced isolation threw our dependence on
technology into overdrive, snipping away at our real-life connections while
bringing digital relationships to the fore.
But for every life-changing Zoom,
there was at least one soon-forgotten Quibi. Here’s a look at the year’s tech
winners and losers.
As the world adjusted to a new
stuck-at-home reality, the pandemic could have been virtual reality’s chance to
offer an escape. With the use of special headsets and accouterments like
gloves, the technology lets people interact with a 360 degree view of a
three-dimensional environment, seemingly a good fit for people stuck indoors.
But people turned to easier-to-use
software and games that they already had. Few rushed to spend hundreds of
dollars on a clunky new headset or tried to learn the ropes of virtual reality
meeting software. And no VR games broke into the mainstream. So virtual
reality, on the verge of success for decades, missed its moment, again.
Social media election labels
It was the year of labels on
Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and even TikTok. Ahead of the November 3 US
presidential vote, the companies promised to clamp down on election
misinformation, including baseless charges of fraud and candidates’ premature
declarations of victory. And the most visible part of this was the bevy of
labels applied to tweets, posts, photos and videos.
“Some or all of the content
shared in this Tweet is disputed and might be misleading about an election or
other civic process,” read one typical label applied to a tweet by President
But many experts said that while the
labels made it appear that the companies were taking action, ”at the end of
the day it proved to be pretty ineffective,“ as Jennifer Grygiel a professor
at Syracuse University and social media expert, put it.
Less than a year ago, Quibi launched
a splashy Super Bowl ad that posed the question “What’s a Quibi?” People may
still be scratching their heads.
Quibi, short for “quick bites,”
raised $1.75 billion from investors including major Hollywood players Disney,
NBCUniversal and Viacom.
But the service struggled to reach
viewers, as short videos abound on the internet and the coronavirus pandemic
kept many people at home. It announced it was shutting down in October, just
months after its April launch.
Uber and Lyft
Fresh off of their initial public
offerings the year before and still struggling to show they can be profitable,
the ride-hailing services were clobbered by the pandemic in 2020, as people
stopped taking cars and huddled down at home.
In May, Uber laid off 3,700 people,
or about 14% of its workforce. Lyft also announced job cuts.
But there are some signs of hope.
After significantly reducing costs by restructuring in the second quarter, Lyft
said last month it expects to have its first profitable quarter at the end of
2021. And the companies scored a major victory in California, where voters
passed Proposition 22, granting them an others an exception to a law that
sought to classify their drivers as employees, an expense that analysts thought
would have pummeled their business in the nation’s most populous state.
US ‘ban’ on TikTok
While India banned the popular video
sharing app, in the US TikTok appears close to riding out Donald Trump’s term
without the president succeeding in his efforts to ban it.
Earlier this month, a federal judge
blocked a potential ban. It was the latest legal defeat for the administration
in its efforts to wrest the app from its Chinese owners. In October, another
federal judge postponed a shutdown scheduled for November.
Meanwhile, a government deadline for
TikTok’s parent, ByteDance to complete a deal that would have Oracle and
Walmart invest in TikTok has also passed, with the status of the deal unclear.
While President-elect Joe Biden has said TikTok is a concern, it’s not clear
what his administration will carry on the Trump administration’s attempts at a
After beginning the year grappling
with exasperating delays in their supply chains, the personal computer industry
found itself scrambling to keep up with surging demand for machines that became
indispensable during a pandemic that kept millions of workers and students at
The outbreak initially stymied
production because PC makers weren’t able to get the parts they needed from
overseas factories that shut down during the early stages of the health crisis.
Those closures contributed to a steep
decline in sales during the first three months of the year. But it has been
boom times ever since.
The July-September period was
particularly robust, with PC shipments in the U.S. surging 11% from the same
time in 2019 _ the industry’s biggest quarterly sales increase in a decade,
according to the research firm Gartner.
The biggest of the bunch, Amazon, is
one of the few companies that has thrived during the coronavirus outbreak.
People have turned to it to order groceries, supplies and other items online,
helping the company bring in record revenue and profits between April and June.
That came even though it had to spend $4 billion on cleaning supplies and to
pay workers overtime and bonuses.
But it’s not just Amazon. The
pandemic is accelerating the move to online shopping, a trend experts expect to
say even after vaccines allow the world to resume normal lives. And thanks in
part to shoppers consciously supporting small businesses, Adobe Analytics says
online sales at smaller U.S. retailers were up 349% on Thanksgiving and Black
Friday. At the more than 1 million businesses that use Shopify to build their
websites, sales rose 75% from a year ago to $2.4 billion on Black Friday,
according to Shopify.
All video conferencing software from
Microsoft Teams to WebEx thrived during the abrupt shift of tens of millions of
people to remote working and schooling during pandemic. But only one became a
Zoom Video Communications was a
relatively unheralded company before the pandemic hit, but its ease of use let
to wide adoption during the pandemic. There were some growing pains, including
lax security that lead to “Zoom bombing” breaches early on. The company
revamped its security and remains one of the popular platforms to host remote
meetings and classes.
Even in a year heralding splashy new
consoles from Xbox and PlayStation, the Nintendo Switch was the console that
could. Launched in 2017, the Switch became a fast seller. That was helped by the
launch of the handled Switch Lite in September 2019.
In March, it became hard to find a
Switch as people searched for ways to be entertained inside their homes.
Boosting its popularity was the release of island-simulation game “Animal
Crossing: New Horizons,” which debuted March 20 and has now sold a cumulative
26 million units globally, according to Nintendo.
According to the NPD Group, during
the first 11 months of 2020, Nintendo Switch sold 6.92 million units in the
U.S. It has been the best-selling console in units sold for 24 consecutive
months, a record.
Big Tech companies Facebook, Amazon, Apple and Google
Facebook, Amazon, Apple and Google
did well financially, with each company’s stock price and profit up
considerably since the start of the year. They gained users, rolled out new
products and features and kept on hiring even as other companies and industries
faced significant cuts.
But not all is well in the world of
Big Tech. Regulators are breathing down each company’s neck and that’s unlikely
to ease up in 2021. Google faces an antitrust lawsuit from the Department of
Justice. And Facebook has been hit by one from the Federal Trade Commission
along with nearly every U.S. state that seeks to split it off from WhatsApp and
More cases could follow.
Congressional investigators spent months digging into the actions of Apple and
Amazon in addition to Facebook and Google, and called the CEOs of all four
companies to testify.
The ransomware scourge in which
criminals hold data hostage by scrambling it until victims pay up _ reached
epic dimensions in 2020, dovetailing terribly with the COVID-19 plague. In
Germany, a patient turned away from the emergency room of a hospital whose IT
system was paralyzed by an attack died on the way to another hospital.
In the US, the number of attacks on
healthcare facilities was on track to nearly double from 50 in 2019. Attacks on
state and local governments were up about 50% to more than 150. Even grammar schools
have been hit _ shutting down remote learning for students from Baltimore to