Best and Worst of 2011

Best of 2011

Device: iPad 2
It’s hard to believe that this device isn’t even a year old! Released last March, iPad 2 brought a quicker processor, front and rear facing cameras, and a thinner and lighter look to an already amazing device. I’ve talked to a few folks who bought an iPad and yet still can’t figure out how to work it into their lives?! I use mine for everything from work to playmaking art to storing recipes. Thanks to Google Docs, I also used it while writing this post. It even inspired me to build a web app called QizBox (read more here). Also, this is my favorite smart cover.

All Around App: Vox
This little known gem is the most used app on my iPhone. It touts itself as a walkie-talkie app but it’s real function is asynchronous voice messaging – something sorely lacking from every phone OS. With the touch (and hold) of a button, I can send/record a voice message sent directly to another user. If the other user is available, we can talk in real-time (like a walkie-talkie), and if not… they can listen to the message when they are ready! This beats texting and driving. The app is free on iOS and Android.

Biggest Surprise: Siri
The iPhone 4S seems like a dud to me. Sure, it’s faster and… uhm, I think that’s all. Except for Siri. While there have been a ton of awesome jokes about Siri, it marks the third wave of computer interface milestones in the last several years (the touch interface that kicked off a revolution of phones/tablets AND the kinetic/body interface of the Xbox Kinect). It will be exciting to watch how voice interfacing competes and integrates with the others.

Game: Gamification
The best game of the year isn’t Skyrim or the new Star Wars MMO, it’s the gamification of everything. Its hard to throw a stick in any direction and not see how gamification, or the idea of adding game mechanics (badges & awards, levels, co-op or competitive play, and something social), is affecting many different fields. From waiting tables to the classroom, making our lives more playful and engaging is gamification’s goal. Check out Reality is Broken by Jane McGonigal and her TED talk that influenced the inclusion of gamification in the design of my web app QizBox. Or these articles about Will Wright’s idea to turn life itself into a game called “HiveMind”.

OS: Google
While Google itself is not an operating system, I use more Google apps on my devices. With a fresh new design and a billion functions, the search giant gets me where I’m going, answers all of my questions, stores my life and work, and connects me to friends. Not a day goes by that i don’t use something Google  Although they aren’t perfect (Gooogle+ = meh) I’m positive that Google will continue to surprise us big in 2012. And I truely can’t wait until it literally gets me where I’m going!

Music: Spotify Desktop
All the music I could ever want. Streaming. Free. Nuff said.

Movie: Winnie the Pooh
Personally, I’ve never liked Pooh, but this movie was hilarious! My kids and I laughter harder and quote more lines from this movie than any other of the year! This movie is another sign of what John Lasseter is doing for Disney. Yes, Cars 2 & Kung Fu Panda 2 were both awesome as well (Ska-doosh), and the Girl with the Dragon Tatoo was crazy suspenseful, but if you haven’t seen Pooh, try it.

Social: Google Hangouts
Apple’s FaceTime & Microsoft’s Skype should be shivering in their boots. Beyond just conferencing Google Hangouts is an amazing collaboration tool. And with an open API, I’m sure we’ll see more and more integration of Hangouts in 2012.

Worst of 2011:

Device: Kindle Fire
I bought a Kindle Fire, not with expectations that it would measure up to an iPad, but with hopes that this device could be the perfect low-cost solution to those entering the tablet world. I was sorely disappointed! My long list of complaints (uncontrollable carousel, poor Amazon Prime movie selection, a sluggish OS, and super small text) were recently featured front and center in a Mashable.com article. Luckily, the majority of those complaints can (and likely will!) be fixed with a software update. I look forward to an even better and cheaper Fire next year.

All Around App: Facebook
I’m not sure if it’s just me… But I receive dozens of Notifications in my on Facebook for Friends I’m not even subscribed to! It extremely annoying. What was once an easy website/app to use, notifying me when someone interacted with me, is now a cluttered mess that looks more like a Twitter feed. Beyond that, on some posts I can “Like” other users comments and on others I can’t. Also, the settings I have on my computer for whose updates I receive don’t seem to translate to my mobile device. WTF? With other options (Twitter & Google+) in the social network realm, Facebook is giving me many frustrating reasons to leave. – Side note: I was sad to see my favorite location based check-in app, Gowalla, first ruin itself, then shut down altogether to join the Facebook team. This has to be my runner up for Worst app of 2011.

Music: Spotify Mobile
I had 48 free hours of all the music I could love on the Spotify mobile app… Then it asked me to pay. Dear Spotify, I’ve spent a total of $9.99 on music in the last two years! I would never ever think of spending that PER MONTH for music! Your business plan is wack. Serve me more ads and give it to me for free. OR make your service free with the purchase of one 99 cent song per month. Also, as much a I love the desktop app, I de-coupled it from my Facebook account. The idea that I want to a) share what I’m listening to with friends or b) learn about music by hearing what my friends listen to are both false assumptions. I’d much rather rely on a computer algorithm to make recommendations – Thank you Pandora!

OS: Xbox
My particular gripe with Xbox isn’t it’s new interface (that’s ok), it’s the $9.99 a month they are requesting from me to use other services like Netflix, HBO, or Pandora that I’m already paying for! This attempt at Microsoft is nothing more than a cheap money grab. My friends who play games together online obviously have a reason to pay. However, if Microsoft is going to tout their new “apps” as a real competitor to Google TV or the upcoming Apple TV they’d better drop the Xbox Gold Live price tag altogether. Google doesn’t have one and I’m pretty sure Apple won’t either.

Biggest Surprise: No iPhone 5
While this shouldn’t have been a big surprise given Apples usual development cycle, the hype and media leaks surrounding an iPhone 5 were at a new peak last August. Rumors of a bigger screen and thinner profile are likely to be true when we finally see this model next year. I will definitely be getting one.

Social: #OWS
The Occupy movement stands for one thing more than any other- Get big business out of government. This message was seemingly lost among the protests and ensuing social media blitz. Furthermore, many smart people I know could not separate the message from the messengers. Yet, I could hardly find a person on either side of the party lines that didn’t agree that our government and politics have been overrun by big business money and lobbyists. It’s time we act like the 99% in a peaceful and cooperative way; without the craziness.

What to look for in 2012:

Devices: iPad 3 (5”x7”) – Sony Gaming TV – iPhone 5
iPad 3: I’m hopeful there will be a 5″x7″ iPad 3 announce in the first quarter of 2012. The 5″x7″ size of the Kindle Fire was one of its best features! Plus, it would make this amazing device more affordable.
Sony Gaming TV: Pushed to 2012, this TV allows two users wearing 3d glasses to see different images when looking at the same screen. I think this tech will quickly move beyond gaming as many families will use the glasses, combined with headphones, to watch different content while looking at the same screen.
iPhone 5 - I think I’ve covered this.

Social: Everywhere

I think by the end of 2012 we will see chatrooms or comment boards everywhere. With apps like Oink allowing you to comment on any object anywhere and Twitter chat and Foursquare continuing to gain momentum, the obvious next step is a live chat feed attached to every place, thing, and tv show – and possibly every person too!Fresh newsreaders like Google Currents and Flipboard have brought back a desire to seek out news again – now that it’s formatted in a clean and readable interface (I always hated RSS readers anyways). I can easily see how format flow and interface could influence education, textbooks, and wikis (check out QWiki).

Finally, as information overload continues to grow, curatorial and creative story telling tools, like Storify, will too! Even smaller social networks, like Path, might help to cut down on the increased information stream on Facebook and Twitter.

 
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    Anthony Fontana is Geek, Artist, Educator, Learning Technologist, App Designer, Virtual Campus Admin, Graphic Novelist, Zen Buddhist, Father and more...
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