Concierge economy takes off

Offering convenient, and cheaper, ways to access tailored services like ordering a private car, renting out a vacation home, or running personal errands, the "concierge economy" rose to a new level in 2012. Services -- like Airbnb, Uber, and TaskRabbit, just to name a few -- were sprinkled among news headlines, becoming more than just fringe services. Airbnb helped 4,000 Hurricane Sandy victims find shelter from generous home and bed owners, Uber came up against major friction in Washington D.C. over its taxi services, and TaskRabbit popped up in the iPhone 5 lines.

In addition to … Read more

Deal sites have a rough year

Groupon, the company that made daily deals popular for consumers, has had a tough tumble. After finally going public late last year, the company faced massive competition, slowed growth in revenue and a decimated stock in 2012. In its early days, Groupon was a tech superstar, charging along on a mission to become the fastest-growing company in history. But as the months passed, the company was plagued by slumping stock, a shareholder lawsuit and the rumored unrest from employees trying to leave the company.

Much of the blame has fallen on the shoulders of CEO Andrew Mason, who once had … Read more

Women make advances in technology

Call this the year when small cracks shot through the glass ceiling for women in tech. While pioneers including Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina have made their marks in years past, 2012 saw critical mass with women advancing in technology management and in technology media.

Of course, Marissa Mayer famously became the first pregnant CEO this year, but she wasn't alone. Two of Microsoft's new leaders for Windows are women, Sheryl Sandberg joined the Facebook board (finally), and Internet-wide celebrations of Ada Lovelace Day continued to highlight the success women are enjoying in science and technology fields while … Read more

Video games arrive at a crossroads

This year forced the gaming industry to take a long look at itself in the mirror. The ever-changing landscape of casual, mobile, and hard-core games has fragmented a marketplace once ruled by home and portable consoles from "the big three" (Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo). In 2012, app-based gaming on phones and tablets has severely cut into the demand for separate portable gaming systems, platforms that Nintendo and Sony once thrived on. While Sony's new Vita portable impressed, its lack of consistent must-have game exclusives has proven to be its Achilles' heel.

In addition to other console manufacturers, Nintendo … Read more

The rise of touch

A funny thing happened alongside the release of Microsoft's Windows 8 operating system this fall. Traditional clamshell laptops started shipping with built-in touch screens. That's to be expected from Windows 8 hybrids and convertibles, and maybe a few high-end proof-of-concept systems, to be sure. But instead we found everyday mainstream and even budget laptops adding touch screens, some for under $550.

That's partly because Windows 8 is so tightly tied in to touch navigation that it hardly makes sense to use it without a touch screen, which is why it works (surprisingly well, really) in traditional laptops … Read more

Connected car revolution has arrived

Last year, Audi included a dedicated data connection into some of its models to power services, such as Google Earth integration with its navigation system. This year other automakers piled on the connected car effort, with varying strategies to enable the types of services we have become used to on our smartphones in dashboards. Witness the Ford Sync AppLink, Toyota Entune, and Chevrolet MyLink as three top examples.

Most automakers leverage our own smartphones' data connection to deliver services such as Pandora music streaming, destination search, and even social media. At the same time, each automaker customizes the experience in … Read more

Square corners

In 2012, technology design went square, and I don't mean boring. Rather, the past year signaled a shift to sharp 90-degree angles as a design element. By itself, that change may not seem significant, but when you consider that so much in tech -- from hardware to software to Web design -- was built on the concept of rounded corners, you see that it is a notable design shift. Apple didn't follow the pack (Steve Jobs wasn't a fan of square corners), but plenty of its rivals did.

Microsoft was the biggest promoter of square corners, not … Read more

Curation becomes a form of expression

Pinterest and Tumblr exploded this year as users flocked to the two sites, which are a little like book-marking services on steroids, to curate highly visual collections of images of food, clothes, favorite travel spots, inspirational quotes, and, particularly in Tumblr's case, hilarious memes.

Pinterest grew quickly in the creative and crafting communities early this year, filling up with beautiful photos and inspirational projects. It's so popular now that some police departments use the site to find wanted criminals and missing people. Tumblr, a hipster favorite, provides a bunch of original content as well, but the most popular … Read more

Companies choose 'glamor' launches over trade shows

In 2012, other companies learned what Apple had long ago mastered: How you launch your product matters just as much as the product itself. What's more, instead of unveiling your new creation on a crowded stage like a huge trade show, you can maximize your buzz by staging your own event exactly when and where it suits you.

Samsung showed it had chutzpah when it launched the Galaxy S3 last May in London. A tight clamp on leaks got the tech press salivating early and Samsung broke with tradition by staging a global launch of a flagship device. Then … Read more

Decline of Japanese CE companies

It wasn't that long ago that Sony was the gold standard in consumer electronics. Now, it's scrambling with subpar products, a tarnished brand, and has been scrambling to find a sense of direction. Its downturn underscores the broader troubles that the Japanese electronic giants all face, companies that include Panasonic and Sharp. Sadly, Sony may be the best positioned among them to mount a comeback.

The fall of these companies provides a warning to others that attempt to do too much, spreading themselves too thin and missing out on crucial trends, like the rise of the global smartphone … Read more