You never can tell exactly what’s going to happen next, that’s what keeps life interesting. Even in the rumor-filled world of tech where every event is preceded by a storm of predictions there are still occasional surprises. Flagship devices no longer launch under the radar very often, but they aren’t always quite as expected, and there are occasional releases that sneak through and surprise us. The mobile industry is also more competitive than ever and that led to a few unforeseen developments this year. Here are our picks for the biggest surprises in mobile for 2012.
Motorola listens to battery life demand
Probably the biggest consistent gripe about smartphones is poor battery life. Motorola surprised everyone by listening and releasing a device with a much bigger battery. The Droid Razr Maxx has a solid set of specs, but that 3,300 mAh battery really caught the eye. Was it enough to tempt everyone to buy Motorola…well, no, but it was still a good move and we’d like to see more phones with decent battery life.
Android Market becomes Google Play
Farewell Android Market, hello Google Play. The rebranding of the old, oft-maligned Android Market was long overdue. Google brought the Android eco-system bang up to date with a stylish, consolidated content offering catering for all of your entertainment needs. Google Music and Books were folded in and Android fans gained access to movies and TV shows, alongside the ever-growing repository of apps and games.
The patent war goes thermonuclear
In the past most patent infringement cases would result in an out of court settlement and a licensing agreement before seeing the inside of a courtroom, but in 2012 the gloves came off. The patent war, driven by Apple, went ballistic and the big shock of the year was a California jury finding Samsung guilty of patent infringement on several counts, which led to a whopping damages award of $1.05 billion.
This intelligent assistant popped up as part of the Android operating system with the Jelly Bean update in July. We had heard rumblings about a virtual assistant for Android, but no one was prepared for Google Now. Not only does it work surprisingly well, but the predictive capabilities are really innovative. This is the first step towards an assimilation of Google’s services and a level of personalization that should do what all good tech is supposed to do – make your life easier.
The Nexus 7 is a hit
We knew a Google tablet was on the way after an announcement at the end of 2011, but no one realized that Google and Asus would be able to turn out such a beauty in six short months. The specs and the price tag completely changed the landscape for Android tablets and the form factor was just right to help Android gain a proper foothold in the tablet market. Google’s track record with hardware has been spotty, but the Nexus 7 is an unequivocal success.
No Google Maps in iOS 6
Apple decided to ditch Google Maps as the default and launch iOS 6 with its own Maps app instead. It didn’t go too well. Several inaccuracies were highlighted and stories about Apple Maps problems are still rolling out fairly regularly. Probably the biggest surprise about the whole affair was seeing an Apple CEO actually apologizing for something. It took a while, but the new Google Maps app is now available for iOS 6.
Samsung Galaxy Camera
We are used to Samsung releasing a lot of devices, but no one saw this one coming. Samsung’s Unpacked Event back in August unveiled the Galaxy Note 2 which everyone was expecting, but then came this high spec Android digital camera. It’s quite an impressive device and it certainly surpasses the other Android cameras on the market, but whether it will take off remains to be seen.
It wasn’t the only surprise at the Unpacked Event. Samsung also announced the ATIV S which was the first confirmed phone for Microsoft’s new Windows Phone 8 platform.
Microsoft was hoping it would be third time lucky in mobile as it launched Windows Phone 8, but this time Windows 8, Windows 8 Pro and Windows RT would launch alongside it. What’s the difference? Well, it turns out that Windows RT only runs apps from Microsoft’s Windows Store. There was a fair bit of confusion and a lot of dismay over Windows RT. Even Microsoft’s employees couldn’t explain the difference when pre-orders of the Surface tablet went live.
Amazon’s tablet fleet
We knew Amazon would release an update to the Kindle Fire, but the full range and prices were a surprise. The new line up signaled Amazon’s determination to be a part of the tablet market. Amazon’s continued push on the Android platform could only be more complete if it launched a smartphone. We might just see one in 2013.
LG manufacture the Nexus 4
Google’s flagship Android smartphones have been produced by HTC and Samsung in the past. Both were flying high with their own Android devices when they were picked, so the choice of LG as the Nexus 4 manufacturer was a bit of a shock. Many people assumed the Motorola acquisition might put it in with a chance. As it turned out, LG was looking to make a play for the high-end Android smartphone market with some impressive new tech and that was enough to turn Google’s head.
Galaxy S3 wins smartphone of the year
This wasn’t a major surprise to us, or most of the 30 million plus S3 owners out there, but it was far from inevitable. When the Android super-phone battle kicked off with the S3 going head-to-head with the HTC One X, a lot of people predicted a win for HTC. Then there was the long build up to Apple’s latest iPhone release as expectations surpassed the reality. In the end, the Galaxy S3 walked 2012, and it’s still the best smartphone on the market.
Was there anything else that shocked you this year? Post a comment and tell us about your biggest mobile tech surprises of 2012.