You could call 2017 Apple's year of redemption ... or at least the start of its redemption. Whereas 2016 was defined by iterative devices and a sense that Apple had lost its way (see thedongle-tastic MacBook Pro), this year saw Apple rethink multiple products with a mind to 2018 and beyond.
To start, it apologized for botching the Mac Pro and neglecting the pro market as a whole. Soon after, it unveiled theiMac Pro as a near-term fix, but the biggest news was the promise of a redesigned Mac Pro in 2018 that addresses gripes about expandability and performance. Whereas 2017 began with pros wondering if Apple was abandoning them, 2018 will start with a renewed (if cautious) optimism. The company also spent much of 2017 laying the groundwork for more futuristic technologies, includingvirtual reality andexternal graphics cards. Between this and refreshing most of its computer lineup, Apple made it clear that the Mac will enjoy a renaissance in 2018 -- and catch up with tech that Windows has had for a while.
And then there's the iPhone. After years of conservative updates, Apple finally shook things up with theiPhone X. Its nearly all-screen design was a welcome upgrade, and its depth-based face detection was a clever (if imperfect) replacement for fingerprint readers. It's safe to say that Apple will spread the iPhone X's technology across other parts of its lineup in 2018.
On top of this, 2017 was the year the Apple Watch came into its own. Arocky launch notwithstanding, theSeries 3 addressed the wish lists of early adopters with cellular data, improved performance and longer battery life. The new model helped Appleregain its lead in the wearable world and left little doubt that smartwatches would continue to be hot commodities in 2018.
That's not to say there weren't missteps. Buggy software marred some key products, from an Apple Watch connection glitch to iOS 11 reliability issues to a scary Macroot access flaw. Moreover, 2017 was the year of premature hardware announcements. TheHomePod, iMac Pro and new Mac Pro were all unveiled several months before they were due to ship, which is unusual for a company that frequently delivers newly announced hardware within weeks. Even the iPhone X missed the usual iPhone release window in September. Simply put, Apple developed a habit of announcing products well before they were ready, but hopefully in 2018 the company will focus on fulfilling promises rather than making them.
If Google had only been dipping its toes into the hardware waters before, it dove in headfirst with its 2017 lineup. In many cases, the company'sAI know-how was a central feature -- and that's likely to continue in 2018. The Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL were two of the best phones of the year, thanks in part to their excellent AI-assisted cameras, and they're only likely to improve through features like thePixel Visual Core. Google's smart speaker line clearly blossomed too. TheHome Mini's lower price made Google Assistant more accessible in the living room, while theHome Max gave audio enthusiasts an alternative to theSonos One and (eventually) Apple's HomePod. The company prepared for VR's wireless future with support for standalone Daydream headsets , and it even gave hope to Chrome OS fans by replacing theChromebook Pixel with the more flexiblePixelbook.
Even so, to say that Google flubbed a few things would be an understatement. The Pixel 2 line launched with itsshare of glitches, and the 2 XL took an extraordinary amount of flak for its display. Between blue tinting,muted colors,burn-in andunresponsive edges, there were so many complaints that Googleextended warranties to quell upset customers. Software fixes addressed some of these problems, but it's evident that quality control will need to be a priority for 2018.
And then there are thePixel Buds. While they do offer solid sound quality, just about everything else about them screams version 1.0. Fiddly controls, an awkward charging case and the questionable utility of the signature translation feature (which could easily be handled on your phone) make them a tough sell. There's a good chance Google will address at least some of these flaws later in 2018, but for now they don't live up to their promise.
This was the year Amazon went all out in its bids to conquer the smart speaker arena and make Alexa the voice assistant of choice in 2018. It released no fewer than five Echo models in 2017, all but one of which could do considerably more than play audio. Want a smart home hub?Echo Plus. Video viewer?Echo Show. You can even get an alarm clock (theEcho Spot) or a fashion adviser (theEcho Look). And that's not including Alexa-equipped devices like theCloud Cam,Fire HD 10 tablet and newFire TV. While we had our misgivings (thesecond-gen Echo's sound quality wasinitially lousy, for one) Amazon made Alexa far more accessible and capable. Expect that trend to continue in 2018: There has already been a leak hinting at ahybrid Echo/Fire TV media hub.
However, Amazon's real coup was getting other device makers to hop on the Alexa bandwagon. It wasn't just theSonos One, although that was definitely the most prominent example. Jeff Bezos and company managed to slip Alexa into hardware as diverse as theHTC U11 smartphone, theEcobee4 thermostat and evenMercedes-Benz cars. While the AI helper doesn't currently have the international reach of Apple, Google or Microsoft, Amazon's rapid international expansion of Alexa support at the end of 2017 hinted that Alexa could become truly ubiquitous in the year to come.
Unfortunately for Amazon, things started to unravel toward the end of the year. Google pulled support for YouTube on both the Echo Show and Fire TV in a dispute over Amazon's hardware sales policies and unofficial apps, hobbling two of Amazon's most important products. Amazon only just started making amends by carrying the Chromecast . Plus, there were a few questionable gadgets. Does anyone really want an upscale Kindle reader orAlexa game button? Amazon may have spread itself too thin, and there are easily a few products that could fizzle out in 2018.
There was one common theme for Facebook's hardware in 2017: VR, VR and more VR. Just under its own brand, it introduced 360-degree pro cameras , launchedsocial VR spaces and promoted virtual reality technology at every given opportunity. There were other hardware initiatives, such as the Building 8 lab's brain-computer interface andinternet drones, but there's no indication that you'll get more than peeks at these projects in 2018.
Oculus was certainly busy as well. It spent 2017 priming itself for a future in which VR is truly wireless, whether it's the low-costOculus Go or the advancedProject Santa Cruz prototype. It revamped its VR interface to be easier to use. While there's no guarantee the Go or Santa Cruz will reach your head in 2018, Oculus will go into the year with the clear goal of leaving clunky, complicated headsets firmly in the past.
This was a renewal year for Microsoft's hardware. After laying low in 2016, the company's device teams sprung into action, not only refreshing products that had been left untouched for more than a year but also addressing long-standing requests from fans who wanted a more complete selection. Its PC line finally got a conventional portable in the form of theSurface Laptop, while theSurface Book 2 added a 15-inch model packing the sort of horsepower that pros and gamers crave. There's no certainty that Microsoft will continue to aggressively update its Surface line, but its device catalog is much stronger going into 2018.
TheXbox One X will shape Microsoft's new year too. Even more so than in 2017, you can expect the company to push its high-end Xbox as a vehicle for all things 4K, whether it's the latest games or streaming services. It could even be a Trojan horse for VR, given that there are plans to bring mixed reality headsets to the Xbox . The challenge is that Microsoft is somewhat late to the party. Sony offered gamers a taste of 4K with thePS4 Pro and has already been sellingPlayStation VR for over a year, so Microsoft will have to spend 2018 proving that its hardware was worth the wait.
Microsoft has some more experimental projects too. It might offer a glimpse of its next-generation HoloLens headset in 2018 and thus show everything it has learned about wearable holographic computing over the past few years. There are even reports that it could resurrect the Courier digital notebook concept.
In some ways, Microsoft's biggest move in 2017 was enabling hardware for others. Windows Mixed Reality established a common platform for AR and VR on Microsoft-powered PCs. The Cortana voice assistant, meanwhile, spread beyond computers and phones to reach smart home devices likespeakers andthermostats. Microsoft even revived ARM-based Windows PCs, withASUS and HP unveiling laptops that could easily last all day while keeping you connected. Only a small amount of this hardware arrived in 2017, but you should anticipate a flood of it in the year ahead. Microsoft may have already defined the tech trends that will shape the industry in 2018.
There weren't any major gaffes in 2017, but the company's less-than-ideal execution suggests it has room to improve going forward. It had to grapple with claims of poor Surface reliability and questionable design decisions, such as underpowered chargers . The Xbox One X's high price didn't do it any favors and gave the PS4 Pro another advantage. Windows 10 S was meant to offer an alternative to Chromebooks with similar security and more flexibility, but the dearth of hardware didn't exactly put Google on notice. Moreover, Microsoft came to terms with its long-term failures by putting Windows Mobile on life support and ending Kinect production . It's beginning 2018 with a clean slate, but only after learning some hard lessons.
Samsung ended 2016 with its tail between its legs, to put it mildly. The Galaxy Note 7's battery fiasco was so bad that it led to the company effectivelykilling the phone, and that left many people wondering whether Samsung's reputation would recover in 2017.
Thankfully for Samsung, it did. TheGalaxy S8 andGalaxy Note 8 not only represented returns to form but also pushed the boundaries of smartphone design in a literal way with their edge-to-edge displays. The tech giant also took the Note 7's failure head on, offering adetailed explanation of the battery problems and clear solutions. Even the firm's wearable efforts hit their stride between the solidGear Sport smartwatch and theGear VR controller. Samsung regained a lot of the trust it lost. And while rumors hint that 2018'sGalaxy S9 could be an iterative update, Samsung might just shake up the mobile world with its plans to release afoldable Galaxy Note.
However, we still wouldn't call it a stellar year. Samsung made a push into voice assistantswith Bixby, but the AI helper was undercooked at best -- and that's a problem when the S8 and Note 8 have a dedicated Bixby button. Yes,Bixby 2.0 could address some of the assistant's limitations (particularly around language recognition), but Samsung is starting 2018 after having placed a lot of faith in technology that remains shaky. The company is likely to bring Bixby to devices beyond phones and tablets in 2018, such as asmart speaker, but right now the assistant isn't mature enough to do justice to the hardware.
Check out all of Engadget's year-in-review coverageright here.