We streamed, we zoomed, we ordered groceries and houseplants online, we created virtual villages while navigating laptop bottlenecks to work and study from home. In many ways, the isolation caused by the pandemic in 2020 has increased our reliance on technology and removed our real-world connections, while digital relationships have come to the fore.
But for every life-changing zoom there was at least one soon-forgotten quibi. Here’s a look at the year’s winners and losers.
1) Virtual Reality
As the world got used to a new reality, the pandemic may have been virtual reality’s chance to provide a way out. By using specialized headsets and equipment such as gloves, the technology enables interaction with a 360-degree view of a three-dimensional environment that appears to be well suited for people stuck indoors.
However, people turned to more user-friendly software and games that they already had. Few rushed to spend hundreds of dollars on a clunky new headset or tried to learn the ropes of virtual reality meeting software. And no VR games broke into the mainstream. Virtual reality, which has been on the verge of success for decades, has missed its moment again.
2) Social Media Choice Labels
It was the year of labels on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and even TikTok. Ahead of the US president’s vote on November 3, the companies pledged to curb election misinformation, including unfounded allegations of fraud and premature declarations of victory by candidates. And the most visible part of it was the multitude of labels that were put on tweets, posts, photos and videos.
“Some or all of the content of this tweet is controversial and could be misleading about an election or other civil process,” reads a typical label that President Donald Trump applied to a tweet.
However, many experts said the labels made it look like companies were taking action, “at the end of the day it turned out to be pretty ineffective,” as Syracuse University professor Jennifer Grygiel, social media expert, put it.
Less than a year ago, Quibi launched a zippy Super Bowl ad asking, “What’s a Quibi?” People may still be scratching their heads.
Quibi, short for “Quick Bites,” raised $ 1.75 billion (approximately Rs.12,800) from investors including major Hollywood players Disney, NBCUniversal and Viacom.
However, the service struggled to reach viewers as there were lots of short videos on the internet and the coronavirus pandemic kept many people at home. It announced it would close in October, just a few months after it launched in April.
5) Uber and Lyft
Fresh from their IPOs the year before and still struggling to show that they could be profitable, the 2020 pandemic overwhelmed the hail drives as people stopped taking cars and huddled at home.
In May, Uber laid off over 3,700 people, or around 14 percent of its workforce. Lyft also announced job cuts.
But there are signs of hope. After Lyft significantly cut costs through restructuring in the second quarter, Lyft expects a first profitable quarter in late 2021 last month. The companies scored a huge victory in California, where voters passed Proposition 22 and granted them another exemption from a law , which aimed to classify their drivers as employees, an issue that analysts believed would have brought their business to its knees in the most populous state in the country.
5) US TikTok ban
While India has banned the popular video-sharing app, it appears TikTok in the US is on the verge of shortening Donald Trump’s tenure without the president successfully attempting to ban it.
Earlier this month, a federal judge blocked a possible ban. It was the last legal defeat for the administration in their efforts to wrest the app from the Chinese owners. In October, another federal judge postponed a shutdown planned for November.
Meanwhile, a government term has also expired for TikTok’s parent company ByteDance to close a deal that would see Oracle and Walmart invest in TikTok, with the status of the deal unclear.
While President-elect Joe Biden said TikTok was a problem, it is not clear what his administration will continue with the Trump administration’s attempts to ban it.
1) Nintendo Switch
Even in a year that announced new consoles from Xbox and PlayStation, the Nintendo Switch was the console that could. Introduced in 2017, the Switch became a quick seller. This was aided by the launch of the Switch Lite in September 2019.
Finding a counter became difficult in March as people looked for ways to chat in their homes. The release of the island simulation game Animal Crossing: New Horizons, which debuted on March 20 and, according to Nintendo, has sold a total of 26 million units worldwide, increased its popularity.
According to the NPD Group, Nintendo Switch sold 6.92 million units in the US in the first eleven months of 2020. It was the best-selling console in units sold for 24 months in a row – a record.
All video conferencing software from Microsoft Teams to WebEx thrived during the sudden shift of tens of millions of people to remote work and schooling during the pandemic. But only one became a verb.
Zoom Video Communications was a relatively unknown company prior to the pandemic, but its ease of use was largely enforced during the pandemic. There was some mounting pains, including lax safety, that led to early “zoom bombing” violations. The company has redesigned its security and remains one of the most popular platforms for remote meetings and classes.
3) ransomware suppliers
The ransomware scourge, in which criminals take data hostage by encrypting it until victims pay, reached epic proportions in 2020 and was horribly fitting for the COVID-19 plague. In Germany, a patient turned away from the emergency room of a hospital whose IT system had been paralyzed by an attack and died on the way to another hospital.
In the US, the number of attacks on healthcare facilities has doubled from 50 in 2019 to almost double. Attacks on state and local authorities rose about 50 percent to over 150. Even high schools were hit, cutting off distance learning students from Baltimore to Las Vegas.
Cybersecurity firm Emsisoft estimates the cost of US ransomware attacks in the US alone at more than $ 9 billion this year between ransom amounts paid and downtime / recovery.
4) PC manufacturer
After grappling with annoying delays in their supply chains earlier in the year, the personal computer industry struggled to keep up with the rising demand for machinery, indispensable during a pandemic that kept millions of workers and students at home were.
The outbreak initially hampered production as PC makers were unable to source the parts they needed from overseas factories that were shut down in the early stages of the health crisis.
These closings contributed to a sharp drop in sales in the first three months of the year. But there have been boom times since then.
The period from July to September was particularly robust: PC shipments in the US were up 11 percent compared to the same point in time in 2019. According to the research company Gartner, this is the largest quarterly increase in sales in the industry in ten years.
The largest company, Amazon, is one of the few companies that was successful during the coronavirus outbreak. People have turned to ordering groceries, supplies and other items online to help the company achieve record sales and profits between April and June. That came in spite of the fact that it had to spend $ 4 billion (about Rs 29,400) cleaning supplies and paying overtime and bonuses for workers.
But it’s not just Amazon. The pandemic is accelerating the transition to online shopping, a trend that experts expect even after vaccines allow the world to resume normal life. According to Adobe Analytics, online sales at smaller US retailers grew 349 percent on Thanksgiving and Black Friday, thanks in part to customers who deliberately helped small businesses. For the more than 1 million companies that use Shopify to build their websites, sales grew 75 percent year over year to $ 2.4 billion (around Rs.17,600) on Black Friday, according to Shopify.
Jury is out:
Facebook, Amazon, Apple, and Google have all done well financially, with each company’s share price and profits increasing significantly since the start of the year. They gained users, introduced new products and features, and continued to hire, even as other companies and industries faced significant cuts.
But not all is well in the world of big tech. Regulators are taking a breather from any company and that is unlikely to get better in 2021. Google is facing an antitrust lawsuit from the Justice Department. And Facebook was hit by a member of the Federal Trade Commission, along with almost every US state trying to break it off from WhatsApp and Instagram.
More cases could follow. In addition to Facebook and Google, the congress investigators spent months studying the actions of Apple and Amazon and called on the CEOs of all four companies to testify.
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(Except for the headline, this story was not edited by NDTV staff and published from a press release.)
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