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2021 Year in Review – Top Tech Trends of Mine

What makes 2021 different is that the tech industry has seen massive shifts recently due to the pandemic within a short amount of time. A lot happened and to discuss everything in one piece would be impossible, instead what I want to cover today are the top five trends close to my heart and why you need to know about them.

Abundance of Smartphones – Scarcity of Brands

The demand for consumer products skyrocketed in recent years and smartphones are no different. Every brand has released more of what they make, heck even Apple released 4 models two times in a row with the most colour and size options to date. The issue is that we might be seeing less and less brands going forward, stifling innovation as we know.

• Farewell to LG Smartphone

The problem however is that even though more models were plastered across all the billboards you see, fewer brands exist right now that made an impact. That’s right – LG exited the smartphone business this year leaving Samsung to lead the South Korean brand flag when it comes to smartphone innovation. Contrary to what you might think, LG was actually the brand that was the most experimental and they introduced a lot to the industry – OLED displays, multiple camera setups, weird swinging displays, and the list goes on. LG of course is still a big brand so one can expect a return, but there seem to be no plans in near future.

• Google Getting Vertical

Google released their first-ever Pixel devices this year with their own chip design – the Tensor. To be honest this feels like the first real Google phone even though it is the 6th Pixel. So far Pixel tech only seemed like a fancier Nexus lineup of phones but now having their own architecture allows them to change the game. Pixel 6 has been a milestone when it comes to AI and Processing – in easier terms it does automagic stuff a lot better, it does software a lot better, it does camera a lot better, it eats your battery a lot better, and it breaks down every other day due to a new hardware issue – a lot better. Jokes aside this is the direction you want Google to head on to if you want any brand to stand a chance against the behemoths Apple and Samsung have become.

The sad part though is that Google has been pretty bad with marketing their devices. Even though the Pixel 6 has sold more than double the last year’s 5 – it still has a long way ahead to get the worldwide appeal. Google is just not known as a brand in Asian markets and until Google puts in the effort to be marketed it won’t survive just from the US and selective regional sales. Pixel can be an awesome alternative, they just need to:

  • Fix their hardware issues
  • Fix their marketing
  • Fix their after sales service

And voila, a new competitor is upon us – they certainly have the big bucks to execute on this.

• It Was Me, Oppo! – All Along

That being said, another sad departure from the tech enthusiasts of the world is OnePlus. Till date if you wanted a no-nonsense clean, superior, faster, better, stronger Android experience – you went OnePlus; but now you go home. OnePlus has merged with Oppo and will support ColorOS in their upcoming devices. The update has already been deployed on the current flagships and as expected has caused devices to straight-up break. This again is another tragedy for Android loyalists. Nothing can save this now, yes ‘Nothing’ the brand is planning to launch their own smartphone soon led by the very same Carl Pei who founded OnePlus – so let’s keep our hopes high and expectations medium for this upcoming tech.

• Note-worthy Exemption

And lastly, a shoutout to one of my personal favourite lines of smartphones – The Samsung Galaxy Note Series. Which too saw demise this year with the rise in demand for folding devices that should do more instead. I do hope that the folding tech can fully replace the productivity champion that Note was but currently there is a void left behind.

All in all – the tech trends are clear; more phones less brands and fewer allegiances. Couple of more years and we might end up in a corpo run world – Cyberpunk 2077


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Maximum Power, Performance, and Portability

The M1 Pro and M1 Max chips saw the light of the day this year and yes – the 2021 MacBook Pros are the best laptops to buy, no discussion.

Ok a little discussion, it is true that you can buy a more powerful windows laptop for cheaper; it is true you can find a more appealing laptop hardware-wise; it is true you can get a better display on a laptop, and it is true you can definitely get something cheaper BUT and it is a big BUT for many consumers – there is nothing else on the market that combines all this tech into one package that is the new MacBook Pro. And I haven’t touched on the battery life of this thing yet, which has seen upwards of 15-20 hours of usage, read that again – 20 hours of actual usage, not just marketing on a box. I personally got a last year M1 MacBook Air (yes someday I might do a review on it) and I honestly forget to charge it since it just lasts so long.

The battery life combines with the stellar performance for the right workflows in a sleek package, return of ports and MagSafe – nothing beats the MacBook Pros pound for pound. I still think you can get better value performance-wise on Windows Laptops but trust me, there is nothing better as a package on this side which saddens me.

Expect to see a lot of computers getting ARMed in the upcoming year, x86 is dying and Apple is here to make sure it gets buried. Even Intel is opening up fabs to compete with their own architecture. Laptops are going to get much more interesting in 2022.


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Gaming is Cheaper, Being a Gamer is Not

Yes, they were right, with great age comes less time to game but I still try my best to stay in touch with my roots. 2021 has been a great year for gaming with an asterisk.

2021 saw the biggest shortage of gaming supplies and everything skyrocketed in pricing due to scalping. Very sad for anyone who wanted to get in the game but what I want to highlight is the fact that it has never been cheaper to actually play the games you love if you already own a PC or a Console.

Introducing – Subscription Services, THEY FINALLY MAKE SENSE. Even though Xbox Game Pass is not something new, this is the year Microsoft bought ZeniMax and with it many large gaming studios leading to a much larger availability of game titles on the Game Pass service.

In fact, Game Pass has been so successful that Sony has vouched to streamline their offerings of PlayStation Now and PlayStation Plus under a project called Spartacus.

Lastly, I discovered that EA Play, the service which lets you play any EA game has regional pricing apparently. I was able to get a full year’s subscription for around 3,000 PKR (roughly 18 USD) at the time of writing. Also, you get EA Play as complimentary if you get the Xbox Game Pass or the PC Game Pass.

So no wonder gaming hardware is high in demand – yes yes I know crypto has a big hand in the GPU shortage but we don’t mention crypto here shhhhh.

Gaming is going to be a lot of fun and a lot cheaper for people with existing hardware. I now only hope that the hardware pricing returns from insanity and that when I am rewriting this piece at end of 2022 – cloud gaming is more accessible and less subpar.

Pro-tip for making it this far – given the hardware situation right now, you can get a pretty sweet Gaming Laptop instead for the price of a high-end GPU. Gaming Laptops have closed a lot of gap in terms of performance recently. Read more about it here.


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The Right to Repair – A Fad I Support

You knew this was coming, actually, I don’t think so – we who live here in Asia, where labour is cheap, law is mhe, and the market is full of knock off parts don’t really care or are aware about this movement making waves in the West. But the good news is if you care – or don’t – it is a good thing for you as a consumer.

The Right to Repair movement made a lot of jumps this year allowing consumers more control over hardware they purchased. A lot of companies jumped on the hype train not necessarily because they support this movement BUT to avoid getting under fire legally speaking due to laws being changed around this. Here are my top examples from this year:

• Apple Wants You To Repair

Apple is known for running a tight ship when it comes to repairing its own devices. Though to their credit from an Asian person’s perspective, they do have the largest after-sales service network, unlike many other brands along having the highest satisfaction ratings. That does not change however the initiative they brought to the table, it is small, but it is something – The Apple Self Service Repair Program. Under this program consumers through a system would be able to buy official Apple parts and tools to execute repairs on their own devices. Apple has a bad rep for this kind of marketing stunts as seen with their prior Independent Repair Program but it still is a win for Right to Repair.

• The Most Repairable Laptop Ever

This year also introduced us to the Framework Laptop.

A fully modular laptop with replaceable and in some cases upgradable parts. Easy to open up and stitch right back. Decent specs with decent hardware. And a pretty good price for what you are getting.

This laptop made headlines in tech media, so much so that one of my personal favourite tech channel LLT bought into being part of the Framework Family. That being said, this was also one of the most influential devices to prove to the world that you don’t need to tone down the product to be more repairable.

Now I can mention another brand here which is the Fairphone, having a similar mission as Framework but for smartphones. The problem is that their product is actually quite toned down and much less upgradeable than the Framework. I understand that one is a laptop and another is a smartphone which makes the problem much more complicated – but I suppose this prompts an honourable mention at least.

• Dell Goes to The Moon

Not an actual product yet but Dell did an impressive showcase of their concept Luna laptop. Basically an exercise on waste reduction taken to extremes. What you get as an end result is something that is light, thin, and impressively sustainable.

The focus for this laptop is on repairability with easier access to parts, less screws to screw with and internals that you can chug and plug. But the problem with this project is that it will only work if they mass produce and mass sell this exact model – a hard thing to do for Dell which sells 20 different laptops in 100 different countries with 1000 different variations, you get the point.

My scepticism for Dell being able to achieve this aside I think it is still a win for the Right to Repair movement, Dell is the biggest player in the PC Laptop space and they can generate a lot of awareness with this concept….. even if they do that by buying ad space for repair related search terms – capitalism at its best.

• Microsoft Fixes The Surface

As a techie, you must admit that Microsoft has done a lot recently to push the PC Laptop hardware and tech with their Surface device lineup. Yes, the specs can be better but their hardware has been industry-leading. The only issue though is repairability.

If you own a Surface device or know someone who does, you will know what I mean if you ever broke one. Surface devices are notoriously hard to repair and hence Microsoft along with other PR shenanigans has decided to partner with iFixit to manufacture service tools for their products.

See the trend here? Every big brand wants in on Right to Repair – which is good for you and me. Let’s hope this trend stays strong throughout 2022.

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The Simple, The Effective – My Favourite Gadget

We are in the end game now. I want to shout out to the smartest use of a network I have ever seen. The Apple AirTag.

I mean, this tech is just so ridiculous – a 24ish USD coin that you can toss anywhere and track anything. It leeches off of the Apple’s Find My network and basically relies on the countless iDevices out in the world to work.

I have yet to buy one but I have a bajillion ideas to make use of this nifty thing. I honestly think this has been the most unique little gadget this year. Do give it a try. A cheap car tracker perhaps, track your enemies, or your family – I don’t endorse one use or another.

Fin

When I started writing this piece I wanted to pick and choose the tech trends I really do feel affected by. Those things might be different for you but what we can come to an agreement on is that for how challenging 2021 was, tech seemed to survive and thrive. It certainly helped me a lot from launching this website, to having a weekly podcast, to letting me do my job efficiently. Thank you for reading this and I hope to see you next year with more tech to follow.


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Saqib Tahir

Learning how to build better Products. Follow @saqibtahirpk everywhere.