Tech’s 2019 Year in Review: What to Do About Big Tech, the Tech Cold War and the Age of Foldables and Streaming

Ken Yeung / December 15, 2019

As we reflect on the events that made up 2019, we offer a deeper dive into 10 themes that shaped the tech world: it’s our second annual Year in Tech Review! There were many stories to choose from this year, but overall, what summarized the year were new form-factor devices, privacy, and Big Tech’s continued efforts to try and appease the public.

The Age of Foldable Devices: Motorola, Samsung, Microsoft, Huawei, and the brother of the notorious drug dealer Pablo Escobar unveiled the next generation of what our mobile devices look like, but with some mixed results. Though Samsung was among the first out the gate with its Galaxy Fold, there was a moment of awkwardness when its screen broke. This stumbling block did not deter the mobile industry from this new form factor and we can expect more similar devices in 2020.

The Gadgets of 2019: Look back at the gadgets people talked about this year. Beyond the annual updates to Apple MacBooks, iPads, Watches, Microsoft Surface devices, and Samsung Galaxy phones, we were also introduced to new Facebook Portals, updated Amazon Alexa-enabled devices, the Oculus Quest, and a new Tesla Model 3. We also bid adieu to a few gadgets that were discontinued in 2019.

The Disinformation War: Social media companies fought back against criticism that their platforms were havens for disinformation. Explore the approaches taken by Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and others to stop these campaigns from happening. But with all the talent and use of artificial intelligence, it looks like disinformation efforts are on the rise. And tech companies are weighing whether they want to be the adjudicator of truth on their own platform.

Facebook’s Pivot to Privacy: Facebook seemingly surprised many in 2019 when it announced it would place a greater emphasis on privacy than ever before. The company has been focused on transforming itself to give users greater control over their data, including fighting back against the U.S. Justice Department’s request to weaken its encryption. But not everyone is convinced about Facebook’s gesture causing a departure of long-time executives and further scrutiny from Congress and regulators.

Everyone Has A Streaming Service: Netflix’s dominance in the streaming service industry may be on shaky ground as 2019 saw an influx of new competitors including those from Apple, Disney, AT&T’s WarnerMedia, BET, NBC, and soon Quibi. In a battle for viewership, companies are willing to pay handsomely for original content, even in the billions of dollars per series.  

Year of Tech IPOs: A rush of tech companies entered the public markets this year, including some highly-anticipated ones. However, while the majority of them appear to have performed well overall, there were disappointments, including that of Uber, Lyft, and Slack. WeWork’s parent company was all set for its public offering but backed out at the last minute due to criticism over its financial position. Look back at the tech IPOs of 2019 and who’s waiting in the wings for their IPO in 2020.

The U.S.-China Tech Cold War: Two of the world’s largest economies are battling it out over which one has superior technology, forcing a new arms race that some are calling the new Cold War. Stemming from the U.S.’ trade dispute with China, this technology-based competition could impact the internet, changing everything from quantum computing to artificial intelligence and which model of the internet countries want to mirror.

Huawei vs. the U.S.: Described as being a national security concern, Huawei spent 2019 combatting claims from the U.S. government that its technology isn’t spying on America. Through Executive Order, the Trump Administration has largely banned companies from doing business with Huawei. But are the U.S.’ fears valid as European allies seem skeptical about the whole thing?

Breaking Up Tech Is Hard To Do: Does Big Tech have an undue influence on society? Lawmakers appear to think so and are looking at ways to curb Facebook, Twitter, Google, Amazon and Apple’s power. Silicon Valley largely is embracing some form of regulation but what that looks like is unclear. However, what is for certain are the anti-trust investigations that have been launched against Facebook, Google, and others. What will be the answer?

The Rise of TikTok: The Bytedance-owned social app has captivated the attention of people worldwide, but are there risks to using it? This year, regulators and lawmakers have expressed concern about TikTok’s ties back to China, and the company has been on the receiving end of privacy complaints, including how it protects children. Silicon Valley is watching closely and has tried to mirror TikTok’s success. Be sure to pay attention next year as the company tries to successfully navigate through regulatory waters and proves it’s not part of the Chinese government.

You can see all these Year in Tech Review magazines on Flipboard. If you’re interested in seeing more recaps of what happened in business and tech, check out our main Year in Review collection.

— Ken curated the “Year in Tech Review