Rory Cellan-Jones

Looking back - tech in 2008

  • Rory Cellan-Jones
  • 24 Dec 08, 09:45 GMT

The Financial Times has dubbed this the "Year of the iPhone", deciding the launch of Apple's 3g phone was the key technology event of 2008. So I've been looking back through the archives of this blog to work out what were the other highlights of the year.


At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, the big story was the impending victory of Blu-Ray in the battle with HD-DVD. Although HD-DVD's backers didn't formally throw in the towel until the following month, it suddenly became clear at the show that the high-def format war was over. That helped spread a warm glow of optimism in a technology industry which seemed confident it could weather any storms brewing in the global economy.


At the Mobile World Congress, all the talk was of Google's new Android platform for mobile phones. We got a first glimpse of it in the wild, and filmed some of our coverage of the event on mobiles. And proved just how useful a professional cameraman can be.


This was the month the row over Phorm really got going. Three big ISPs were thinking of using the web tracking ad-serving software, provoking outrage from privacy campaigners. We asked Sir Tim Berners-Lee for his view - on the principle of web tracking rather than Phorm itself - and he told us he would change his internet provider if it introduced such a system. As the year ends, BT is talking of going ahead with Phorm - so expect this row to continue through 2009.


Grand Theft Auto IVThe arrival of Grand Theft Auto IV was probably the biggest event of the gaming year - and one which we decided marked a new maturity for both the gaming industry and the mass media which cover it. For this launch was treated more as an artistic event than as an excuse for lots of soul-searching about violent games and their effects on the young. It has been a great year for the games business - one of the few sectors still confident it can ride out a recession.


The dullest story of the year was the interminable Microsoft/Yahoo takeover saga. It did come to life in April with the exchange of "Dear Jerry" "Dear Steve" letters between the two protagonists - one threatening all sorts of mayhem if Yahoo didn't surrender, the other pointing out that Microsoft's falling share price made its bid less attractive. But in May Mr Ballmer walked away, and Jerry Yang celebrated his victory. His shareholders weren't quite so jubilant - the year has ended with their shares worth a third of what Microsoft was offering, and Yahoo looking for a new boss.


Our tour of Broadband Britain took us from a remote village on the west coast of Scotland, where they relied on home-brew broadband to Ebbsfleet in Kent, where BT was promising 100Mbps connections through fibre. Tens of thousands of you tested your own broadband speeds - and many told us you were not happy with what you were getting. Ofcom and the government both launched reports on the prospects for next generation broadband - though it is not quite clear what part played in those decisions.


3g iPhoneThe 3g iPhone went on sale, and we gave it considerably less coverage than the original launch. But I think the FT was right about its importance because this was the moment the mobile internet came of age. The most important aspects of the phone were not its "3g" - network coverage is still a bit patchy - but the applications and the price. Apple reached beyond the early adopters, and showed a wider market just how much you could do with a phone on the move.


The Scrabulous affair was one of the more entertaining stories of the year - and one which excited plenty of comment on the blog. The legal battle between the owners of Scrabble, Hasbro and Mattel, and the Agarwalla brothers they accused of violating their copyright with their Facebook Scrabulous game also shed light on some serious issues. How far should media companies go to defend their intellectual property on the web? How much responsibility do businesses like Facebook have for what happens on their networks? And what seven-letter word can you get from these letters - UUOSFIR - to sum up the reaction of the millions who whiled away the hours at work playing the game?


This was the month when the wheels really started coming off the world's banking system. But as the skies darkened over the global economy, the technology firms - from giants like Intel to the tiniest Web 2.0 start-ups - were still insisting that they were well placed to weather the downturn. As the month ended we asked whether the party was over for technology. Just days later shares in Google, Apple and Microsoft were tumbling and venture capital firms were telling start-ups to batten down the hatches, cut their costs, and try to sit out the storm.


Cloud computing has been the hottest new phenomenon to emerge this year, though the idea of storing more and more data on an internet "cloud" has been around for ages. In late October Microsoft unveiled its Azure cloud operating system and promised online versions of some of its key products - but hedged its bets by insisting that many users would want a copy of Office on their computer as well as in the cloud. The sceptics were quick to point out that Microsoft was late to the party - both Amazon and Google have already got their heads in the clouds.


Twitter had first proved its worth as a news source earlier in the year when Tweeters started discussing the earthquake in China before it was reported by the mainstream media. But during the Mumbai terror attacks the micro-blogging service provided a constant stream of news and impressions from the city's Twitter population. That then sparked a debate about the authenticity and accuracy of the messages - and whether mainstream media organisations, including the BBC, should give space to this form of citizen journalism.


This month has seen a flurry of stories reflecting many of the themes of the year. The "zero day vulnerability" uncovered in Internet Explorer was another example of the growing concerns about security on the web. The blocking of a Wikipedia page highlighted the continuing conflict over the limits of free expression on the web. And the launch of Virgin Media's 50Mbps broadband service was a sign that Britain may at last be moving into the internet fast lane - but raised questions over whether ISPs will start charging more for high bandwidth traffic such as web video.

All of these issues will no doubt be the source of plenty more heated debate over the coming year. But for now would just like to wish a Merry Christmas to all our readers.


  • Comment number 1.

    It was also the year in which the price of technology became increasingly affordable, with average costs of powerful PCs and Hardware dropping across the board - but to be fair, it does that every year.

    We also saw the Wii cement it's now almost unassailable lead over it's rivals Xbox 360 and PS3 - even though it's often dismissed as a casual system, with casual games, and with a nintendo-dominated software chart.

    But there were also bad points to this supposedly recession-proof industry. Job losses at many major games studios, some going to the ground entirely.

    But then, gaming is now on par with the movie industry in many areas, which millions ploughed in to develop top games and top titles making record-breaking profits such as Grand Theft Auto.

    2009? It seems game studios are going for quality over quantity.

    And in the Mobile Phone market we saw a new OS - Android - and I guess we'll be hearing a lot more about that in the future, too, competing with Symbian (now in some kind of open-source offering) and Windows Mobile (which will have a facelift, and be much more touch-screen friendly).

    As for the big companies, expect more mergers and takeovers, but again - this happens every year. Will AMD survive against INTEL? Will Nvidia bounce back against ATI (another AMD brand)? Will Yahoo go?

    The best thing about Technology is no-one knows what is really around the corner. The most interesting technology is far-off, but existing but expensive technologies should drop in price, so more Oled, cheaper eBook Readers, cheaper SSD Disks, and the rest.

    I'm looking forward to it!

  • Comment number 2.

    Looking forward,

    I'm not sure about the price of tech next year. Is the pound vs the dollar going to have much effect?

    I hope AMD are OK. everything except my laptop I bought since the K6 has been AMD. I hope NVidia are OK too. Their (proprietary) graphics driver just seems to work for me on Linux. I've not had the same joy (at least for 3d acceleration) with others.

    I think tech wise next year for me, it won't (and never is) be a year for the latest and greatest new things but I'd like to think I'll get round to putting my Penguin (Foxboard LX832 - 66x72mm board which runs Linux fitted in a case shaped like a penguin) to better use. Currently he just takes a request from the tv server to be woken up in time for the next recording (I don't want the PC server running all day long) and obliges but I have some X10 home automation plans for him one day. I'd written most of the X10 I need in Java but need to move to something else for the Penguin.

    Maybe I do more with the solar panel and controller that does (switches it on /off at times of day and with certain light levels) the pond pump, get outside talking to a PC inside, try to get the garden watering (solar powers a marine fresh water pump and uses water from a series of butts) to use some sensor measuring rainfall (I'd need to research it) and act on that.

    I'm not short of ideas for hair brained schemes that use some tech! But most likely come 2010 I'll jut find my self wondering why so much of my computer time was spent just chatting away on PCs and why I got round to nothing else.

    Any, happy Chrstmas, etc. to all.

  • Comment number 3.

    Liked your summary. Merry Christmas to you Rory! and to your colleagues also!

  • Comment number 4.

    During 2008, there was a lot of good software released for the Mac. With Apple's marketshare steadily increasing and the iPhone released, it seems like there are many new developers on the platform. There's a good compilation of some of the best freeware and shareware from this year at Mac Guru Lounge.

  • Comment number 5.

    Hi Rory, I am suprised you haven't retracted article's referring to Sony's apparent poor sales of PS3.

    In 2008 PS3 majorly outsold the Xbox 360 virtually all over the world but still everyone says PS3 is performing to poorest out of the 3 console's. I would have expected the BBC to have published an article saying how wrong it was the whole year! And that despite being the most expensive of the 3 console's it is in fact on course to beat the PS2 for like-the-like sales in the same starting period.

    So hoiw can PS2 be this mega success with 142 million console's sold and PS3 and Wii are the only ones to beat it in the forst 2 years of release... but the 360 and Wii are selling well and PS3 is struggling?

    Sorry, but I don't know anyone with a 350 or Wii... but I know a few with PS3 as a blu-ray player or games console. Perhaps people need some truth on this matter, I would expect the BBC to do that in very early 2009 before bad reporting distorts a commerical industry.

  • Comment number 6.


    Where did you get these figures, if you don't mind me asking?
    Because as far as I'm aware, there was a week or two when sales of the PS3 were stronger than the 360, but nothing more than that, i'm fairly certain that's not the case in terms of overall sales.


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