As 2016 finally winds down, we can all agree that it's been an eventful year, and one that many of will be happy to see is finally getting over. In terms of tech and pop culture, the year was actually pretty interesting, and, we asked the Gadgets 360 editors to pick their favourites. For some of us, that meant the latest gadgets. For others, the highlights of the year had more to do with viral memes, mobile networks, and fake news. Here are the trends, products, experiences, and moments from 2016 that our editorial team loved.
Check out our other year in review coverage:
Abhinav Lal: PPAP. What does it even mean? The 2016 song that needs no introduction seems to me to be the very epitome of what’s wrong with modern society, vis-à-vis the Internet. Forget fake news. Forget Donald Trump. Here is a song that has absolutely nothing going for it, but has garnered over 175 million views in some iterations, raced to the top of the Billboard charts in some countries, and spawned a million memes apart from irritating forwards and references in WhatsApp and Slack groups. It has a boring video, incomprehensible lyrics, and yet has managed to become this viral? Congratulations humanity, for providing me with a prime example of the death of intelligence. Apple pen anyone? Or maybe, a pineapple? Long live idiocracy!
Akhil Arora: For years, we've seen that social media can be a powerful tool of expression and change - from the so-called Arab Spring in Middle East and North Africa, or the movement sparked by the 2012 Delhi gang rape right here in India. But in 2016, we witnessed its ugly side as the phrase "echo chamber" gained mainstream recognition.
Like most others, I get a large portion of my news from Facebook and Twitter, connected to likeminded people and publications. On the video front, I subscribe to John Oliver and Samantha Bee religiously, whose opinions only help to reinforce the ones I already hold. But as the actual results of Brexit and US Presidency showed, everyone on my timeline was dead wrong. We've become insulated from each other living online, and that was my Internet highlight for 2016.
Devika Chitnis: Old school content delivery has stagnated and it has to change. That wasn't my original thought process but that of the 23-year-old video editor in our team. (He devours live streaming content for lunch and dinner.) It didn’t matter how great our story was if it didn’t reach the people. This is what I learnt. Facebook Live is a part of a bigger picture of digital publishing. That’s what digital publishing has done - redefined how we, as journalists, producers, or authors, can reach out to people.
Gagan Gupta: There have been two game changers for me this year. The first would be Nvidia’s new line of graphics cards that have finally managed to make high-end PC gaming affordable. Sure the GTX 1080 is still out of most people’s reach, but any passionate gamer would definitely not mind shelling out Rs. 25,000 for the GTX 1060, which performs just about as well as last generation’s premium GTX 980 graphics card, which retailed for around Rs. 60,000, give-or-take.
My second pick is the smartphone that could not be - Samsung Galaxy Note 7. The Note 7 would have easily blown the competition out of the water with its incredible HDR display, amazing stylus integration and the edge design that makes the device look better than any other smartphone in the market today. Yes, even the iPhone 7. Too bad it kept on exploding.
Gopal Sathe: There are two things I’d call game changers for me this year - first up, the commercial rollout of VR headsets. The devices aren’t exactly mainstream yet, but Sony’s PS VR is building up to something exciting for the masses, while the hardware needed to power the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive is becoming more accessible. Microsoft has laid out plans for simple, affordable VR. We’ve been waiting for this wave to crest since 2012, and 2016 was the year it finally began to happen.
The other big thing for me was the Xiaomi Redmi 3S Prime - it’s proven that you can have a really good phone for under Rs. 10,000. The only compromise here is the camera, but otherwise it won't let you down, despite being priced at a fraction of what you'd pay for flagship devices.
Jamshed Avari: The one thing that has struck me most about technology in 2016 is the role of digital media during the US election cycle. The impact of social media and the emergence of fake, partisan news sites should have a lot of people concerned. In 2016, it has become painfully clear that anyone can shape public opinion for any reason without too much difficulty, if they have a strong personality and use a couple of emotionally-charged buzzwords.
While sociologists and political scientists will be studying this election cycle for years to come, technology and media companies also need to take a long, hard look at how they function right now, and what they need to do differently.
The entire concept of the self-lacing shoes is actually pretty old, and Nike has been working on its range of limited edition shoes with self-lacing capability. Nike's HyperAdapt 1.0 shoes brought the concept to the real-world. With a pricing of $720 (nearly Rs. 50,000), it's definitely not cheap, but sneakerheads will be willing to put down the money, and hopefully the technology will trickle down to the rest of the world at lower prices over time.
Kunal Dua: Globally, the biggest trend for me has been the rise of voice-based interfaces like Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant. While many seen them as virtual assistants, they really represent the future of computing - just as touch screens lowered the entry barrier for tech, voice-based interfaces will make technology accessible to millions more. Last week, a friend of mine was telling the story of his 80-year-old uncle who never felt the need to carry a smartphone, but within 10 minutes of being introduced to an Amazon Echo Dot, wanted one of his own. That is the power of natural language interfaces - throw in localisation, which will enable people to talk to these machines using their first language, and you will see the true impact that these technologies can have.
Closer to home, the rise of streaming services like Hotstar, Netflix, and Amazon Prime Video has been great for customers. I love that Hostar, for example, gives me access to most cricket and football games, no matter where I am, and while I haven’t explored its entertainment library much, it looks pretty decent. With all other options that are now available in the market, cord cutting in India can be a reality - provided you have a fast enough connection with a reasonable FUP.
Naina Gupta: After months of testing, WhatsApp has finally launched its video calling feature across platforms. At the launch event, the company claimed that video calling has been optimised for emerging markets like India to ensure smooth calling experience even in poor connectivity. The video calling feature is a seamless addition to WhatsApp, and no big design change was done to integrate the feature. You can even chat while the WhatsApp video call is on. By just pressing the call button, video call can be made easily. Video calling experience on WhatAapp has been good for me, and it works even on a 2G network. It's easily one of the game-changers of 2016.
Pranay Parab: 2016 was the year when I was introduced to Chinese science fiction. Having read only Western science fiction until now, I was very happy to read works from other regions. In 2016, Cixin Liu’s Remembrance of the Earth’s Past trilogy reached its conclusion (at least the English translation did) with Death’s End. This trilogy gave me a peek into Chinese culture and offered a unique take on the genre itself.
Within science fiction, I probably enjoy the space opera sub-genre the most. This series is a great space opera and the best thing about it is how its scope expands exponentially with each book. It starts with the rather simple premise of first contact with aliens and a game created around that. Then it moves on to question whether there are other species in the universe, before finally delving into the birth and death of the universe itself. It’s the best thing I read in 2016 and one of the best SF works I’ve ever come across.
Ravi Sharma: One the most notable developments in the Indian technology sphere, in my opinion, has been the rise of Chinese smartphone brands at the expense of Micromax, Intex and other Indian brands. This trend started last year when Oppo and Vivo started focussing on offline retail channels, while Xiaomi, Lenovo, and the like continue to forge ahead with their online push.
Q3 smartphone shipment reports by Gartner and IDC have shown what was a long time coming -- a drop in shipments of Micromax, Intex, Lava etc., and a surge in those of Lenovo (including Motorola), Xiaomi, Oppo and Vivo. This, of course, follows the global trend, where Huawei, Oppo, and BBK figure among the top five smartphone vendors by shipments.
Rishi Alwani: The PS Vita is still my gadget of 2016. Yes, it’s on the way out. But that hasn’t stopped some great games being made available for the system, particularly in the genre of visual novels (VN). One that stands out immensely is Steins;Gate - a VN that merges time travel, retro computers, and Dr. Pepper - to make one of the coolest, most engaging narratives in recent years. Sure, you can play Steins;Gate on almost every other platform, but Sony’s final handheld does a much better job thanks to the variety of inputs on offer, making it the VN machine.
Rohan Naravane: Until now, people had to make a choice - if you want consistency, you go with Apple, or if you want flexibility, you go with Google. The Pixel line of products are the answer to the question, “Well, can't we have both?”
The Pixel XL (review) may not be a perfect phone (no water resistance, stereo speakers, etc) but it's a damn good first attempt, showing you a glimpse of what can be done when the search giant puts whole-hearted efforts into their products, unlike the half-baked Nexus program (just look at that camera, or how good the Assistant is).
Roydon Cerejo: The one gadget that I’ve coveted the most this year would have to be the Sony A6300 mirrorless camera (review). It’s one of the few gadgets that I’ve used this year that puts a big grin on my face. The camera has pretty much everything you could ask for like a crazy 11fps burst shooting mode, 4K video recording and one of the best focusing systems I’ve come across - all in an insanely compact body.
Battery life is appalling but the fact that you can charge the camera through a power bank, does offer some consolation. There is an upgraded version, the A6500, that Sony only recently launched which adds touchscreen support and 5-axis in-body image stabilisation, which makes this camera near-perfect.
Sandeep Kumar Sinha: 4G LTE penetration, specifically into the Indian market has already started to transform India. Currently, 4G is the fastest medium to access wireless Internet, enabling people to indulge in exchange of information, get entertained, and communicate in the fastest manner possible. As a journalist, keeping an eye on breaking news, getting comprehensive details about any new topic, and getting the word out has never been this easy.
Sanket Vijayasarathy: Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is my pick for 2016. In a way, every Uncharted game has walked hand-in-hand with how the PlayStation has evolved in terms of graphics and physics. But the one particular moment that filled me with nostalgia and brought a big smile to my face was the moment when Drake plays Crash Bandicoot - a favourite from the PlayStation One. Playing as Nathan Drake playing Crash Bandicoot was just incredible because not only did it hit you right in the feels, but it also showed you how far console gaming has come.
Shekhar Thakran: I personally think that the field within technology that progressed the most in 2016 and will most likely shape the foreseeable future of tech is Artificial Intelligence. While Microsoft announced that its speech-recognition system achieved human parity, Google’s translation tool is now capable of much better translation making use of wider context of conversations than just few words.
Google Assistant has already showcased how digital assistant’s can make use of artificial intelligence to enhance user experience and considering that it learns through conversations over time, it is only going to get better.
Shubham Verma: This year, Microsoft introduced Surface Studio that boasts a 28-inch LCD touchscreen that it claims is the thinnest LCD monitor ever built, and it runs at a 4500x3000 pixel resolution, 63 percent higher than 4K. Microsoft also came up with Microsoft Dial, which enables completely new gestures and a new way of using the PC.
The radial device can allow a plethora of actions that you can perform on your Surface Studio like scribbling, painting, navigation, and other essential actions. The touch digitiser can pop up spatial features that will allow haptic feedback directly on the touchscreen. For me, Microsoft Studio can be touted to be one of the really impressive devices that came out of Microsoft's closet.
Tasneem Akolawala: The general availability of Reliance Jio, with the introduction of free voice calling to any network is one of the biggest game changers for me. The company even offered free data as part of its Welcome Offer, and this move saw long queues outside Reliance Digital Stores waiting to get a free SIM. It has made Jio one of the fastest growing companies in the world with good reason.
This was everything that our team couldn't stop talking about even as 2016 came to a close. What about you? What were your highlights? Tell us via the comments.