If there's one thing we learned about technology in 2014, it's that other people (never us) can suffer alarming consequences from security breaches. Scarcely a week went by without a new round of security-related embarrassments, from actresses private snaps ending up on the web to people unwittingly starring in YouTube videos of footage from hacked security cameras. Our reliance on systems we assume to be watertight was highlighted by the Sony hack, which escalated into a diplomatic war between North Korea and the US. All a result of vulnerable security systems.
It's impossible to overstate the potentially catastrophic nature of the "Heartbleed" bug, discovered in April in Open SSL, a piece of cryptographic software used across the web to safeguard our communication and identities. However, its causes and consequences were so far beyond our understanding that most of us failed to appreciate what was going on. The author of the code confessed he had "missed validating a variable containing a length", but he may as well have been speaking in Old Norse. The same is true of "Bad USB", an exploit proving all USB devices are fundamentally compromised.
Google's search trends for 2014 ranked Apple, Samsung and Google's Nexus as the top three smartphones, but Samsung devices outsold Apple by nearly two to one - 73 million to 38 million. The majority of smartphones run Google's Android operating system (a market share of about 85 per cent) but Apple has lost none of its talent for creating a buzz around a product launch, as shown by the unveiling of the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus in September. Billed as "bigger than bigger", it continued the industry trend of larger screens.
Apple's long-awaited watch was also announced in September. Its launch potentially makes 2015 "the year of the smartwatch" - but the same was said of 2013 and 2014. The analytics firm Gartner optimistically predicts 40 per cent of our watches will be "smart" by 2016, but as yet we've failed to embrace them, despite praise for the likes of the Moto 360 and Sony's Smartwatch 3. With watches, aesthetics are everything, and that's where the Apple Watch may score where others have failed.
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The availability of machines like the Makerbot Replicator Mini (about $2500 new) finally saw 3D printing enter the home, and while it may be the education sector that really drags it forward, consumer interest will continue to be piqued by news stories such as Nasa emailing a spanner to the International Space Station.
One big, technologically driven change to the way we live has been hinted at in the last few days of 2014, with the news that Apple has advertised for a London-based team to work on Apple Pay, an NFC (near field communication) powered payment system. Essentially, this means tapping your phone on a reader in a store as an alternative to carrying cash or cards. Android phones have had NFC capability since 2010, and Google Wallet, an equivalent to Apple Pay, has operated in the US since 2011.
The flood of new software to our phones, tablets, laptops and desktops was incessant and frequently overwhelming. The blaze of publicity and comment that greeted the launch of many apps bore little relation to their eventual popularity: the creators of Yo (an app that enabled your phone to say "Yo" when a friend pushed a button on their phone) excitedly boasted of their accumulation of venture capital but a week later it was old news, a passing fad, an app unceremoniously dumped. Meanwhile, the minicab app Uber slowly began to cause real social change and intense debate about the free market.
The new, flattened looks of Apple's iOS8; the latest version of OSX (codename Yosemite); and Lollipop, the update to Google's Android operating system, provoked much furious insistence that all three were ugly, and not as good as they used to be. But we'll get used to it. We always do. It's one of the consequences of always-on, constantly updated devices that things will develop and change without our approval. The appearance on people's iTunes catalogue in September of a new U2 album, a gift from Apple, was a perfect example. Countless people screeched their displeasure across social media when they realised the process of deleting it wasn't straightforward.
Facebook remains social media's undisputed king; with more than 1.35 billion monthly users, 64 per cent of whom use it daily, its competitors stand little chance of even touching the hem of its cloak. As usual, it came in for criticism, but a new potential rival to Facebook, a privacy-conscious service called Ello, found itself becoming irrelevant as quickly as the buzz surrounding it had accumulated. We were also told that anonymous social-media channels such as Whisper and Secret would provide a crucial service where we could air all our desires and grievances without worrying about the implications; today, however, both services look more like a haven for the perpetually angry and sexually frustrated.