Maybe it's the middle-aged blues: Mobile tech is now firmly entrenched, but not very exciting. This year has seen the passing of the torch from PCs to mobile devices, thanks somewhat to Microsoft's big Windows 8 miscalculation but more to the fact that tablets and smartphones do much of what people want to do now. Tablets and smartphones are now owned by most American households, and signs of market saturation are visible. Who won't have these devices in the next year?
Despite that momentous shift, it's been a fairly uneventful year in terms of the technology. A parade of iPhone killers came and went, all selling less well than expected against Apple's not-so-exciting-save-for-Siri iPhone 4S, which debuted in fall 2012. Although they got a lot of prerelease hype, the Samsung Galaxy S 4 disappointed due to uneven software, the HTC One due to its too-iPhone-like look and feel, and Motorola Mobility for its boring Moto X, whose X8 motion coprocessor is innovative but untapped. Yes, Google finally released a Nexus smartphone, the Nexus 5, that it could take pride in, but it didn't advance the technology in any meaningful way, and it had a crummy camera to boot. Yawn.
[ Bob Violino and Robert Scheier show how businesses today are successfully taking advantage of mobile tech, in InfoWorld's Mobile Enablement Digital Spotlight PDF special report. | The best office productivity tools for the iPad and for Android tablets. | Keep up on key mobile developments and insights with the Mobilize newsletter. ]
Then came the iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c. The iPhone 5s pushed new ground in its A7 64-bit processor and Touch ID fingerprint reader, but the potential of the first is as yet unrealized, and the latter is convenient but no more than that. The iPhone 5c is a minor revision to the iPhone 4S in a new case. Both have sold very well, with the iPhone 5s topping the charts at all the U.S. carriers since its release -- great for Apple and its investors, but a yawn for everyone else.
Android tablets were even more boring than Android smartphones, with no memorable models released, just obvious upgrades to previous models. And in the case of Amazon.com and Google, they basically replaced their crippled media tablets of 2012 with decent ones this year -- necessary but hardly groundbreaking. The big news was the fact that Dell and Hewlett-Packard now have their own Android tablets, though they offer no more than other Android tablets. Zzzzzzz.
The iPad Mini boasted a Retina display whose extra pixels aren't easy to detect, and the iPad Air became faster, thinner, and 25 percent lighter but didn't get Touch ID. Both are selling quite well, so Apple clearly has figured it out it doesn't need to shock and awe us, just keep improving what it already has. Again, it's great for Apple and its investors, but a snooze for everyone else.
Mobile OSes followed the same trajectory. Apple gave iOS 7 a new look, inspired by Windows Phone and other youthful UI trends, but it basically works the same as before. Google changed Android even less, with several Jelly Bean updates and the KitKat update that essentially added more Google services in the search giant's effort to capture all data possible about everyone on the planet. Incremental refinements -- again. Yawn -- again.
We didn't see a lot of bad smartphones and tablets this year from Apple and the major Android vendors -- that's a good thing. But the incremental improvements are more reminiscent of the PC market, where every year they get faster and gain capacity, but quickly become hard to tell from their predecessors. Perhaps it's fitting that tablets began outselling PCs in the year that the tablet market began to feel more like the PC market.