This Week in This Week in Tech: 2015 in Review in Review
The world has plenty of year-end recaps - so many that it can be hard to keep up. That’s why This Week in This Week in Tech is bringing you our final installment of 2015: This Year in This Year in Tech, a Cliff’s Notes version of all the year-end tech recaps we encountered. Sorted by theme, of course. Enjoy, and happy New Year!
Unicorns, Zombiecorns, Donkeys, & Cockroaches
As far as the tech sector goes, 2015 might as well be the year of the Unicorn - the year we couldn’t stop talking about them, the year we noticed the weren’t making their initial public offerings with the frequency they used to, the year [VCs kept pouring money into them anyway. VentureBeat declared 2015 “the year VCs invested like drunken sailors,” bemoaning the flow of private capital investment dollars into startups even as exits were declining. And a few startups that did IPO this year did so at significantly-reduced valuations, which is part of why TechCrunch declared 2015 “a pretty lousy year for Unicorns.” Good or bad, Unicorns seems like about half of what we talked about this year.
2015 was so much the year of the Unicorn, it saw the birth of the “Zombiecorn,” or the Unicorn startup that’s joined the ranks of the walking dead, a la Evernote. [VentureBeat devoted a whole column to the worst Unicorns of 2015, and of course Evernote was among them, along with Fab, Living Social, and Theranos. And a number of startups actually failed in 2015, including the once-hot Secret, Rdio, and Homejoy. If there’s one Unicorn that’s had a great year, however, it’s Slack, the enterprise communication app that literally no one can stop talking about. And let’s not forget [Etsy, the DIY and vintage goods marketplace that went public this year at nearly double its offering price. If you want a review of all the tech IPOs this year and how they did, check out TechCrunch’s slideshow.
Mobile & Millennials
Not that we weren’t already aware it’s a mobile-first world, but 2015 was an interesting year on the phone front. Apparently we’re now doing basically everything on our smartphones, from capturing and digitizing memories to managing music and even our investment portfolios. VentureBeat’s 15 Most Beautifully Designed Apps of 2015 displays the full breadth of possibilities, and its mentions go out to little startups, unicorns, and even tech giants.
The giants are still dominating the space, of course: a new report from Nielsen reveals that Facebook remains the most-installed app on US smartphones, with its Messenger app grabbing the spot of fastest-growing app, despite slower growth than Messenger had seen the year before. Honorable mentions go to Apple Music, Instagram, YouTube, and a plethora of apps from Google and Apple. While none of this is surprising, what raised a few eyebrows was a report that SnapChat and Facebook Messenger have declined slightly in popularity among the younger end of the Millennial generation. Since everything is less cool once your parents figure out how to use it, those kinds of contradictory indictors maybe shouldn’t come as much of a surprise as they have.
2015 was also the year that mobile payments finally started to mean something, with the introduction of Apple Pay, one-touch payment, and Buy Buttons on a number of social platforms.
Oh right, the rest of the world
Venture Beat dedicated some column inches to recounting tech acquisitions US firms made in Europe & Israel. Apple, for example, made 6 acquisitions in the EU in 2015, compared to just 1 in 2014. This included Metaio, a German augmented reality company that spun out of Volkswagen about a decade ago. While the other GAFA players may not have increased their foreign acquisitions as impressively, Venture Beat’s article does point to the surprising number of overall acquisitions of Israeli startups as evidence of the thriving innovation scene there, though they caution that “the aggressive dealmaking among Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, and Amazon in [Europe and Israel] only underscores the level of activity.…There is little surprise that virtual reality, cloud computing, online security, artificial intelligence, and gaming all featured prominently.”
Despite these investments, VentureBeat would like you to remember that Europe and the US are really not the same place, and in many ways tensions continue to run high. Europe vs. Facebook, the Right to Be Forgotten, Uber problems, and plenty of other legal and cultural clashes played out on the transatlantic stage this year.
Over at TechCrunch, meanwhile, we find a snapshot of another thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem in India. According to the article, 72% of India’s startup founders are under 35, and there are more of them than any other country in the world except the US, UK, and China. Of the 925 startups founded in India in 2015, 494 of them have received seed funding, with another 434 reporting the raise of private equity. 876 investors put over $8.5B into the Indian startup economy, particularly between July and September. Food, e-commerce, travel & hospitality, and payments startups dominated the investment scene in India. Among the investors looking at India, major US firms included Sequoia Capital and Accel Partners. We also got a great, rather surprising look at the sometimes [very different understanding of ‘IoT’ in Southeast Asia, where apparently there’s such a thing as a Healthcare ATM.
Remember how illicit affair dating site Ashley Madison got hacked this year? Data and security were major themes (again) in 2015. While some companies are still figuring out the basics of security, they’d better figure them out fast: according to VentureBeat’s sources, “The number of attacks by cyber-criminals against businesses doubled in 2015." While the growth in malware attacks against corporate PCs was slight and the overwhelming majority of attacks were directed at banks and financial services companies, the number of “Cryptolocker” attacks, in which criminals demand a ransom to release locked data (or not release stolen data) doubled. As we move in to 2016, experts caution that consumers may be next, with Smart Home devices exposing new opportunities for cybercriminals.
Diversity (in Tech)
Alongside the conversation about the money pouring into the technology industry this year, 2015 really turned up the volume on the important related conversation about where and to whom that money was flowing, and whether the distribution of money and power reflected the diversity of users and customers being targeted. TL;DR: it didn’t, and still doesn’t, but that doesn’t mean that women can’t found companies or build technology. What an “engineer” looks like was a major topic for a moment, so it may come as no surprise that TechCrunch has taken the occasion of year-end to provide us with multiple lists recounting non-white-male founders who did something newsworthy in 2015. Part of reshaping the gender lines of the industry (especially in an increasingly multi-gendered world) means rethinking the relationship between the domestic and economic spheres, which may be why VentureBeat declared 2015 “the year that tech got serious about maternity leave.” This person in tech is still looking forward to the year when we stop talking about “maternity leave” at all and only discuss parental or family leave.
IoT, Wearables, & Connected Homes & Cars
We couldn’t agree enough with Wired that “wearable” is a stupid word for a poorly-conceived category of technology, so we’re thrilled that it might be fading in usage. At the same time, though, [sales of fitness devices are skyrocketing and new kinds of ‘wearable’ technology are coming out of development - and, in some cases, to market. 2015 saw the incorporation of sensors right into the threads of fabric and a lot of new and renewed discussion about what constitutes an “interface” and whether every sensor really needs to connect to a smartphone app.