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Technological high -- and low -- points

By JIM ALGAR, United Press International   |   Dec. 24, 2012 at 4:30 AM   |   Comments

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For technology, 2012 seemed equal parts innovation and confrontation as the world's tech giants seemed willing to spend as much time in the courtroom as in their R&D labs.

In patent wars that saw lawsuits flying thick and fast, it was U.S. tech titan Apple versus South Korea's electronics juggernaut Samsung that was most in in public eye.

Apple accused Samsung of copying its products, Samsung countersued, and the companies ended up in a California court where a jury sided with Apple, to the tune of $1.05 billion in damages and a U.S. ban on the sale of some Samsung devices, although limiting that to some older Samsung products.

The litigious mood seemed contagious, and the year saw other companies including Sony, Nokia, HTC, Motorola, and Microsoft huddling with their lawyers.

In the midst of all that there were still other tech events in 2012 to catch the eye of gadget lovers.

Apple led the way with the introduction of the iPhone 5 and the iPad Mini. By the time Apple debuted the devices their design, features and specs came as a surprise to almost no one, since the Apple rumor community had been in high gear for months, but the Apple faithful -- and a lot of other people -- were happy to stand in line for the latest generation iPhone and little 7.9-inch little brother to the original 9.7-inch iPad.

2012 proved to be the year of the tablet as a slew of Android tablets prepared to do battle with the iPads large and small.

With lower prices as their main weapon, Amazon, Google and Barnes & Noble all introduced 7-inch Android-powered tablets to take on the omnipresent iPads.

Even Microsoft, making the leap from software company to hopeful hardware purveyor, joined the fray with its Surface tablets in Windows 8 and RT flavors.

In the smartphone arena, the dominant player -- Apple's iPhone -- finally found itself up against some worthy opponents, most notably Samsung's Galaxy S3, which has sold in numbers approaching iPhone levels, even surpassing sales numbers of the Apple device in November.

Samsung wisely saw to it the Galaxy was available through almost every mobile provider, both in the United States and around the world, and the premium handset has been a global success.

Microsoft, hoping not to be left behind, debuted a major upgrade to its Windows Phone 8 operating system, featured on well-received phones like the Nokia Lumia 920 and the HTC Windows Phone 8X.

Apple, although riding high with the iPhone 5, made a rare stumble when it introduced a mapping app as part of the iOS 6 operating system. It dropped Google Maps -- included in earlier versions of the OS -- in favor of its own Maps app, only to be deluged with criticism of flaws, errors and shortcomings in what was obviously an underdeveloped product.

The firestorm led to a public apology from Apple head Tim Cook and a promise to improve the app. By year's end, Google Maps was back on Apple devices.

With so much attention on mobile devices like smartphones and tablets, it was easy to almost overlook developments in the arena of full-featured computers.

The biggest 2012 story in that arena was the introduction of Windows 8, the latest iteration of Microsoft's venerable Windows operating system. Less an update than a complete overhaul, it leverages the growing phenomenon of computers featuring touch screens to provide a new interactivity between user and machine.

An emphasis on touch and apps in the new Windows Store has obviously taken a cue from mobile operating systems and the growing confluence of smartphones, tablets, notebooks/laptops and desktop computers.

And "above" all other developments in the tech world was the growing presence of computing in the "cloud."

Cloud services were everywhere and available from almost every tech company, allowing users to access their programs, data, files, photos, music -- essentially their entire digital lives -- from any device, anywhere, at any time.

So the rate of technological innovation in 2012 promises only more of the same in 2013 -- assuming the lawyers don't bring things to a screeching halt.

Topics: Tim Cook, Google
© 2012 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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