How black holes and TV streaming wars made tech headlines in 2019

by Shane Dillon

What a year that was for tech news! As with most years, some of the most entertaining tech stories from 2019 involved some of the worst news. As such, here are just some of the highlights – or lowlights – from 2019…

SAMSUNG was left red-faced in April when its revolutionary Galaxy Fold made headlines for all the wrong reasons all over the world.

The concept sounds cool: fold out or unfold your phone, revealing a much larger screen to use.

Unfortunately, the hardware itself couldn’t quite live up to the concept, with the central fold often developing a bulge, or other issues effectively making the Fold unusable.

Various reviewers reported problems within days, and some within hours, sending Samsung back to the drawing board to tinker with the design.

HUAWEI, the Chinese tech titan that nobody much in the West had heard of even a year or two ago, was plunged into crisis in May as Sino-US relations soured.

The years 2018 and 2019 saw Huawei leap into Western consumer minds with decent phones, while it also maintained serious tech credentials of interest to corporations, state bodies and governments, but 2019 must have left Huawei wishing it could phone a friend.

At this juncture, as the international political spat continues, Huawei has found itself caught in the crossfire, continuing to promote its pretty decent consumer phone business, but stymied in various business quarters by the continuing trade war and related ‘security concerns’.

FACEBOOK found some spare change down the back of its corporate sofa in July – some $5bn, to you and me – when it was fined by America’s FTC over how it handled user data, as highlighted by the fallout from the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

The hefty sum reflected more than just a record fine by the FTC, as it was just part of a suite of penalties dished out.

Facebook was also mandated with scrutinising a wide range of related security issues, such as third-party apps, how passwords are encrypted, and other such matters.

The fine was just one of a number of critical stories that Facebook found itself making headlines with this year, with the stark issue of what Facebook moderators see, and the support and training they get, also reoccurring throughout the year alongside a raft of ongoing privacy concerns.

THE ‘Dark Web’ – the underbelly of the internet that most users will never directly access – was briefly dragged into the light in August when a notorious message board, 8chan, was shut down.

Repeatedly linked to a number of mass shootings this year, with mass murderers posting manifestos and threats there, 8chan was seen as just too lawless for even the Dark Web, and effectively shut down for a while.

It’s since bounced back under a new name, but the background battle to keep 8chan shut (or open) provides a sober reminder that, for millions of people, online data and communication is about more than sharing Baby Yoda memes or what’s ‘trending’ that day.

TIKTOK, the viral video creation/sharing platform that hit the popularity stratosphere with youthful users in 2019, drew a little too much attention in November because of a make-up video posted by an American teen.

As far as I know, there’s not usually very much that’s controversial about information on how to curl your eyelashes.

Unless, of course, you simultaneously use your video to criticise the Chinese government over its treatment of Muslims, which drew great global attention – and criticism – in 2019.

The teen’s subsequent account suspension drew a global outcry and media headlines, leading TikTok to apologise and reinstatement her account.

If nothing else, the affair shed light on how even minor social media ‘infractions’ can have some serious consequences and spark global interest.

NETFLIX’S once iron grasp on viewing habits began to loosen further in November with the launch of rival major streaming platforms, such as Disney Plus, and Apple TV plus, ready to also join the likes of Hulu and Amazon.

While Netflix’s magic bottomless sack of money is unlikely to run out any time soon, the arrival of two further serious streaming players left many analysts wailing that the ‘golden age of streaming’ is either over, or evolving, depending on your point of view.

The departure of all kinds of stalwart content over to the new rivals was a blow to Netflix, with 2020 set to see the streaming wars increase.

Meanwhile, the spectre of an Irish broadcasting charge/tax for every household, in lieu of ye olde TV Licence, was also briefly raised in 2019, particularly with RTE’s well-publicised balance sheet struggles making domestic headlines.

However, the Government kicked that potentially nasty can down the road, leaving what would arguably amount to an Internet tax for another year.

ALSO in November – what a month that was – Google perplexed gamers the world over with the launch of its Stadia games console.

It’s not a console, per se, but relies on the power of super-duper Google servers to run the game for you, then transmit it to your place for you to play.

Which would be lovely if you happen to have super fast, reliable internet access … which thus rules out a hell of a lot of Planet Earth from being able to use Stadia properly.

There’s an interesting idea there, but Stadia may just be tech that’s years ahead of mass appeal or adoption.

Time will tell whether Stadia takes off, or disappears into the black hole of oblivion.

Speaking of which…

FINALLY, one of the world’s most important photos came and went with relatively little fanfare in April, as we were treated to the very first photo of a black hole, courtesy of NASA boffins.

Some imagination was possibly required when regarding the not exactly earth-and-space-shattering blurry digital image of an orange blob, but the fact such a shot exists was one for the history books, and quietly marked another milestone for Man contemplating his place in the universe.

If you happen to be visiting the centre of the M87 galaxy (about 55 million light years away) any time soon and can take a clearer shot of the black hole there, don’t forget to send it in to us.

You just might win our Photo of the Week title.

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